- David A. Hardy, Visions of Space (6/4)
Space art! We don't hear much about space art (not SF art, but art for murals, science centers, general magazines, and other random venues of The Real Coming Life in Space, or sometimes Our Hard-Working Astronauts) now-a-days, but it was was mildly popular in the late Cold War era. As I recall, this was a decent collection of it, with lots of reflections in mirrored space helmets and the like.
- Bob Kahan, editor, Shazam! Archives, Volume 1 (6/5)
A collection of the first few issues of Whiz Comics, as I recall, from the first age of classic reprints (which didn't take as well as the current one has -- comics consumers in the early '90s wanted more Ghost Rider, Image, and other dreck rather than old stuff).
- Gene Wolfe, Castle of Days (6/5)
This was an odd but very welcome book -- it collected Gene Wolfe's Book of Days (a mid-70s short story collection very loosely arranged around a theme of holidays), The Castle of the Otter (the book of essays about "The Book of the New Sun"), and a third, equal-sized section of newly collected essays, letters, and other stuff. I can't get enough of the occasional non-fiction of good fiction writers, so this is actually one of my favorite Wolfe books.
- Jack E. Norton, The Fantasy Art Techniques of Tim Hildebrandt (6/7)
This was from the middle era of Hildebrandt's career, when he was mostly working separately from his brother (they started off working together, and I believe worked together again extensively in the last decade or so). Tim died, unexpectedly to most of us, a year ago tomorrow due to complications of diabetes. I didn't always love the Hildebrandt style -- it sometimes got a bit too jewel-toned and luminescent for its own good, to my eye -- but it was brilliant when it worked right, and it was exactly the look that a generation of readers (my generation, to be precise) wanted in the late '70s.
- P.J. O'Rourke, Give War a Chance (6/8)
The biggest problem for satirists, particularly those who work primarily in non-fiction, is to avoid becoming smug, self-satisfied, and cut off from the real world that originally fueled their work. (And the easiest way to avoid that is to stay unsuccessful, which happens most of the time -- it's not for nothing that satire is proverbially what closes on Friday night.) O'Rourke used to be one of my favorite writers; he still shows flashes of the old brilliance and energy, but it's hard to argue against the general sense that he's turned into a slightly blurred, simplified caricature of the writer he used to be. And, looking back, Give War a Chance is probably where his career took that right-hand turn into smug self-satisfaction. He was just coming off the two best books of his career -- his defining "trouble tourist" book Holidays in Hell and the all-encompassing, bitterly hilarious Parliament of Whores -- and perhaps the rush of success was beginning to insulate him. (Or, maybe, he was formed by the Cold War, and his post-Cold War writings -- Give War collects pieces about the end of the Cold War and related events -- show him looking for a new paradigm, and falling into smug American triumphalism too often.) Anyway, this is a good book, but not O'Rourke's best. If you haven't read him before, go to Parliament or Holidays first.
- Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (6/10)
This must have been deliberate juxtaposition; one of O'Rourke's earlier essays (from Holidays, in fact) is "The Innocents Abroad, Revisited." Twain's Innocents is still very funny, and a good evocation of certain American types abroad. (The details aren't quite the same, these days, as they were in the 1860s, but many of the attitudes and prejudices will still be familiar.) I prefer Roughing It for my Twain non-fiction (yes, even over Life on the Mississippi; I'm weird that way), but this is a wonderful book all Americans, and people who deal with a lot of Americans, should read at some time in their lives.
- Philip Mann, Wulfsyarn (6/10)
A SF novel I liked at the time but don't remember much about now.
- Hartmann, Sokolov, Miller, & Myagkov, editors, In the Stream of Stars (6/10)
More space art! This book was edited by two Americans and two Russians, and was presumably supposed to lead the way for a glorious new era of cooperation and consequent massive, resource-sucking space exploration to conquer all of space for us plucky Terrans. That didn't happen, but the pictures were nice.
- Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon Redux (6/10)
A collection of quotes of people being crabby; the second of at least four in the series of quote books. Curmudgeonliness is occasionally fashionable, it seems.
- Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights (6/11)
I don't remember if this was essays or stories. (Amazon tells me that they're transcriptions of talks given on seven consecutive nights in Buenos Aires in 1977, on various literary topics.)
- L.E. Modesitt, Jr., The Towers of the Sunset (6/13)
As I recall, this is the book that begins with a long stretch of dialogue, with little or no description attached, in which two characters called only the Marshal and the Marshalle talk elliptically about things that won't become clear for several hundred pages, if at all. (And I think they took about that long to reappear.) I like challenges in my reading, especially from a writer who clearly knows what he's doing, but that struck even me as a bit arch. I think the rest of the book settled down from there, but I'm afraid the opening is what I remember best.
- Martin Amis, Money (6/14)
One of the great novels of our time, period. Though I should point out that one of the differences between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction is that the audience for the former is much, much more likely to allow an author to make his main character utterly unlikable and not a focus for reader identification...so, if that issue bothers you, this is not a book you will enjoy much. As I've said before, Amis's main characters are nearly all complete bastards, but they're fascinating complete bastards, and John Self is the worst, and best, of the lot.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
I really don't have any excuse not to do these posts nowadays, do I? (And yet I seem to have missed a few weeks.) Let's start back up by diving nearly to the beginning of my reading notebook -- this week I rolled a 15, so these are the books I was reading back in 1992: