Readings: A Look Back

We stocked up on books for our vacation trips, and picked up more along the way, so I have quite a backlog of book reports:

Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack. Anne borrowed this from the library and liked it a lot, so I borrowed it from her to bring to Michigan. This is a novel, written in a sort of internal monologue — there is a definite structure or format based on paragraphs, but there are no periods and the whole book might technically be a single sentence — of an Irish engineer reminiscing about his life, his work and his family. It’s built on plenty of flashbacks and a growing feeling of tension or dread, and has a surprise twist at the end. The unusual writing was interesting (until it became second nature and faded into the background), and the characters were interesting as well, but the story itself did not really grab me. I’m glad I read it, but this book was a chore to finish.

You Are Here, by Hiawatha Bray. Another one from the library. Subtitled “from the compass to GPS, the history and future of how we find ourselves,” this was nonfiction, an account of the history of navigation. The first chapter or two covered that history up to about 1900 — ancient navigation, the Problem of the Longitude, and so on — and the rest covered the development of radio and radar navigation, satellites, and GPS, from there looking at the ubiquitous use of GPS in smartphones. I found this on the library shelf while I was trying to find something — anything — on GIS or cartography as an art, so it really wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was well written and interesting; the only complaint I had was that it was more the story of the people involved in the discoveries/inventions, especially the more modern ones, and came across as if they had been interviewed for the book or something. It read a bit like a long piece of journalism, and I wasn’t surprised to find that the author is primarily a journalist.

The Boy on the Bridge, by M. R. Carey. I bought this one at an Ann Arbor bookstore; it’s by the same author as The Girl With All The Gifts, and happens in the same postapocalyptic, fungus-zombie storyworld. Like The Girl With All The Gifts, it reads like young-adult fiction — and also like The Girl With All The Gifts it features a highly gifted, but also seriously flawed, young protagonist, someone a young adult might identify with — but it was a fun, fast read. I guess I just like zombie apocalypses…

The “Imperial Radch” Trilogy, by Anne Leckie. We were home for a few days between trips and I was really at a loss for a good new book, so I read these three again. One a day: Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, all really good reads and I’m surprised I never reviewed them before. The basic story follows Breq, an “ancillary” — an augmented human, a soldier whose previous mind has been destroyed and replaced by a link to an interstellar battleship’s AI. Ancillaries are the battleship’s crew and combat troops; Breq was once a part of the Justice of Toren, but the ship was destroyed by treachery and she is the ship, all that’s left of it, and she seeks revenge. Her nemesis is Anaander Mianaai, who inhabits hundreds of cloned, mentally-linked bodies, and who for three thousand years has been leader of the Radch. But now the Radch is in decline, and civil war explodes as Anaander’s hive mind fragments into warring factions… The story is part swashbuckling space opera, part meditation on identity and gender (the Radchi do not differentiate between genders), and it’s a page-turner across all three books.

The Genius Plague, by David Walton. Another fungus-zombie apocalypse story, I bought this one at a late-night bookstore in Columbus, Ohio. I think the basic premise here is good — a fungus from the Amazon starts infecting human brains, making them super smart but also driving their behavior, linking them into a vast, mind-controlled army trying to take over the world — but the storyline has too many coincidences, the ending is too pat, and the protagonist is a young, somewhat dickish prodigy, someone an immature audience is likely to identify with. (It didn’t really read like YA literature though.) I have my complaints, but it was a fun read.

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guinn. I also got this at that late-night bookstore, and I’m still working my way through it. I won’t get into the basic story, since it’s a classic and reviews can be found everywhere, but I will say that I’m surprised at how modern it feels for a book that came out around around 1970. The midgame is a bit slow compared to how the story started, but I am enjoying it.

The Rise of Yeast, by Nicholas P. Money. Another non-fiction book from the library, subtitled “how the sugar fungus shaped civilization,” and I am really not much past the introduction but it looks good so far. Another mind-altering fungus story?

4 Responses to Readings: A Look Back

  1. This dude is an astute reader as well as an articulate reviewer; he’s a pleasure to read!

  2. I was taken back to learn that you think 1970 is pre modern. It probably is from your vantage point but it is a jolting idea to someone born in 1938.

  3. Well, I’d have gone with “old-fashioned, like a mustard-yellow shag rug and a lava lamp” but yeah, 1970 really was back in the day.