A few years ago, at Potlatch, Ellen read a story about two girls, whose parents worked at Los Alamos, visiting the Trinity test site a few weeks after the test. I thought it was a terrific story. It is now the last chapter of this book.
This book is often described as something like “Richard III, with vampires”, and that's not an incorrect description. It is indeed the Richard III story, although it's also other things. It's also about Lorenzo di Medici, for example; there's a long section set in Florence before any character even mentions Yorks or Lancasters.
The Dragon Waiting is set in a Europe that's almost exactly like our world, except that it's different. One might say it's set in a same-but-different 15th century Europe, except that none of the people in this world call it that: Christianity is a minor cult, and Islam seems not to exist. Edward IV is a priest of Apollo, and Richard of Gloucester, like so many other military men in the Roman army and elsewhere, has been initiated into the mysteries of Mithras. The greatest work of Florentine architecture is Brunelleschi's pantheon.
There are indeed vampires in this book, and John Morton is an evil wizard (some would say that's no different from our world), but my one-sentence description would be that this is the story of Richard III presented as Byzantine conspiracy—literally Byzantine, not just figuratively: the Byzantine empire in this world is still powerful and is still scheming to recover Britain and Gaul.
“Masque” is a fine description of this book. It's playing with history, not so much to make grand points but just for the joy of playing.
An introduction to medieval European history, with the subtext of understanding today's Europe by seeing its origin.
A NESFA Press book brought out for Boskone 34, where Mike Ford was Guest of Honor. This is a collection of all sorts of previously uncollected works: a few science fiction stories, some poetry, a retelling of the Orpheus story as noir, an essay on the design decisions behind the Lunar railway in Growing Up Weightless.
The 9/5/2006 draft of Alex's long-awaited book on generic programming.
Sequel to The Pursuit of Love. Parts of these books are fictionalized versions of the Mitfords' own childhoods; I can recognize some of the environment from Daughters and Rebels.
Sequel to Mortal Engines.
An essay collection by one of my favorite New Yorker writers.
Like most people with a serious interest in science fiction, I've known the outline of the Tiptree story for a while—at least the version of the story the science fiction community tells to itself. James Tiptree started publishing in the late 60s, and soon established a reputation as one of the best authors of the time. He won several Hugo and Nebula awards. He had an extensive correspondence with other writers and fans and had close friends in the community, but he never met them in person. It was widely assumed that “Tiptree” was a pseudonym, and it was widely assumed that there was some reason for the secrecy—it was rumored (based partly on Tiptree's own hints) that he worked for the CIA or some equally spooky agency. In 1976 it was revealed that Tiptree's real name was Alice Sheldon, a 61 year old housewife living in the suburbs. She had indeed once worked as a CIA analyst, but long ago and only for a few years. In 1987 she shot her husband and herself.
A double life? More like a quadruple life, at least. As Julie Phillips points out, it's hard even to know what name to use for the subject of this biography. There are two names in the title, but there could have been more. She was born Alice Bradley, the daughter of writer, explorer, and socialite Mary Hastings Bradley, and she was in the public eye before she was ten as the subject (and, for the latter book, illustrator) of her mother's children's books about travels in Africa, Alice in Jungleland and Alice in Elephantland. Later she was Alice Davey, bohemian artist. During World War II she was Captain Davey (retroactively promoted to Major), photointelligence officer, and after the war she was Mrs. Huntington D. Sheldon; Dr. Alice B. Sheldon, Ph.D.; and, of course, James Tiptree, Jr.
An omnibus collection. I think it contains all of the Lord Darcy stories.
I suppose I'm reading this completely ahistorically in finding Lebezyatnikov the most sympathetic character.
Yes, we just bought one.
This is the book that made Rushdie famous. It's a big sprawling postmodernist novel that's the story both of a single person and of a country. Lots of people compare Rushdie to the Latin American “magic realism” tradition, and it's not an absurd comparison, if only because it's a multigeneration narrative with fantastic elements, but it's also a little bit superficial; one could equally well compare Rushdie to Pynchon or Stoppard. He plays with the relation between literal and metaphorical in a different way than Garcia Marquez does.
