Saturday, December 28, 2013

the key

The Key, by Simon Toyne is the SECOND book in a trilogy. Why have I virtually yelled the word 'second'? Why, because I didn't know that this was the second in a trilogy before I read it. Because the publisher, or the cover artist, or someone, didn't think it was necessary to tell me that, somewhere convenient--like on the cover, on the title page... somewhere.

I'm reading along thinking, this is interesting, there seems to be a lot of backstory here, I guess Simon'll get to it at some point.

He did.

In book one. here's me making the church lady face

ANYways, Toyne does a pretty good job in this one. It trucks right along and the characters are pretty good, although you can see how they'll fulfill their preordained-action-adventure rolls from the moment you meet them. Not that I'm finding fault, we read the same stories over and over and we love them. Joseph Campbell, I'm looking at you... well, I'm looking in your direction, sort of

As I mentioned earlier, there is a fair amount of reference to the earlier story, which I now know is called Sanctus, (the third is called The Tower). Based on the references and this book, Ill probably look for the others, but probably not tomorrow. Toyne has developed a dark and occultish past for the church, with links to paganism and mysticism, that stretches back to the beginnings of mankind. Dark little tendrils of this past are still visible and active the church today, and Toyne weaves a interesting story based on the secrecy surrounding some aspects of the church, such as its archives, that others like Dan Brown have done before. These are the kinds of things that make reasonable people say hmm, and helps to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy a story like this.

Here's a tangent: If the church is opposed to mysticism and mythology, why are there dragons, and other mythical and mystical beasts and icons decorating Saint Peters at the Vatican? And if one of the commandments states that there is only one god, why is Saint Peters just lousy with statutes of Athena and other gods and goddesses? I'm not finding fault, I'm only pointing out that there is probably more room for discussion than hardliners would have us believe.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

watership down

Was Watership Down one of those books folks had to read in middle school? I seem to recall hearing about this story when I was a kid, but maybe that's because of the cartoon they made based on the book. The book was originally published in 1972, and the movie came out in 1978 with the voice of John Hurt in the lead. Watership Down was pegged as the most violent PG-rated movie, ever. dude, the pictures are pretty grim The book and the movie are both English. The author, Richard Adams, won two prestigious children's book awards in England for the story: the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. He began by telling the story to his daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, who later convinced him to write the story that became Watership Down.

The story of Watership Down is a story of rabbits. Regular ol' rabbits that chew on grass, live in warrens, and hop about. What Adams makes clear pretty quickly is that rabbits can not only communicate with each other--in a language folks just don't understand--but they also have a society, hierarchy, traditions, and even mythology, which enjoys a rich oral tradition. Adams portrays rabbits as every bit as intelligent, complex and thoughtful as humans. He has also woven their natural, outward behaviors into their personalities so that the illusion is complete. A child, after reading this story, could look at a few rabbits nibbling away at some dandelions in a field and imagine that complex plots and strategies were well under way.

Things appear to be going along well at the warren where Hazel and Fiver live, but Fiver is suddenly quite sure that this is not the case. See, Fiver has these episodes (as some rabbits do) where he sort of zones out and catches glimpses of the future. And the future he sees for their warren, just after some men place a large wooden sign at the edge of their field by the road, is not so bright. Murder, death and mayhem is what he sees and then the story is off at a romp.

This a long story, and a good one. I was surprised at how quickly the fact that I was reading about rabbits faded away and I just began to enjoy the story. It's not that the rabbit's collective rabbit-ness was absent, it wasn't, in fact it was pretty central. What faded quickly was the feeling that reading about rabbits in the first place, was anything but natural. You'll have to trust me on that one.

Fun, surprising, violent more than you'd imagine in places and good!

Read this book.





Saturday, November 30, 2013

thanksmorrow

Thanksmorrow.

This is a term I made up just a few days ago when emailing my family about holiday gatherings. Thanksgiving Day was to be at the home of my brother- and sister-in-law, and the following day--the Friday after Thanksgiving--was to be at the home of another brother- and sister-in-law. None of us was going shopping. None of us was driving into the city. All of us were doing our best to avoid the crush of commercialism and retail gone mad that is the early morning hours of the day after Thanksgiving. Sounds like Thanksmorrow.

Black Friday.

Black Friday is a bad term. With bad connotations. Why would anyone willingly involve themselves in such a thing. Look at the company it keeps: Black Death (plague), Black Monday (worldwide stock market crash), Black Sunday (horror movie), Black Mamba (poisonous snake), Black and White (crummy television set, before beautiful color TV), Black Hole (from which no light, or happiness, can escape), Blackshirts (fascist terrorist Musolini group), Black Ops (non-sanction military operations). Well, you get the picture. Its not the word black, and its not the color black, its this particular use of the term to refer to things that aren't good, and that's where the term Black Friday comes from. The Philadelphia Police Department's description of the crowds and the traffic they had to look forward to on the day between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy game on Saturday. 

Folks would drive into town after the holiday to shop, celebrate, have dinner, go out for drinks and get ready for game day. The Phily police were NOT being kind when they referred to the traffic jams, and the unruly hoards as Black Friday. It was simply a bad day on the job. This term was used in Phily by the police in the 50s and and became generally know to merchants and the general population in Phily around that time. Black Friday wasn't a term that was more generally used by the media to describe the crazed shopping crowds on a more national level until the 1980s, and again, with derision.  More recently, retailers have begun to reluctantly adopt the term, which they originally didn't like, for obvious reasons, and now they're using it to advertise. Its a kind of tongue in cheek, "wow, isn't this shopping thing nutty?" thing that they are stuck with, just like us. Like we're on the same side, looking in. But we're not. People get hurt on Black Friday. People die on Black Friday. *

In 2008 a man was trampled to death in the vestibule of a Walmart when 2000 people broke down the doors. 2009 the police are called to control pushing and shoving crowds at Walmart,  2010, Walmart is store is evacuated due to crowds pushing, 2011, a woman pepper sprays the crowd so she can get a Wii on sale at Walmart, and last year, 2012, two people shot to death arguing over a parking space at Walmart. SO this year, Walmart is refusing to be party to this again, and they're closing until Saturday right? No, they opened at 8:00 AM yesterday and they're advertising includes a big ol' Black Friday logo. They even have a Black Friday theme song you can use to get in the mood. I wonder if the lyrics mention Jdimytai Damour, the man who was trampled to death in 2008. He had been a Walmart employee for about a week when he was killed.

