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Out with the Old, In with the New

literaryhos has now completed it’s first year. It was not a particularly strong year, we did not have a lot of posting and even I the moderator did not keep up with it. I did in fact read 50 + books this year, but certainly not 50 + new ones nor did I meet my nonfiction quota. How did you all do? Please post updates and let us know!

As a refresher, the community works like this: in the beginning of the year make a challenge to yourself: How many books are you going to try and read this year? 10? 20? 50? 100? Every time you finish a book write a blurb about it here so that we the community can share in the experience and maybe find a few new reads of our own. Please tag by genre and reader (you can all make your own tags) and by the end of the year you can look back and see your entire 2008 in literature.

Guidelines:
- Comics don’t count unless they are a trade paperback or a compilation.
- You must start and finish the book in 2008.
- Have fun. Try something new.
- Post your reviews so we can cheer you on and steal your reading list!
- Don't forget to TAG your entries!!


In 2008 I would like to see some more activity in this community! I would like to also do a writing challenge, anyone want to give it a go? Its NaNo in mini year round. Hope to hear from you all.

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Gaunt’s Ghosts, The Founding Omnibus, by Dan Abnett

  1. First and Only

  2. Ghostmaker

  3. Necropolis

  4. In Remembrance (Short Story)


I’ve sung Dan Abnett’s praises before, so I’ll spare you most of the gushing commentary.

True: This is science fiction. It’s set twenty thousand years in the future, it takes place on planets we’ll never visit and on space ships that in all probability we’ll never be able to build, and includes bizarre laser-based weaponry, arcane and powerful magic, alien races, and mind-twisting alternate-dimensional creatures.

For all that, I don’t know that war has ever been written more realistically. The Tanith series is known for its realism within and without science-fiction circles. People who hate science fiction love his work. Veterans read this series and can’t believe that Abnett never served in the military. Now that is impressive.

This omnibus collects the first three Tanith novels, plus a short story, In Remembrance. In brief: Commissar Gaunt is put in charge of overseeing the induction of the first ever company of soldiers from the planet Tanith--the Tanith First. During the induction, Chaos forces (that’s the mind-twisting alternate-dimensional part I mentioned) attack the planet. Gaunt chooses to abandon Tanith and save as many of the new troops as he can, which preserves the lives of several hundred thousand men. Men who are now serving under a man who abandoned everything they loved to the enemy. Some of the new troops understand Gaunt’s decision, and respect the choice he had o make. Some of them hate Gaunt to the marrow of their bones. But for better or worse, they’re off to war, the Tanith First and Only.

Reading Abnett isn’t about reading a good plot, though the plots are good. It’s about reading a well-told story, about hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling the story, about spending time with the people, and about experiencing events from within their bodies and minds.

Reading Abnett’s work, you can start to pick apart those details that distinguish good writing, particularly the meaning of the writing professor’s admonition: “show, don’t tell.” If you ever get the chance to read any of Abnett’s work, pay attention to the perspective shifts. The descriptions change based on from which character’s perspective the story is being told. When Abnett narrates from Milo’s perspective, we hear “x seemed nervous,” and “the camp was in an unusual state of disarray,” and “things seemed calm, too calm”--Milo, the youngest Ghost, is very intuitive and in tune with emotions. When the perspective shifts to Larkin, our sniper, we read a lot of motion and physical detail; scurrying and scuttling in the undergrowth, debris blowing across a deserted street, the miniscule shifting of rubble and the twitching muscles in an officer’s shooting hand. He also has some pretty groovy hallucinations, too.

If I have time I’ll write reviews of each of the three novels, but for now this overview will have to do. Trust me, these books are great for everyone. You’ll love them.

A Review: A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick

Preface: I’m a Philip K. Dick fan, and this may color my review of the book. But I doubt it.

