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Who am I?

You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.

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Tue, 29 Mar 2005

Only Forward, by Michael Marshall Smith
While we were driving up to Cornell, Jofish recommended this book. I'd read another of Smith's books, Spares, borrowed from the library, but it made absolutely no impact on me, and I didn't remember a single detail. But, in the mornings, while waiting for others to wake up, I picked up Only Forward from Jofish's bookshelf, and slammed through it.

I thought it was interesting. I liked the world that it takes place in, which is sort of the logical extreme of the Burbclaves in Snow Crash, where the Neighborhoods grow to be completely separate and cut off from each other. And I really like how the protagonist's flexible viewpoint lets him move between the different Neighborhoods seamlessly, because it picks up on the contextual nature of reality that I've been thinking about. The second half gets more metaphysical, and I'm not sure I liked where Smith went with it. But it was a quick read, and had some interesting ideas, so it's a qualified thumbs up.

posted at: 08:38 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk
Picked this up in my big library trip of a couple weeks ago. Again, recommended by a friend. Plus, I've been curious about Palahniuk since seeing Fight Club. I really like his stylized writing in a lot of ways, and it's easy to see the resemblance to the style of Fight Club. I didn't really connect to any of the characters, though, so I didn't get into it as much as I do some other fiction. For me, fiction is all about identifying with characters, I think. The early years of Buffy, when the Scooby gang were all high school outsiders? Total identification. Gilmore Girls with Lorelai's mother issues? Yup. Miles Vorkosigan's brand of demented genius. Ender's loneliness and supernatural observation skills. Pretty much all of the fiction I like has a central character that I identify with strongly. So when I don't connect to the characters, I tend to feel eh about a book, no matter how beautiful or creative the writing. I'm just not enough of a literature geek yet, I guess.

posted at: 22:36 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sun, 06 Mar 2005

King Rat, by China Mieville
I remembered China Mieville's name from Aneel's book page, so when I stopped by the library, I looked him up, and this was the one book by him that they had. It's somewhat in the same vein as Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, describing a London with more dimensions than most of us ever get to see, or the urban fantasies of Charles de Lint. The cover description plays up the importance of drum and bass techno music to the story, but I think that's just to draw in the hip kids. I thought it was okay. The writing is gorgeous in spots, but the narrative seemed to kind of wander without a clear idea of where it was heading at times. It was okay. I'm happy I got it from the library.

posted at: 14:51 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 28 Feb 2005

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
I stopped by the library a few days ago and picked up a bunch of books that I was vaguely interested in, but not enough to toss into one of my Amazon orders. Mostly quick reads, so you'll see several book reviews over the next couple weeks as I slam through them.

This one was recommended by a friend due to my Buffy obsession as another take on the tale of the young woman called into service to fight the vampires. It was okay. I liked the world, and the juxtaposition of the matter-of-fact and the otherworldly. None of the characters really grabbed me, though. And some of the more interesting aspects of the world are never fully developed. I thought it was an okay read, but it's not a book I'm going to run out and buy.

Then again, I've only bought one of the Buffy books, and thought it was terrible. The presentation on screen brings the Buffyverse to life in a way that the books fail to. Credit for that should probably be split between Joss and the actors. Plus the dialogue is much better in the real episodes. And I'm totally a sucker for witty dialogue.

posted at: 22:19 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sat, 18 Dec 2004

Down Here, by Andrew Vachss
In my last Amazon order, I picked up the latest Andrew Vachss, an author whom I adore, and own all of his books. Well, maybe not all, but certainly all the Burke novels, and most of his fiction. I'm missing a couple of his graphic novel creations, things like that. Anyway. I think Burke's New York is one of the more fascinating settings out there. This isn't one of Vachss's more stellar efforts, but it's still a solid read. I put it away in one evening. Yay.

posted at: 11:08 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sun, 12 Dec 2004

The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King
A few weeks ago, when I was in the library, I saw books 5, 6 and 7 of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King (that'd be Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower). Since I'd liked the first few books in the series, but had dropped it when it wasn't clear whether King would ever finish the series, I decided to pick these up. I actually went back and re-read book 4, Wizard and Glass, when it was clear that I didn't remember it, and it had some relevance. So I've slammed through probably close to 2000 pages of crap in the last few weeks. Fortunately, it's fast reading, so I didn't waste as much time as you might think.

Spoilers ahead, if any of you care.

I really did like the first three books in this series. They all have some memorable moments, with mythic overtones. Wizard and Glass was okay - obviously not very memorable, since I had to re-read it - it's basically a standard Western plot set in a fantasy realm. The last three books are just kind of painful. King apparently decided that this was his opportunity to tie all of his books together, so he started dropping in characters from all of his books to meet the gunslingers and help them out. Characters from Salem's Lot all the way through his more recent books like Insomnia (none of which I've read). So that added confusion, since I hadn't read these stories, and these characters which I'm clearly supposed to recognize are showing up.

It gets even better, though, when King has these fantasy characters cross dimensions into a facsimile of our world. In this world, they meet, yes, that's right, King himself, who is portrayed as one of the most valuable people in the universe, supporting one of the "Beams" that holds the universe together through his writing. I started losing steam quickly at this point.

Plus, the writing just isn't very good. King, if nothing else, generally spins a good yarn. Books like The Shining or It are gripping, and have a sort of inevitability about them that is one of the keys to horror writing. These books just start wandering; in his attempt to include all of his other books, it just becomes a series of vignettes - "Oh, look, another of my characters!" And it suffers for that. By the time the main characters start getting killed off, I no longer cared about them.

In the last couple books, he also started pulling the omniscient narrative nonsense - things like "He slipped the .40 into his docker's clutch almost without thinking, so moving us a step closer to what you will not want to hear and I will not want to tell." How melodramatic is that?

I kept with it, mostly out of a desire for completeness. Just to finish it. And to find out what's in the Dark Tower. And, of course, it's a copout. I should have known.

Anyway. Strong anti-recommendation. The first three books are worth reading if you like a western-crossed-with-fantasy kind of book. And maybe book four. But if you never read 5, 6 and 7, you won't be missing anything.

posted at: 20:28 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 25 Nov 2004

The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, by Minister Faust
I saw this in the library. The title was just too good to pass up, especially since I'm always fascinated by tales of the trickster, of which the coyote is one of the main avatars. I flipped through the first few pages, liked the tone, and checked it out. I mean, each character is introduced with a D&D-style character sheet, with comments like "Technological Intelligence: +99 A-Team/MacGyver" and "Genre Alignment: SF (general), ST (original series), SW, Marvel, Alan Moore +79". The Genre Alignment listed for each character is actually pretty useful if you follow sci-fi, because it gives you an idea of what they like and what they respond to. Of course, you have to be a pretty big geek to catch all the references.

Overall, the book has a Snow Crash-like feel to it in a lot of ways, with African mythology replacing Sumerian mythology. It has the same sort of breezy action-packed narrative, with a bit of "Um, what the hell" when it delves deeper into the mythology. One of the interesting narrative tricks used is to write in first-person, but switch the character speaking to provide different perspectives. Each character is introduced by the D&D sheet before their first narrative section, and after that, you have to keep track of who's talking by the different authorial voice used. It's artificial, but it gives a bit more insight into what's going on in the other characters' brains.

The other thing I liked about the book was the author's willingness to explain things slowly. Because it's first person, he'll have a character drop a reference to something, and not explain it until 200 pages later when that character is talking to somebody else. It gives you something to look forward to as you're trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It's also interesting because the main character is writing his sections after the book's events have taken place, so he gets to drop in remarks about what's going to happen (early on, you read this sentence, "In a few days' time, when machetes are pointed at me, when an old, old friend betrays me, when a sharpened ice-cream scoop is poised to scrape out my eyes, I'll be wishing I'd never met this woman") to sharpen the anticipation.

Overall a fun read. Not one I'm planning to buy and/or re-read, but pretty entertaining.

posted at: 10:01 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Inversions, by Iain M. Banks
Christy read this and then gave it to me. It didn't do a lot for me. Several of my friends really like Iain Banks, so I keep on trying his work, but very little of it sticks with me. I think I have three or four of his books on my bookshelf, and I honestly couldn't tell you anything about what happens in them without re-reading them, whereas there are books that I read once and grab me and stick in my memory. I mean, it's competently executed, and a tolerable way to pass the time, but that's about it. And since these reviews are my way of recording what struck me about a book, and I don't have anything to say, I'm just using it as an excuse to comment about this weird disparity between the high regard people I know have of Banks and the disconnection I feel from his work. Anyway.