Deep breath. Thanksmorrow. Deep breath. Thanksmorrow.

I've used that ugly Friday term for this day too often in this post. Christmas, Hanukkah, the holiday season in general, is about giving, about spending time with the people you love. It can't be the best way to show your kids how much you love them by kidney punching some lady in K-Mart to buy them a video game. For me, I'll continue to stay away from the shopping this weekend, and get what I need on some other day.

Yesterday, after all, was Thanksmorrow, the day after Thanksgiving. A day to get together with family in an even more relaxed fashion, eat left overs, tell stories, eat more left overs, and spend time with each other. There's no cooking, less cleaning, and even more fun.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksmorrow, and I hope you will always have a wonderful Thanksmorrow, with family and friends. Every year.


* Black Friday does not come from the positive, retailers-going-from-the-red-into-the-black, lets all celebrate a positive thing together bullpucky you see on some self-serving sites.



pattern recognition

Pattern Recognition has some SciFi leanings, I guess, but I certainly wouldn't say its SF in that way Neuromancer is.  William Gibson wrote Pattern Recognition about 10 years ago, and I haven't read other books by Gibson, but he's written a bunch of them. This one has a slightly future-esque feel,  like its set about 20 minutes into the future.

Cayce (pronounced Casey) Pollard is smart, driven, independent, talented, and slightly damaged. She keeps her phobia under control by reciting a personal mantra, and it usually does the trick. As often seems to be the case, when one least expects something odd to happen, something odd happens and Casey finds her professional life (trademark consultant) crashing into a particular part of her personal life, namely: her interest in an underground, online series of mysterious clips. he took a duck in the face

How these parts of her life are related, or if they are at all, and why she's being asked to examine these things, leads to a world wide search for answers. These questions and their increasingly strange answers, quickly become the fascinating and tightly wound mystery at this story's core. he took a duck in the face

This story took a little while to get off the ground, but once it did, I enjoyed it. My wife told me she actually put it down without getting too far into it. I'm going to recommend that she try it again. My feeling is that the slow start combined with an Elmore Leonard-type writing style may have turned her off. Just too different, or something, for her. he took a duck in the face at 250 knots

The writing is quick and choppy, the story is intricate, techy, and mysterious. There are a variety of supporting characters whose allegiances seem to fluctuate, adding to the mysterious feeling, which at some points is more like: "what the hell is going on?" At about the half-way point the story seems to gel and its a fast, fun read to the end.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

spy portrait

Portrait of a Spy is another Gabriel Allon novel by Daniel Silva. I read my first Allon story in Italy this past summer, and wasn't sure if this was a British import or not. My wife later told me that she's read some of Daniel Silva's books, including this one.

Gabriel Allon is an Israeli spy, who should be retired and working on his art restoration, but gets pulled back in to help with a terrorism case that needs the dexterity of the Israeli secret service, which the CIA can no longer provide. I guess its too big, too dilute, too well know, and in the middle east, too out-of-place. That's the storyline anyways. So the CIA comes looking for help, and Allon puts together his team, and tries to find a way to disassemble a newly formed terror network that has grown to fill the void left by Osama Bin Laden. this name and link just got me put on a CIA watch list. great.

In the middle-part of this story, the action for Gabriel Allon dries up, so... the action dries up, and I spend 50 pages or so thinking, "Man, I hope we solve this mystery."

And nothing happens.

Eventually the story kicks in again, and I guess it turns out alright, maybe a little bit weak on the wrap up up, but overall it was okay.  Maybe its me but it seemed like Silva was cranky, or aggravated about the CIA when he wrote this one, and it comes through. There is a profound sense of disappointment that clandestine services can't seem to get the job done when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks around the whole.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

martini companion

The Martini Companion is a fun to read guide to the history, ingredients and preparation of the classic American drink. Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan are co-authors and clearly fans of the martini, and as they point out, a martini is not just the name of a particular drink, as many know, it has now grown to include a whole class of drinks, which still focus on vodka and gin as their main ingredients.

They discuss the birth and development of the classic martini, and how it has evolved to become drier over time. There were surprises in here for me, such as just how sweet early versions of the drink were. Imagine lower quality ins with sugar added to mask poor manufacturing, coupled with sweet vermouth as the original mixer, sometimes added at up to 1/5 of the mixture! No wonder there was a push toward drying this drink out.

The history rolls right into the development of the individual ingredients, so there are sections on gin, vodka, and vermouth, which each end with descriptions of the various popular (and not-so-popular) brands, as well as individual tasting notes. There are also discussions about vermouth substitutes, garnishes, barware, and mixology. Ever wonder what the difference between shaking and stirring is? How much water is added to the drink during each method?

The hardcover is a handsome book: cloth covered boards, with heavy photo paper and a solid binding, and illustrated throughout with beautiful photos of antique barware from a private collection. The author clearly had a good time writing--and researching--this one.

Fun stuff! It was fun to read. And the recipes in the back tied it all up in a bow.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

wyrms

Wyrms was published in 1987, and the cover looks like it! Wyrms is written Orson Scott Card, who's name is back in the public's eye because of the movie version of his SF novel Ender's Game, 1985, the first in a series of Ender stories, which also spawned the Shadows, and The First Formic War stories, all in the Ender universe.

Orson Scott Card has won a number of book prizes, including the Marget A. Edwards Award for Ender's Game, and has been the editor of some SF anthologies. I read one of them at some point. The last thing I read was a series of short stories which were okay. Wyrms was not what I was expecting, and I'm not sure I understand the cover graphic of this paperback I found at my library's book sale. I certainly don't remember monkeys with clothes in the story.

Wyrms is basically a thought experiment about politics and religion. It takes place far into man's future, some 7000 years after man colonized a new planet called Imakulata. The story centers on a young girl/woman who is trying to find her way in the world in which she lives, as the daughter of a slave to the king. The history of the King, or Heptak as its called in this story, extends back to the very ship that brought the colonists to Imakulata. And our girl Patience, is wound all up in it.

Its a story of intrigue, murder, inter-species relationships and prejudices, religious tolerance and intolerance, the birth of myth and religion, and how various forms of the same story can mean many things to different people after so long. Given Card's political and religious writings--he's a right-wing Mormon--I would guess that if you were a follower, you'd find his philosophies laced throughout. I guess I'm not a real thoughtful or analytical reader, so I couldn't see the point as much as hear the discussion. I'm sure that if I thought about it more, I could tell you, but I'm reading for entertainment over here!