For those of you who don’t know, this isn’t the first of PKD’s works to make it onto the big screen. Check out the Wikipedia article for a list. While the movies vary in quality (admit it, Total Recall was actually pretty bad) the novels and short stories they were based off of range from rather good to downright excellent. IMHO this one is pretty close to the “excellent” end.

A Scanner Darkly is probably the best movie adaptation of a PKD story yet. While I’m not writing this to tell you about the movie, it bears saying that the movie catches not only the plot, but the tone, the voice, the entire spirit of the book very well.

The near-future plot centers on Bob Arctor, an extremely undercover narc who finds himself in the unique position of having to narc on himself. To make it even better, the drug he’s investigating--and dealing, and taking, in increasing dosages--is Substance D, which affects both the user’s memory and perception of reality.

This book is trippy, and bleak. It’s written in a way that draws the reader into the characters’ mindset, and since this is a book about being stoned--well. Even if it wasn’t an intriguing plot, and even if there wasn’t some provocative social commentary there, the style in which this book is written makes it worth the read. You probably have to be willing to relax and enjoy it, though, because while it isn’t William S Boroughs, it is a different sort of read.
The Undead and Philosophy, Chicken Soup for the Soulless, Edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad.

Speaking of the living dead, I was actually half way through the collection before I noticed that this was a series of essays; I kept thinking, “this has got to be the most poorly organized book I’ve ever read.” This is, in fact, a very well organized book; each section collects essays related to a specific philosophical aspect of the idea of undead.

Part I: It’s Alive (Sort Of) considers: What is an undead? How does one become undead? What distinguishes the undead from the living, or from the dead? What exactly is it about being undead that is “bad”? IMHO The most thought provoking article: “Zombies, Blade Runner, and the Mind-Body Problem” by Larry Hauser. After all, how do you know someone’s actually undead, as opposed to, say, just really stupid?

Part II: Undead White Males explores the zombie as a vehicle for socio-political commentary. I found these articles to be weak and meandering, with mostly poorly constructed arguments. Still they made some interesting points and they do offer a new way to observe the zombie genre. Best Article: “When There’s No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Shop the Earth: Romero and Aristotle on Zombies, Happiness, and Consumption” by Matthew Walker. If you’ve ever seen Dawn of the Dead, or gone to the mall on a weekend, you’ll really appreciate this article.

Part 3: Dirty Rotting Scoundrels amused me the most, since it delves into the morality of undeath. Four of the articles in this section lay out some interesting arguments regarding the morals of vampirism: are they inherently evil? Must they drink human blood, and if so, can you blame them for drinking it? In “Deserving to be a Vampire: The Ethical and Existential Elements of Vampirism” Ted M. Preston takes a unique turn and questions society’s moral obligation towards vampires (assuming, for his argument, that they did exist). The fifth article, “Zombie Gladiators” by Dale Jaquette, questions the morality of violence against the undead and actually succeeds in making some very convincing arguments. All around, Part III is an entertaining read.

Part IV: Digging Up The Body Politic just didn’t interest me. *shrug*

Part V: Leaving a Good Looking Corpse begins with Noel Carroll’s “Fear of Fear Itself: The Philosophy of Halloween,” which is just a rehash of a lot of stuff I already knew, plus the additional (non)revelation that being scared makes us feel psychologically complete. The second article is much more satisfying. “Powerful, Beautiful, and Without Regret: Femininity, Masculinity, and the Vampire Aesthetic” by Joan Grassbaugh Forry, explores the role of women in the undead genre. An interesting observation? Generally, female vampires are portrayed as either beautiful and weak, or beautiful and sadistic, and rarely--if ever--are they portrayed as “realistic,” multi-dimensional characters.

In all, this was a good read and the articles offer engaging mental exercises. That’s good for keeping your brain nice and thick and tender, which is, I hear, exactly what the zombies like. (^.^)

For shame! POST!

I notice that no one has posted to this for quite a while. Which is a shame, since it's almost the end of the year. We've been some remiss little courtesans, have we not?