One of the interesting things about this book is the way in which the characters themselves are explicitly concerned with symbolism. The fictional Nehru in this book thinks of the main character, born at the exact moment of independence, as a symbol of India. Nehru's daughter thinks the same, but in a darker way. The book establishes its own system of symbols: the perforated sheet, the pepperpots, the djinns.
I remember, when I first heard of Indira Gandhi's Emergency, finding it completely inexplicable. To some extent I still do. The occult explanation in Midnight's Children seems as plausible as anything else.
Not to be confused with Busman's Honeymoon. This is a short story collection.
Horatio Hornblower with dragons—a surprisingly fitting combination. If there weren't really dragons at Trafalgar, there should have been.
I assume it is a little joke of the author's, not a coincidence, that one of the minor characters has the same name as a character in Persuasion.
A collection of columns from my favorite Nation writer.
One of this year's Hugo nominees.
Number theory is probably the oldest branch of mathematics; as Stillwell points out, one of the earliest pieces of human writing that we possess is a four thousand year old clay tablet with a list of what we would now call Pythagorean triples. Number theory also occupies a strange place in modern mathematical education. High schools don't teach number theory, and I am an example of the fact that it's possible to graduate with a degree in math from a good university without ever taking a single class in the subject. Until recently I didn't realize that it was still an active field of research; I thought of it as just a collection of amusing trivia. Silly me.
I've picked up some elementary facts about number theory more or less by osmosis (everyone with a well rounded technical education has at least heard of Euclid's proof of the infinitude of primes, or modulo arithmetic, or Fermat's little theorem), but I've never read a discussion of how number theory forms a coherent whole.
What I found most interesting about this book was the connection between number theory and abstract algebra. I learned about ideals in my abstract algebra classes, and I thought of them as more or less the equivalent of normal subgroups for rings. Now that I've read this book I finally understand why ideals are interesting. It's a good illustration of how you can understand abstractions better after you've seen the concrete examples that the abstractions came from.
This collection includes some of Tiptree's best known stories, such as “The Girl Who was Plugged In,” “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death,” and “The Women Men Don't See.” But then, given Tiptree's total output, any Tiptree collection will include some of her best known stories.
The edition I read also includes Robert Silverberg's infamous introduction about Tiptree's “ineluctable masculinity”—and his considerably less well known postscript, written a few months later, after he learned who Tiptree was. Silverberg doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for the way he behaved after making such a spectacular and public mistake.
Marc Reisner is best known for Cadillac Desert, a book that everyone living in California (or elsewhere in the American West, for that matter) ought to read. One of my friends has been telling me for years that I also ought to read Game Wars, that it's an even better book than Cadillac Desert.
I'm not sure if I'd go along with that. The two books are very different. Game Wars is a gripping narrative with a real hero; on the other hand, its subject isn't obviously as important as that of Cadillac Desert. Even if I can't easily compare the two books, though, Game Wars is a very good book and deserves to be better known.
Game Wars is about the fight against wildlife poaching. More specifically, it focuses on a single Federal game warden, Dave Hall. The first part is about alligator poaching, the second about ivory (mostly walrus ivory from Alaska, even though Dave Hall works in Louisiana), and the third about fish.
Before I read this book I knew nothing about wildlife poaching or about what game wardens did. It had never occurred to me that wildlife poaching was important either economically or ecologically, that even in the US it can mean the difference between species survival and extinction. It had never occurred to me how violent a business it is, or how it is linked to specific American subcultures. It had never occurred to me that poaching is organized crime, with everything that implies, or that this is an unsettling instance (am I naïve for still being unsettled by such cases?) of violent criminality as an essential part of a supply chain in the apparently legitimate luxury economy. It hadn't occurred to me how dangerous it is to be one of the few people trying to stop this, or how routine the corruption is, and on such a major scale, in most of what are supposed to be the enforcement agencies.
An afterword ties the book together. The afterword is the reason why I used the word “obviously” when I said this book isn't about an obviously important subject. The afterword works mostly by implication, and I'm still thinking about it.
An odd book in some ways. It starts out with spy stuff and terrible secrets that could change history forever, and in a sense those things continue to drive the plot, but after a while it seems as if Vinge just decided he was more interested in his characters than in his conspiracies. The characters' family drama is mostly resolved, but the global scale mysteries are resolved only by implication. In the end they function almost as a Macguffin.
