• [Sci-Fi September]

    I’m moving right along! Now that I’m done teaching my “short” (but intensive!) course and the marking is all done for it, I obviously had more time to sit back and read, because I read 13 books in September. That’s more than double August’s total of only 6. Here’s the list:

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  • [Fifty Books Finished in June]

    I finished my 50th book of the year, Moonraker (Ian Fleming), at the beginning of June, part of my Read 50 books in 2005 goal on 43 Things. I never had any doubts that I would be able to do 50 in a year, since I’m a big reader, using spare time in queues or on buses to read. Just in case you’re bored, here’s my list of 50:

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  • [Time Travel Title]

    I’ve been participating in a discussion of The Time Traveler’s Wife at Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms community. If you have read the book, you know that Henry always travels through time naked involuntarily. That reminded me of a time travelling story I read in the 1980s where the protaganist travelled naked on purpose. He explained a naked man was less startling in any time than a person in clothes wildly out of sync with the time in which the traveller finds himself. Imagine, for example, how remarkable it would be to find a traveller on the road in front of your house fully clothed in full Elizabethan regalia or some whacky futuristic clothing. While naked people are unusual on the road, at least they’re not anachronistic.

    In addition to time travelling, I believe the story may have involved some kind of barrier which trapped time travellers and broke their machines, if they used a mechanical method of time travelling. The protagonist hit this barrier and ended up in a society heavily controlled with an active police presence. When he interacted with the locals, they thought he might might have been “Slandutch” or “Slandeutsch” because he spoke still in complete sentences with a traditional English word order and verb conjugation. For example, where he would say, “Are you Slandutch?”, the temporal natives said things like “Be you Slandutch?”. The local police eventually caught up with the protagnist and he’s jailed with a variety of other humans and aliens who have also been time travelling.

    I’m guessing this story was written between 1950 and 1970, although I read it in the early 1980s. What is the name of this story and who wrote it?

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  • [Book Browsing]

    It’s been roughly two weeks since I last reported on my recent excursions into literary lands.
    As per usual, despite the stresses of my world, I’ve been busy at the books again. While I may have made a mistake of starting again on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon on my handheld, I don’t need to concern myself with it anymore because I’ve finished. I did, as usual, enjoy it immensely, although it did seem to drag somewhat in the last third. The first two-thirds, however, more than makes up for any lack I might perceive in bringing the long, winding story to an end.

    I was so inspired that I went on to start a collection of Zimmer’s short stories entitled The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley, of which I read about 56%. The stories are OK, but I sort of lost interest and instead picked up The Ruins of Isis which I had never read before. I found the premise of this somewhat intruiguing. Isis is a planet excluded from a galactic coalition of planets due to its policies in the treatment of men. On Isis, all men are owned and are believed genetically inferior to women, so they are relegated to labour positions and glorified household pets. A male scholar is offered the chance to visit the plan to do some archeological work, but he is forced to have his wife, an anthropologist, pretend to be the distinguished archeological scholar and he is her assistant. This, of course galls him, especially as he comes from a world itself only recently admitted to the coadunate due to its slightly less than equal treatment of women. Explore the themes of men and women and how their roles affect the societies that they build, both on the macro level of the family and on the city or planetary level. The story is a decent twist on the familiar male fantasy fiction we have all encountered, but not Nebula or Hugo material.

    Also on my handheld, I have gone back to exploring my Canadian roots by picking starting to pick through first a collection of Spider Robinson short stories in the anthology By Any Other Name). I have perhaps read about half of that. The most compelling notion that occurs in that collection is the idea of a psychotropic truth drug which gives people who take it together a kind of primitive intimate telepathy. This drug appears in a few of the short stories, including one detailing the consequences of people and societies being completely truthful with one another. Is a truthful society a safe and happy society, a kinder, gentler place? Perhaps it is. At any rate, it is a very interesting idea. Although I did not finish the short stories, I moved on to a full novel, also by Spider Robinson, Callahan’s Lady. The protagonist of this story seems to be a streetwise prostitute who has just lucked out by falling into the hands of the mistress of a very high-class establishment who does not want her to entertain the clientele. Why has she been saved and what does the “Lady” of the “House” have in mind? Is this “Lady” Callahan’s Lady, as referred to in the title? Time till tell, as the story continues to capture my attention. I believe this is one of many Callahan stories that Robinson has penned, although I have yet to read any of the others.

    My print collection has not been neglected either. I started and finished World of Wonders, the last in Canadian Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. After the slog that was The Manticore, World of Wonders was a breath of fresh air and so neatly tied together so many of the main characters, mostly in ways I would not have guessed should you have happened to ask me when I started the series. Most of World of Wonders ties together the previously missing and unknown years of the great magician Magnus. From running off with the circus, to the sleazy streets of London, and back to Canada, it’s a carnival of fascinating detail and sketches of people and places. Of the three books in the set, I have to say that this is my favourite.

