October Booklogging
By Dwip October 31, 2013, 6:40 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

I think we can sum this month and the collected works of John Scalzi up with the following quote:

Tyler Durden: Oh I get it, it’s very clever.

Narrator: Thank you.

Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?

Narrator: What?

Tyler Durden: Being clever.

Fight Club

YTD stats:

January: 3 total; 3 fiction (1,712 pages)
February: 3 total; 3 non-fiction (1,098 pages)
March: 13 total; 10 graphic (2,432 pages); 2 fiction (1,462 pages); 1 non-fiction (290 pages)
April: 7 total; 2 graphic (1,200 pages); 2 fiction (1,776 pages); 3 non-fiction (1,244 pages)
May: 1 total; 1 fiction (1,040 pages)
June: 5 total; 5 fiction (2,480 pages)
July: 5 total; 5 fiction (1,934 pages)
August: 4 total; 1 fiction (608 pages); 3 non-fiction (776 pages)
September: 8 total; 2 graphic (1,408 pages); 1 fiction (320 pages); 5 non-fiction (1,416 pages)
October: 8 total; 8 fiction (3,256 pages)

Year to Date: 57 total; 14 graphic (5,040 pages); 28 fiction (14,588 pages); 15 non-fiction (4,824 pages)

Details for October after the jump.

10/01/2013 John Scalzi, The Ghost Brigades (2006 Tor Books hardcover, 320 pages – Personal collection, 2006)

Old Man’s War was a pretty good start to a series – guys driving around in space shooting guns at aliens has been done, of course, but conscripting the cast of Grumpy Old Men, turning them into the sci-fi version of Peter Parker, and then having them drive around in space shooting guns at aliens is pretty new and different.

The Ghost Brigades is sort of like the flipside of that. What if you took very, very young people, turned them into the sci-fi version of Peter Parker, and then having them drive around in space shooting guns at aliens?

Interesting things, to be sure, though while there’s some interesting philisophical issues discussed here, I’m a history major at heart, so what really interests me is the political twist. We kind of got a bit of a taste in Old Man’s War, and we’ll get a boatload of it in the few books, but without giving too much away, I dig it.

10/02/2013 John Scalzi, The Sagan Diary (2007 Subterranean Press hardcover, 100 pages – Personal collection, 2007)

While the original Old Man’s War is arguably the best book in its particular universe, from a stylistic standpoint The Sagan Diary is my favorite. It’s not so much a traditional story with a plot so much as it is a collection of essays on the character of Jane Sagan.

As Scalzi has noted, this is not an idea without some risk – writing a novella inside the head of a fully grown woman with a single digit age and the emotional maturity of a somewhat adept teenager who blows things up for a living cannot have been the easiest thing in the world for a middle aged dude to pull off, but Scalzi does so admirably in a way that stands out completely from any single other thing he’s ever written.

For bonus points, there is a free audiobook version, and while it lacks professional polish, I admit that I love the thing. Not everything benefits from being read aloud, but The Sagan Diary most certainly does.

A completely unique work.

10/09/2013 John Scalzi, The Last Colony (2007 Tor Books hardcover, 320 pages – Personal collection, 2007)

10/12/2013 John Scalzi, Zoe’s Tale (2008 Tor Books hardcover, 335 pages – Personal collection, 2008)

I’m just going to talk about The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale as a single book, because that’s basically what they are – two halves of the same book with one book being all the John Perry viewpoint scenes and the other being all the Zoe Boutin-Perry scenes.

This is an idea with some problems, most of which revolve around the fact that Scalzi apparently phoned it in on The Last Colony – there are entire major subplots that go nowhere plus a literal deus ex machina at the end, and while Zoe’s Tale does an admirable attempt at damage control on those fronts, the whole werewolf thing ends up being a complete waste of time.

That’s all kind of a shame, because the plot behind The Last Colony should work – interstellar politics, a big reveal on the Colonial Union, lots of interesting aliens, the whole thing. It just never quite works out to being anything more than pedestrian.

I’m a little more wholehearted in my support of Zoe’s Tale, and indeed I kind of think she should have been the viewpoint character for a single unified book. Her entire arc is far more interesting than that of The Last Colony, she has better support characters (Hickory and Dickory are a hoot), and just about everything is better.

That having been said, while Scalzi pretty much nailed the voice of Jane Sagan, I’m not sure he quite got Zoe down. A little too much on the superficial bits of being a teenage girl, not quite enough on the existential angst. Scalzi’s never really been much for angst – indeed his default tone is lighthearted snark, but here’s a girl who has been through some pretty heavy shit but seems to blow most of it off, and that was odd.

But I liked it. Zoe’s Tale isn’t bad, but The Last Colony is the low point of the whole series.

10/14/2013 John Scalzi, The Human Division (2013 Tor Books hardcover, 432 pages – Personal collection, 2013)

Here’s the thing about John Scalzi. Very talented writer. Defaults to snark, which is why I’ve read his blog every day for almost ten years now. The man can write some really deep stuff, but he’s also got an ear for really good one liners.

But, and here’s the thing, book cannot live on one liners and snappy dialogue alone, and by the end of The Human Division we’ve been living on a solid diet of one liners and pithy dialogue from almost every single character for the last four books since The Sagan Diary.

I haven’t been making a big deal out of this for the other books, but it becomes increasingly difficult for me to take the dark conspiracies and epic politics seriously because it’s not like anybody else in the series is pretending to either. By The Human Division, Scalzi’s pretty much defaulted every character to constant snark, and while the dialogue is amusing and fun to read, he’s basically destroyed any sense of gravitas to the universe, and that’s a huge shame, both because it’s a deeply compelling universe and because as the first three books proved, Scalzi’s a way better author than he’s being here.