posted at: 09:57 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 04 Nov 2004

Clans of the Alphane Moon, by Philip K. Dick
Brian bought this on our layover in Chicago on the way out, mostly because his other choice of reading material was a mathematical optics book. I don't know what he was thinking. Anyway, I was running out of reading material on the way back, so I borrowed it from him, and traded him the novel I'd been reading. Like most Philip K. Dick material, this book is really weird. I'm not sure it's even worth describing. Here, I'll quote the back cover:

When CIA agent Chuck Rittersdorf and his psychiatrist wife, Mary, file for divorce, they have no idea that in a few weeks they'll be shooting it out on Alpha III M2, the distant moon ruled by various psychotics liberated from a mental ward. Nor do they suspect that Chuck's new employer, the famous TV comedian Bunny Hentman, will also be there aiming his own laser gun. How things come to such a darkly hilarious pass is the subject of Clans of the Alphane Moon, an astutely shrewd and acervic tale that blurs all conventional distinctions between sanity and madness.

Um. Yeah.

posted at: 19:42 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Wed, 20 Oct 2004

Sucker Bet, by James Swain
I've liked Swain's previous books, so when I saw this one in paperback at the used book store, I picked it up. Not as entertaining as the previous entries in the series, partially because Swain doesn't spend as much time explaining various casino swindles. The centerpiece scam isn't as interesting or intricate either. Still an okay read. Not much more to say than that.

posted at: 20:26 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sun, 26 Sep 2004

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
As previously noted, I picked this up after reading a book of Wallace essays and enjoying them quite a lot. It's an enormous book, 980 pages with a further 100 pages of end notes. I've been slogging through it for the past six weeks after borrowing it from the library, and finished it yesterday.

It's a sprawling book. And yet, none of the dozens of characters end up being well-developed. There's not a single character that I feel like I "know" them after reading this book, the way I do in character-based fiction like the Vorkosigan series or the Stephanie Plum series. There really isn't a plot to speak of. The ending just kind of fizzled out without ever following up on events that are mentioned earlier. There's some interesting digressions, but it's hardly worth reading the entire novel for. Maybe I'm missing something, but it really seems like Wallace is an excellent short-form writer who strung together some brilliant observational essays interspersed with hundreds of pages of relatively uninteresting events. Wallace's random one-liner observations about people are often far more interesting than the actual episode surrounding them. I was pretty disappointed by the experience, obviously.

The digressions I liked included:

Anyway. I think I might pick up some more of Wallace's shorter works, fiction and essays, because I do like his writing and his sharp eye for absurdity. But I'm going to steer clear of the novels in the future.

posted at: 13:10 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 03 Jun 2004

Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
I'm a big fan of Dennis Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro series. I didn't enjoy Mystic River as much, although the movie was well done. So I didn't know what to expect from this novel, which I picked up from the library. It was okay. Pretty standard psychological thriller. Interesting characters, breezy writing. I should have seen the ending coming, but I didn't. It's a quick read. Not much more to say than that.

posted at: 15:55 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sat, 22 May 2004

Funny Money, by James Swain
I picked up Grift Sense, the first book by James Swain, randomly while browsing in a bookstore a couple years ago because I liked the title. It was a story about Tony Valentine, a retired cop who worked in Atlantic City busting casino scams. The author Swain is a sleight-of-hand and gambling expert, so his details of all the cons that people pull to try to cheat the casino of money is fascinating. It's pretty much a neo-noir kind of novel. Anyway, I really liked Grift Sense, so when I saw Funny Money, the second Tony Valentine novel, at the library, I picked it up and read it last weekend. I liked this one too. I think it's the details that make it enjoyable, especially on life at the casino. Plus, there are several interesting characters floating around. All of whom have flaws - there are no superheros in this novel (Valentine gets beat up several times, for instance). Makes it more enjoyable somehow. Anyway, fun read if you're interested in casino life or hard-boiled type mysteries.

posted at: 03:06 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 13 May 2004

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
I never got around to reading Ayn Rand in college when everybody else did, but I was going away for a week on business, and wanted something long but compact to read, so I picked this up in paperback form at the used bookstore. Her basic thesis of Objectivism is that reason and egoism should be the principles upon which society is based. In particular, capitalism is the ultimate economic system because rational self-interest will cause great things to happen. Rand also has a view of the world where there are great heroic humans that we should not hold back. From the Ayn Rand Institute webpage, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

