Books

These are little things that I've written about some books that I've read (and a few movies that I've seen, and similar things). Some of them are just little jottings, some of them aspire to being actual reviews. I write them mostly for myself, for reasons that aren't always entirely clear to me. Some (even many) of them may contain spoilers, things that you might not want to know before reading the book. Be warned.

Old Twentieth, by Joe Haldeman
Ruined by a cop-out ending

The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
Solid Banksian (non-Culture) SF

Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription, by William F. Buckley Jr.
Don't start here

The Economic Naturalist, by Robert H. Frank
Fun speculation, but no more than that

Dealing in Futures, by Joe Haldeman
Far from his best

Man vs Machine, by M. H. Greenberg and J. Helfers (eds)
Wow, mediocre (two stars / five)

City at World's End, by Edmond Hamilton
Classic (1951) SF

The Curse of the Kings, by Victoria Holt
70's Gothic Romance, with archaeologists

Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
Mildly funny once in awhile

Nine Hundred Grandmothers, by R. A. Lafferty
Great lunatic SF short stories from the '60's

Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham
A light story with a yucchy subtext

The Gutenberg Elegies, by Sven Birkerts
Interesting and valuable, if wrong, worries about technology

Between Planets, by Robert A. Heinlein
Solid early-50's SF; Heinlein!

Newton's Wake, by Ken MacLeod
Solid (and standalone!) Singularity SF

staying dead, by laura anne gilman
A fun romance, with modernday magic

The Pride of Chanur, by C. J. Cherryh
More good space-lions SF

Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown
Real junk-food fiction; page turner with numerous winces

The Forbidden Tower, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Another good Darkover novel

Two to Conquer, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
A scoundrel makes good. Twice.

Hawkmistress!, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Good escapist fantasy on Darkover before rediscovery

Slipstreams, by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers (eds)
Miscellaneous reasonably okay anthology

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, by Doug Liman (director)
A waste of a perfectly good premise

Hardcore Zen, by Brad Warner
Good down-to-Earth sensible Zen words

Gun, with Occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem
Surprisingly good noir PI SF

On Zen Practice, by Taizan Maezumi and Bernie Glassman (eds)
Quite a few words on that which no words can capture

GURPS Cabal, by Kenneth Hite
Rules for secret-magic and Heremetic role-playing

Zen and the Beat Way, by Alan Watts
Six classic Watts talks on Zen

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
Odd rich literate vampire novel

Miss Zukas and the Library Murders, by Jo Dereske
Light paperback murder mystery; some interesting characterization

Stations of the Tide, by Michael Swanwick
Nice rich surreal controlled-ultratech novel

Oracle, by Mike Resnick
Space-toughguy potboiler with a little twist

Seven Clues to the Origin of Life, by A. G. Cairns-Smith
Amusing and readable book about what the first replicators weren't, and might have been, like

The White Mists of Power, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Mostly Generic Medieval Fantasy novel with some unusual touches

Accelerando, by Charles Stross
Impressive hard-SF epic, from near-future Europe to posthuman space

Orbit 19, by Damon Knight (ed)
Great mix of 1977 SF short stories

The Empty Mirror, by Janwillem van de Wetering
Straightforward unassuming account of a year or two in a Japanese Zen monastery

Marianne, the Madame, and the Momentary Gods, by Sheri S. Tepper
Good strange (short) fantasy novel

The Best Buddhist Writing 2005, by Melvin McLeod et al (eds)
Good (possibly not best) Buddhist writing (mostly from 2005)

Black Brillion, by Matthew Hughes
Impressive and enjoyable channeling of Jack Vance

Iron Sunrise, by Charles Stross
Another solid post-cyberpunk SF novel in the world of the Eschaton

Dark City (the movie), by Alex Proyas
omg

High Jinx, by William F. Buckley, Jr.
Disposable commies-and-good-guys spy fiction

The Brethren, by John Grisham
Eh

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
Too long, gets too many things wrong, but a fun ride

The Content of Our Character, by Shelby Steele
Very important; I don't know how true

The X-Files: Fight the Future, by Chris Carter
Just a bit too implausible

The Great Explosion, by Eric Frank Russel
Middling classic SF novel built around a classic novella

National Treasure, by Jon Turteltaub (Director)
Utterly implausible but fun movie

Creation, by Gore Vidal
Historical fiction about Greece, Persia, India and China in the Vth Century

The Brotherhood of the Rose, by David Morrell
Routine spy/assassin thriller with annoying errors

He Wouldn't Kill Patience, by Carter Dickson
Light Carr locked-room

Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham
A lovely quirky novel of past, present, and future

