You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Monday, February 12, 2007

New Dreams for Old

I found Mike Resnick's New Dreams for Old at the library and picked it up thinking it would be good reading for times when I didn't have anything else handy to read. It's a collection of short stories, many of them award winning or nominated for awards.

The collection starts strong, with "Robots Don't Cry", about the discovery of an old deactivated robot on a colonized planet. The robot was a caretaker robot who displays grief over the loss of its charge.

"The Elephants on Neptune" is my favorite story. It's an odd piece about the first time men land on Neptune and find a group of elephants. The elephants, a peaceful species, and the men, an agressive species, both change from the mysterious power of Neptune. The two species discuss the relative merits of their societies: the inventions of man versus the nonviolent lives of the elephants.

Most of the rest of the stories are not as inspired. "Travels with My Cats" is a sweet story about a man who meets the long dead author of a book that he has come to love. "A Princess of Earth" and "Down Memory Lane" are also stories of love lost.

"Old MacDonald Had a Farm" is a very amusing story about a genetically engineered animal that grows fast, eats efficiently, and tastes delicious. However it has one strange flaw.

There are several light stories about John Justin Mallory, a character from Resnick's only fantasy novel. These are somewhat amusing but virtually void of substance. There are also some stories based on Resnick's world where African nations have colonized another world, bringing their culture with them. These are a little enlightening, but not as amusing as the rest.

There are a coule of short bits of humor, like "Unsafe at Any Speed", about Superman's problems with his super speed, and "Kemosabee", about the Hebrew Tonto and his goy friend the Lone Ranger.

"Guardian Angel" is a space detective novella. It was adequate, but nothing special. "Keepsakes" is a sort of detective novella also, about an alien species that makes contracts with people in desperate situations for a small sum of money and one item of small value. Of course the item of small value ends up having enormous sentimental value. One of the finest stories is "The 43 Antarean Dynasties", about a tour guide on a planet with a rich and vibrant history, who has to tolerant ignorant and rude Earth tourists.

Overall I'll give the book a B-. It wasn't quite as interesting as I had hoped. The stories I'll remember most are "Robots Don't Cry", "The Elephans on Neptune", "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", and "The 43 Antarean Dynasties". These would all be an A or A-. Most of the rest are C's. Resnick's writing style is very direct and at times seemed quite plain. The dialogue is short, and while it can be very witty at times, sometimes came off as flat, almost stock dialogue. Some of his story ideas are very interesting. My favorite line, from "The Elephants On Neptune": "Our nature is that we always tell the truth. Our tragedy is that we always remember it."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sword and Citadel

Gene Wolfe's Sword and Citadel is the second part of The Book of the New Sun.

The book follows Severian in his travels. He leaves Thrax, where he is the executioner and head jailkeeper, because he refuses to execute a woman whose only crime is adultery. His lover Dorcas also leaves, but goes south to find out who she was. He walks through the mountains, where he encounters Agia again, who tries to kill him. He manages to escape, and to save a young boy named Severian. The two of them travel north, and Severian manages to escape villagers who imprison them, after a huge alien slug thing attacks them. He and the boy climb a mountain that's shaped like a huge statue of a man. The boy Severian dies after touching a huge golden ring on the statue's finger.

Then Severian meets a man who turns out to be an ancient autarch of Urth, whose head is attached to the body of another man. He manages to kill the man, then travels again and is captured. He manages to get free again, and leads a community of sea people who live on moving islands against the giant in a castle. The giant turns out to be Baldanders, and when he throws the Claw of the Conciliator away he and Severian fight, and Baldanders ends up jumping in the sea. Severian finds the pieces of the jewel of the Claw, and then finds the smaller Claw that was inside the jewel.

In the last book, Severian resurrects a dead soldier and they walk to a medical camp of the Pelerines. He listens to four stories of other wounded people, and meets an Ascian, one of the enemy. He hides the Claw in a temple. He is sent on a mission to a house that exists in different times ("present" and the future, where the world is covered in ice), and fails to bring the man who lives there away because he disappears from the time/space continuum.

After the Pelerines are attacked, he decides to join the army. In a bit battle, the Autarch himself finds him and helps him heal, then they are captured. Before they are rescued by Agia and her lover, the Autarch instructs him to drink the liquid in the capsule around his own neck and eat some of the Autarch's brains, thus gaining the memories of the Autarch and the hundreds of those before him. Aliens then transport him to the coast, and he catches a ship back to the Citadel. He finds a man he believes to be Dorcas's son and takes him to her, where she has found her husband. The story ends with Severian's knowledge that he will attempt to bring the New Sun by traveling to distant stars and facing the judgment of alien races.

This summary just barely scratches the surface of the story. There is so much in the details, especially Wolfe's language and odd words that seem to mean something even though they're really obscure or made up. Severian's personality evolves from a torturer to where he wants to banish the torturer's guild. The personality of Thecla nas affected him, and the personality of the other Autarch's affects him too.

One gets the feeling that as vast as the city of Nessus is, the whole world is broad and deep. And it's great to find the surprises that are sprung, like finding out who the giant is, and they seem believable and sometimes inevitable. It's really quite an epic. A solid A.