Was it good? Yeah, it was pretty good. If you're interested in what an author's religious and political views are, when he uses the position he has established in the community as a writer and the livelihood he makes from his book sales to advance those views, and you're trying to decide if you want to support such an author's mission when his views on issues such as democracy and gay marriage are so conservative, you may want to take a look before buying his books.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

last man

The Last Man is (apparently) number 13 in the Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn. If you'd asked me a few weeks ago I would have said, "Sure, I've read me some Vince Flynn before." but I don't remember reading any in particular, and when I took a look at the books tab right here on the ii, there's no Vince Flynn in the list from the past few years. So then (meaning, right now as I'm writing) I take a look at the Vince Flynn site and see if I recognize any books... (pause while I go look)...

Two titles look familiar: Kill Shot, and Consent to Kill, but I'm not sure if I read them or if I've just seen them around the house. I'm guessing its the latter; my wife likes the spy and suspense novels too. I was surprised to see that Vince Flynn has died. His site has a nice picture of him with dates, which make it look like a memorial, and I was confused until looking around a little more, I discovered that he died just this past summer after a struggle with prostate cancer over the past few years.

Mitch Rapp is a pretty well developed character by this point, and Vince Flynn's writing does a good job at one of my favorite things; staying out of the way. This writing style is great for action novels; it keeps the action chugging and while this wasn't the fastest read I've had, it did move along at a pretty good clip. If there was any problem with this story at all, its that there was a long slow build up, and pretty short finish. I found myself surprised that the story seemed t be getting to the mid-point for me, and I was three-quarters of the way through.

I also have a little bit of a hard time relating to characters who will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. Mitch Rapp has a bit of a trigger finger, and I guess I don't know enough of his backstory to know why, but I did find myself a little surprised that his superiors were thinking things like: I bet Mitch is going to kill this guy too, and I'm not sure I can stop him. Seems to me that anyone in a real job who isn't sure they can prevent their subordinate from killing first and asking questions later, may not be all that suited to their job (and should maybe think about finding a way to control their assets. BUUuuttt, I guess that's what escapist novels are for. did I just rant? was that a rant?   I... I don't think I can control myself...

So did I like it? Sure. It was fun. I'll dig up some of the others I've seen around here at some point and give them a go; see how Mitch Rapp got so screwed up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

constant gardener

You may remember The Constant Gardener as a film from 2005 with Ralph Fiennes. I don't, I never saw it. The movie did pretty well I guess, and I would bet that its because a 2 hour film can eliminate a lot of the slowness in this story and ratchet up the tension. That would have helped this story immensely. I also can imagine some reorganization of the timeline to give us some idea of what is actually going on. After 100 pages I had no idea what kind of story I was reading, after 200 pages I had a good idea what kind of story this is, but I don't understand what's going on, that really happens in the last hundred pages.*

I've read a few of John le Carré's books over the years, but I ending reading the ones I find at book sales and yard sales, so I guess I'm not getting to the great ones, the ones that people keep on the bookshelves to re-read. That, unfortunately, may be a problem with most of the books I read, and most (but not all) of them come from sources like that. I enjoyed the last le Carré book I read though.

The Constant Gardener follows the story of Justin Quayle and his beautiful, young wife Tessa in their temporary home in Nairobi, Kenya. Justin is with the British Foreign Service and his wife keeps herself busy doing what she can to help the local people, which means getting down in the trenches and looking into places that most foreign visitors don't bother to see. Husband Justin however, keeps his nose dutifully out of his wife's affairs, his head in the clouds, and his hands busy in his garden.

That is, until Justin is rudely awakened to just how serious some of the problems in Africa are, and has to set out against his very nature, to follow the same evidence his wife has. I don't think this is a spoiler, but it may help you to understand what you're reading in the beginning, is that spoilerish? Is it moot to ask about spoilerisms post spoilage?

le Carré has woven a pretty intricate web in this story, and many of the subjects and discoveries are pretty powerful, I think the problem in this one is the web was woven to loosely. I wonder again how the movie is.


* the hardcover is 492 pages.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

the hit

David Baldacci writes a pretty good novel. My wife typically buys them action novels and I read them when she's done, and this was the case here. She thought the first chapter had a great hook and it kept up from there on in. I'd have to agree.

I've seen his name around on books in the house, but I can't remember the last time I read one by him, or if I ever have. that's one of the reasons I have this blog This one is about a hit man, Will Robie, who feels like he has to do the right thing, even though he kills people for a living. Seems like an interesting premise, and the hints in the story make me think this guy is a recurring character. As it turns out, he does care.

Will Robie is a CIA hit man (altho I'm sure there's no such animal in reality, right?) and he's minding his own business until the office calls, asking him to do something he typically doesn't; track down another agent who's gone rogue and is killing people. Robie shrugs, digs in and soon discovers all kinds of crazy stuff going on, and then he needs to decide whether to do the right thing. Then he has to figure out what the right thing is.

The Hit is tight, exciting and well paced. The writing stays out of the way and the characters develop pretty thoroughly by the end. There are some canned characters and sub-plots populating the story as walk-ons, supporting cast, and off-the-shelf, built-in backstory, but its not too disruptive.

I'd be interested in the story that led up to this one, but I wouldn't knock over a nun to get to it.




Saturday, October 5, 2013

sons and lovers

I read D.H. Lawrence's (probably) most famous book, Lady Chatterley's Lover, a number of years ago, but I don't remember a lot about it. I found this copy of Sons and Lovers in the book sale at my library. Its a beautifully bound edition from 1929 by Martin Secker Ltd of London, in what they call a thin paper edition. The cover boards are also thin and flexible, and covered with red linen. The book was purchased by a man from Schenectady, NY while in Paris, in 1930, according to a hand written note on the plain, white endpaper.

I wonder if the book was purchased in Paris because it wasn't available or if the purchaser didn't want anyone to know he'd purchased it. I may be projecting here, but I did chose to read this book last week in recognition of banned book week. Sons and Lovers has been banned at various times as pornographic. Both Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley's Lover appear on the list assembled by the ALA of the 46 books out of the Century's Top 100 Novels according to Radcliffe Publishing Course. That's almost half of the best novel in the last century that were banned or challenged, including the top 9.

Astounding.

