Sunday, November 27, 2005

Reading Into the Past: Week of 11/27

It was fun doing the massive "Reading Into the Past" post about a month ago, but I doubt anyone other than me actually read the thing. And it did take several days. But the idea of going back to see what someone (well, me, in this case) was reading at a random time in the past appeals to me, and I'd like to do it regularly.

So I'm going to try to do a short version every Sunday, covering the equivalent week in a random past year. I've dug out my old backgammon set, so I have a pair of dice for randomization.

[fx="dice rolling"]
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1999:
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (12/21)
Gardner Dozois, editor, Explorers (12/24)
Gardner Dozois, editor, The Furthest Horizon (12/28)

Hm, not terribly interesting. I re-read Azkaban earlier this year (reading it to Thing 1 at bedtime), which made me appreciate Rowling's story-telling, but not her prose. (Reading things out loud really brings home over-used words and phrases. On the other hand, she's a wonderful writer to read aloud because she lets you do all sorts of fun and exciting voices for her characters.) I also wasn't as impressed with the interlocking gears of the ending as I was the first time around, but that's not a fair comparison to begin with, since it's an ending that depends on its neat idea.

The two Dozois anthologies eventually turned into a 2-in-1 in the SFBC, under the title Exploring the Horizons, but I don't remember exactly what was in them. (The one thing I do remember is that Dozois seemed to be trying to shoehorn one Cordwainer Smith story into every anthology he did those days, but I completely approved of that.)

Oops! I was looking at December. [rushes back to fix dates above] The books I was reading this week in 1999 were actually:
John Barnes, Candle (11/19)
Michael Flynn, Lodestar (11/21)
John Barnes, Orbital Resonance (11/23)
Sean Stewart, Galveston (11/26)
Greg Bear, Star Wars: Rogue Planet (11/27)

Candle was an interesting book, and fleshed out Barnes's "Meme Wars" world in ways I appreciated (after Kaleidoscope Century, a book I respected and admired, but couldn't actually like, since the main character was a psychopathic mass-murderer). And it led me back to Orbital Resonance, a little gem of a book I missed the first time around. Nearly every writer of Barnes's generation has tried to write a "modern Heinlein juvenile" by now, but Barnes took the bones of the form and gave them new flesh of his own and made them live his own way.

I'm afraid I don't remember which one Lodestar was. That was a series I thought started out incredibly well, but it was set so close in the near future that doing a multi-book series was an exceptionally tough act; I felt that Flynn really needed to have wrapped everything up in three books, and somehow gotten them all out in less than two years. (That was probably doubly impossible, but I still think those books came out too slowly for their own good.) The first book of that series, Firestar, is one of the gems of '90s SF (though I wonder how it reads now, since it's set in what's now the recent past), and I hope people are still reading it.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I love every other one of Sean Stewart's novels, but the ones in between leave me cold. And I'm afraid Galveston was one of the cold ones for me. I just couldn't get a handle on how the magic worked in that world; the gods were supposed to be massively powerful, but I don't remember any of them ever doing anything at all. That reminds me: someday I'll write the big essay on how magic in fantasy needs to have some rules (and that the author needs to know them) but that magic cannot be completely constrained by rules. But not today.

And then there was Greg Bear's Star Wars novel. I'm afraid I didn't love it. I've read most of the Star Wars books of the past decade, and I've found them even more variable than "regular" books. (And I think what I look for in these books is very different from what their main audience looks for.) This is the one about the hunt for the living planet that makes super-duper spaceships (and I'm sure we can't blame Bear for any of that), and it's also an in-between-movies book (none of which I've thought were among the series's best). If you want an adventure with Anakin not being an obnoxiously sullen teenager, though, this may be the book for you.

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