Atlas Shrugged is a morality tale, expounding the dire consequences that would occur if we went down the road of communism rather than capitalism (the book was written in 1957, so this was a relevant question). I think she takes things to too extreme a level, but her ideas are interesting. And I can definitely see why many nerds take up the banner of Objectivism so enthusiastically in college. Early on, she captures the feeling of being surrounded by people who don't get you, who prattle on endlessly about meaningless topics, which is a feeling that nerds are all too familiar with when trapped in parties with people talking about fashion and the like.

She also makes a pretty compelling case to me of the result of truly following the concept of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." She talks about the inevitable race to the bottom that would occur if such a philosophy were truly put into place as each person tries to outneed the next, and the corruption that would be endemic to such a system. Not a bad description of what happened in the Soviet Union, from what little I know. She also emphasizes the total disincentive for people of ability to work under such a system. In fact, the whole book is a novelistic exploration of what happens when the heroic producers go on strike against such an unjust system.

All in all, I think she makes a lot of good points, especially given the era in which she was writing. The novel definitely drags in places (1000+ pages), especially where she inserts multiple page soliloquys about the horrors of a communistic system and how it holds the true heroic producers in shackles. In fact, I skipped the final 50-page long speech by John Galt, because I just couldn't take it by that point. But it was worth reading, and I have to admit that my personal philosophy has a lot of similar elements to objectivism. And the novel was persuasive enough that even though I think she goes too far, I spent some time thinking about what she had to say and trying to figure out why I thought she was too extreme. And a book that makes me think is always a good thing.

posted at: 08:30 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Wed, 12 May 2004

To the Nines: A Stephanie Plum Novel, by Janet Evanovich
Another Stephanie Plum novel. It was at the library when I stopped by recently, and so I grabbed it and read it. Entertaining and frothy as always. A nice quick read.

posted at: 22:51 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 11 Mar 2004

Hardcase and Hard Freeze, by Dan Simmons
I picked these up at the same time as Dim Sum Dead, in my failure of self restraint at the used bookstore. I like a lot of the work by Dan Simmons, and am thoroughly impressed by his exploration of so many different literary genres. These two books are apparently his attempts at hard-boiled fiction. They were decent, but not nearly as compelling as, say, Andrew Vachss. The writing wasn't nearly as distinctive, and the protagonist wasn't very well developed; he had an appallingly brutal streak, with little explanation as to the contrast between his cold-bloodedness with his enemies as opposed to his warmth with his friends. Vachss developed the character of Burke, explaining his absolute loyalty to his family, but Simmons's character of Joe Kurtz is a cypher. One of the problems I had with the book was the same problem I had with another book of Simmons that I read recently, Darwin's Blade, where the protagonist, Darwin, was actually too skilled; the book became just a shooting gallery of bad guys getting annihilated by Darwin. Kurtz did much the same thing in these books; it was mildly interesting to see the different methods used by Kurtz, but it never really felt like he was in any danger. I'm not sure I'll pick up the next book, Hard as Nails. Maybe if I see it used.

posted at: 14:28 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Tue, 24 Feb 2004

Dim Sum Dead : A Madeline Bean Culinary Mystery, by Jerrilyn Farmer
I picked this up kind of randomly at the used bookstore a couple weeks ago. Why am I going to the used bookstore when I have more unread books on my floor than I have time to read? I can't explain it either. Heck, these days, I can't even keep up with my Economist subscription, let alone read books. But I was unable to resist the siren call of the bookstore as I walked by, so while I was there, I glanced at the pile of recently arrived used mysteries, and the name Dim Sum Dead just amused me. I picked it up and read the first few pages and they were tolerably engaging, so I bought the book. It's a light frothy mystery set in Los Angeles, with a protagonist, Madeline Bean, who's a caterer to private parties. In this case, she gets drawn into a mystery when an acquaintance asks for help and later dies under mysterious circumstances. Quick, fun read. I'll probably pick up the others in the series if I see them used.

posted at: 23:27 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 01 Jan 2004

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
This was recommended to me by a couple co-workers. When they were describing it to me, with its plot referencing the Knights Templar and other secret societies, I said it sounded a lot like Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, dumbed down into a thriller format for an American audience. So when I was at my parents' house for Christmas, and they had a copy lying around that one of their friends had left behind, I read it. And my opinion remains unchanged. It's a reasonably well-written thriller, with several twists and turns. But I felt the background information of the secret societies was used in a self-aggrandizing way, more in the sense of "look how clever I am at having done this research" than as an integral part of the plot. The thriller plot itself was somewhat stilted, especially with the puzzles scattered throughout the book; the protagonists are set in motion by a murder, the victim of which set up a puzzle that only they can solve, whose clues lead them around Paris throughout the book.

