Monday, April 18, 2016

discovery of witches

This book is from a few years ago. I discovered the third book at one of the libraries I'm working on--if I get there early, or if they aren't ready for me, I sometimes have few minutes to take a look at the new books. I don't usually spend a lot of time with the book jacket, I just try to get a feel for a book, so I didn't realize it was part of trilogy: the All Souls Trilogy written by Deborah Harkness. I took a picture of the third book, and when I looked it up in my library, I found the trilogy.

Harkness is a little different than your average witch/vampire book author; she comes at this from a very successful, non-fiction historical writing, by all accounts. Harkness teaches history at the University of Southern California, and has won a number of awards for her historical writing. She has also done pretty well in the past with a wine blog. According to her bio she has also lived or worked in many of the places that figure large in this book as settings. They say write what you know, sounds like good advice. The main protagonist in this story is a historical writer doing research in libraries for her new book. Books, libraries, writing, history, collegiate life, scholarship, mitochondrial DNA, and wine all figure into the story. Harkness is definitely writing what she knows and it shows. A Discovery of Witches shows a depth not often found in stories in this genre, based on my limited experience. Good on you Deborah Harkness.

Diana Bishop is spending her time in the library these days, researching alchemy for her new book, and thinking about a scholarly presentation she needs to make in a few months, when she stumbles across something in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford, something that hasn't been seen for 150 years. Suddenly, she has a lot more attention that she'd planned on, and from the types of people she didn't expect to run into at the library. She pretty quickly realize that she's opened up a major can of worms, and... we're off.

Harkness's sense and understanding of history, the research required to do what her protagonist does, and the background to this fantastic story are effortlessly painted in. That first-hand understanding is what I think, gives this story its formidable sense of depth and place. The science, magic, wine discussion, and secret society slant fill the picture in nicely. This is a wild romp, and its got some of the same elements we've seen in other stories of this ilk, but its smarter. Reminds me a little of David Mitchell's take. I'd put this is the same read-alike category.

I'm looking forward to picking up the next installment tomorrow.

Friday, April 15, 2016

strange library

The Strange Library. With a title like that, how could I not pick this one up. I've read a few of Murakami's books and while this has some similarities, it's really a thing all its own; more of an art project than a novella. I'm curious about what this book looks like in the original Japanese version. you know what, using the magic of the interwebs I'm going to see if I can do that virtually right now. Boom. *

The form of the book from the artwork and design of the top to bottom overlapping front cover captures the imagination immediately. A quick flip through the heavy pages, printed in a large typeface font, and illustrated full pages tells us that we're in for a wild ride.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that this is one strange library that our young protagonist has stepped into, but I wasn't prepared for furries, labyrinths, spirits, and cannibalism. That's a lot to squeeze into a little novella like this. I'm not sure how he did it but I think the larger question is: what does it mean?

Before I blab what I think, I'll say that I don't think my speculations represent spoilers either, but if you'd rather not hear what I think I'd skip to the next paragraph. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about what Murakami was trying to say while I read--it only took an hour or so to read this--but since then I've been wondering. Maybe libraries represent education, learning, and/or empirical data vs. spiritual understanding. Perhaps that's why a spirit arrives; to provide guidance. The kind of guidance book larnin' alone can't give us. If so, is that why cannibalism? Our minds being filled with information only to sate the consumption demands put upon us by other, similarly 'educated' people? Or maybe the lesson is: we should be careful what we choose to learn so that we aren't being programmed against our will. A call to think for ourselves. Even when it comes to thinking about WHAT we think about. Not sure if that's it or not, but these seem like interesting questions in any case. yeah, that was me patting me on the back for being so deep

So I would read this book if I were you. If you see it in the library, you could just find a comfy spot and read it right there. and Then get something else Murakami wrote and take it home.

* Originally titled Toshokan kitan and published in six arts in 1982 in a periodical, and later published as a complete novella titled Fushigi na toshokan, according to this Murakami translation blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

saturn run

I picked this book up in a library I'm working on a month or so ago. I knew it was science fiction, and had a pretty good idea it was about a trip to Saturn. I had no idea that it would so many similarities to Seveneves. Let me be clear, its not the same story, they are completely different, but they both have a hard science approach, and deal with people working in space in long-term, difficult conditions. It ended up being a great follow-up book. I'd say they fall into the 'also like' category for anyone who enjoyed either. that means go get the other one, and read it. go on.

John Sandford has a lot of books published, and a lot of them have the word 'Prey' in the title, so I assume its some kind of series. Ctein, who has co-author status on this book, is more an unknown. He seems to be Sandford's science go to guy, and ended up being much more involved in both helping to crank the science, and help inform the storyline. His credits include writing as well, so I'm sure it was a team effort. And having someone who can help run orbit injection simulation software and help vision future interplanetary-capable engines has got to be handy.

Saturn Run is a fun, exciting sci fi adventure. Its got  a hard science core, and an engaging story with a series of sub-plots and intrigues, from geopolitics, to sexual tension. There are some well crafted characters here to, that show some real depth and complexity. Sanford and Ctein do a good job of spelling out the science and explaining its implications in a very simple way so that allows the story to move forward. I can see that Sandford has done really well with the Prey books, but I, for one, would like to see more of this from him and Ctein.

Friday, April 1, 2016

buried giant

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is a short novel set in England in the years after King Arthur faded away to Avalon. The story is slow and contemplative; following the trials of an old couple over the course of a few difficult days in their long lives together. A lot happens in the course of 2 or 3 days to this couple, but Ishiguro takes his time telling it.

After a brief mention of an actual buried giant early on in the story, I felt sure that the title would refer to one of the characters, allegorically. In the end I think the giant in question ended up being a little mushier than that.

I didn't love this book, but I didn't hate it either. I'd have to put it in the myeh list. After a hundred pages or so, I felt like this story had some real legs, and even if it was slow going, I thought it would crack open to reveal something...well, giant.

It didn't.