More books

It’s been a while since my last post here. You know how it is.

Richard Yancy’s Confessions of a Tax Collector is fast-reading expose about an under-achiever’s experience as a collections agent in the IRS, and the pressure and tactics that collectors used prior to the 1998 “Revenue Restructing Act” (which made many of the practices used in the book illegal). Recommended. (Reminds me, tangentially, of Remar Sutton’s Don’t Get Taken Every Time, which, as a manual but also as a form of entertainment, exposed the seamy practices at many car dealerships).

Charles Stross kicks off a “modern fantasy” trilogy (at least) with The Family Trade. He openly admits the inspiration of Zelazny’s Amber books. I liked Trade (though fairly predictable, it was entertaining), and have faith that Stross won’t stretch the series out to “Treadmill of Time” proportions. There is certainly lots of room for interesting ideas, and he won’t blow it.

Steven Gould is in my “favorite writers” list, but has written few books that I’ve enjoyed recently (I couldn’t finish Greenwar, but Helm was pretty decent, and Blind Waves was okay). But I loved his first two books and he’s going to have to commit a lot of sins to make me not buy his work: Jumper and Wildside were simply written, fast-moving and engaging “young adult” coming-of-age novels that I’ve re-read several times. His recent Reflex is a sequel to Jumper, and it’s just as good.

Jumper was about a teenager who discovers that he can teleport. Teleportation is a tired old SF-genre cliche, but Gould made it seem interesting and fresh with good characterization and extrapolation about the problems that having a talent like jumping could present (and solve). Jumper and Wildside are really about unlimited power and a “growing up good heart” against a corrupt and oppressive authority. Reflex adds interestingly to this, through the eye’s of the protagonist’s wife, newly a teleport herself, while she searches for her abducted husband. Worth the read.

I’m still slogging through Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard, the second book in The Wizard Knight, and really the second half of an extremely long novel. I either like Wolfe’s books lot, or hate them, and I have high hopes that Wizard is going to pick up. So far, Wizard is classic Wolfe: Nearly everything that happens is described in dialog, with a little narrative glue. Lots of stuff is going on, often important stuff, often described in just a few words. The writing is almost frustratingly prosaic, matter-of-fact and practical — Wolfe doesn’t have his characters go to the bathroom on stage but it’s darned close. I’m sticking with it to the end (bitter or not), but I wish the pace would pick up.

I dropped out of John Clute’s Appleseed. It was just too random, like a science fiction dope dream. It had some interesting ideas, but when anything can happen, you can’t depend on the characters to actually solve problems (I kept waiting for something like “…and then the Ultimate Vaporizator dropped out of its hidden recess in the ceiling, and I blasted the enemy to atoms, The End”), it’s hard to hold interest. Appleseed is inventive and quite possibly well plotted, but it is too capricious and aimless for my taste.

Neal Asher’s novella The Engineer (collected in a book of the same title) was a lot of fun; a “contact with a really old hibernating alien” story reminescent (but thankfully less scary and graphic) than Alien, or Christopher Rowley’s Vang books. I was therefore disappointed with Asher’s Gridlinked, set (kind-of) in the same universe, which just didn’t have enough characterization or interesting ideas to grab me in the first hundred pages or so. I’ll probably get his latest, The Skinner, when it hits paperback.

I leafed through Heinlein’s For Us, The Living again, which has hit paperback. I didn’t buy it. It looks terrible. (There is only one other RAH that I haven’t finished, Beyond This Horizon, which has the same preachy tone involving the habits of “enlightened” societies, which might have been okay, but so much of the predictions have turned out wrong that it’s irritating).

I’m working through Kage Baker’s The Life of the World to Come (the latest and probably next-to-last in her Company series), and it’s pretty good. In the queue: David Foster Wallace’s latest collection of short stories, Oblivion, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Lynne Cox’s Swimming to Antarctica (the autobio of a long-distance swimmer), and countless others. Between feedings, of course.