Saturn, by Ben Bova
Big slow SF novel about an expedition to Saturn

Caught in the Shadows, by C. A. Haddad
Light reading

Daughter of Regals, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Eight pretty much ordinary fantasy short stories

Diamond Cutter Sutra, by Michael Roach
Lectures on Tibetan Buddhism motivated by the Diamond Sutra

Codex, by Lev Grossman
Uneven but enjoyable novel about text and reality and stuff

On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt
A little gem of a book

Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
Cute teen love story in a queer utopia

The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
Enjoyable surreal fiction about race and elevators

Where the Money Was, by Willie Sutton, with Edward Linn
The Memoirs of a Bank Robber; wonderful Willie Sutton autobiography

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps
My favorite essential Zen source materials

Raids on the Unspeakable, by Thomas Merton
Minor but worthwhile Merton miscellany

Young Mrs. Cavendish and the Kaiser's Men, by K. K. Beck
Fluffly but fun adventure set in the 1920s

Nothing is Hidden, by Jisho Warner et al (eds)
Good Zen stuff: Dogen's "Instructions for the Cook" and commentaries

Long Quiet Highway, by Natalie Goldberg
Introspective life story of an American student of Zen

Land of No Buddha, by Richard P. Hayes
Idiosyncratic essays by a Western Buddhist; ranting but redeemed

A Million Open Doors, by John Barnes
Solid interstellar-culture SF

Metropolis, by Fritz Lang
A classic (very classic) movie

Lizard, by Banana Yoshimoto
Six lovely stories

The Spirit of Zen, by Alan Watts
Very early Watts on Zen; somewhat dated, but endearing

Wrong about Japan, by Peter Carey
Short and somewhat frustrating book (but a good data point) about the gulfs between cultures

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
A novel in six nested stories

A Man and Two Women, by Doris Lessing
Luminous short stories

Shadow's End, by Sheri S. Tepper
Nice social-philosophical SF with a rather deus ex ending

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki
Essential reading

D'Shai, by Joel Rosenberg
Good fantasy / mystery story with an interesting take on magic

Chanur's Legacy, by C. J. Cherryh
Solid aliens-and-starships SF, with lots of plot and character, and a rather abrupt ending

The London Pigeon Wars, by Patrick Neate
At least it's different...

The Barn at the End of the World, by Mary Rose O'Reilley
The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
A book everyone should read, about literature and culture and...

Year's Best SF 9, by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (eds)
Some SF short stories

Dark Light, by Ken MacLeod
More of the complex but interesting "Engines of Light" series; some halfway revelations

Below Suspicion, by John Dickson Carr
Murder and Satanism and mostly fun Carr

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, by Gideon Defoe
Extremely silly, but short

Sadness, by Donald Barthelme
Brilliant

The Palace of Eternity, by Bob Shaw
Vintage Ace Paperback SF, circa 1969

Manifold: Time, by Stephen Baxter
More cosmological / philosophical speculation, with an imperfectly-attached story

The Dead Man's Knock, by John Dickson Carr
A self-parodying Carr mystery; I didn't like it

Jacob Atabet, by Michael Murphy
A puzzling novel about a man with mystical powers. Or not.

Collision with the Infinite, by Suzanne Segal
Fascinating first-person account of a unique spiritual, or neurological, experience

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
Historical fantasy and non-cliche magic

The Shadow Before, by L. P. Davies
An intriguing start, but rather tails off

The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross
What's more horrifying: eldritch brain-eating demons from another dimension, or office bureaucrats?

Lion in the Valley, by Elizabeth Peters
Gloriously silly adventure in Victorian Egypt

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
A deep and interesting book, about timely and timeless things

Eastern Standard Tribe, by Cory Doctorow
Good (short) jittery near-future wired-style SF

Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross
Solid singularity-flavor hard-SF

Marnie, by Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Graham
Alfred Hitchcock's Suspenseful Sex Mystery!

The Case of the Careless Cupid, by Erle Stanley Gardner
Utterly classic Perry Mason

The Nightingale Gallery, by Paul Harding
Unremarkable, if somewhat appealing, 1300's murder mystery

Holes, by Louis Sachar
Another children's book that all adults should read; complex and tragic and happy

The Wanton One, by James Rubel
Great 1960 he-man shamus story, with adorably innocent sex

Twisted, by Jeffery Deaver
Short stories with surprises inside; trying too hard

The Whenabouts of Burr, by Michael Kurland
Diverting alternate-worlds story centered, casually, on the Hamilton-Burr duel

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, by Aimee Bender
Lovely short stories; read them

Gasping for Airtime, by Jay Mohr
The author had a lousy time being on Saturday Night Live for two seasons; I had a lousy time reading his book about it.

