Monday, August 02, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 8/2/03

One book I paid for is arriving next Wednesday, and the library tells me six books are "In Transit." But nothing new is actually in hand as I hit the deadline to write about books that arrived this week, and so I have to go to Option Two. Instead, I fire up the RNG, get a 2003, and dig into reading notebooks to tell you whatever I remember about the books I was reading eighteen years ago this week:

Williams C. Dietz, For More Than Glory (bound galleys, 7/27)

No direct memory: Amazon tells me this is the fifth book in his "Legion of the Damned" MilSF series. I'm pretty sure I didn't read that series from the beginning. Good MilSF is like popcorn, and isn't necessarily memorable (unless the writer is obviously stealing from Rorke's Drift or something; that tends to get remembered), so the fact that I can remember absolutely nothing about this should not be taken as any kind of criticism. But I definitely can't tell you anything about it.

Jill Thompson, Death: At Death's Door (7/28)

The title looks silly written out like that, but it was a Sandman line-extension graphic-novel - in a trendy, small-format manga-style book, as I recall - about the character of Death, so her name was big at the top and At Death's Door was the real title.

I think everything about this was "Sandman, but manga!" but I'm unsure if that was Thompson's take or if there was some bandwagon-jumping on the part of Certain Suits at DC Comics. I'd like to assume it was all Thompson; I recall this being cute and funny and more kid-friendly than the regular Sandman comics. It seems to be extremely out of print at the moment, so it may have been plunged firmly into the Memory Hole, now that we're back in an era of Extremely Serious Sandman.

Jo Walton, Tooth and Claw (bound galleys, 7/29)

I can't say this is Walton's best book, since I'm behind on her work (and I could also make cases for Farthing and Among Others, just among the ones I've read), but it's got a great concept and does it perfectly well.

You see, in Victorian novels, particularly those by Anthony Trollope, there's a weird background sense that women are inherently fragile, that their "honor" has some kind of physical presence that can be broken irrevocably by various innocuous-seeming activities. (Actually, what was happening was that authors could only hint, really obliquely, about sex, but both they and their readers knew full well that people had sex and that it was a lot more common and fun and appealing than they would be allowed to even hint at in a novel.)

So Walton wrote a fantasy novel in which that was literally true: a society of dragons in which things literally worked in actual analogies of the coded manner of the Victorian novel. It was an audacious exercise that worked really well: it was not just fun as an idea, it made a fun, intriguing novel that casts a quirky light back on a whole genre of old novels.

Michael Jantze, The Norm: The 12 Steps to Marriage (7/30)

Jantze's strip The Norm had a bunch of book-format reprints around this era, or maybe I was just reading all of those reprints, and they'd come out earlier. In any case, this was a newspaper strip that has been restarted (not really "rebooted," since all of them seems to be semi-autobio work about the author, and continue in time and sequence from the previous stuff) a couple of times since then. (I've seen references to "The Norm 4.0," and that was back in 2015. He could be rivaling iOS for release numbers by now.

As I remember, this was the thinly-fictionalized-version-of-my-wedding-planning storyline, something like Adrian Tomine's Scenes From an Impending Marriage would be a decade later. No deeper memory than that, though Jantze's cartooning is cute and fun - he had then and now a Watterson-esque line and a good eye for observational comedy.

James Gleick, What Just Happened (7/31)

According to my searches, this was a collection of previously-published articles from roughly the previous decade, and thus I assume it was a "The Internet! Wondrous and fearful land of tomorrow!" book.

I have no memory of it, and my guess is that it has aged really badly, since "here's what's hot now, and let me explain what it will turn into next" punditry always does.

Tobalina, Spanish Fly, Volume 3 (8/1)

Comics porn - I think I've linked the thing I read, but who knows at this point? This was the waning years of comics porn actually published on paper, as the Internet turned into a much more efficient engine for porn of all kinds (Sex, food, books, political, etc.) and the big players like NBM and Eros ran out the game and kept making money for as long as they could. I won't apologize for reading porn, but I do wish I had something better quality - maybe a Xxenophile collection - to mention, something I remember more than just "oh, yeah, that was porn" and could make a comment about.

Robert A. Heinlein, For Us, The Living (typescript, 8/2)

First up: don't read this if there is any other Heinlein book that you have not read. Even the recently republished longer version of Number of the Beast. Maybe even the two-volume biography. Definitely all of the good stuff, and the less-good stuff, and the not-really-good-at-all stuff, and the gosh-this-certainly-reads-like-horrible-racism-now stuff. Then maybe read this one, if you have to.

This was Heinlein's first-written, admitted-by-nearly-everyone-to-be-bad novel, written in 1938, rediscovered and published in 2003 more than a decade after his death. I would never say any work should remain unpublished - I think even the letters people want to burn should be saved and kept for posterity - but this is a book for Heinlein scholars and those who have drunk too deeply of the Heinlein Kool-Aid, and for no one else. It is interesting mostly as a catalog of bad writing and of ideas Heinlein would use later in what could only be better ways. Please do not read it: you will never get those hours of your life back.

This was the middle of a stretch where I finished a book every day from April 29 through August 28. I don't think that was on purpose; I was just reading a lot quickly in those days.

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