That being said, Lawrence writes--if I can generalize, based on my vague recollections of Chatterley--of the quiet, thoughtful and heartfelt agony of everyday life, with an occasional burst of passionate glory, which then smolders back down to anguish and angst. Sons and Lovers follows the life story of the Morel family who live near the coal mining pits north of Nottingham in central England. After reading I know what Pink Floyd was talking about when they sang:

"Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say."*

The story does give a glimpse at the forces society still had on the personal decisions people made for themselves but were just beginning to be pushed back at--Sons and Lovers was first published in 1913. It was also interesting to see how it was beginning to be possible for the lower classes to make their way into the middle class in a single generation. I wonder if it was Lawrence's intention to point out that upwardly mobile people continued to have their lower caste problems; that they brought their problems with them in other words, or if he was simply saying that even if you do improve your lot, the cares of the world don't necessarily get any lighter.

At its core however, Sons and Lovers is a study of a dysfunctional family. I was also interested to read how we use the words rage and hatred seem to have changed over time. Lawrence uses these terms to portray feelings that are much more subtle and transient, making the love-hate relationship almost the norm as his trouble character waffle and sway in their internal emotional currents.

Why the ban? There are lots of emotions, and some of them very strong, throughout the book. Love and lust, not least. There are some scenes of sex and lovemaking that are very emotionally charged, without being very explicit, but one gets the feeling that some of the techniques Lawrence used to be subtle, pushed the very boundaries of what was acceptable. Still more are the longing glances and the notice of such things as how a woman's breasts move inside her clothing as she stoops to pick a flower. And one great moment when the main protagonist, considering whether to speak frankly of sex decides against such intercourse. Oh yeah, I can imagine the folks up in arms about such terms.

A final note: when I finished this I started right in on David Baldacci's book and it took a few pages for me to change gears enough to even understand the language, the writing is so different.


* Pink Floyd. "Time." Dark Side of the Moon. 1973. Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

rebel prince

The Rebel Prince is the third in The Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan, which brings this trilogy to a compact and quiet conclusion. In doing my internet poking-about in preparation for this, I was interested to see that Kiernan is working on a web comic version of the story and is quite a talented artist. The fact that she has to pare the story down so that it fits into the comic format is telling in my mind when considering how she was able to truncate what could have been a very prolonged finale to the trilogy. Once an author has that many balls in the air, and can be tricky to extricate one's self from a story without feeling like you need to satisfy every little urge and need. christopher paolini, i'm looking at you. I was glad to see that Kiernan was able to let a couple of those balls drop in the interest of brevity.

 I can't say that this was my favorite fantasy story but it was fun to read, and its clearly written for the YA set, and will appeal to those who enjoy a fun fantasy story with a fair amount of action and a touch of romance. Some of this sub-plots, like the ghosts and the talking cats seemed a little tacked on in the end, by which I mean that the story would have been the same with or without them. It left me feeling like there was more to it that I just didn't hear about. While I'm grousing, I will also say that the main character was kept in the dark about a lot of things, for a long time, and I had to suffer along with her. Once I found out, I wasn't sure the secrets that were being kept from her really warranted so much cloak and dagger. This ended up accentuating this young woman's feelings of being left out of matters that were perhaps above her station--certainly things being discussed by men in most cases--and it may have been the author's intent to point this out.

Now on to some classic smut: Sons & Lovers by D. H. Lawrence for Banned Books Week!




Sunday, September 22, 2013

crowded shadows

The Crowded Shadows is the perfect middle book;* its got all of the things you'd expect from a middle book, and not many of the things you wouldn't. It probably wouldn't stand on its own, it helps to flesh out the characters and build tension leading up to the finale, the stakes get higher, and some of the mysteries of the the first book get resolved.

Sort of. And not all of them.

Celine Kiernan does write a pretty good story. The characters are solid and feel like people, and only occasionally does someone say or do something that seems slightly out of character. Seems hard to keep track of that as a writer, but there you are.

In this series you've got your swashbuckling, your horse riding, your royal court intrigue, mystery as I've said, and speckled throughout, you've got your religion and religious fanaticism, you've got your love, your hate, and your love-hate relationships, your mysticism, occult,  and a few talking animals.

A little something for everyone.

On to the last book!


* I've called these bridge books in the past.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

farthest shore

The Farthest Shore in the third book in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series. This book also focuses on the wizard/mage Sparrowhawk but like the second, it isn't exclusively about him. Le Guin has created a world with a wide array off possibilities; the stories she could set in this universe are unlimited, and she actually speaks about that at length in the afterword. Le Guin describes how she drew up the map of Earthsea, and named all of the places that she knew about from her story, and then went about naming all of the rest of the places, wondering all the while what those far away places were like, what kind of people lived there, and how they would interact with the characters and peoples she already knew about. She speaks about wanting to travel to these places through story to find what was there, say that this is how she wrote The Farthest Shore--by letting the story take its own course without knowing what would happen next, and especially not knowing the ending.

Of the three, I think I like this one best. The character of Sparrowhawk has grown, and has a certainly solidity to him that may have been a little thin in the other two, even the first where he is introduced. This volume also has a epic sweep to it that was also absent in the others, there is an Odyssey-like aspect to it which is nice.

And the dragons. The dragons are fleshed out in some detail in this story unlike they were in the mysterious first book. Le Guin talks about how she borrowed from others in her development of the dragons, and I haven't read all of the authors she nods to in the afterword, but they do seem to have an aspect to them the rings as original to my ear.

There are some grand developments in the Earthsea universe in this story, and I'm curious to see how these developments impact the next stories in the series.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

snow crash

I got the heads-up on Snow Crash after visiting Christopher Moore's web site. I went looking for Moore's web site after reading his Sacré Bleu. I wanted to send him an email telling him how much I liked it--that is the first and only time I've contacted an author after reading a book--and Moore was kind enough to write back. Moore has Snow Crash listed on his "Chris's Picks 1" page, along with a little blurb about it. I read that and decided I had to read Snow Crash; I've read a few of Neal Stephenson's books, and they were good so what more did I need?

Stephenson seems like a deep thinker to me. He really puts the time into both research and thinking through how his characters react to the world around them. This grounds his plots in reality and gives them weight, which is especially important in SF, where suspension of disbelieve is so critical. I've said this about Neal Stephenson before: he can really work a complex storyline into a manageable read that doesn't get bogged down and really pushes the story along. But the ideas are BIG!