The Book of Rack the Healer, by Zach Hughes
Alien love and tragedy and vintage 1972 SF

Blind Date, by Jerzy Kosinski
Intense vignette-style dark biographical fiction

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
A powerful and unsettling book about the reality of war

Salome, by Oscar Wilde
What's the fuss?

Neverness, by David Zindell
What's this obsession with the primitive?

No Future In It, by John Brunner
Random Brunner SF shorts from the 50s and 60s

An Experiment with Time, by J. W. Dunne
Priceless British philosophizing from the Roaring Twenties

No Flowers By Request, by Dorothy Sayers et al.
Unremarkable group-authored English murder mystery

Crime on the Coast, by John Dickson Carr, et al.
Unremarkable group-authored English murder mystery

Night Flight, by Rita Murphy
Good short YA novel about growing up and being able to fly and all

The Angel Factory, by Terence Blacker
Protagonist discovers his parents are aliens

The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster
I'm not smart enough to appreciate this book

The Müller-Fokker Effect, by John Sladek
Early seventies swinging-hipster stream of consciousness farce. Or something.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Classic (actually classic) horror / adventure stuff

Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds
A slow start and an deus ex machine ending, but some good stuff; solid ultratech SF

Cosm, by Gregory Benford
One neat idea wrapped in an uninteresting novel

The Computer Connection, by Alfred Bester
Stoned SF lunacy from the 70's

Brothel, by Alexa Albert
A fascinating and sympathetic look inside one of Nevada's legal brothels

Black Coffee, by Agatha Christie (Charles Osborne)
Unremarkable novel based on a Christie play

Earthweb, by Marc Stiegler
Fun near-future-tech SF around a rather silly plot device

The Funny Thing is..., by Ellen Degeneres
She's funnier with video

Humpty Dumpty; an Oval, by Damon Knight
A long dream

Grendel, by John Gardner
Read this

Psychohistorical Crisis, by Donald Kingsbury
An entertaining adventure, set (roughly) in the galaxy of Asimov's Foundation; but way too long.

The Girl Who Played Go, by Shan Sa
Beautifully written tragedy about the Sino-Japanese war

The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
Good European fantasy

The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, by G. K. Chesterton
Slightly clever but unremarkable stories

Night of Delusions, by Keith Laumer
Tough private eye (or is he?) explores the mysteries of epistemology

The Infinite Cage, by Keith Laumer
Pure nerd wish-fulfillment in a 1972 SF paperback

My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey
Intrigue and mystery in Malaya; a spy-story about poetry

Rendezvous on a Lost World, by A. Bertram Chandler
Jet jockeys lost in space; a miniature Odyssey with a surprisingly dark ending

The Door Through Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Good swashbuckling space-opera, with hints of the Darkover to come.

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, by Lawrence Block
Lightweight but fun gentleman-burglar murder mystery

House of Stairs, by William Sleator
YA dystopian novel about conditioning and the Human Spirit

The Book of Leviathan, by Peter Blegvad
Blegvad is a flippin' genius

Vacuum Diagrams, by Stephen Baxter
Fun and mostly clued hard SF, with flaws

Country Cooking and Other Stories, by Harry Mathews
A great collection

Against a Dark Background, by Iain M. Banks
Rich setting, interesting characters, wild ideas

The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, by K. C. Constantine
Well-crafted, but dreary (three stars)

Eon, by Greg Bear
Pretty good mostly-hard SF, slowmoving in spots, confusing in spots, fun all told.

Time Pressure, by Spider Robinson
Good SF, good character twists (four stars)

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
Fun and nostalgic, but the philosophical weaknesses bothered me more than when I read it as a kid.

Starplex, by Robert J. Sawyer
Unambitious

Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
Well-written and funny in spots, but rather too painful and self-indulgent

Inversions, by Iain M. Banks
Banks is a freaking genius (five stars)

Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, by Chip Kidd
85% of a really good book (four stars)

The Wind After Time, by Chris Bunch
Sort of a noir SF Matt Helm, or perhaps an SF Bond; easily worth the US$0.25

Compliticy, by Iain Banks
Good; valid characterizations, involving suspense, and some provoking questions underlying the action

Convergent Series, by Charles Sheffield
Good setup, but the ending disappoints (two stars)

Decision, by Allen Drury
A Very Minor Drury (two stars)

The Magus, by John Fowles
Eh... (three stars)

The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks
It was very very good. You should read it.