Here is a list of the reviews you can expect from me before the end of the month:

Excellent Reads

  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by JK Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, by JK Rowling
  • A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
  • Gaunt’s Ghosts, The Founding Omnibus, by Dan Abnett:
    1) First and Only
    2) Ghostmaker
    3) Necropolis
    4) In Remembrance (Short Story)
  • Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
  • Kushiel’s Scion, by Jacqueline Carey
  • Horus Rising (A Horus Heresy Novel), by Dan Abnett

Good Reads

  • Soul Drinkers Omnibus, by Ben Counter
    1) Soul Drinkers
    2) The Bleeding Chalice
    3) Crimson Tears
  • The Undead and Philosophy
  • Brotherhood of the Snake, by Dan Abnett
  • Kushiel’s Chosen, by Jacqueline Carey
  • Kushiel’s Avatar, by Jacqueline Carey

Pretty Bad Reads
  • False Gods: The Heresy Takes Root (A Horus Heresy Novel), by Graham McNeil

What can I say? I have no excuse; I simply don't like the man's writing and I think it's a tragedy that they let him continue, I don't care that he is one of the founders of the Warhammer 40K universe.

More details shall be coming forthwith.
If I'd had any idea of how slow of a reader I'd become I probably wouldn't have taken this challenge. Still, I suppose it's a good thing I did because otherwise I wouldn't be reading at all right now.

9) Lisey's Story - Stephen King

King's newest, I wasn't sure what to expect. I've sort of fallen off his bandwagon in the last few years. He just hasn't been the same since the accident -- not that I blame him. I gave up on the 7th book of the Gunslinger series because even though I love the world I've rather lost the thread of the story and I think King had too.

It was with trepidation I picked up Lisey's Story because I so desperately wanted to give the favorite author of my teen years another chance.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I was delightfully surprised.

Lisey's Story is wonderfully tender. I think that's the impression I leave the book with. It's a really beautiful love story... that just happens to have a serious infestion of the creeps, from this world and another. I often found myself wishing for a relationship like Scott and Lisey's, even with all the weirdness.

Despite the disjointed fashion in which the story unfolds I didn't feel as though I missed any details. It was nice to have an engaging book that kept me turning pages.

My only complaint is that the plot was rather predictable. Though this would be due to all the ideas planted in my head by, again, the non-linear nature of the book.

This book is not a heavy read. But what King book is? For some enjoyable and engaging summer reading, however, it's a perfect story. Lisey's Story.

*****

10) The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

I caught this movie on cable years ago and was drawn in by the dreamlike quality and detached tragedy of the Lisbon girls. I recently found a copy of the book and decided to give it a go.

The first word that comes to mind is "confusing." Not because the story is poorly written, but simply because trying to unravel the threads of suicide from a distance is an impossible task. While our unnamed narrators (ostensibly the neighborhood teenage boys who are obsessed with the mysterious Lisbon girls) make a wonderful exploration of the lives of the Lisbon girls as best they can from a distance (even going so far as to collect personal belongings and pictures), ultimately no one can understand what drives 5 young girls to suicide.

The novel is written roughly in chronological order, taking place over the course of one year. It begins with the attempted suicide of the youngest Lisbon daughter and charts the course, from a distance, of the family from that point forward.

Loss and confusion dominate as an entire neighborhood struggles to understand and a group of teenage boys struggle desperately to connect with and save the Lisbon girls.

It's a well-written and dreamy novel. Also a good, quick read -- I finished the majority of it while laid up in a hotel room in Pittsburgh with a stomach bug.

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

8) My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
I think this is book 7 for me but since I'm at work and work doesn't
like LJs DNS I can't be sure.

ETA: I just looked -- this is 8! Yay!

Anyway.

