Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"

thirty second book reviews, vol. 4, no. 3

by John at 9/21/2007 11:31:00 AM

It has been a long time since the last 30 Second Book Reviews. These reviews are kind of short because I have a lot of books stacked up to review, and some of the books have been slowly evaporating from my brain for almost six months. You gets what you gets.

Too Far From Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space - Chris Jones
This is a pretty poorly written book about what should be interesting stuff. It starts with an excellent discussion of Soviet (Russian) and American space stations and associated mishaps, especially aboard Mir. Then the plot: Two astronauts and a cosmonaut are "stranded" aboard the ISS when the Columbia disintegrated during reentry. Their only way home is [gasp!] the dangerous (more dangerous than the Space Shuttle? Good luck!) Russian Soyuz capsule, and they have to wait until another team can be made ready and launched from Russia to the ISS. There's some good stuff in there, but Jones is a sports writer by training and it shows. The book reads in many parts like one of those overly-dramatic athlete mini-bios you see during the Olympics.

Looking Backward: 2000-1887 - Edward Bellamy (1888)
Kee-rappy 19th century utopianism. Why does it seem like every book like this I've read sucks? In fairness, the whole concept of SF was just beginning to come together at the time, and these guys didn't have many examples of what not to do. As with the others, there's too much explaining, with a tacked on and stupid story about a guy who fall asleeps for 113 years and then marries his long-dead fiancee's great-grandaughter. Yes, I'm giving away the ending, because it doesn't matter. For some reason, this book spawned a utopian movement called Nationalism (which isn't to be confused with regular old nationalism).

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
Pretty good. In it, a couple of teenagers head South of the Border to find adventure and ranch work. They find both, and almost end up dead a few times. The lead character is some sort of superhuman, I think. For sure, I don't know how he learned all the stuff he knows growing up on his Grandpa's Texas ranch. The writing rocks, anyway.

The Secret City - Carol Emshwiller
Meh. Aliens that look like Neanderthals (but can pass for Cro Magnon) get stranded on Earth during the proverbial three hour tour. They to preserve their identity by not to fitting in, and they end up living, secretly, on the outskirts of society. One teenage alien who has lost track of the rest of his kind goes to look for a secret alien city he heard about, hidden up in the mountains. Conflict ensues!

Wizard of the Crow - Ngugi wa'Thiong'o
This one was damn long, and had a unsatisfying ending. That is not a good combination. It's a story about a made-up kleptocracy in Africa run by a crazy dictator. The kleptocrats are angling for World Bank (it's not called the Work Bank in the book, but something similar) money in order to build a giant pyramid that will let the Leader stand in space or something. The titular wizard is an unemployed man and revolutionary woman who work together to do some things, like make a little money, help people, and overthrow the government. It's amusing, but it is hard to get through.

The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring - Richard Preston
I'm getting tired of narrative nonfiction. This book has an interesting disclaimer at the front that spells out just what narrative nonfiction is, which is nice. Anyway, very interesting stuff about redwood and some other trees. The rest (that is, people who climb trees, including the author) I don't care so much about. More about the trees, please!

River of Gods - Ian McDonald
Good book. It's hard to get into, because the author drops you right into a new locale, and then you expend a lot of effort trying to learn the language, which is sort of like actually traveling. The locale is one of the fractured nations of former India in 2047. There's a sci-fi plot about artificial intelligences, zero point energy, and other universes. There's lots of action. I was satisfied.

Brasyl - Ian MacDonald
Just like the book above, only in Brazil (or some variation of the spelling). Like River of Gods, it's hard to get into because first, you have to learn to speak a little Brazilian Portuguese and find your way around Rio de Janeiro. This time, the sci-fi plot is about quantum computing, parallel universes, and universe simulators. There's lots of action. There's sexy Brazilians. I was satisfied. I should have mentioned this above, but at the end of both of these books, MacDonald gives the reader a playlist of music that inspired the book. You could go multimedia and make up the same playlist and listen to it while you read the book!

On the Makaloa Mat / Island Tales - Jack London (1919)
Here's a bunch of short stories that take place in post-Kingdom Hawaii, up until around the 1910s. There are love stories (tragic or not), adventure stories, and some comedy as well. I liked it.

The Plot Against America: A Novel - Philip Roth
I read this one over a weekend (OK, a three day weekend) which is rare for me. It was engaging. It's about what might have happened if fascists had won the Presidency in 1940, and concerns the family of a young Jewish boy living in New Jersey. Recommended by Bill, so it must be good!

Spaceman Blues: A Love Song - Brian Slattery
Neato! Manuel has disappeared, and his boyfriend Wendell is looking for him. But some people (or some things) are looking for Wendell, so he flees with his friend Masoud into the NYC underground (literally). Meanwhile, the Church of Panic has figured out that something really bad is about to happen to New York City. So what is really going on here? This is a very fun, short novel that reminded me of both Vonnegut and Dick and is also totally in love with Brooklyn. I think you should read it - it might be the best book on this list (or maybe Roth's, so try them both!).


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