This is a peri-Singularity book. Another oddity, though, is that in a sense it's set in a world that's a terrible nightmare for people like me: “trusted computing” (meaning computers that don't trust their users and do trust Homeland Security), a regime of pervasive microroyalties in place of fair use, the GNU Hurd OS made illegal. I think Vinge also considers those things nightmarish too; they remind me of what he called “ubiquitous law enforcement” in A Deepness in the Sky. But this world is also one of vibrancy and creativity. And even odder is that the book isn't even about that apparent contradiction: I've described the setting of this book, not its story. Perhaps this is related to the fact that the grand conspiracies that drive the plot also deal with the possible tension between freedom and security.
And what's one to make of the offhand reference to Tines and Zones of Thought as examples of discarded and obsolete belief systems? Just a slightly self-indulgent joke, like Major General Stanley's reference to “that infernal nonsense Pinafore,” or an oblique way for Vinge to announce what he is and isn't planning to write about in the future?
I've been reading Dykes to Watch Out For for years; it's my favorite comic strip being written today. This book is not Dykes To Watch Out For, though. It's a memoir, not a graphic novel. It's a moving and intricate work, and it may be the best thing Alison Bechdel has ever written.
This book is primarily about the author's relationship with her father, who (as she learned shortly before his death) was a closeted gay man. But Fun Home has a complicated narrative structure, and the story about Bechdel's father is intertwined with several other stories, including her own coming out story. The chapters aren't organized in chronological order, nor is it anything so simple as several alternating timelines. The structure seems more like a spiral than anything else: later chapters deepen our understanding of earlier ones.
The book begins with the story of Daedalus and Icarus, and an allusion to Joyce's use of that story in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It ends with Daedalus and Icarus again, this time after a long foray into Ulysses. I'll need to read Fun Home again to understand its structure fully.
Yes, it really is as good as Patrick says.
I was reading Dhalgren at breakfast at work, and two different people, seeing what I was reading, walked up and said something like “Oh, I tried to read that in college 20 years ago.”. Well, me too. I tried to read Dhalgren in college 20 years ago and bounced off it. A friend has been telling me for a while that I ought to give it another try: my literary tastes have changed in the last couple decades, and if I can read and enjoy Gravity's Rainbow, he figured, why not Dhalgren? Well, for what it's worth, he was right. There's still a lot about this book that I didn't understand (the lack of comprehension is almost certainly part of the point), and it's a difficult book, but I did enjoy it.
Among the many things I didn't understand about this book: why is the title Dhalgren, and how did it ever get published? It was published as science fiction in the 70s. Science fiction has a reputation, and deserves it, for being stylistically conservative. This is not a stylistically conservative book. I have no clue why an SF publishing house would have bought this book back then.
Introduction to parallel programming, using MPI, Java threads, and OpenMP as sources of examples. I learned things about parallel programming from this book; I'm less convinced that the language of “design patterns” was helpful.
I'd read most of these essays before, either in The Memory Wars or, in the case of the more recent essays, when they were originally published in The New York Review of Books. It's a diverse collection!
To the extent that there is a unifying theme to this book, it's repressed memory—the common element in orthodox psychoanalysis, the modern recovered memories of ritualistic Satanic child abuse, alien abductions, and so on. Not all of these essays deal with repressed memory, but most do. Crews describes the distinctive characteristics that repression is supposed to have, the ways in which it differs from simple forgetting or from any other everyday experience, and identifies it as an idiosyncratic notion from the specific school of thought associated with such people as Mesmer, Charcot, Freud, Jung, and their intellectual heirs. Crews is skeptical that such a phenomenon exists. He believes that accepting such a concept is the single biggest mistake of those schools of thought that do accept it; it assigns explanatory power to the inaccessable, and allows circular reasoning between presumed effects and presumed causes. It's the single biggest reason why he believes that psychoanalysis, in all of its various factions, is a pseudoscience.
