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Back up to a normal reading speed--I should start doing these monthly again.

A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin.  The last entry in the series was my least favorite, because it skipped all my favorite characters.  And here they are!  They are not necessarily getting where everyone is rooting for them to go, but I find myself having more patience with this than many reviewers.  I enjoyed spending time with them, and groaning over their errors, and groaning more over their injust rewards for doing everything (or almost everything) right.  And I think that if Jon had remembered at the beginning that while Ned may not have made friends among the men, he was married... but Starks always make their decisions with the absolute best of intentions.

All Men of Genius by Lev Rosen.  Twelfth Night with steampunk, overt bi- and homosexuality, and actual examination of the gender issues.  If that makes you squee, you are not unlike me, and I can report that your squee is entirely justified.

I don't normally mention beta-reads here, because it's not like they're available for everyone else to read.  But I feel I can safely predict that [ profile] gaudior's as-yet-untitled first novel will be available for the rest of you to read at some point.  At which point, you should read it.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.  This actually deserves its own post, which I need to write--but in brief... you know, I'm not sure I can describe a rewrite-the-back-of-your-head book in one paragraph.  It's about redesigning polluting industries so that they are "like a cherry tree"--so that their end products leave the environment around them better off.  And just when you are saying, "Well, that's a great idea in theory," they give real-life examples of this type of redesign.  My favorite is the textile factory (I think in Germany) that confused environmental inspectors dreadfully by having outflow water cleaner than their intake.

I am delighted to report that this book is widely read in the parts of the US government responsible for environmental clean-up.

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles Mann.  This actually belongs in the same hypothetical post as the previous one, because it's the sequel to 1491, another book that rewrote the back of my head.  And they are not unrelated to Cradle to Cradle; one of the primary points of 1491 is that pre-contact American Indians had their own path of technological development completely separate from Europe's.  Several of which technologies followed the Cradle to Cradle principles.  1493 takes up the other half of the story, covering the Columbian Exchange--the exchange of species, cultural ideas, and people between previously separated continents--in gloriously vivid detail.  As in the previous book, Mann has a way of describing historical episodes in such a way that you can clearly see the epic Hollywood blockbuster that would be made from them if Hollywood wasn't so monofocused on white Europeans.  His stories trumpet the agency and political complexity of people who have been oversimplified by enemies and allies alike for centuries.  1493 didn't blow my mind quite as much as 1491, but I can't say I came away with my worldview unchanged either.

Point 1 of Things Everyone Should Know: on the balance, invasive species above the microscopic level have probably saved more lives than they've cost--notably, the introduction of the potato to Europe turned a society of constant famine into a society of occasional famine.  Although potato blight, of course, is also an exchange species.   

Point 2 of Things Everyone Should Know, and also Point 1 of I Really Should Have Figured This Out: You know all the conservatives freaking out about the US becoming "majority minority"?  Until the late 19th century immigration wave that brought my personal ancestors over, it was

The Tempering of Men, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette.  Sequel to A Companion to Wolves, with slightly less semiconsensual and interestingly problematic sex, and slightly more awesome Svartelves.  This is one of my favorite kinds of story--what happens after you save the world? 

The Wooden Star, by William Tenn.  I loved Of Men and Monsters, and wanted to like this short story collection.  Unfortunately, it has a problem, which is that it has very few people in it--at least, people that I recognize as acting like real human beings.  The supposed men are bad and the supposed women are worse.  The things that he thinks are shocking and scary have also not dated well.  Since he starts out by complaining about his trouble publishing these things, I'm not actually convinced that they ever did what they were supposed to.

The Zanzibar Cat, by Joanna Russ.  I picked this up expecting to find it a refreshing change from the William Tenn, and it started out that way.  "When It Changed" I have read before, and it's one of my favorite shorts, in part because I suspect the characters make much more sense to me than to her original readers.  My wife and I would certainly fit better on pre-change Whileaway than 60s America, let me tell you.  There were also a couple of rather sweet adventurer stories.  But the rest of the collection... right, my problem with Russ, and I really hate to say this, is that she's usually too nonlinear for me.  I can appreciate that her stories are doing interesting and original things with structure and language, but I can't actually appreciate the stories.  The flaw is in me, not in Russ.

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing, by Doug McKenzie-Mohr and William Smith. This does what it says on the tin, and does it well, though it's yet another book that is incomplete by virtue of predating the internet as a major social phenomenon.  It talks in very concrete ways about how to apply social psychology principles to in-person behavioral change programs (e.g., getting people to start composting).