The Engines of Dawn, by Paul Cook
Weak (two stars)

South Sea Tales, by Jack London
Good solid 1900's sea stories (four stars)

Distraction: A Novel, by Bruce Sterling
Not up to Sterling's best (two stars)

A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
Good stuff, thought-provoking as always (five stars)

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis
Myth as a light on human nature (four stars)

Other People's Dirt, by Louise Rafkin
A good quick read (three stars)

Understanding Comics, by Scott Mccloud
Deep and Clear (five stars)

Love and Desire: Photoworks, by William A. Ewing
Give it to someone you love (four stars)

Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, by Tim Cahill
Well, three-and-a-half (four stars)

Audrey Hepburn's Neck, by Alan Brown
Alan Brown (four stars)

Apocalypse Pretty Soon, by Alex Heard
Some interesting anecdotes (three stars)

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Essential (five stars)

Weaving the Web, by Tim Berners-Lee
Such a nice guy (four stars)

Impossible Things, by Connie Willis
Not bad, but not for those short on time (three stars)

Ribofunk, by Paul Di Filippo
Not bad at all (four stars)

How to Understand and Use Design and Layout, by Alan Swann
Less than useful (two stars)

Legal Briefs: Stories by Today's Best Legal Thriller Writers, by William Bernhardt (ed.)
Don't bother (one star)

The Empire of Signs, by Roland Barthes (Richard Howard (Translator))
Mind-tickling. Not About Japan (four stars)

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman
A very enjoyable booklover's book (four stars)

The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage
One of those books that reminds me that much of my informal intuition about history, and about the history of technology in particular, just happens to be wrong

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
Good solid Christie (three stars)

Ruined by Reading, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
This is another book that I will recommmend unreservedly, at least to people who think of themselves as readers: go out and get it and read it

River Out of Eden, by Richard Dawkins
About life and evolution; valuable to long-time Dawkins readers as well as random passers-by

Ellis Island and other stories, by Mark Helprin
The same entrancing medicine as Winter's Tale

Sudden Fiction (Continued), by Robert Shapard and James Thomas (eds)
Take the first two members of this family first, and go on to this one only if you find you enjoy short-short stories and want more

Sudden Fiction, by Robert Shapard and James Thomas (eds)
Deep and marvelous literature without stressing your attention-span

Sexwise, by Susie Bright
Your libido and your mind will both thank you for it

Islandia, by A. T. Wright
The time spent here will be well worth it for most readers, and Wright's reflections on love are timeless and apt.

Reading in Bed, by Steven Gilbar (ed.)
Anyone who loves reading, whose idea of heaven involves many bookshelves, comfortable cushions, and plenty of time, stop reading this now, and go out and buy the book

The Kitchen God's Wife, by Amy Tan
A reminder that people just living lives can be a worthwhile read, even relatively unadorned

Permutation City, by Greg Egan
A solid, non-dark, hard-SF exploration of some of the things that may happen when we get computers powerful enough to accurately simulate intelligent systems

SimCity 2000: Power, Politics and Planning, by Nick Dargahi and Michael Bremer
A reasonably good gamebook for this wonderful game or toy or whatever-it-is

"Heart Songs" and "The Shipping News", by E. Annie Proulx
The novel, but not the short stories, offer some hope of redemption

Up the Infinite Corridor, by Fred Hapgood
The book isn't awful, but some of the entries in its bibliography are better treatments of the same subjects

Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov
This isn't the perfect Nabokov book; the middle is a bit too long, and a tad too much plot has snuck in.

Give War a Chance, by P. J. O'Rourke
Humorous in spots, but annoyingly knee-jerk Conservative

Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
Not the best Calvino ever, but a pleasure to dip into nonetheless

Orsinian Tales, by Urusula K. Le Guin
Some of the best prose I have read in a long, long time

Sudden Fiction International, by Robert Shapard and James Thomas (eds)
Very short, and mostly very good, stories from around the world

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the period, the places, or adventure writing in general

Globalhead, by Bruce Sterling
Good (but not perfect) near-future SF short stories

The Toynbee Convector, by Ray Bradbury
A quirky little 1992 mass-market reprint of a good 1983 Bradbury short story

House of the Sleeping Beauties and other stories, by Yasunari Kawabata
Powerful and disturbing pictures of alienation of various kinds

When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
A good PI yarn that happens to be set in a cyberpunk world

Aristoi, by Walter Jon Williams
An involving far-future ultra-tech novel

Crystal Express, by Bruce Sterling
Tasty and elegant studies of the various sorts of express humanity is constantly finding itself on

Black Sky, by William Lovejoy
Run-of-the-mill military techno-thriller

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
A delicious first 150 pages, followed by another 300 that aren't bad either

The Turing Option, by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky
I expected it to be a really well-written novel with interesting plotting, good science, and neat new ideas. I was disappointed.

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