It's interesting comparing this book to Foucault's Pendulum. It's been several years since I read that book, but it draws upon many of the same source materials as The Da Vinci Code. But the difference between the two books is remarkable. Eco is an Italian semiotician, who studies the meaning of signs, and the wide variety of meaning that can be ascribed to signs of all sorts. And this instability is evident in Foucault's Pendulum, where it's unclear whether secret societies really exist, or whether they are brought into being by the machinations of the protagonist. Everything is uncertain, and there are no easy answers. In contrast, Dan Brown is apparently a thriller writer, so his puzzles only have one answer. There's a definite path from start to end in his book, and the secret societies are treated as real entities and his research as fact, the good guys are always the good guys, and the bad guys lose. It makes for a quick read (I finished it in less than a day), but it also leaves one feeling kind of empty, and I suspect I'll forget everything about the book in a few weeks. And I'm left with a desire to re-read Foucault's Pendulum to get a better compare and contrast. But we'll see if I get motivated enough to do that.

posted at: 02:37 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 01 Dec 2003

Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold
I adore the Vorkosigan series, by Bujold, but haven't warmed quite as much to her fantasy series set in Chalion. I borrowed the first one, The Curse of Chalion, from the library, and it was a good read, but not particularly memorable; in fact, I recall almost no details of it at this point. But my friend staying with me for Thanksgiving week had the recently published second book in the series, Paladin of Souls, so I read it last week. It was a well-told story that was a quick read. I like the world in a lot of ways. But for some reason, it just doesn't grab me. There are books that I read them once, and I can remember every detail of it vividly. I finished this book a week ago, and already most of the details are fuzzy. Such is life. I'd recommend it as a library read rather than a must-buy.

posted at: 13:31 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 17 Nov 2003

The Liaden universe, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
(originally posted 9/4/03, fixed links on 11/17/03) After reading Partners in Necessity, I said I'd go pick up the rest of the series. Which I did. The day after. And then read most of it over a three-day weekend. And I really enjoyed the rest of it. So I recommend the whole set now. In universe chronological order (as opposed to publishing order), they are:

So basically, three prequels, and four arc novels.

I was intrigued by one of the forewords calling these romance novels set in space. I suppose they might be considered such - four of them (the three prequels, and Agent of Change) have as their main plot arc the meeting and "lifemating" of two prominent characters. I didn't feel that the romance dominated the novels, though, as I expect them to in "romance" novels. I'm not even sure what I mean by that, but I'm sure it's some sort of rationalization to avoid me having to consider the possibility that I would enjoy romance novels as I enjoyed these.

One of the other things I really liked about this series was the concept of melant'i, describing the confusing mix of roles that characters play in their lives. One of the main characters, Val Con, is a younger cousin, a clan head, a Scout, and a husband. As a younger cousin, he properly shows deference to his elder relatives. However, as clan head, he deserves their deference. Lee and Miller disentangle these roles by postulating the Liaden language to contain different modes that are appropriate for each role. By a combination of non-verbal actions such as bows and hand gestures, and verbal hints (addressing Val Con as Delm indicates he should be in his role as clan head, as opposed to the younger cousin), the different roles that compose each character's melant'i are kept distinct. This concept is particularly interesting to me since I've been reading a lot about semantics recently, and the power of language to shape our thoughts and attitudes. So the idea of a language that differentiates the many roles that we play in our daily lives sounds like a good one to me. It would lead to much less confusion, I suspect.

