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April and May Reading

Combining these because it's a fairly short list, other than the Hugo shorts abuse. I'm also letting the comments made under the influence stand, because I can.

April Books

I read Hugo nominees, how cool am I? Well, not very, because I just finished the shorts and they were terrible.

Short story nominees

Burstein, "Seventy-Five Years": okay, read this drunk and typing my responses while tispy, but who cares? This is clunky like a clunky thing. This is clunky like that time travel story that was all, "marry woman A and you doom us to become Nazis, marry woman B and you doom us to become stoned hippies, so you'd better propose to your secretary in the last sentence!" What happened to show don't tell? This isn't a story, this is an extended infodump.

(This isn't actually a time travel story. It's an "information wants to be freeee!" story. But it's clunky like the '50s.)

Mike Resnick, "Down Memory Lane": Alzheimer's meets Flowers For Algernon. Eyeroll. I think I read a more interesting take on Alzheimer's for the '04 Hugo nominees. (Still drunk!)

"Singing My Sister Down", Margo Lanagan: Sobriety helps comprehension, no? It may be okay, but I'm not sure it's not particularly SFnal. And it's fairly forgettable, despite (or because of) the long slow death thing. Reads like an excerpt from something larger; I want worldbuilding for this, so I care about the people, or at least know how common the tar pits are.

"Tk'tk'tk", David D. Levine: I am lacking in sympathy for the protag (Walker, only given name), who came to make one big sell and bypassed a number of smaller sells, any of which might have saved him some suffering. If Earth is so creatively bankrupt that its children can't notice another culture lusting after textures and take advantage of that, they deserve the misery they find. I mean, really. When the alien pawnshop owner raises the amount of money being offered for your pawned item, and you don't even notice, I am going to mock your salesman smarts.

This reminds me very much of Cherryh's work - the fish out of water protagonist, the general confusion and information lack or denial, the "can't go home" ending. This comparison did not benefit the story, since it showed all the things I would've changed to make it something I would have enjoyed reading.

"The Clockwork Atomic Bomb", Dominic Green: This is okay. I think the essential physics and engineering hinted at is too expensive to make this plausible, but I also would've thought that Cold War nuclear stockpiles were too expensive, so what do I know about national budgets? The what-if is pretty cool, but I don't really care about the characters or the plot, so still pretty indifferent.

I think a more interesting discussion might be consideration of why the short story nominees were so lacking this year (tentative hypothesis: since only 278 ballots were sent in, according to the LACon Hugo nominees list, a writer with a good publicity plan could totally swing the vote), and/or suggestions of short stories that should have been nominated, but weren't.

Actual books

A Short History of World War II, James L. Stokesbury: If ever there were a title that begged to be poked fun at, this is it. Surprisingly, Stokesbury almost manages to live up to it: 389 pages (hardcover) is a brief review of some really complex maneuvering. The narrative moves along at a reasonably brisk clip, laying out the broad movements of the war in clean academic prose punctuated by the occasional dry bon mot. I have absolutely no background to judge the book by, but I liked it. It's 20 years old, which is absolutely ancient by bio standards, but it's not like WW2 is on the move, so this is probably a reasonable book to recommend to people. My major complaints are two: first, it is academic, so it's fairly heavy reading by default, and second, my geographic knowledge is appallingly bad, so more maps would have been nice. I was constantly flipping to the available maps as it was.

Personal reactions: there is something riveting in all catastrophes. But after reading the casualty counts, the territory lost and won, you're left wondering what it was all for. War is still the triumph of stupidity over good sense.

