Anathem

AnathemAnathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to encapsulate a book that is so large in scope and so enjoyable to read. Your intellect revolts at trying to peg it down by mere description and emotionally… well… I just didn’t want the thing to end. When I found, on his site, someone had actually been inspired enough to create music (http://nealstephenson.com/anathem/music….) for Anathem I was amazed but, now that I’m done, I understand.

What can I say that you can’t read elsewhere. I might warn you that Stephenson is a master world builder and so it takes effort to get out of this world and into his. But, by God, it’s worth the effort!

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Son of a Witch

Finished reading “Son of a Witch” by Gregory Maguire today. This is, of course, the sequel to “Wicked” and starts up where it left off. I found it even more awesome than the first. Wow… some of his sentences and paragraphs have the density of a black hole. Just so inspiring and impressive. Take this introduction to the beginning of Liir’s downfall:

A notion of character, not so much discredited as simply forgotten, once held that people only came into themselves partway through their lives. They woke up, were they lucky enough to have consciousness, in the act of doing something they already knew how to do: feeding themselves with currants. Walking the dog. Knotting up a broken bootlace. Singing antiphonally in the choir. Suddenly: This is I, I am the girl singing this alto line off-key, I am the boy loping after the dog, and I can see myself doing it as, presumably, the dog cannot see itself. How peculiar! I lift on my toes at the end of the dock, to dive into the lake because I am hot, and while isolated like a specimen in the glassy slide of summer, the notions of hot and lake and I converge into a consciousness of consciousness–in an instant, in between launch and landing, even before I cannonball into the lake, shattering both my reflection and my old notion of myself.
That was what was once believed. Now, it seems hardly to matter when and how we become ourselves–or even what we become. Theory chases theory about how we are composed. The only constant: the abjuration of personal responsibility.

Such breadth and beauty. And flow. Wow again. I wish I had written that. I know exactly what he’s saying but I doubt I could reproduce it a million years of tapping at keys.
And how about this concise and expressive description of a trunk in an attic in 6 words:

The thing was felted with dust.

You can feel that!  And… I can look forward to the third Oz historical fiction by Maguire: A Lion among Men.

Brisingr

Fire in the ancient language invented by Christopher Paolini is the name of the third book in his Inheritance Cycle of fantasy books. It is a transitional work and sets up all the elements for the unnamed fourth and final book: so while you learn some new things about Eragon and the dragons, it didn’t have as much an impact on me as the second book and especially the first. The background on the Urgals and the continuing of Roran’s adventures were, however, interesting.  Eragon is rebounding here, learning how to fight his brother and Galvatorix from his teacher.  I found the death at the end of the book too quick, however.  It seemed too much of a waste for someone of that calibre to my liking.
I enjoyed it and certainly recommend it to anyone who has read the first two.
Still, I doubt that making a movie with this or the second book would be a good idea. Paolini’s world was certainly too big for the producers and screen writers of the first movie.

The Cellist of Sarajevo

Steven Galloway‘s third novel is set in the siege of Sarajevo which extended from 1992 to 1996. It was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare and an incredible example of man’s inhumanity to his own species. This is an impressive book for a Canadian who had never been to the city or even the country before researching it.
The chapters in this short novel are innovatively titled with the names of the four principal characters with the name of the character whose perspective rules it in bold.
I was deeply moved by the chapters devoted by Arrow, the counter-sniper in charge of keeping a cellist mourning the brutal death of 22 people in a mortar blast while waiting in a bread line. Even more touching was the fact that these characters are based on real people and events.  Galloway’s skill really brought me there and showed me what a continuing stream of atrocity can do to people.
Very highly recommended.

The Orchid Shroud

Michelle Wan’s second book in her Dordogne series is The Orchid Shroud. Julian and Mara have started a relationship although it is rocky and they have several falling out ‘events’. I do like their resolution in the end.
The tying of French inheritance law, genealogy, lycanthropy and murder with Julian’s elusive Cypripedium incognita and a dead baby in a wall is very interesting and very memorable. I do like what was learned in the epilogue and how it balances the way justice is done in the end. Well… except for justice to the war hero of the Resistance.
I enjoyed this book and would continue to recommend the series to anyone who likes well constructed mysteries with lots of twists and turns. Especially if you like botany. I do miss Paul and Mado’s close involvement but maybe there will be more of them in A Twist of Orchids.

Deadly Slipper

I attended a recent celebration for authors at the Guelph Public Library’s 125th anniversary. It was a delightful evening where an astonishing amount of local talent was gathered. At one point in the evening the authors were called forward to stand in front of a raised platform. By the end of this long process there was very little room and it seemed that the audience was eclipsed in numbers by the crowd of authors. I felt somewhat embarrassed for them.
One of the authors who was called up the red carpet was Michelle Wan. I was intrigued by the short blurb about her in the pamphlet. She writes botanical mysteries. That’s right up my alley: I love good mysteries and think orchids, which she especially targets, are among the most beautiful plants in existence.
I found her 2005 novel called Deadly Slipper: A novel of death in the Dordogne at the Bookshelf the following week and bought it. It was a highly enjoyable read with a very interesting setting in the south-west of France. The tension/attraction between the two main characters Mara Dunn (a french Canadian from Montreal) and Julian Wood (an English botanist from England) moves the plot on with intensity and speed. Michelle has also published two sequels in the “Death in the Dordogne” series:

  • The Orchid Shroud
  • A Twist of Orchids

I look forward to reading them too!
Wan is particularly adept at characterization. I found the characters in Deadly Slipper to be colourful, spirited and very interesting. Some of the memorable: Gerard, Loulou, Vrac, La Binette, Patsy and especially Mado and Paul at their delicious sounding Chez Nous restaurant.
I do have one criticism. I think the jacket on the Doubleday hard cover book would have benefited from a picture of a true Cypripedium or Lady’s Slipper orchid. It plays an important enough role in the book that it deserved front billing. I have pictures of the extremely rare but gorgeous small white lady’s slipper orchids that I took years ago on Walpole Island (near Windsor Ontario) that would have done nicely if they had to have a white slipper. And I have lots of the more common yellow slipper too. Oh well.

Pushing Ice

This 460 page novel by Alastair Reynolds is an excellent example of science fiction although he (or his publishers) call it a space opera. I don’t know that I agree. I don’t have anything against real opera (I love the Pearlfishers and Carmen and I’m all over that Ring of des Nibelungen) but space opera has the sound of something hokey or soapy or, worse, like something I jokingly wrote a long time ago. Pushing Ice is far from that. It’s an impressive work and just because it has good characterization, strong female characters and conflict doesn’t make it space opera. The science is believable, the shear scale is epic and I enjoyed the highly imaginative use of Janus, one of the moons of Saturn. This is one of the strangest satellites in the solar system and Reynolds gives a unique explanation for its oddly shared orbit along with brother (sister?) moon Epimetheus. Like the god it’s named after, it is a rather two-faced character in Reynolds’ story but satisfying even at its end.
The Welsh writer has some solid scientific background with the European Space Agency and maintains a website and blog. I liked his entry remembering the life of Arthur C. Clarke.
I will look forward to reading more from this author and recommend it highly.