But anyway. I digress. Great story. Interesting characters. Interesting culture and world. Neat aliens. All good. I highly recommend. Or just borrow them from me sometime.

posted at: 16:41 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Wed, 10 Sep 2003

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
It's a Harry Potter. What more needs to be said? It's a honker of a book - 900 pages. But fairly entertaining. And darker. Definitely the Empire Strikes Back of the series. Although my first guess as to what was going on was incorrect, alas.

posted at: 16:58 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Partners in Necessity, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
This book (well, technically, books - this is an omnibus edition of Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, and Carpe Diem) had been lurking at the top of my recommendations list at Amazon for months before I finally decided to give it a shot (mostly because I'd received an Amazon gift certificate for filling out some survey or something online so I could buy it for half price). It was compared to the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I adore, so I was curious whether it would live up to the hype. And I'm happy to say that it does. The universe is interesting, and the characters are compelling. One thing I like a lot is that Lee and Miller don't explicitly explain the universe. They've clearly planned it out and its details, but instead of telling us what's going on, they show us through the interaction of the characters and offhand remarks. It's a lesson many authors need to learn. I'm definitely going to buy the rest of the books in the series when I get the chance.

posted at: 00:47 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 28 Jul 2003

The Dragonlance novels, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
One of the used bookstores near me has a couple carts outside where they put $1 books. One buck. There's pretty much no book that's not worth a buck. So every time I walk by there, and scan the cart to see if there's anything that catches my eye. One day there was. The first six Dragonlance novels, the Chronicles trilogy and the Legends trilogy. For those of you who weren't nerds in the eighties, the Dragonlance books were basically a straight-up extension of Dungeons and Dragons into novel-writing. The novels play out as a role-playing adventure and, in fact, are based in large part on the role-playing games of the authors. So you've got your group of adventurers (a half-elf, a kender (aka halfling) thief, a mage and fighter set of twin brothers, a cleric) at a local inn, and a wacky event happens - in this case, a barbarian man and woman get arrested. Off you go on your adventure!

But Weis and Hickman do a good job of developing characters that we care about, and of developing the world to make it interesting. So interesting, in fact, that a whole slew of other novels have been based in the same world. Anyway, so when I saw these books for a buck at that store, I had to buy them as a remnant of my childhood. I didn't even mean to read them particularly. But I was bored last week, and picked up the first one, and was drawn right back in, and ended up re-reading all six. Good solid fun.

posted at: 23:04 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sat, 28 Jun 2003

John Henry Days, by Colson Whitehead
I really liked Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionist, so I'd been meaning to read his follow up novel for a while. There's a nice writeup of it, including an excerpt, at Random House's website. I finally got it from the library a couple weeks ago. Whitehead is a really good writer. His observations of modern life are interesting, and his descriptions are often sumptuous. He still needs a bit of work on plotting - the vignettes on the lives of peripheral characters were often more interesting than the main story line. Recommended.

posted at: 05:35 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sun, 22 Jun 2003

The Peace War, by Vernor Vinge
I really liked True Names, by Vinge, but haven't been as impressed with some of his other stuff, like A Fire upon the Deep, and A Deepness in the Sky. However, when I saw this for $1 at the used bookstore, I figured I'd give it a shot, especially since some of his other short stories are set in this universe. It was a decent read. Some interesting speculation about what would happen if a hypothetical "bobble" technology were developed (bobbles are essentially impenetrable spherical forcefields that are used to isolate anybody causing trouble). Nothing too spectacular, but for a buck, it was worth it.

posted at: 23:37 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Thu, 05 Jun 2003

Dance for the Ivory Madonna, by Don Sakers
This is a pretty standard sci-fi book, picked up randomly from the new book section of the library mostly because of the review on the back from Melissa Scott (whose work I like): "Imagine a Stand on Zanzibar written by a left-wing Robert Heinlein, and infused with the most exciting possibilities of the new cyber-technology". Near future, AI presence, virtual reality, crazy diseases, etc. Some interesting speculations on which directions things might go. Nothing too spectacular, though.

posted at: 23:39 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 02 Jun 2003

Zeitgeist, by Bruce Sterling
While at the library a few days ago, I was browsing along and noticed this book by Bruce Sterling. As a longtime subscriber to his Viridian mailing list, I'd almost forgotten that Sterling makes his living as a writer. So I picked this up and read it. Our protagonist is Leggy Starlitz, a band promoter among other things, who has a strong line into the cultural narrative of the times - the Zeitgeist, if you will. And the narrative draws him into one ridiculous situation after another. The metaphysics is kind of wacky, but the idea of having the cultural narrative being too strong to break out of is a fascinating one; to take an example not used in the book, when the evil villain is given a chance to repent, they always end up saying "No, I have chosen to be evil, and evil I will be!" Plus there's a couple laugh-out-loud scenes when the semi-antagonist taps into the narrative and pulls off a ridiculous James Bond escape sequence. Wacky stuff.