    I followed the Davies up with Robert Harris’s Pompeii: A Novel, a historical novel covering the few days leading up the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius near Pompeii, Italy. This was utterly fascinating. The story is tied together by the Aqua Augusta, a very large, very long aqueduct that fed Pompeii and 8 other cities around the area. The main character is an aquarius, a Roman aqueduct engineer, who discovers the secret of Vesuvius too late, after the aqueduct matrix has been compromised and the supply of water cut off to most of the cities. There’s historical fact, intrigue, lust, and nifty tidbits. I could barely bring myself to put it down and finished it off in two relatively quick sessions. If you are interested in historical fiction or have an interest in the works of the Romans or life of Romans, slaves and freed persons, I definitely recommend it as something of interest to read.

    I am just starting the last book I have in Christian Jacq’s Ramses series: Ramses: Under the Western Acacia. This is the fifth in the set and there is more intrigue, Egyptology, gods, men, and traitors in the two lands of Egypt, but nothing to write home about. I guess not every book can be award-winning. There is nothing wrong with the series, mind you. It is a pleasant enough read, but mostly mind candy for me, even though it is also historical fiction. I found Harris’s Pompeii much more meaty and historically interesting than the Ramses books.

    Finally, from Audible, I have finished listening to the unabridged version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. One thing I did not remember from my previous reads is one of the characters asserting that children should be raised just like puppies: with plenty of discipline and rubbing their noses in their mistakes to make them remember not to do it again. I had to wonder if that is not a fallacious analogy: dogs are not believed to be reasoning beings on the same level as even human children. That is, humans inherently believe that they are better than animals because they have the ability to reason. So, if we have the ability to reason, do we need to be trained the same way as puppies with corporal punishment to bring the lesson home? This and other Heinlein extremist philosophies at 11, but I do keep going back, so there must be something appealing there.

    Also from Audible, I am about halfway through the unabridged Timeline by Michael Crichton. I did not read the original novel or see the movie, but I am utterly fascinated and cannot seem to stop myself from wandering around crooning, “Quantum foam makes me roam!” If you are a fan of the multiple universe theory and want to hear some cool, cutting physics linking quantum states and wormholes to travelling through locations in different universes, this is a great read, plus some knowledge about how to do more modern archeological digs to boot. The narrator in the audio edition is definitely making this very pleasurable. A bad narrator can completely ruin an otherwise good story (try Transit of Earth read by Arthur C. Clarke, for example), but there are no worries here if you are looking for a decent audio listen for exercising or driving.

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  • [Rapid Reading & Book Browsing]

    I’m still working on the The Deptford Trilogy. I had just started the second book Manticore in my last book posting and was somewhat hard-pressed to engross myself in the self-wallowing. I did, however, persevere and I’m probably about halfway through the second book, now sitting beside the bathtub.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife (I have trouble typing that without doubling the ell in traveller) is a great title for a book and, for a first book, it’s great. I’ve just finished off the unabridged Audible version and I can highly recommend it. The male/female dual narration is particularly compelling in the audio version. You can, by the way, purchase Audible books through the iTunes Music Store or through Audible on an individual basis. I think, for the most part, it’s cheaper per item to have a subscription if you’re going to regularly purchase audio books. Anyway, I highly encourage others to have a go at The Time Traveler’s Wife, in whatever format. It’s full of interesting ideas, but it’s not too fantastical or so far from reality that it’s hard to get into it.

    On my handheld, I’ve finished the Baen omnibus release of Andre Norton’s The Time Traders and then powered through Larry Niven’s Ringworld Engineers, the sequel to his well-known Ringworld (which I listened to via Audible, too!). The sequel has most of the original characters back visiting the Ringworld, but we don’t spend as much time in descriptive narration of their travels as in exploring some of the underlying physics that shape a world that large. Interesting for the engineers and hardcore sci-fi buffs amongst us, but we can probably live quite happily without it. Both of these books take place in Niven’s “Known Space” universe, populated by sentient plant-like beings, humans, and cat-like warriors.

    Also on my handheld, I’ve made the mistake of starting again on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This is a mistake because I always have a problem putting this book down. It kept me up until past three the other night when I had to finally reluctantly put it down because I was too tired to read anymore and I was only 30% through the book. If you haven’t read it before, it’s based around Arthurian legend, heavily interlaced with goddess worship and strong female characters, with the whole story mostly related from the viewpoint of a high priestess of the goddess. Maybe I’m just sucker for a book about mostly male things related mostly from a female point of view (like Anita Diamont’s The Red Tent). There is magic, but it’s mostly in the realm of practical rather fantastic magic, so if you’re not fantasy lover, you still might find the story appealing. I have about 30% left to go on my re-read. There are some sequels to it, written later, but I’ve never tried those. Some of her other books, like The Firebrand (with Cassandra of future prediction fame), are also based on myths/legends and are pretty good reads.