A Shadow In Summer, by Daniel Abraham.  This came highly recommended by all my most trusted book reviewers, and even now, reading others' descriptions of the plot and worldbuilding, it sounds like exactly the sort of thing I ought to like.  But it just didn't do it for me.  Part of this, I suspect, is that if your plot is going to revolve around [controversial modern activity] as an accepted social structure, and it revolves around [controversial modern activity] going horribly wrong, and there are no counter-examples, then I am going to hold back a little emotionally while I wait for evidence that I can trust the narrative.  And that evidence never happened, and I never cared about the characters enough to overcome this problem.  And then there is the thing where the protagonists are young het males, and there is an elderly woman who is much more interesting, and she does interesting things whose impact gets largely undone by the actions of the protagonists.  And then the sequel is following the official protagonists rather than her.  The promise that we get to find out the results of her latest acts in the fourth book almost tempts me to read Book 2.  It would be much more tempting if we got to find out what happens to her in Book 2.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.  Comfort reread.  Gaimans that I have read and loved many times are never going to disappoint me.

The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Failure in Complex Situations, by Dietrich Dorner.  Also predating the internet, but it feels like less was lost thereby in this one.  Dorner goes over some complex social simulations that he ran on what I suspect of being a TRS-80 with the experimenter doing all the important calculations, and the ways that people screwed up attempts at managing complexity, and what they did right when they actually managed it. (Actually, this might have basically been text-based Sims.)  Fascinating stuff, and not a reframed presentation of the same findings on judgment heuristics I'm familiar with.

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge.  Unquestionably some of the best fiction I've read in months.  This is a worlds-spanning post-singularity epic, which is not a form normally conducive to serious character development.  And yet the book is full of compelling characters, human and alien, and personal scale conflicts that I actually care about alongside great cosmic crises that I actually care about.  Vinge is the guy who came up with the idea of the singularity in the first place, and yet I don't feel like I'm already familiar with the Zones of Thought universe based on his imitators.  It's different from anything that anyone else is doing.  I had dreams about it, and opinions about which Zone I should want to live in, and arguments with myself on the way to work about the ideas and ethical dilemmas.  Everything that science fiction is supposed to do, this does right.

The Tines are the species in Fire that we get to know best.  They are hive-minded caninoids who have sound-based telepathy and can't get too close to each other without getting tangled in each others' thoughts.  I am utterly convinced that Nala is a wayward singleton Tine.  Sarah says no, because she doesn't have shoulder tympana.  But given the length of her neck, her dexterity, and her highly variable but inarguably high intelligence, I am sticking with my hypothesis.  After all, we share a Zone; there's no reason for them not to send a probe our way.

Other media Consumed:

Shadow Unit, Season 4, Episode 1 ("Bulletproof").  Good as usual, and, not unintentionally, painful after last season's finale.

I have also gone to a number of talks which I haven't kept careful track of, and listened to a number of podcasts.  On my morning commute I people-watch, but in the evening I get 15-20 minutes where I want to feed my brain.  I've been listening to "Car Talk" and "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," both funny shows that I'm never up for on Saturday morning.  I've been listening to [ profile] rarelylynne's "SF Squeecast, recorded with Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette and others.  I enjoy it and have been writing down at least one recommendation from each episode of recommendations.  However, it works better on the occasions when I get to listen in the car, because the volume baseline is low enough that I have trouble hearing it on m MP3 player when there's any traffic around.  Finally, I've been catching up slowly on a series called "The History of Rome"--you can probably guess what that one is about.  It's one guy giving really good lectures on the topic, with snarky commentary on what historians (particularly Roman ones) have claimed versus what we actually know.

Total Books: 13
Recent Publication: 4/13
Rereads: 1/13
Recommendations: Someone on recommended All Men of Genius.  My boss recommended Cradle to Cradle.  Both [ profile] papersky and [ profile] rushthatspeaks recommended A Shadow in Summer; sorry, guys. [ profile] papersky also recommended A Fire Upon the Deep; thank you!  My old boss lent me The Logic of Failure about six years ago, but this is my own copy because I didn't get to it until now.  Which says more about my old job than the book, really.
New Music: none
New Media Produced: More on both the Aphra Marsh story and The Jester's Child.  A couple of papers for work, which actually seem to be having some effect.

Date: 2011-12-09 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love A Fire Upon the Deep and highly recommend the prequel, even though it has only half a shared character in it. It's a brilliant novel, and made me feel warm and cuddly about a species that would probably make me run for the hills in real life. It's become comfort reading. A third book in the series, Children of the Sky just became available after a ten year gap, so you've come to the series at a golden time. I haven't read that one yet. I've been saving it.

I definitely agree with you about A Shadow in Summer but you articulated why I haven't gone after the sequels, despite [ profile] akawil having them in the house, much better than I could have.

I just finished reading the new Martin tome, and enjoyed it in much the same ways that you did. Thank you for all your reviews!

Date: 2011-12-09 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I should have said that the prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep is A Deepness in the Sky.

Date: 2011-12-10 01:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am very much looking forward to both the sequel and the prequel--especially the sequel--but am not allowed to pick up new books until after the holidays.


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