posted at: 23:58 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
I borrowed and read this while at a friend's house on vacation. It's got some interesting ideas. While I don't think much of Gibson as a writer, he's definitely a sharp observer of cultural trends. This book follows the adventures of Cayce Pollard, a "coolhunter" (somebody who hits the streets trying to observe new trends that advertising companies could then exploit), as she tries to track down the source of mysterious film footage that appears haphazardly on the net. The feel of the footage actually reminded me of the movie The Ring, but that's another story entirely. Worth a read, but not a buy in my opinion.

posted at: 23:52 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sat, 31 May 2003

Shadow Puppets, by Orson Scott Card
I loved the original Ender's Game series, so this re-examination of the universe bothers me. This is the third book in the series (Ender's Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon were the first two) detailing what happens on Earth after Ender leaves, when all of his fellow "soldiers" battle it out for control of Earth. The geopolitical ideas are somewhat interesting, but the characterization is really lacking. I'm glad I borrowed it from the library rather than buying.

posted at: 08:46 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

The Getaway Man, by Andrew Vachss
I really like most of Andrew Vachss's work, especially the Burke series, so I had to buy this. It's a throwback noir novel, in a style appropriate to the 1930's or so. What's interesting is that the protagonist, Eddie, is a pretty simple fellow, as opposed to the street intelligence of Burke. Eddie gets caught up in schemes beyond his comprehension, but concentrates on doing his job as the driver, and ignoring what he doesn't understand. Eventually, he gets caught too deep, and has to make some choices of his own. I wouldn't say it's Vachss's best work, but it's definitely interesting.

posted at: 08:27 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Wed, 07 May 2003

Finity, by John Barnes
I've read several other books by John Barnes, and have enjoyed them, so I picked this one up from the library. It's got a very odd premise, and is very confusing, even after he starts to explain what's going on. I'm not sure I particularly liked it. But the premise is interesting, so I'll roll with it. I'd go into more detail, but it's too confusing to try to explain.

posted at: 07:17 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

The Cheese Monkeys, by Chip Kidd
Subtitled "A Novel in Two Semesters", this book tells the story of a freshman arriving at college in 1958 with no real idea of what he wants to do, and his introduction to the world of art. Chip Kidd is apparently a graphic designer of some renown (according to one cover blurb, "Chip Kidd altered the face of publishing with his revolutionary book jackets"), but this is his first novel. Some of the most interesting sequences occur in the second semester of the book, where our protagonist is taking a graphic design class from a decidedly unorthodox teacher, who, one would assume, is the teacher that Kidd wished he had. I picked it up completely at random from the new books section of the library because it had a striking cover, and I'm glad I did.

I really liked reading this - I ended up finishing it in a morning, partially because it was due back at the library soon, but also because it was just fun to read. There are several entertaining quirky characters involved in improbable situations. Plus there's some meditations on what it means to be an artist, and how to get your message across, which is self-referential to Kidd trying to get his own ideas across here, of course. And I really like the tone of the book, which is best demonstrated by including an excerpt here, for which I'll probably get sued, but what the heck.


Two days later, we were on our way to the Hutzle Union building to renew Mills's campus parking sticker when suddenly she chirped, "Hey! It's the Happy-Clappies! Let's go give 'em a spark."

As you've no doubt deduced by now, Miss Dodd had a rather thorny view of religion, which was best summed up by the fact that she got thrown out of vacation Bible school at age eleven for making a St. Sebastian toothpick holder in Crafts.

Every now and then, walking past Old Main, one would spot the Campus Crusaders, a flock of prematurely Redeemed Souls who felt it wasn't enough that God was your Crater, he also had to be your Pal.

"Look at them. It's illegal to be that happy."

A chunky girl in a red plaid skirt who appeared to be completely normal casually walked up to Himillsy and asked, just a little too loudly, "Did you know that Jesus loves you?" She handed us a pamphlet with a cartoon drawing on the front of the crucified Savior, bleeding like new dungarees in the wash. He looked ecstatic, as if he'd just won the Lottery. Hims took it and used it to fan herself, even though it was just below freezing.