Snow Crash has a definite cyberpunk twang to it, but all of the action doesn't take place in cyberspace, or the Metaverse, as Stephenson calls it. The action happens in the real world and is supplemented by action in the Metaverse. The main protagonist is a katana toting hacker who helped to write the code for the Metaverse, and his sidekick ends up being a skateboard riding courier who takes her chances flying through traffic grappled to moving vehicles.

What's it about? Computer viruses, biological viruses, dissolution of American society, franchise economy, the birth of a super-library, the birth of organized religion, the birth of human language, nuclear testing on aboriginal peoples, the pizza-delivering mafia, and, you know, how all of those things tie together.

Sound crazy? Yes. It is one of my favorite recent reads.

Read this book. Push someone out of the way if you have to.

Monday, September 2, 2013

inheritance

The fourth and last book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini is Inheritance. If I remember correctly, this series started when Paolini was able to publish the first volume when he was 15 or 16 years old. I read the first three installments before I began this blog, so its been a while.

Eragon is the first book, titled after the main character; the series focuses on him throughout. Eragon is young man who starts out living with his uncle, and undergoes a series of life-changing events that eventually puts him in the center of his world in not much of a span of time. Watching the young man grow from a farm boy to a leader, and all the struggles that come with that, is the personal story driver that winds throughout the series, but the external action is keeps the story fun. Eragon and friends certainly get into their share of scrapes.

If the series has any draw backs I would say that the first book suffers a little bit from the youth of Paolini as a writer. Paolini has two parents in the book business which helped him get going by self-publishing Eragon themselves. The book came to the attention of Knopf who contacted Paolini and made arrangements to publish the second edition of Eragon, and the rest of the series. I think Knopf editors helped with the book when they got hold of it, but I could feel the writing growing up with the writer as I read through the series. The writing in this last volume was pretty good.

Second, this series was a little long. I know when folks read The Lord of the Rings, they wish it wouldn't end, and Tolkien commented himself that people had complained to him that it was too short. After all, an epic story deserves an epic length, but we readers were expecting this to be a trilogy, and when the third book came out and it was bigger than either of the first two AND included an author's note saying that he tried, but was unable to get it all wrapped up in three volumes, I was a little surprised to find the fourth volume even larger, by more than 100 pages.

Eragon 528 pages
Eldest 704 pages
Brisingr 763 pages
Inheritance 880 pages
Inheritance Cycle Total 2,875 pages dang, son, that's a lot of paper

The conclusion was satisfying, and I was glad to see that Paolini didn't give in to all of his adolescent fantasies in the final story. That being said, there may be more to come. There are some story legs left in the universe Paolini has built, and I would bet we'll see more stories of dragons, magic, and elves from him in the future.

I have a pile of fantasy stories lined up next.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

travel marker series iii

This is a trade bookmark, designed to be the wrapping for a fun kid's bracelet called the b.FUNNY. These rubbery bracelets come in a variety of colors and designs, with hearts being the main design element. Wear one, or wear ten, depending on how you feel. The bracelets are one-piece, with a knob on one end that pops into a hole at the other end to hold them in place. When a bracelet is picked out, its slipped through the 'smile' cutout in the bookmarker, and the knob is popped thru the 'nose' from the back. The bracelet then hangs down the front of the bookmarker card as a presentation when sold.

This bookmark was given to me by the owner of the store in Sulmona, Italy who happens to be engaged to my wife's cousin. Silvia's store is FULL of all kinds of fun stuff for kids and adults, and if the store has a theme, it would have to be: adorable. Silvia's store is listed on the bracelet manufacturer's website as an authorized dealer.

IL CAPRICCIO DI SILVIA CONCETTA GOLEMME 
CORSO OVIDIO, 56 - AQ, SULMONA, ITALY

At Il Capriccio di Silvia (Silvia's Whims?) you can buy a Superman lunch box, a Hello Kitty bikini, a Mini Mouse school bag, a tea set with puppies, pocketbooks, purses, T-shirts, posters... she has everything, and if its not in the store she has it on her website.

The reverse of the card says: "Your Birikino Bookmarker!! Bring it with You!!" So I did.

Grazie mille Silvia!

Friday, August 30, 2013

baby steps

I just listened to a Science and Creativity podcast by Studio 360; the episode is called "Becoming the Bionic Man." Producer Jonathan Mitchell talks to MIT professor Hugh Herr about his new prosthetic lower limb program that he has also spun off into a company called BIOM.*

Herr is a double amputee himself, and using his own prostheses he is able to return to the sport that first cost him his limbs: climbing. "I was actually able to climb at a more advanced level, with artificial limbs, than I'd ever achieved, before the accident, with biological limbs." Dr. Herr is obviously a talented and driven scientist, but he doesn't see prosthetic limbs as the ultimate solution for amputees, he sees them as the ultimate solution.

This field is called biomechatronics, and its come a long way from hooks and peg legs. The Studio 360 piece is chock full of Dr. Herr's dreams for the future, and some of those dreams aren't too far away from the Singularity idea that others are touting. "We're rebuilding humans, from the ground up," says Herr.  "The artificial part of my body is actually a blank palette for which to create."

Herr is also looking forward to the future of bionics: connecting the limbs to the brain. Maybe even sensory feedback. You know...touch. steve austin style, baby. And what's beyond that? There's plenty of room for speculation, but Herr and his team have some ideas:

"The next step is to say, well, maybe we shouldn't be cell- and tissue-centric, maybe we shouldn't view our biological hand as the end-all. Maybe that bionic hand is also okay, and acceptable. And perhaps beyond that, when we experience the biological hand being stiff in the morning, and maybe even being painful and arthritic, maybe that bionic hand over there may actually be attractive." Yeah, that's right. Grandma may get sick of not being able to lift a pan off the stove, or  have trouble getting up the stairs. Just pop down to the media lab for an upgrade, Grandma! jus' chop them ol' limbs off granma, and get you some new ones!

But it may not just be for the old, infirm, or those with birth defects. Herr adds, "People with quote, normal minds and bodies, will volunteer, I predict, to use these technology, to go beyond what nature intended."

Dr. Herr says that he gets limb upgrades every few years, and its no big deal; He doesn't weep or feel a loss of any kind, but speculates that this may not always be true. "I can imagine that when my bionic limbs are more intimate with my biology... when my nervous system is completely interfaced with the bionic limb. I can imagine that I will have a deeper relationship--emotional relationship--with the synthetic part of my body."

