29 November 2004

Recent Reading

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I'm getting back into my usual breakneck pace of reading (but I have to still make time for more writing than I was doing before NaNoWriMo). Here are the last few things I read before and during ye olde month of novel writing (not counting comics, which I'll get to in another post).


  1. The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo. I blogged a while back about deciding to read some recent steampunk as part of my League of Extraordinary Reading (for those not in the know, that's my attempt to read everything mentioned or alluded to in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not the movie), which is a monumental task, but one I am very much enjoying). This is one of the books my local library actually had. It reminded me a little of Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen, though they're really very different books. Perhaps it was just the sense of having fun and experimenting with fiction, and the sense of history. Anyway, this volume is actually three novellas (I'm guessing, as I didn't do a word count). They're alternate history--sort of. The steampunk elements are there, but more-or-less in the background (which is where they should be, really). It's been too long, now, since I read it for me to make any really useful comments, so probably I should just shut up. It's a good read, and very fun, and the perfect thing for those who like alternate looks at historical figures and fiction that plays around with the past. Oh, and the writing was very good, too.
  2. The Bookman's Promise by John Dunning. I think I made some exclamation or another when this book first came out. I adored the first two "bookman" mysteries, so I was really excited about this one. My first impression, though, was that it was not as absorbing as the others, that it was just harder to get in to. About halfway through, though, it really grabbed me and I couldn't put it down. Which isn't to say the first half was not good, just that it wasn't as gripping as the second half. But, hey, it's a novel about books, so it can't be a bad thing.
  3. Hemlock at Vespers by Peter Tremayne. More mystery fiction, this one is a collection of short stories about Tremayne's character Sister Fidelma, and Irish religieuse around the time when paganism in Ireland was not long gone (or entirely gone, even). I started reading these mostly because I'm interested in Celtic scholarship, and Tremayne is the pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis, a well-known Celtic scholar. I'd read some of his non-fiction and was curious about his mystery novels. The stories aren't especially outstanding, but neither are they a waste of time. Basically, they're competent, and sometimes quite good, historical mysteries. I think I prefer Fidelma at novel length (though I don't consider Tremayne's novels to be high art either, just good, entertaining reads. And what more do you want from a fat mystery, anyway?)
  4. Anno-Dracula by Kim Newman. Here's another steampunk novel, this time taking off from the question "What if Van Helsing et al had not defeated Dracula?" Like all steampunk, it plays with history and has fun doing so. I have to admit I was rather . . . er . . . frustrated with the quality of the copyediting, though. There seemed to be rather a lot of small grammatical annoyances and awkward sentences that could easily have been caught by a good editor. But, quibbles aside, this was a really good vampire novel. If you don't like vampire stories on principle, obviously you won't like it. I liked it well enough to sign out the sequel from the library (it's now waiting on my pile of library books for me to get to it). There's a third book, which I will also read, eventually.
  5. Portugese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith. I picked this up at Superstore, of all places. It's the first of a trilogy of slender novels, and I thought the writing was fun. It read more like a sequence of short stories than a novel, which is not a bad thing, necessarily (and maybe it was written as a series of short stories). The really odd thing, though, was that it read like a historical book (I thought it would have made fine steampunk with the right technological trappings), yet it was set in the present. Perhaps it's because the settings are old-world. I don't know. I'll probably read the others eventually. If it had had airships in, I'd probably have gone out to buy them right away (but I'm a bit mad for airships right now).


  1. Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth by Keith S. Thomson. Okay, this is my favourite kind of non-fiction: a well-written book that makes science and natural history interesting and alive. Plus, it's about coelacanths. Coelacanths are cool. Not long after I read this, I happened across Daily Planet (weekdays at 8 on the Discovery Channel), and they had a story about a Canadian team planning to take a BC-built sub to east Africa to attempt to tag coelacanths with those new gadgets that record info and transmit it by satellite (I think). Used to be, you had to catch the fish--and probably kill it--to get the info. The team is mostly made up of people who recently used the devices (not the sub, though) to study Pacific salmon populations. Anyway, like I said, science is fun, coelacanths are cool, and this book is a very readable history of their discovery and study.
  2. Airship Saga by Lord Ventry and Eugene M. Kolesnik. This book, I am not so enthusiastic about, despite my recent fascination for airships (related, no doubt, to my steampunk obsession). While there was some truly interesting information and some great stories from old guys who actually flew airships, it was necessary to wade through an awful lot of really boring stuff to find it. There were a lot of old military guys writing in their military report style, things like: "We flew x number of hours on such-and-such a day in this direction, but didn't sight any submarines." Pages of it. But I was determined this book would not defeat me, and I read the whole thing, including all the overly-long picture captions. And I'm glad I did, because there really was some good stuff in there amongst the boringness. Some great photos and diagrams, too. (Someone wanna get me an RC airship for Christmas?)
  3. Nabakov's Blues by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates. More science, but butterflies this time. Did you know that Vladimir Nabakov (author of Lolita, among other things) was a lepidopterist? He wasn't considered much more than an amateur at the time, since he hadn't much training and was best known for his writing, but he did some solid science on butterflies. This book is about Nabakov as butterfly scientist, and especially about the work he did on a group of butterfiles called "blues." A great deal of it was also about more recent work on these butterflies that filled in the things Nabakov was unable to study, and showed just how good his science was. The book wasn't quite as exciting or readable as Living Fossil, but was still very good. (Shall I say it? Butterflies are cool.)

Phew. More to come soon, as I'm almost through a book of short stories. Plus there's a tonne of new graphic novels to blog.

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