    Finally, from Audible, I’m listening to the unabridged version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I’ve read the book many times before and, of course, seen the movie version. Perhaps if more people read books like this and paid attention to the themes running throughout, they’d have a stronger sense of personal responsibility in a democracy (or any other form of body politic). While you might not agree with some of Heinlein’s ideas, at least it gives you something to think about and fodder to compare your own beliefs and underlying rationale for them. The basic story follows the adventures of a young man, just come of age, who has used his first free, legal choice to enlist in military service. In his society, military service is one of (the only?) way to gain the right to become a voting citizen in the society. The society is currently at peace and many civilians, such as his father, see military service as being a parasite upon the blood of society, serving no useful purpose. Does violence in fact solve issues? What is the difference between a civilian and an enfranchised member of society? What is personal responsibility? All of these themes appear as war and death come to Johnny (our young man) and his companions from school.

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  • [Random Reading]

    I have all kinds of reading on the go at the moment. From Audible, I’m just over halfway through the unabridged audio version of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve been really impressed with it so far. With the exception of a few cases, like how did Clare reach the lake when Henry took the one and only car at 3 am, the story’s been well-developed and covers some interesting aspects related to time-travel and causality.

    On my handheld, I’m working through an Baen omnibus release of Andre Norton’s The Time Traders. This is possibly not as good as The Time Traveler’s Wife, but an excellent way to spend a few minutes before bed or while standing in line somewhere. I’m already into the second book in the omnibus edition, The Galactic Derelict, where some of the time traders have found an abandoned alien ship and it has activated and taken them back to its home port. This is actually a re-read for me as I’ve read it in the last three years already, but it’s entertaining enough, as I said, for idle moments.

    By the toilet, I have the trade edition of The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (Canadian content!). I raced through the first half or so and I’m sort of stalling on finishing it off. Somehow it’s lost its appeal for me. Perhaps if I continue pecking away at it, I’ll regain my interest and finish it off.

    By the bathtub, I’ve just finished off two thirds of the books I have from Christian Jacq’s historical novels about Ramses, pharaoh of Egypt. I only have the first, fourth, and fifth book in the set. The first book, Ramses: The Son of the Light covers Ramses’ life as a boy and how his father grooms him to become pharaoh over his older brother, whom everyone was sure would succeed the throne. It sets the stage and introduces all of the major characters and events that will shape the series. After reading the fourth, Ramses: The Lady of Abu Simbel, I think the first is the best one of the set I’ve read so far, but it’s still intriguing enough and the fourth has an interesting take on Moses and plagues of Egypt. I’ll probably continue on the fifth.

    In my personal development corner, I’m working slowly but surely through a number of books. As personal development books only pop up at most once a week and some only once a month, these are all longterm projects. As I didn’t learn PHP (or Perl, for that matter) in a structured fashion, I’m working through the O’Reilly Programming PHP, an introduction to bits and pieces that make up the PHP language. Also on a programming theme, I’m working through Head First Java, also published by O’Reilly. The Head First series employs a novel approach to teaching programming, at least novel in any book I’ve happened to pick up: it tries to get you seeing, doing, singing, writing, etc, trying to engage all of your senses in learning the material and much of the material is presented in bizarre and comic ways. I’m not very far into it, but I think it’s an exciting approach.

    Also in my personal development corner, I have a few books on improving my skills with graphic design applications. I’ve upgraded my old copies of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to the new Creative Suite versions and picked up new copies of Adobe Illustrator CS: Adobe Classroom in a Book and Adobe Photoshop CS: Adobe Classroom in a Book to go with both of them. Adobe Classroom in a Book books are prepared by Adobe and they start with bare essentials of these programs and help you proceed through various projects and modification of included projects/examples throughout the books. I’ve used them before, but I’ve never managed to finish them. Now, with a scheduled approach, maybe it will eventually happen–preferably before the software is outdated this time.

    In the last year, we’ve upped our incoming periodicals. We now receive Utne, National Geographic, Scientific American, and the weekly Canadian news magazine Maclean’s. I don’t always have time to cover them all, but I’ve done well in the last few weeks, as I’m completely current on Maclean’s and Scientific American. Utne is often my favourite, though, because it’s like the Reader’s Digest of the alternative world, packed with all sorts of interesting advertisements and stories.

    So, even though I don’t talk about it, I am still packing away the books. All this reading leaves me no time for discussing. (-:

    Disclosure: Amazon links have a referrrer program link in them that generates revenue for an international discussion-based virtual community to which I belong. Your cost is not affected.