The spine of the copy I read (printed in the early 20th century, I think) says “Anson”, and that's probably how the book was promoted when it was first written, but it's not quite true. The title page tells the full story: “A Voyage Round the World In the Years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV. By George Anson, Esq; Commander in Chief of a Squadron of His Majesty's Ships, sent on an Expedition to the South Seas. Compiled From Papers and other Materials of the Right Honorable George Lord Anson,and published under his Direction, By Richard Walter, M.A. Chaplain of his Majesty's ship the Centurion, in that Expedition.”
Yet Another Python Tutorial. This one is unusual in that about a third of the book consists of examples of using Python (plus the standard libraries, plus nonstandard but easily available open source libraries) to write small but complete programs that solve problems in various application domains.
First in a trilogy of young adult fantasy books. This isn't Justine's first book, but it is her first novel.
An introduction to textual criticism of the Christian Bible, for a lay audience. (By lay audience I mean: unlike the author's scholarly work, this book doesn't assume that the readers know any of the relevant ancient languages.) Or more specifically, it's an introduction to textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. The Latin translation that the Western Church used for most of the middle ages is outside the scope of this book—possibly because the author just wanted to limit the scope of the book to give it a manageable size, and possibly also because there is so much less textual variation in manuscripts of the Vulgate that there isn't a much reason for textual analysis.
Most English readers are familiar with the Christian Bible via the “King James” version and its descendents. The King James translation of the New Testament was based on what was then the generally accepted Greek text, the “textus receptus” that had evolved over the 16th century. And the textus receptus, in turn, was largely just a series of minor refinements of Erasmus's edition, the first printed version of the Greek New Testament. Before the age of print it doesn't really make sense to talk about an accepted text, since every manuscript is by definition unique.
Starting in the 18th century, scholars began to reexamine the original Greek manuscripts and discovered that Erasmus hadn't actually done a very good job. He based his work on a single Greek manuscript, sometimes making corrections from the Vulgate, so he didn't realize just how much textual variation there was between different manuscripts. It shouldn't be surprising that there was variation: there are always errors when a manuscript is copied, and it's especially likely that there would be variations in this particular case. Ancient Greek manuscripts were written without punctuation or spacing between words, many words were abbreviated and many common abbreviations looked similar, and the earliest manuscripts of this text were copied by people who didn't have professional training as scribes or scholars.
What is more surprising is that these aren't just minor variations: some manuscripts have the story of Jesus and the woman taken for adultery and others don't, for example. Some sentences that are crucial to the Nicene Creed just don't exist in early Greek manuscripts. These technical textual questions have real theological significance for anyone who considers the Christian Bible to be a sacred text.
One fascinating question is why the textus receptus was generally accepted for more than a century, why it took so long for scholars to notice these issues! But once scholars discovered or rediscovered textual variation in Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, they started trying to catalog those variations and, when possible, determine which reading is more likely to be authentic. That's the subject of this book.
The Art of Computer Programming is the best book about algorithms ever written, even though it's only half finished. Volume 3 first appeared in 1973, so we've been waiting for Volume 4 for the last 30 years. Last year the first few sections of Volume 4 started appearing, in the form of short paperback “fascicles”.
What I just read isn't exactly one of the fascicles for Volume 4, but it's related: it's an updated version of part of Volume 1. The algorithms for the first three volumes of The Art of Computer Programming (currently in their third edition) are written in an invented machine language called MIX. Unfortunately, MIX is modeled on the kind of machine that was pouplar in the 60s and 70s. For the eventual fourth edition the algorithms will be recast in MMIX, a newer invented machine language for a hypothetical 64-bit RISC processor. So this book introduces MMIX, and low-level techniques like subroutine linkage, register stacks, and coroutines.
A New York novel.
Sequel to Dragon's Winter. This book feels like the middle of a story, not the end of one.
I wonder if this was inspired in part by The Victorian Internet? Certainly large parts of it are about telegraph operator culture (translated into Discworld, of course).
I've probably read all of the original 1984 edition at one time or another (I probably owned it for about ten years), but I never read it cover to cover. For the “completely revised and updated” 2004 edition, though, I figured I might as well just read the whole thing.
The blurbs on the back of the book are pretty amazing (Thomas Keller, Mario Batali,...), and the book deserves them. Reading a book like this all the way through is mildly silly, but everyone who's interested in food at more than a casual level needs to have a copy as a reference.
