The Library Basement
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Tag Connie Willis

Readings for November 2013

I have a healthy backlog of things to read, and can expect to be gifted more in the holidays. I'm a lucky man.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book is the award-winning precursor to the Blackout/All Clear novels of Willis which I have already read. The time-traveling historian platform does make for some excellent story telling opportunities. Willis does a good job in this novel piquing the readers' interest in the historical context (medieval England) in addition to making you care about the characters.

One deficiency of all of Willis' novels which I have read is the tendency for there to be a lull in plot development in the middle. There comes a point in the story where the main conflict is fully explained, yet chapter after chapter goes by with that conflict being merely reiterated rather than advanced. But as with All Clear, once that logjam clears in this novel, the ending is fairly satisfying.

Periodicals

  • The Weekly Standard, October 21st 2013 - The last two random magazine purchases I've made were International Socialist Review and 2600 The Hacker Quarterly. So I decided to even things out a bit and try The Weekly Standard on for size for the first time. I was a bit disappointed by the bulk of the magazine, since it was a fairly formulaic critique of Obama's policies and scandals (Obamacare, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, etc.). However this particular issue had a book review special at the end which I really enjoyed.
  • Harper's November 2013 - Joyce Carol Oates' based-on-research-yet-fictional account of an interview with Robert Frost was eyebrow-raising to say the least.
  • Harper's December 2013 - Colson Whitehead had the cover feature, an essay on Las Vegas which must have had the lowest word count of any Harper's lead. But it was Colson Whitehead, and therefore excellent.
  • Scientific American June 2013 - I was immediately turned off by the interview with Markus Hoffman on the topic "How to build a smarter internet." The content was not the problem, but the picture. Sure it was silly, but you're not going to build a smarter internet with copper.

Markus Hoffman in silly pose

Readings for July 2012

You have to love summer reading.

All Clear by Connie Willis

I took a long break in the middle of this two-part novel. I liked Blackout pretty well, but I was worried by the fact that the first volume did not provide a strong hook for why I should start the next one. Then as I was starting All Clear, I felt the same minor frustration that I was not getting enough explanation of the why of the plot.

My concerns ended up being groundless because the whole of the story as concluded in All Clear is fantastic. Willis does provide the payoff, and it is excellent. The combination of the great setting with the intriguing plot makes for a great overall read. Therefore it is definitely recommended as an excellent science fiction novel.

Periodicals

This month I enjoyed Tin House #52. Holly Goddard Jones' "The Right Way to End a Story" was truly brilliant, and the overall offerings were excellent as usual.

The Listeners by Leni Zumas

The ListenersI asked for this book for my birthday solely based on its presence in an advertisement in Tin House. I do not often go with something totally random, but I was not disappointed. I was not sure if I would really like it based on the publisher's blurb:

Hypnotic and profoundly disquieting, The Listeners explores a far-out world where a patchwork of memory, sensation, and imagination maps the flickering presence of ghosts.

Yes, the novel is stylistically unique. Yet what actually makes this a great read are the characters and relationships. I was genuinely touched by the story, so I recommend it.

The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas

I had read much Hauerwas without reading his seminal work. I was definitely pleased with it. I agree with many of Hauerwas' positions, though I still find the ethical framework and methodology of Richard Hays more compelling. This is an important book in Christian ethics, and so I recommend it to all.

Readings for September 2011

This month I played catch-up on periodicals while finishing two novels and starting a monstrously thick third.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Agent to the StarsAfter reading Old Man's War, I knew I needed to check out more of Scalzi's work. I chose Agent to the Stars based on some recommendations and the desire to see the author fully uncork the humor which came through so well in Old Man's War. It was an excellent read, with many laugh-out-loud moments. I must admit that the story ended up going somewhere which I did not anticipate, and this threw me off for a bit. Yet the payoff is worth it. Recommended.

As it so happens, this is the second internet-released book which I've recently read unwittingly in paperback. The other was Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. If my experience is any indication, free online distribution seems to harm print sales very little while increasing interest. Also, pro tip: almost all of the new John Scalzi paperbacks at Powell's Beaverton are autographed.

Blackout by Connie Willis

I have read many good things about Connie Willis and had been wanting to read one of her novels. When Blackout/All Clear won the Hugo and Nebula awards, I knew I was out of excuses for not reading her, so I picked up Blackout. Willis' writing style is fantastic and the premise for this story is excellent. I also liked the characters pretty well.

The trouble is that after having read only the first volume, I wouldn't guess that this story splits into two parts very well. There is a lot of dramatic action in Blackout, but virtually no explanation of the cause of all the problems. I kept reading on, assuming that there would be a reveal somewhere in the final chapters which would set-up the course of the second volume. But Willis is playing the cards of the plot fairly close in this story. I presume everything is sufficiently explained in All Clear, so I will reserve judgment until I get a chance to finish the story.

Periodicals

This month I read Biblical Archaeology Review for May and June, Harpers for September and October, and Scientific American for September and October. So I am still behind on BAR, but am otherwise caught up in periodicals. Perhaps the most noteworthy and dreadful article in this crop is the description of the mineral wealth of Afghanistan in SciAm October. Believe it or not, the US is planning to help extract the resources of a nation we recently invaded.

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