* * *

May Books

Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik/naominovik): Second book in a series of adventures about William Laurence, aviator, and his dragon Temeraire. In this episode, the pair are shipped to China to appease Imperial sensibilities. For some reason, I found this more cohesive and entertaining than the first (Temeraire or His Majesty's Dragon, depending which side of the Atlantic you ordered it from). The set-pieces were about the same, but felt more firmly knit together by the intervening material. My big question at this point is how deliberately Novik's going about her B-plot: it looks like she's setting Temeraire to set off the English Dragon Revolution, but I don't know if that's where she's planning to take the series. The sea serpent thing was an interesting touch, but for which side of the argument I don't know.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
kd5mdk
Jun. 4th, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC)
As a matter of fact, there is some progress being made in WWII historiography, I believe, in that the Russian Archives are much more available than they used to be. However, I actually think the real progress has been made on WWI, where several dissenting views on common wisdom have come up.
ase
Jun. 5th, 2006 11:05 pm (UTC)
The events may be immutable, but our understanding of them changes. Any comments on significant changes in our WW2 understanding in the last 20 years? Also, care to elaborate on the WW1 views?
kd5mdk
Jun. 5th, 2006 11:19 pm (UTC)
Couldn't speak to specific changes in WW2, although I suspect the relationship between the Soviets and Hitler has been revised somewhat.

For WW1, a good example is the impression that conflict was viewed as inevitable. Niall Ferguson made a very persuasive presentation I saw about 2 years ago that the war came as nearly a complete surprise to the Bond Markets. Specifically, that ever since Napoleonic times you could track the risk of war very clearly via government bonds: Investors were convinced that wars were financialy bad, and bonds for governments who looked likely to go to war dropped like rocks. However, all the relevant government bonds in 1914 stayed pretty steady until 3 weeks before war was declared.
herewiss13
Jun. 5th, 2006 05:46 am (UTC)
Personal reactions: there is something riveting in all catastrophes. But after reading the casualty counts, the territory lost and won, you're left wondering what it was all for.

What I found riveting was the sense of history. This five year span informed all of the next half-century. The technological and logistical organization was pretty fascinating too. I can't remember where I read it, but there's a quote out there about how if both sides put all the effort required into getting two armies onto the same field of battle on the same day into something _productive_, the sky would be the limit.

As to what it was for, the answer (in this case, at least) is simple: to preserve the status quo, or at least prevent it from being owned by (new) autocrats. The next fifty years were spent wresting it away from _old_ autocrats.

My big question at this point is how deliberately Novik's going about her B-plot: it looks like she's setting Temeraire to set off the English Dragon Revolution, but I don't know if that's where she's planning to take the series.

Having read "Gun Powder War" let me say: yes, she does appear bound and determined to eventually go there. _However_, she's got to beat Napoleon, and it's not looking good...

...I don't _think_ that was terribly spoilerish. Was it?

herewiss13
Jun. 5th, 2006 05:48 am (UTC)
addendum
...and yes, more maps would have been _extremely_ helpful. He's often talking about some rather small towns and islands that grown obscure in the last 6 decades.
ase
Jun. 5th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
I can't remember where I read it, but there's a quote out there about how if both sides put all the effort required into getting two armies onto the same field of battle on the same day into something _productive_, the sky would be the limit.

LMB said something like, about battles in general. IIRC it might've been The Vor Game or maybe tWA.

...I don't _think_ that was terribly spoilerish. Was it?

Not really. I'm at that point where BPW is all possibility, and the real thing is probably not going to live up to my expectations. We'll see.
herewiss13
Jun. 5th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
Not really. I'm at that point where BPW is all possibility, and the real thing is probably not going to live up to my expectations. We'll see.

It's definitely a transitional book. Both sides are coming to terms with that the phrase "air mobile" really means. ;-)

Unfortunately, it looks like Napoleon is the faster learner.
nwhyte
Jul. 8th, 2006 06:09 am (UTC)
The short story category for the Hugos is generally the weakest, for some reason.
ase
Jul. 12th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
I've really tried to be good and not mutter about how I've read better fan fiction, but the short story nominees were that lackluster. There's a huge tangent to be made about audience expectations and plot, characterization, writerly skill and sense of wonder (possibly replaced by crackfic quotient in fan fiction), but that's probably worthy of a post of its own.

Given the number of people who nominate stories for the Hugos - especially the short stories - how much of a PR campaign would it take to swing the vote in your direction? There also may be some sort of "okay story, but nice guy" thing going on.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )