Archive for Books


Apologies for the long gap between postings. It’s been a busy month.

Like everybody else, a look back at some things worth noting in 2010.

The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway. A surrealistic quasi-comedy masquerading as an SF novel. The writing style often reminded me of Neal Stephenson. Taking apocalyptic SF one step further, most of the world literally goes away. The novel goes into how and why and what happens after, but it’s mostly an examination of a person rather than of an idea. Plus there is lots of kung-fu.

Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. Banks get back to form with another Culture novel, building on what can happen when societies can simulate reality. Not ground breaking but I thought it was his best novel since The Algebraist.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. Basically a mildly entertaining Miles Vorkosigan novel, I thought the last few pages, which don’t have anything to do with the rest of the novel but have a lot to do with the ongoing story of Vorkosigan, were truly excellent writing.

John C. Wright has been around for a while but I first started reading him in 2010. His novels are slow-moving but packed with ideas and I would recommend them highly for the SF or fantasy fan. He wrote a sequel to Van Vogt’s Null-A novels which replicates the style of the originals precisely while being both more coherent and more strange.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Another book I first read in 2010. A truly excellent fantasy, writing at the level of Gene Wolfe. Unfortunately it’s written as the first of a trilogy, and the next book has been postponed several times.

Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik. An incredible movie about poor families in the Ozarks. The teenage heroine faces a believable threat of violence from every male character, but interestingly all the actual violence is committed by women. Jennifer Lawrence gives an incredible performance.

The Town and The Fighter. Both good movies in general, but also both good Massachusetts movies. There is a strange small surge in Massachusetts movies these days.

Love and Other Drugs. Not a good movie, but interesting because it was almost soft-core pornography attached to a movie that was little better than disease-of-the-week with good actors. It seems like the easy access to pornography on the web is pushing movies toward being more explicit when it comes to showing sex.

On to 2011!


Martin Beck

Apparently the great popularity of Stieg Larsson’s novels have triggered a new interest in Swedish mystery authors. I’d like to plug the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. It’s ten books written in the 60s and 70s.

Actually, other than being Swedish, they are entirely different from Larsson’s novels. Larsson reads like an intelligent Dan Brown with real characterization. The Beck novels are police procedurals, telling the story of solving a crime from the perspective of a policeman, Martin Beck. The novels were also intended to be an examination of Swedish society, which sounds daunting but is quite effective in practice.

The Beck novels have some extremely funny scenes, scenes which are made all the funnier by the fact that nobody in the story considers the amusing at all, and indeed they would not be funny if you were involved in them in real life. For example, the police breaking into what turns out to be a completely empty room in The Terrorists (Terroristerna), resulting through a series of completely plausible mishaps in several shootings and near fatalities.

Henning Mankell, a popular current Swedish mystery writer, is clearly strongly influenced by Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Many of Mankell’s novels are quite good, but I prefer the earlier ones.

Comments (1)


I’ll read anything which Iain Banks writes, but, frankly, his recent novel Transition was rather weak. I think he was a bit low on the idea bank for this one. This is one of the novels where he sets up surprises, but unfortunately they were not surprising. The ideas which were meant to be challenging and surprising just seemed wrong. The changes to the main character were poorly motivated. The explicit sex, which worked in his novel Complicity because it expanded the characterization, here seemed irrelevant and tossed in just to avoid a talking heads problem.

In a lesser writer, I would think that the ending was setting up a sequel. I sincerely hope that is not the plan here.

Separately, I’ve been reading NESFA’s nice series of collected Zelazny stories. Zelazny has always been one of my favorite SF authors, and it’s refreshing to be reminded of just how good he was. His novels were generally good, of course (avoid the second five Amber novels), but it was in his short stories that he really shone.


Kuttner and Moore

I’ve been reading some old science fiction short stories recently, and I was reminded of just how good Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore were writing together after they got married. Writing separately they were notable. Moore in particular wrote the Northwest Smith series of stories in the 1930s, which were pulp stories but nevertheless vivid and memorable. Writing together they were excellent. Besides writing under their own names, they also used many pseudonyms, notably Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell. Their story Mimsy Were the Borogroves was recently made into a movie, The Last Mimzy, although I didn’t go see it. Their stories range all over science fiction; they never fell into a rut.

Unfortunately, novels are where you get recognition, and their best work was in short stories. They are not well known today.



I just finished Neal Stephenson’s new book Anathem. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The book is based on a lot of the Western philosophical tradition, albeit under different names. He provides an SF explanation for Plato’s Theory of Forms, which I think anybody has to appreciate, loosely (very loosely) based on some of Gödel’s work. And he is getting better at actually writing endings to his novels.


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