I will admit that I spoiled the book by reading the ending before I
finished the book. I spoil myself from time to time, so see if a book
ends up being worth the time devoted to reading it. This book was the
first time I ever REGRETTED reading the ending out of turn.

Spoilers Under HereCollapse )
7) Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs - Chuck Klosterman

It's already MAY and I'm only on my 7th book. So much for being a prolific reader.

ANYway.

I love social commentary. I especially love social commentary couched in terms of things like The Real World, Anna Nicole Smith, and serial killers (just to name a few). Klosterman is adept at pinpointing what makes American popular culture tick. He's even adept at stripping it down and pointing out things we may not want to admit to ourselves -- all while maintaining a genial "guy you'd like to buy a beer" tone of voice.

He's got a couple other books out and I really want to pick them up. I can't say enough good things about his insights and comparisons. It's a damn cool book and one you could conceivably plow through in one languid afternoon.

I wish I could give a more concise review but I guiltily admit I finished this one a few days ago and I've already lent it to Hilary for a read so I can't go back and reference it.

Tanar of Pellucidar.

Whew.. another book down.
Tanar of Pellucidar. 1929. Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Well this reminds of how these older pulp adventures are a guilty pleasure even though I still hold them as better than the mass produced sci-fi or fantasy schlock pumped out nowadays.
Tanar is adventure reading pure and simple. The simplicity of a near stone age world populated by sabre toothed tigers and wild pistol wielding pirates is presented in broad strokes of narrative. The story delivers land after land of people with narrow escapes and fearsome captures until it almost becomes trite. Almost.
I can hardly recommend this book to anyone who isn't a fan of the pulps of the time because it is dated. The hero is a stalwart lithe warrior savant and any females that spend more than a paragraph or two near him love him. Although not in some egotistic smarmy way like a James Bond piece. Its like reading an old four color comic book. Everything is drawn broadly but the pictures can be surprisingly well done.

Next up... Not sure yet. Perhaps I will re-read the original War of the Worlds and keep this classics trend going.

Books and more books.

Well in light of a new job where I am drowning in a staggering amount of free time I am at least going to attempt to catch up a bit with the reading I have been remiss on doing.

I read two books in the last two days and I will try to knock out a decent summary.

'The Moon is Down.' 1942 By John Steinbeck.
A short and clean book about the occupation of a seaside coal mining community by an unnamed army in WWII. The town and the occupiers are easily seen as Norwegian and Germans respectively, although the politics of the forces involved are not that important.
The novels strongest point is the depiction of the invaders as humans with the misguided expectation that they will be welcomed into the small town after things have settled down. The townsfolk reduce themselves to monosyllabic drones when around the invaders and soon the complete lack of human interaction begins to wear on the conquerors. The unrealistic expectation of the invaders and the resolute acts of sabotage no matter what penalties arise are a strange analog to current events. A short but well done novel.

'The Master of the World' 1904 By Jules Verne.
Not one of his better known novels and I can see why. The book concerns a mysterious series of events where a bizarre machine is spied zooming all over America. The vehicle is a boat, a submarine, a car, and eventually an aircraft. The narrative of Vernes' work is carried by an police inspector who does little in the book aside from talk about what is going on and eventually become a guest aboard the mysterious vehicle for a remarkably short time. A vehicle driven by a giant powerful man of staggering genius who eschews the worlds nations and his name is Nemo.. err, sorry. His name is Robur. Robur the Conqueror. I am not kidding.
To be honest this is sequel to a book that was never written. Toward the end of the novel an entire chapter is devoted to a monologue-like exposition on a past encounter by other characters with Robur and his previous machine and crew. And this unwritten prequel sounded far more interesting than the book I read. The master of the world is simply the story of a person wandering around until, through no action of his own, the story ends and moves on.

Next up: Tanar of Pellucidar. 1929. Edgar Rice Burroughs serving up staggeringly high pulp adventure in the lands of the Earths hollow core. I am halfway through this one and should be done in a day or so.

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