As to the actual contents of The Human Division, it’s basically the OMW universe short story anthology, and is best treated as such. Thus, while it’s very long by comparison to the other books in the series, the plot takes forever to get anywhere, lacks any kind of real conclusion, and jumps around a lot. It is best thought of as a whole bunch of slice of life episodes in-universe, and because I approached the book that way, I was only mildly let down when I realized we weren’t actual going anywhere at the end.

A quick read, real page turner, but desperately needs a real sequel before I burn out completely.

10/21/2013 Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising (1987 Berkley mass market paperback, 725 pages – Personal collection, c. 1990)

Odd as it may seem, that newspaper clipping from 1991 is one of my more prized possessions. Even at a few days into being an 11 year old, I had something of an understanding of what the big deal was there, and I knew some of what I knew because I was a 5th grade reader of anything and everything military, Tom Clancy, or both. Yeah, I was that kind of kid, but I think it was that kind of time in the world.

I still have a shelf full of Tom Clancy paperbacks that I haven’t read in almost 20 years – time and tastes march onwards – and I’ve thought lately that I ought to pick one up again, just to revisit the old days. Clancy’s recent death kind of spurred things into motion, and here we are with Red Storm Rising. Not my favorite from back in the day (that was The Sum of All Fears, though I have no idea if I’d like it now or not), but I think the most evocative of the Reagan years.

It seems so strange now, all this preoccupation with spying on the Soviets and tank divisions in a divided Germany and rushing attack subs through the GIUK gap and all of that. When Red Storm Rising was published in the mid to late 80s, all of this stuff was completely cutting edge. USS Reuben James, one of the heroes of the book, was brand new. She was decomissioned earlier this year, and as a matter of fact most of the cutting edge military tech in Red Storm Rising is out of service – all the carriers except Nimitz, the F-14 Tomcat, the F-111, almost everything except the grandfatherly B-52. There are people coming out of college now who weren’t even born when there was a Soviet Union.

Put shortly, the world of the cutting edge technothrillers of my youth is now as dead as the Hittites, and has about as much current relevancy as the Roman historical novels I abandoned the technothrillers for. That makes for a strange reading experience – the World War III everyone worried about when I was a kid now seems as fantastical as The Lord of the Rings. Hard to believe, but there it is.

It does not particularly help that the scenario doesn’t make much sense examined through the eyes of somebody who now knows a whole lot more about the subject matter – the Soviets launching World War III because Islamic terrorists blew up an oil refinery sounds kind of crazy, and despite Clancy accurately figuring out Islamic terrorism, the instability of the Soviet political system and its end in a coup, and even the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter 20 years early, it all sounds a little crazy from a 2013 vantage point.

Somewhat despite that, and despite the paper thin characters and scenarios that sound like they were taken from a particularly wild night of wargaming (which they kind of were), and yes dudes Red Dawning it around Soviet-occupied Iceland, I mean you, Red Storm Rising does manage to be somewhat engaging after the first 150 pages or so, even now. I plowed right on through 400 pages before sitting down to write this, and it was pretty fun. Guy discovers badassery, guy gets hot Icelandic blonde girl, other guys cruise around blowing stuff up in new and inventive ways, and Clancy manages to make anti-submarine warfare and Prairie/Masker systems pretty damned awesome.

It’s just that I can’t get over the idea that major events of my lifetime are now essentially ancient history. It’s got to be hell on old people.

10/26/2013 Pat Frank, Alas, Babylon (2005 Harper Perennial Modern Classics paperback, 352 pages – Corvallis Public Library)

I first read this for English class in high school, which I suppose goes to show you that not all of the things they had us reading in HS were atrociously bad and eminently hateable drek. I’ve remembered it as sort of a Boy’s Life After the Bomb sort of deal, kind of an atomic warfare for the YA lit set thing.

It’s not, really. It’s not particularly gritty by today’s standards, writing styles of the 50s being what they are, but it’s a pretty unsentimental look at life, death, and the collapse of society after a nuclear war in which there are no winners, only people who lost a little less. It’s got some heroic heroes, plucky sidekicks, greedy amoral types, the whole gamut. It’s practically screaming for a television rendition on AMC.

From my standpoint of somebody who more or less remembered the plot halfway in, the really interesting parts are the picture painted of a particular moment in time and what that moment in time said about people. Randy Bragg being the last of the manly men. Plucky Lib McGovern presaging women’s lib by a fair bit and packing guns and going on adventures. Black people who aren’t cariactures and who are just as good as everybody else (one senses that Pat Frank, a Chicago native transplated to Florida, slightly differed from his adopted state on a few civil rights issues).

The main point is this. I’ve never been in a bomb scare in the ’50s. But I read Alas, Babylon and I feel like I get a pretty good snapshot into the minds of the people who were in bomb scares in the ’50s.

10/29/2013 Jim Butcher, Furies of Calderon (2005 Ace mass market paperback, 504 pages – Personal collection, 2013)

While Jim Butcher is primarily known for his Dresden Files books, and believe me I’m a huge fan of everything to do with them, I also knew that he’d done this other fantasy series as well. Thanks to my parents moving and me inheriting a really massive stack of books, I now have the chance to find out if they’re any good or not.

I confess that this first book in the series was…kind of slow and predictable by Dresden standards. I pretty much guessed most of what was going to happen well before it did, and this is very much an “intro adventure” sort of book, filled with characters who as of yet just aren’t as endearing to me as the Dresden crowd. We’ll see how future installments fare.

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