Jonathan Mitchell then adds, as a closer, "And maybe one day, our machines will be so good, that we'll love them, as though we grew them ourselves."

I told you: robot love. < go ahead. click. its a good one.



* BIOM was formally called iWalk, but I guess that name wore off. Click on the BIOM link above. There are some cool videos of the limbs in action. The ankles are amazing.

And yeah, that's Luke Skywalker up there. Who should I have used? Anakin? Pfff


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

poison throne

The Poison Throne is the first in a trilogy (The Moorehawke Trilogy) by Celine Kiernan. I bought it for my daughter, who may or may not have read it, but she didn't go out and get the second and third books that I'm aware of, so it must not have done big things for her in any case. It didn't do BIG things for me either, but it was entertaining. And its refreshing to read about a strong female character who has emotions, but still has a job and is self-reliant, even as a teen. This is a fantasy story what takes place in ye olden tymes. With a twist.

The majority of this first volume seems to be a setting of the scenery, an introduction to the characters, as well as an understanding of who means what to whom, and who, you know... doesn't. The rest is all just a big ol' mystery, right down to the title of the book. poison? what poison. where's the poison at? did someone leave it in the metaphor cabinet? This is not one of those first volumes that you can read on its own and then get to the others whenever; this book doesn't stand on its own, there is too much left to happen, and I just got the 'Tune in Next Week' message at the end. So I'll tune in and read the others, but I'll read something else first.

The story centers on Wynter Moorehawke who is trained to be a carpenter, and is quite advanced in her trade, altho still a protege to her master and father. Wynter and her father return from a long stay away from their kingdom, only to find that their kingdom isn't the same as they left it. Inner castle politics, infighting and family battles rage beneath the surface, but the Moorehawkes learn very little about the reasons behind the unrest, try as they might throughout the story.

There are secret passages, talking cats, and sneaking ghosts about the old castle. Plenty to keep the interest of one who likes an old timey story, set deep in the fantasy fiction camp. We'll see where this one goes.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

tombs of atuan

The Tombs of Atuan is the second volumes in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle. I read the first about a year ago, so I had forgotten some of the subtleties in the earlier book, but was reminded of what I needed to know as I read. I found this book in the young adult section of my library, and I guess that's about right; its one of those books meant for younger people that can still be a fun read for adults. Its an entertaining story but not a whole lot of meat to it.

The story centers on a young girl, said to be the reincarnated high priestess of an obscure, and so-old-as-to-nearly-be-forgotten religion, based somewhere on the outskirts of Earthsea. The young girl tells her story as she learns her way around the crumbling temples and grounds, striving with members of a newer, yet well established religion based on the godking. The young priestess slowly learns that it isn't all about the purity of religious belief, its also about power, influence, dominance and control... and, you know, human sacrifice and blood rites.

Into this remote and removed little town wanders a young wizard, looking for an ancient artifact, and her world, so untouched by time and the outside world for so long, reels under the seemingly minor upset caused by this visitor. Its fun and fast paced, and made me want to read the next one, but not so much that when I discovered my library didn't have it, I ran out to buy it; I just moved on to the next thing.


Friday, August 23, 2013

trinity

Trinity is a 2012 graphic history of the first atomic bomb, written and illustrated by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Fetter-Vorm takes his title from the code name of the test grounds for the Manhattan Project.

The book traces the history of atomic discovery from Marie Curie through its various developments and breakthroughs to a terrific graphic representation of both nuclear fission and the principals of nuclear chain reaction.

The meat of the story begins in the 1930s with the realization  that this new found understanding of atomic energy could be weaponized. By the end of the 30s and the beginnings of World War II, concern escalates and the US begins to secretly look into atomic weapons. After Pearl Harbor, the US decided to be the first to build the first atomic weapon.

The story is fast moving and compelling. The images supplement the narrative so that the text and dialog need only be the bare minimum, and according to an author's note at the end, cribbed directly from the written record wherever possible.

The science, the politics, the engineering, the international struggles, the fear, and the horror of what might happen and ultimately did happen are all described--and illustrated--in a simple, gray-scale manner.

The book ends on the Cold War arms race and world wide implications of living in the nuclear age. The afterword is a simple yet grim reminder that nuclear particles remain with us for millennia as an unseen reminder of what we did, and what we continue to do.

Read--and look at--this book.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

icarus agenda

I've read a few books by Robert Ludlum but not a lot of them. The Icarus Agenda is a little dated but holds up pretty well. I didn't love this book but it was pretty good.

The beginning was a little wonky, as was the end. In fact the whole thing was a little screwy in its construction. Our man Evan needs a little juice, a little je ne sais quoi, in order for him to be taken seriously, further on in the novel. Many writers would bang out a prelude or something, just to give us the flavor. A litte tasty-taste of our man's bad-assery. Elude to some adventure so we could see that Evan's not a puss. Not Ludlum tho. Ludlum writes a story within a story. The prelude is book in itself. It's like 150 pages. Then I'm like, so that happened... and we pick up Evan chillin' back at the ranch a year or so later until something from his past comes to bite him in the ass.

Can you guess what it is?

Ya, so, Evan's back at it. Drawn back in to be the reluctant hero and save everyone and everything he loves. Which includes... America.

The last part of the story is one final escapade. It needs doing, but contrary to the first operation and certainly the second, this mission wraps up in one or two chapters. Certainly as complex an objective  as the first one, but Evan bangs it out in about 20 pages and is home for dinner and a glass of Canadian whiskey by 7:30 and all is right with the world.

Maybe Ludlum originally intended to write a trilogy similar to the Bourne franchise but his editors didn't think it had the legs so he consolidated into one volume. That's what it feels like anyway.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

stone monkey

I almost forgot about this book. I guess that's not a great way to start a book review. I've read a bunch of Jeffrey Deaver's stuff, and its usually pretty good. I got turned on to his stuff by my wife who has bought a bunch of it. Deaver is probably best know for his Lincoln Rhyme character, and a couple of his stories have been turned into movies. The Bone Collector is probably the only one folks will remember.

Lincoln Rhyme, Amelia Sachs, and company have human smuggling to deal with in this adventure, but it doesn't get too far before human smuggling turns into murder.
And then its murder, murder, murder, from there on out.