This book was my introduction to classical literature: my father read it to me before I had learned how to read for myself. I remember loving it as a child. Rereading it, it really is a terrific introduction to Greek myths. When Alice gets a little older, I'll read this book to her.
Some of the stories are cleaned up a little bit for children, but only a bit. We learn that Pasiphaë was infatuated with a white bull and hid inside a hollow artificial cow, for instance, and later that she gave birth to the Minotaur, but the connection between those events is glossed over. Still, there's no attempt to disguise the amorality of many of the gods or the fact that so many of the heroes' stories end unhappily. In many of the stories the only consolation is posthumous fame—a constellation, perhaps, and the story itself that has survived for 3000 years.
Less technical than A Random Walk Down Wall Street, but it has some useful practical advice on investing and saving money. I no longer feel guilty about having completely ignored corporate bonds, for example.
This book doesn't say “nth edition” anywhere on the title page or the copyright page. It has been through a number of editions. The earliest date on the copyright page is 1978, and the most recent is 2005. The paragraph that surprised me the most was on page 139 of the 2005 edition:
I am dismayed by the reelection of George Bush. Yes, my taxes are likely to stay low, but I don't see how we become more prosperous if much of the world hates us ... if we are adding to our national debt at a tremendous rate ... if we are investing in missile systems instead of education ... if we are giving tax incentives to encourage the purchase of Hummers rather than fuel efficiency. And that just begins the list.
Under either Bush or Kerry, we would have faced challenges: terrorism, which even when it doesn't strike costs us dearly (security guards make us safer but they do not make us richer); globalization, which will make the whole world more prosperous in the long run, including us, but which threatens our manufacturing base and puts high-wage jobs at risk of being teleported abroad and more (high energy prices for a very long time could be another).
But under Bush, I see the problems just getting worse, not better.
(All ellipses Tobias's, not mine.)
This doesn't conform to my stereotypes of what people who write about investment are likely to think. I guess my stereotypes were wrong. And Tobias went out of his way to say this; it was in a section about the impossibility of knowing whether the stock market was undervalued or undervalued, and he could have discussed long-term risks without mentioning the current state of US politics. But for what it's worth, I agree with Tobias here. The investing class is not well served by what the Republican Party has become. I wonder how long it will be before the investing class notices that fact?
Sequel to Point of Hopes: a fantasy police procedural.
This isn't a sequel to The Golden Ocean, but it is a companion. It covers a different ship in Anson's squadron, the Wager, which fared less well than the Centurion. The main characters of both books are midshipmen.
I believe the events of this book are briefly mentioned in one of the Aubrey/Maturin books. The main character certainly is: “Foulweather Jack” Byron, whom Jack Aubrey, unlike pretty much everyone else in either his time or ours, thinks of as the famous member of that family. Jack Byron was famous for surviving shipwrecks, and this is the story of his first.
A novel (a YA novel, I think, although perhaps I'm just being misled by the fact that the main character is a boy) about Lord Anson's circumnavigation of the globe in the early 1740s.
The second half of the General Practice omnibus. This isn't so much about medical puzzle solving, although there is some of that, but about sin and redemption, and problems that have no answers except, possibly, religious ones.
One of the later Sector General novels, available as the first half of the Tor omnibus General Practice. It's unusual in that the main character is not Conway; he's now too senior for it to make sense that he would have adventures.
It isn't quite as dreary and hardhearted as I had remembered, but it's still my least favorite of the Narnia books. And no, that's not just because of “the Susan problem.” Mostly it's that the story is a mess considered purely as a story. This is the one Narnia book where it seems to me that Lewis cared more about an exposition of particular bits of Christian theology than about telling a compelling story with compelling characters.
Even with that, there are at least a few parts of this book that are worth remembering: the dwarfs in the stable (which is a striking image even though I don't accept it morally), and, even more, “If any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”
The sixth Narnia book, although the first in internal chronology. It's always been one of my favorites, partly because I like origins and partly because in this book the White Witch is a horribly convincing villain who is evil in a distinctly 20th century way. This book couldn't have been written before the end of World War II.