Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Astonishing life of Octavian Nothing

The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #1)The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this while at the same time I was watching the Civil War documentary by Ken Burns. The combination of reading about a slave living through the American Revolution and watching the terrible war fought over the evil institution made me mad. It made me mad to think that some people still try to frame that war in terms of State's rights. In reality, it was a war fought for the southern elites' right to own slaves, fought by an army where very few of the soldiers owned slaves.

Back to the book. I found the feeling of uncertainty that the characters felt about the cause of Liberty to be insightful. They were conscious of the hypocrisy inherent in rousing rebellion in the name from Liberty, while fearing that their slaves might be incited to revolt against them in retaliation. I felt that the characters exhibited true human reaction to great times, from calculation, to rapture, to misgivings and misery.

The prose, while not usually dense, leaned toward a more formal tone, emulating the letters of the time. I love reading words used in slightly different ways than we are used to. It stimulates a part of my brain that uses words. I write more when I'm reading those kinds of books, and I feel like a more interesting person.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some Original Fiction

Snow Crash, despite it's pulp fiction pace, still has a couple insightful moments like this one:

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherf... in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
This rang so perfectly true, not for me, but for my wife. She's constantly playing out scenarios involving mexican drug runners, dark alleys, and martial arts(or knives, or guns). And she loves bunnies. So I wrote a story for her:
Melinda was an english lop with long, silken ears. They were finely veined, and Melinda was always careful when grooming them to never leave a mark.

Melinda was never the biggest bunny. Sometimes, in fact, she was the littlest rabbit, but she was always careful to eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly. She would tie her ears back, and make experimental runs in her little part of the forest.

Melinda had a little sister that she loved to visit. They liked to talk about different ways to spruce up their burrows, or different ways to prepare their meals of Italian parsley, with Cheerio croutons, and garnished with small triangles of banana.

One day Melinda heard about a new way to make a banana pie. She wanted to share this with her sister. As she hopped towards her sister's burrow, she began to worry. Something seemed off. Maybe there was too much quiet, or maybe some of the undergrowth wasn't where she remembered it. By the time she got to her sister's burrow, she was creeping forward on her belly.

She sat just inside a hawthorn bush and watched and listened, waiting, almost paralyzed. Finally she heard scuffling, and a group of chinchillas were backing out of her sisters burrow. Dragged behind them, kicking powerfully, and swearing as only she could, was her sister.

Melinda's first instinct was to charge. She always imagined herself as hardcore. She knew she was in shape. She knew she had an aggressive streak. She knew... that in reality, she was the littlest rabbit. And littlest rabbits don't win by charging. Littlest rabbits observe from the shadows. They look for advantages. They find leverage, and they are patient. So she squashed her instinct, opened her eyes, and watched, disapproving, as the chinchillas did their slow, nefarious work.

She saw their darting gazes, alert for dangers from every dark crevice. Melinda saw her angle. She darted from bush to bush, pausing only long enough to rustle a branch, or to leave stones skittering behind her. When the chinchillas, obviously out of their element, began to look all around them in alarm, Melinda leaped, with a prodigious thump, high into the air.

Later practitioners of the buninja arts would call what she did then, "death from above". Her work done, melinda licked her ear. Her sister stepped away from the chinchilla she had disposed of in the chaos of the fray, and invited her back for a cup of mint tea. Melinda and her sister enjoyed a beautiful banana pie.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Snow Crash

Snow CrashSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun. This book barrels along at a fast pace, and never slows down. Has a bit of swearing, and one sex scene, which is pretty easily skipped.

In a world where the government has downsized to a small suburb in LA, and Corporations have franchised the functions of government, traffic travels at a pace somewhere between Mad Max and Falling Down, and customer service is king.

It's meant to be outrageous, not careful, so an elite hacker samurai, who delivers pizza for his living is perfect for a protagonist, especially when his name is Hiro Protagonist.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Baker's Boy

The Baker's Boy (Book of Words, #1)The Baker's Boy by J.V. Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very different from her Sword of Shadows books, this world is populated by villains and innocents. She avoids complex characters, right up until the end of the book. The simplicity is sometimes in itself entertaining. The villains are mustache twirling plotters, the innocents are a maiden and a baker's boy, both running from home. With interjections of guards telling each other (mildly) dirty stories, and dropping hints about the intrigue between the villains, the book feels like a melodrama. The shadows of complexity arrive in the storylines about Tawl, a knight, and Nabber, a child pickpocket. Starting from far away, their trajectory seems to place them like a meteor streaking between the villains and innocents, and it's not exactly clear what their influence will be.

I'll be reading the next book in this trilogy, though I don't find it as original and compelling as her later books.

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