"Of course, dear, and we're just dying to get married, but Mummy is dead set against it." Hims leaned into her, very conspiratorial, "He's N.O.K.D., and if we elope she'll cut us off."

Our little Merry Magdalene didn't seem to understand. She turned to me, on to her next mission, and said, now a tad unsure of herself, "God loves you too."

"Obviously," I said. "I'm white, I have a penis, and fabulous taste."

Himillsy's surprise had just the right note of archness. "Darling! A penis? Really! Why didn't you tell me? Whose is it?"

"Not sure. I haven't opened it yet."

"Oh come, let's do!" she said, taking my arm. "You must really rate! All I got was a slash that smells like carp and leaks blood every month!" She winked at the girl - whose face was as blank as her checks to the Church.

We skipped away, arm in arm. Hims looked back to the group, right before we made the corner, and shouted, "Praise Him!"

posted at: 01:21 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 05 May 2003

Girls' Poker Night, by Jill Davis
I saw this book at Borders one evening on my walk through San Francisco. Since I've been getting into poker recently, the title intrigued me. I read the first 10 pages or so in the store, and I really liked the tone of the writing. A wry edge to some humorous observations. But I wasn't willing to pay full price for it, so I didn't pick it up then. I looked for it at the library, which didn't have it, so I ended up tossing it into my next Amazon order, a fact which I hesitate to admit since the book screams Sex and the City to me (single gal moves to NYC, starts up a poker night where she and her friends discuss the state of their lives and their boyfriends). I did enjoy reading it, though. Entertaining anecdotes, and a strong narrative voice which keeps things light-hearted.

posted at: 23:51 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Sun, 04 May 2003

Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.
I started reading these recently on a friend's recommendation, and have really enjoyed them. Most of the books include several moments which are laugh out loud funny as Stephanie Plum pursues her chosen career as a bounty hunter. The cast of characters that populate her New Jersey town are at once wackily eccentric and wholly believable. The best part is that I read most of these from the library, so I didn't even have to pay for them for once. I've read pretty much all of them at this point, including:

posted at: 18:05 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels
After rediscovering the library recently, I took the opportunity to read several of the Pratchett Discworld novels that I had never gotten around to. My personal collection petered out at Feet of Clay (book 15 or so), and I'd lost track of the ones since then. The library had several of the more recent ones, so I've been picking them up and reading them for fun. They're nice quick fun reads, but I'm not sure they're entertaining enough to be worth buying. The ones I've read recently (all from the library) are:

posted at: 18:04 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

The Little Country, by Charles de Lint
After reading Memory and Dream from the library, I was reminded of the interesting worlds that de Lint constructs, so I picked this up on my next visit. Not much to say - magic is real, faeries are real, you choose what kind of world you live in, etc. Eh.

posted at: 18:03 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 24 Mar 2003

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin
Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) wrote this little novella about a shopgirl in Los Angeles and her affair with a successful older businessman. In some ways, it's a more meditative and thoughtful version of his movie, LA Story, focusing more on the isolation and desperation of those who came seeking their fortune in LA and have settled for much less. And it explores the different relationships we can have and the different reasons we pursue them. A quick little read, but with some interesting thought behind it.

posted at: 13:36 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/general | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Mon, 03 Mar 2003

Memory and Dream, by Charles de Lint
Caitlin reminded me when I saw her over Christmas of the works of de Lint, one of the best urban fantasists around. I've read only a couple of his books, so when I noticed one in the library recently, I picked it up. As seems to be common in his novels, a straightforward story quickly involves elements of the fantastic sneaking in at the periphery. This one in particular does a good job of exploring dreamlike elements and how they come to pervade the protagonist's life. And of exploring the thin line between memory and dream...

posted at: 15:37 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Nicole Griffith's Aud Torvingen series
I read these two novels (The Blue Place and Stay) in January after having them recommended by a friend. Aud Torvingen is an heiress and former cop who gets sucked into some bizarre and tragic circumstances. The novels were well written, with a wealth of descriptive detail, but I didn't really identify with Aud as strongly as my friend obviously did. Interesting and worth reading, but not books that I'll be taking off my shelf to read over and over again.

posted at: 15:22 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal