Monday, April 25, 2022

Reading Into the Past: Week of April 24. 1999

Well, I screwed this up two weeks ago, so let's see if I remember how to do it. The way it's supposed to work is: if I get books in the mail, I write about them here.

If not, I hit up a RNG online, pick a week from the stretch of sixteen years when I was keeping up a reading notebook but not doing this blog yet, list the books I read then here, and try to write about them, dredging the depths of my memory. It's a silly thing, but I enjoy it.

Wait: do I enjoy it? Man, if I get that deep into my own motivations I'll never get anywhere. I don't dislike it, which is as good as I get most days.

Anyway, this time out we're hitting 1999:

Greg Bear, Darwin's Radio (typescript, 4/18)

I can't remember the last time I read a Greg Bear book, and I used to like his stuff a lot. Getting off the merry-go-round of SF changed my reading life, first immediately, and then slowly, but it has utterly changed it. (Well, it's also been more than a decade: things change anyway in fifteen years.)

I think this was one of a cluster of contemporary-set novels, closer to thriller than to the big-idea SF I always loved best from Bear, that he was doing at the time. (Writers aren't obliged to do anything their readers want - they're not obliged to do anything their editors want, or their agents want, either, but those latter folks are usually closer and louder in the discussion.)

I see this was the epidemic novel, about "something sleeping in human DNA" that "woke up" - I don't know if Bear was trying to do Crichton, but I suspect he, or someone close to him, pointed out that his skills and strengths were really close to a kind of thriller than regularly sold a bazillion copies. There was a sequel, and this one was nominated for the Hugo, so it was not unsuccessful, but I don't think Bear broke out the way some people were clearly pushing.

William Barton, When We Were Real (typescript & finished book, 4/21)

First up, not sure why I read this in two formats - my guess is that the UK edition came through while I was in the middle of it. (It was a June paperback, so it's not impossible I got the US book, though the question is why I was reading a June book in April for the SFBC. I suspect we were in one of our very-common times when there seemed to be a dearth of "good" SF, so we were checking out everything published anywhere near the right time.)

And I don't remember it at all: I know Barton mostly as a collaborator, and had forgotten I'd read any of his solo books. Looking at it now, the cover is vaguely familiar. I have only very vague recollections of it, even after looking at the blurb now - but I do think it was smart and interesting, a far-future space opera crammed full of stuff, the kind of book about post-human immortals of various types who are also doing exciting things. I bet it, or similar Barton books, would scratch that Big Idea SF itch.

Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness (4/22)

This was a moderately big bestseller in the day - I think this was after Patience & Fortitude, but I could have it backwards - and is one of the better books-about-people-who-love-books available. It's a history of book-collecting, more or less, though very digressive as I recall. If you're a big reader, and anywhere near my age, you've probably heard of it, and maybe picked it up in a bookstore. As I remember, it's fun, though reading it can feel self-indulgent.

Robert B. Parker, Hush Money (4/23)

One of the Parker novels; I'm going to guess the new one that year, since I was basically keeping up with them in those days. (They were all short and zippy - I could read one in barely two hours, so why not keep up with them?)

It's was 26th in the series, and even reading the plot synopsis doesn't bring it back to mind. There were about a dozen more by Parker before his death, and a further dozen by sharecroppers, since Putnam is addicted to their annual hit of Parker income. (And perhaps his heirs are, even more so.)

I've written a lot about Parker's books here, though mostly in passing. He was good, and then got really stripped down, which was either good or bad, or maybe both in turn. He sold a lot of books. Now he's dead. C'est la vie.

Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (typescript)

I don't think I've written much about Discworld here: I avoided talking about SFF when I worked in the field, and then there were only a few years left of Pratchett. I have hit some of the pseudo-nonfiction spin-offs, since I love those kinds of books anyway and the huge popularity of Discworld has meant they were really good of their type. 

This is one of the novels from the prime era of Discworld - even more so, one of the better books in the series overall. I don't know if it's quite Small Gods-level, or Guards! Guards!, but it's close. It is damaged slightly by being really obviously a re-run of almost exactly the same plot and theme as Lords and Ladies, but Pratchett's vampires are ferocious in their own way, and I recall the end of this book is particularly strongly plotted and exciting.

Anyway, if you're reading my blog, I expect you have an opinion on Discworld. You've probably read at least a few of the books, even if you decided you hate them. So my opinion may not mean much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I like these posts!

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