Book Review Roundup

Here are some books I’ve read in recent months that I thought were too short or too disappointing to merit a full-length review.

Silverwing: I can just hear the pitch for this book: “It’s like Harry Potter meets Watership Down meets Incredible Journey — kids will love it!” Kids probably will love it, and I didn’t find it half bad either. The heavily anthromorphisized critters of Silverwing are bats, and our hero is the newborn Shade, the runt of the litter who is determined to prove himself but is separated from his migrating clan and forced to blah blah blah … Well, needless to say there’s nothing new in regards to plot or characters — in fact, as I was reading this aloud to The Queen, I would occationally introduce a new character and have her say “oh, this is Professor Snape” or “aha, I knew Draco Malfoy would be in here somehwhere!” But while I’m not one to typically recommend a book on the basis of its unoriginality, Silverwing is at least as interesting as J. K. Rowling’s novels (and, at 200 pages, about a third as long), so it might just be the perfect thing for you or your youngster if you need a Harry Potter fix before Order of the Pheonix is released later this month.

A Wizard of Earthsea: And speaking of Hogwarts … After recently reading several of those wordy-to-the-point-of-prolixity Harry Potter books — not to mention rereading the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in all its verbosity — my initial reaction to this was one of disappointment. A Wizard of Earthsea tells the tale of Ged, an usually gifted young magician who is coming to grips with his powers on a world where dry land is few and far between, and every region is an island unto itself. Ursula K. Le Guin writes the novel in a manner so devoid of description that it seems almost curt. The book was short enough to keep me reading, though, and by the midpoint I was surprised to discover that I had come to appreciate the style. Le Guin is a storyteller in the truest sense of the term: she concentrates solely on the narrative and only gussies things up with description when necessary. The result is less a story less you’d find in a 600 page tome and more like what you’d hear told around a campfire. By the end I decided that I’d quite enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Legacy: I’d never read a James Michener novel before and, given that this one only runs about 150 pages, I guess you could argue that I still haven’t. (Don’t be fooled by the “288 pages” listed on the Amazon page; in addition to Legacy the book also contains the entire text of the Constitution of the United States and a 30 page preview of another novel entirely.) Written in 1990, the story traces the lineage of several generations of “patriots,” beginning with Jared Starr (who was present at the signing of the Constitution) and ending with Major Norman Starr (who is about to be called before a Senate investigation to account for his role in the Iran / Contra Affair). I found Legacy to be entertaining, but I can’t say that I feel any burning desire to grab one of Michener’s 1000+ page opuses as a result. I did appreciate that the central character, Major Normal Starr, was portrayed as deeply conservative and reverential towards the Reagan Administration; as a lefty-progressive, it was nice to get a peek into the mind of “the other side”.

To Say Nothing Of The Dog: I spent much of this book thinking “Wow: this sure reminds me of Bellwether.” And it wasn’t until I was nearly two-thirds of the way through it before I had my big d’oh! moment, realizing “no wonder: the author of To Say Nothing Of The Dog is — d’oh! — the same person who wrote Bellwether“. The problem, unfortunately, is that Bellwhether was quite a bit more enjoyable than this congenial mess. To Say Nothing Of The Dog starts out as a book about time travel (cool!), but then becomes a book about the Victorian Era (less cool) and remains so throughout most of the middle (zzzzzzzz) before, at the very end, abruptly transmorgifying back into the science fiction novel it had promised to be. That the author tries to shoehorn a mystery story in as well doesn’t help. Willis has plenty of clever ideas about time travel, but they are largely wasted in what is primarily a comedy of errors and manners. The whole thing comes off as a nice try, but Bellwhether is a essentially a refinement of the ideas within and a vast improvement over the somewhat muddled plot to be found here.


I guess they they sent a rocket to Mars with a bunch of Earth crap on it for aliens to find, including some music and stuff. And do you know CD they put in there? Not Godsmack, not Staind, not P.O.D., but some guys called Blur. WHO THE HELL IS BLUR??!!! you ask. That’s what I said! So I snagged some mp3s off WASTE and tried to listen to them and it nearly killed me!!1! It was like listening to old people music like Simon and Garfield or whatever! And we sent this to Mars??!! Why not just put up a big sign that says “Hello Martians, we are a bunch of totally gay brit-pop-listening posers so come on down and invade and we if anyone tries to fight back we’ll just go march in an anti-war protest” or something!!

We should have sent up New Deftones or Linkin Park and then the martians would be all, like “holy shit, dude, don’t fuck with Earth cuz those guys sound totally bad-ass!!!” And we should put a Starship Troopers (best movie ever) DVD in there to show the aliens how we’ll kick their insect-ass if they try anything or get all up in our face or whatever.

What? Blur did that “Woohoo!” song in the Starship Troopers trailer??!! No way, seriously? That song was pretty cool. But you know what was really cool about Starship Troopers? The way they had only one locker room for both guys and chicks and all those hotties were like stripping down in front of everybody. That fuckin ruled.

Monday Morning Blah Blah Blah

Living My Dreams

This morning I had a chocolate chocolate-chip muffin for breakfast. And for lunch I had macaroni & cheese, chicken strips and Coke.

When I was six, this is pretty much what I envisioned adult life to be.

Budget Crunches

Last night some friends and I were sitting around drinking beer and, it goes without saying, discussing the Washington State system of taxation. Here in Seattle we have a sales tax, which is a total pain in the ass because (a) you have to pay it (lame), and (b) it means that your average item in The Dollar Store costs some ridiculous amount like $1.31 and you can’t figure out the real price of things without resorting to irrational numbers and you have to carry around your spare pennies instead of throwing them at children like you would do in other states. True fact: When 50 Cent was here in concert last week, he was legally obligated to perform under that name “67 Cent.” (Whoa, that joke was even worse than I had anticipated.)

Anyhow, we were wondering how much of sales tax revenue goes to health care programs. More every year, we guessed, since, statistically, Americas are becoming ever more out-of-shape. But you got to figure that a lot of that revenue goes to administrative costs and middle-men, not to mention that health care tends to be reactive rather than preventive. We decided that there must be a better way.

That’s we came up with this great idea for a General Health Tax: for every dollar you spend you must do a sit-up. Want the new No Doubt CD? No problem: fourteen bucks and two dozen sit-ups, please. Got a two pack-a-day cigarette habit? Well now you have a six sit-up-a-day habit as well. Just bought a brand new Ford Excursion? Fantastic. That will be 50,000 sit-ups over the next 10 years, plus 60 sit-ups every time you fill up the tank — BET YOU WISH IT DIDN’T GET ONE MILE TO THE GALLON NOW DON’T YOU SUCKA?!

I think we should pilot this plan in Washington state, and then extend it to the entire United States. Conspicuous consumption would go way down, people would have a great incentive to save, and America would quickly come to dominate the United Nations Council On Killer Abs. Plus, what tax payer doesn’t want the opportunity to check “no” to “Would you like to do three sit-ups for the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?”


Oh dear, quite frustrating.

Did you hear about the exhibitionist who was going to retire?
He changed his mind and decided to stick it out for another year

Why am I not listed on my own blogroll? That is what I want to know.

So wrong.

Harbinger of Freedom

As Power Point presentations become ever more common and my dislike of meetings increases by the month, the words “End of slide show, click to exit” have rapidly become my all-time favorite phrase.