Lincoln Rhyme is an interesting character, and so is Amelia Sachs. What I think might improve the series is playing down the other characters that seem to hang around the Rhyme-Sachs team. None of them really has a chance to develop, so they should be cut out and the focus placed more on the duo and their relationship. I understand that reality is probably closer to a larger task force, but I don't think everyone of them needs to be a minor character, with backstories, relationships and the whole bit. Its too many threads to follow that don't really lead anywhere.

The Stone Monkey was amusing, but a little slow overall. I'm not sure it added much to the overall storyline of Rhyme and Sachs.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

venetian judgement

This the last book I read in Italy, and I finished it when I got home. I bought this in the same store in Italy, which seemed to have British imports, but who knows, maybe they're American. The cover on the last one I read didn't seem to match the cover shown on my local (American) book buying sites.*

The Venetian Judgement is also a spy novel which takes places partially in Italy. Venice as you can imagine from the title. This one is written by David Stone, a pen name in the author blurb it actually says 'cover name' for a very mysterious type of guy who has lived in "North America, South America and Southeast Asia". Yeah. Very mysterious. I guess I hope he doesn't get killed for writing this novel?

Anyways, this writer, whatever his or her name is, but lets call him David Stone, DOES seem to know his stuff. The military and intelligence backgrounds (also eluded to in the blurb) seems to show in the writing. The Venetian Judgement centers around a character named Micah Dalton, sometimes know as the Crocodile. Stone has 4 novels out, each featuring Dalton. I think this is the third one so Dalton has some history, which is eluded to in this story. In this story, Dalton is introduced as a CIA 'cleaner' which I take to mean, a guy who comes in after the nasty bits are done by others, to clean up, but it may be that he doesn't just take out the trash, he may have a hand in its production. I guess I need to read more spy novels Stone's grasp of the lingo certainly seems solid, but it did leave me wondering in a few places.

I was again pleased with the Italian connection and delighted to have found a very entertaining read for the end of my vacation and the flight home. I'll also keep my eyes open for any more David Stone novel I happen to see.

* Yeah, the cover on Amazon doesn't match the cover of the book I bought in this case either.

Monday, August 5, 2013

defector

So I ran out of books in Italy, and went to buy one at the store in Sulmona that sells books in English. The selection was limited, and the titles seemed to be from the UK. I ended up going back to buy a second title, which I finished just after I got home. I'll write about that one next. This one is by Daniel Silva, titled The Defector. Its an adventure including a recurring Silva character named Gabriel Allon, an Israeli secret service agent whose cover is an art restorer working for the pope and living in Umbria, Italy--a connection to my vacation that I enjoyed. As I read, I got the feeling that this one follows hard on the heels of another book, which after a quick look turns out to be Moscow Rules. If you're interested in reading the Gabriel Allon books in order, check it out here.

Gabriel Allon isn't fooling around. He takes what he does seriously, and personally. And if actually gets personal, he takes it to the next level. Allon is an interesting character. I can't say that I've never read of a character like him, because he has a lot of the same traits we often see in super spy types. He seems to be put together a little differently. We don't see a lot of super spies that both refuse promotions and have committed personal relationships. We also don't see a lot of super spies with the education and training to be fine art restorers and have the stomach for extreme prejudice 'wet work'.

This story finds Allon taken away from the life it seems like he'd rather be living to help out someone he helped in the past: a defector whose got himself in a bind. As one can imagine, things quickly escalate until until the proverbial pucky hits the fan. The Defector is fast, grim, brutal, tense, well plotted and sometimes tricksy. This is the first Daniel Silva book I recall reading, and based on this I may look around for some of his other stuff.

One more book on the Italian trip to go, then I've got some more bookmarks to share!


Saturday, August 3, 2013

windup girl

The third book I read in Italy was The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This looks like Bacigalupi's first novel...  NOPE, some checking has dispelled that misunderstanding, he's got a few novels out--a few since this came out and a few before--he also has a number of short stories, which look like they make take place in this Windup Girl universe, which is why this story seems to have some nice backstory elements to it. The shorts stories are collected in a volume called Pump Six and Other Stories.

Bacigalupi's Windup Girl universe is an imagined dystopian future Earth, after some horrendous man-made events have flooded the oceans, starved the population, used up the remaining fossil fuels, ruined the world economy, and reduced what's left of functioning governments to pockets of ultra-protectionist tyrannies. The streets are dotted with technological advancements in genetic engineering and energy harvesting, along with a return to manpower, draft animals, and a crushing class system. This dichotomy provides a really interesting backdrop for Bacigalupi's story-telling, and his characters are seamlessly woven into this world he's created. The writing, and the storyline are very thoughtful; a mix of soft and hard sci fi.

The Windup Girl is a series of interwoven subplots that knit into a story of one such future city-state in Asia. There is mystery, love and romance, action, intrigue, big business, conspiracy, illegal genetic tampering, rebirth, industrial espionage, class warfare, nation building... the list goes on. This story is packed, but it all works. With all of the topics touched on, this is a story of people. Bacigalupi has developed a complex plotline, and some pretty cool tech, but the tale is really driven by how his characters react to the events around them.

Nice job. Read this book.




Sunday, July 28, 2013

working theory

A Working Theory of Love is Scott Hutchins's first novel, and if things continue along like this, Hutchins has a bright future.

A Working Theory of Love imagines a time in the very near future, maybe 20 minutes from now, when the next phase of intelligent machines is being developed by a small private corporation with an eye toward beating--or maybe more accurately, meeting the requirements of--the Turing Test. The Test itself is offered annually at the Loebner Prize Competition, altho the competition isn't named specifically in the book that I recall, and is essentially Turning's own Imitation Game in which a computer has to imitate human conversation with a human judge, who must be fooled into believing that he or she is conversing with a human being, at least 70 percent of the time. Alan Turing, who developed these ideas in 1950, felt that this could be achieved in about 50 years time, but 2000 has come and gone, and artificial intelligence isn't there yet.

The small group chasing the prize in Working Theory has developed a method of building an artificial personality by adding the diary information of a real person to the basic response algorithms and general knowledge database components that make up an artificial intelligence. Its obviously more complicated than that, but this is essentially a story of people, and the artificial intelligence is one of the characters in the story. The crux of the story is that the small band working on this particular AI consists of a retired AI professor, and young, southeast Asian coder, and the son of the deceased diarist used to create the AI. The son is not a computer programmer, but was hired on to help debug the system, by essentially talking to... an emergent virtual copy of his dead father.

