Sunday, June 26, 2005


So I actually finished some books this week which hasn't happened in what seems like forever unless you count reading about Biztalk, Reporting Services, RDL and the Microsoft Office XML specification. I really think about 90% of my reading lately has been technical specifications from the web and discrete chapter reading to facilitate my job.

First up - Timelike Infinity (click the picture) by Stephen Baxter, a novel in the Xeelee Sequence. It starts out rather concrete and then spends the last ten pages going so big picture it's a bit obtuse. If I was going to give a recommendation, it would be to skip this somewhat average book and hop immediately to The Time Ships, a significantly better book with more meat (and more length), more integration of the big picture time traveling story line with the humans and the Xeelee, and more maturity in the writing. I'm not so sure I'd have read this book at all after my experience with Coalescent, but Pooteewheet bought it Half Price books in Apple Valley while I wasn't around to pick out my own book because we were spending some time (i.e. several hours) at the park with Eryn after fixing the rental washing machine.

Second up, Diary: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I can summarize this one very succinctly - read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (full story at the link) by Ursula LeGuin and save yourself about 255 pages of time to read something else. It's not exactly the same, but it's close enough to count, at least if you think a large part of the story revolves around the question of whether the health and sanity of one individual is expendable if it benefits the community (even to the extent that they live in a virtual utopia). Spock's little diatribes in the Star Trek movies about the one and the many absolutely do not compare (to either work above). LeGuin's story is a classic and a cunning telling of how utopia and dystopia are sometimes as close in concept as they are in spelling.

I found it interesting, however, that Palahniuk offers the following artistic moment: "She was working in a new vein. A new twist on a classic Dada theme. In her studio, she had the little teddy bear already gutted out, its fake fur spread open autopsy style, ready to turn into art. Her rubber gloves smeared with brown stink, she could hardly hold the needle and red suture thread. Her title for all this was: Illusions of Childhood." (p. 79). That's right, she's stuffing a teddybear with crap and calling it art. Based on this, I was a consummate visionary when I poked food and presents from my own diaper into my big white and green bear as a child.

And I also finished "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon. I didn't like it as much as the universal hype about it, but it was a good story and very well-written: sort of Rainman from the savant's viewpoint (albeit, that's a gross simplification). It was supposed to be uplifting by the end, as the main character's (John Francis Boone) parents finally put aside their own (selfish, but human) needs to benefit their (rather exceptional) kid, but for the most part it depressed me because the story really doesn't need a kid who straddles both extremes (once again, think Rainman) to get across something that happens every day to millions of children who don't even have special needs, the idea that some parents are so concerned about their needs and their grudges against others that it's to the detriment of their children, even when those needs aren't as important in the light of what their child might be going through. Sure there are a lot of subthemes: some adults are more like children than their children, children can be incredibly resilient despite the odds stacked against them, you can learn lessons from your children and from people who might not seem exceptional, but in their perseverence and outlook on life are exceptional, or at least worth examining, there's a counterexample for showing that certain forumlae about right angled triangles can not be conversely proven based on the right angle assumption, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahem...I believe there is another book you need to finish. "Another Road Side Attraction"