The premise is fascinating, and the story leaps from there, becoming a very complex and introspective look at the relationships of adult children to their parents, with a somewhat spooky peek at the possibilities of a second chance to interact with loved ones who have died. A very real look at what the idea of the Singularity may mean for people, you know... if we still have people in the Asimov tradition of setting the scene in which the technology exists and then exploring what happens.

Read this book!

And Scott Hutchins, I'm talking to you son, get your ass busy and give us another one!


amber room

Okay, so lets get busy. I'm way behind because I've been in Italy for 4 weeks. I know, poor baby. I brought the book I was reading, this one and the two on my 'next up' list, and then bought two more while I was there. I just finished those two, so I've got 5 books to write about.

I've read a number of Steve Berry's books, each of them about his recurring character, Cotton Malone. The Amber Room is not a Cotton Malone story, and I'm pretty sure its Berry's first novel. Both of these facts may help to explain the poor character development; I just didn't feel that I knew, understood or could even connect with any of the characters in this story.

As an adventure story centered around an estranged couple, unwillingly thrown into a world of art theft, Nazi secret stashes,* secret organizations, and post-war legacy making by the Germans, Russians, and others, the story was pretty good. It hung together, and kept me reading, but I didn't love it. You can see Berry getting his legs under himself in this story; he does tell a pretty good story. And character development may be a little easier when you have multiple stories to fine tune who your characters really are, à la Cotton Malone. But in the end, this reads like a first book.

Fun, intricate, interesting but a little flat overall.


* You really ought to click on that link. Check this one too.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

affair

The Affair,  a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, is a prequel that helps answer some of the questions about how Reacher ended up where he is in most of the later books. Child seems to have worked out the story pretty well, and I can only imagine that he started out with some kind of well-thought-out backstory for his character when he begin the franchise, and that backstory has been slowly filling in as he makes his way through the Reacher series. He's had time, in other words, to work the kinks out of this story, so it reads beautifully from beginning to end. I ended up taking this book with me when I thought I'd have a spare moment at lunch, or waiting somewhere, so that I could keep reading it.

Anyone who has read some of the Reacher stories thus far will undoubtedly have some questions about Reacher's earlier days and Lee Child comes through with this one, and then does it again with what the cover teaser calls "exclusive bonus material" which takes the form of a short story titled: Second Son. exclusive? who else is going to have this material? Second Son is also a prequel of sorts, and gives the regular Reacher reader an additional glimpse at the origin story of the ex-military policeman.

This is number 16 in the series so far, and I think that I've probably read a half-dozen or more a few years ago. Only one shows up here on the blog. Its too bad really. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep track of what I read. The cover art on the Reacher novels (paperbacks, anyway) are so similar, that I don't think I could figure it out without re-reading a few pages. If you're looking for a list in order, take a look at this. the world's strongest library also compared reacher to jack bauer as I did in my other review. You can try here for all of your favorite series, in order. you're welcome

Not the reader type? Jack Reacher is a movie adaptation of the One Shot novel with Tom Cruise as the six-four Reacher. maybe he stood on a box † Not bad, generally, from an entertainment point of view. Not gonna' win any Oscars tho.

Good, clean (sort of) fun that gets your kick-ass and justice-is-sweet nerves jangling. Fun!

-- --

† This is a little aside about Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. Seems odd because I've read a few of the books, and I think of Reacher as a big dude. And its not that I just think of him that way, its really an integral part of his persona. Reacher is 6-foot 5-inches, and about 250 pounds. Tom Cruise is my height, 5-foot 7-inches, and I know he weighs less than I do, lets say 165, normally, and beefed up for his roll to probably 175-180. My guess is he wanted to make this movie, and is hoping to do some sequels, maybe all of them, but I don't know if he'll get there if he doesn't have the Reacher fans with him. As I said, I think he ended up doing a pretty good job, but you know there are some out there who won't buy him as Reacher at almost a foot shorter, and 70 pounds light. Reacher also has light hair, and blue eyes. Cruise has brown hair and hazel or light brown eyes.

Who do I think would be good? Its a tough one, I can't think of a lot of big, A-list actors
Chris Hemsworth (6'-4"light hair, blue eyes, wrong accent? too young?)
Gerard Butler (6'-2", dark hair, blue eyes, wrong accent?)
Alexander Skarsgård (6'-4 1/2", light brown hair, blue eyes, too slim?)
Armie Hammer (6'-5 1/2" med. brown hair, blue eye, young) his god-damn name is armie 
Josh Duhamel (6'-3 1/2", light brown hair, brown eyes)

All of these guys would have to put on some beef. What do you think?




invisible cities

Italo Calvino is so much fun to read. I've read his Cosmicomics, The Baron in the Trees (Il barone rampante) and his retelling of traditional fables in Italian Folktales.

Invisible Cities (Le città invisibili)* is a series of short stories based on the imagined conversations of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo has traveled the world in service of discovery and reporting his findings to Khan, the places he's been, what he has seen, and the extent and diversity in Khan's empire, most of which he has never seen. Polo described the cities he has visisted, not as places of a certain physical description, unless only in contrast to what he describes as the true nature of a particular city. The cities Polo describes are like none that appear on earth, or possibly like every city, or maybe only one city.

Calvino's insight into what makes a city is not only a sense of place. Rather it is a sense of what it is to be a city, driven in most cases by the feelings, actions, and thoughts of its inhabitants and visitors. Calvino describes cities as seen through Marco Polo's eyes as wondrous or depraved places, sad, self-involved, silly, or hopelessly lost in trying to be something they are not, or something they were, or want to be. There is a sense that what cities are is driven by how they are perceived, both from within and from without, regardless of time and place, or absolutely shackled to it. Calvino's descriptions of cities are often--and sometimes best--described by isolated incidents, little slices of time, or the shared moments of its people.

Calvino's view is at once micro- and macroscopic. His observations of dozens of make-believe cities sharpens one's knowledge of the real cities we've seen and experienced by giving us new tools with which to examine them. I find that I can learn more about the cities that I've visited just by thinking about them in new ways, and for that I'm grateful to Calvino and looking forward to my upcoming travels even more. In many ways, Invisible Cities is a lot like a travelogue of real places that we'll never see, and yet, see everyday.

Read this Book.


* I didn't see any translator credited, so I'm assuming it was done by the author himself.