July 31, 2009

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, July 2009

Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, Whiteout
Antarctic murder-mystery comic book.
Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty
It's Homicide in comic-book form. How can I not enjoy it? (Even the appearances of superheroes are OK.)
Fall of Cthulhu: Apocalypse
Thoroughly incomprehensible without the earlier installments in the saga; with them, a satisfactory conclusion.
Katha Pollitt, The Mind-Body Problem: Poems
It's hard to pick just one to quote, they're all so good; how about "Atlantis"?
Dreaming of our golden boulevards and temples
our painted palaces set in torchlit gardens,
our spires and minarets, our emerald harbor,
you won't want to hear about the city we knew:

the narrow neighborhoods of low white houses
where workmen come home for lunch and an afternoon nap,
old women in sweat-stained penitential black
ease their backaches gratefully against doorways

and the widow who keeps the corner grocery
anxiously watches her child dragging his toy
who was sickly from birth and everyone knows must die soon.
You won't want to know how we lived,

the hot sun, the horse traders cheating each other out of boredom,
in the brothels the prostitutes curling each other's hair
while the madam limps upstairs to feed the canary,
the young louts smoking in bare cafés

where old men play dominoes for glasses of cognac—
and how can we blame you?
We too were in love with something we never could name.
We never could let ourselves say

that the way the harbor flashes like bronze at sunset
or the hill towns swam in the twilight like green stars
were only tricks of the light and meant nothing.
We too believed that a moment would surely come

when our lives would stand hard and pure, like marble statues.
And because we were, after all, only a poor city,
a city like others, of sailors' bars and sunflowers,
we gave ourselves up to be only a name,

an image of temples and spires and jeweled gardens—
for which reasons we are envied of all peoples,
and even now could not say
what life would have to be, for us to have chosen it.

Pollitt has a pretty big emotional range as a poet, but some of the things you see here — the mundane details, the melancholy strain, the yearning for some half-sensed thing beyond — are recurring and effective. (There, now I have propitiated the gods of fair use.)
Adam-Troy Castro, Emissaries from the Dead
Mind-candy: scientifictional mystery story. I had to read it once I knew it featured murderous giant alien sloths, and I have a weakness for deliberately abrasive detectives who get things done. I'll look up the sequel, but hope there are fewer moments of personal growth. Spoilers: Castro does not seem to have thought through the Nigh-All-knowing Alien AIs business. In the first place, wouldn't any government ever be intensely suspicious about letting them tamper with human bodies for medicine? And, NAAAIs finding human beings interesting because they're so unpredictable and creative, but only if the neurological mind control powers aren't applied too forcefully? That sort of thinking was out of date a long time ago.
Philip P. Wiener, Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism
I read this book in 2002, when it was called Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club; oddly, Wiener's was published in 1949. — Seriously, there are many parallels: the biographical approach, the emphasis on the impact of Darwin and the discussions at the "metaphysical club" in Cambridge in the 1870s, the inclusion of Holmes as a major figure, the summing-up of the usable elements of classical pragmatism... Menand indulges in a lot more guesswork about his subjects' inner lives than Wiener, and is a much more engaging writer than the latter, who is frankly rather dry. In all, it seems a bit un-generous of Menand to cite Wiener's book only once, as one of "two works of intellectual history that were especially germane" (p. 448).
Karin Slaughter, Undone
Slaughter restores my faith in thrillers where astoundingly gruesome crimes are solved by seriously messed up detectives. She also somehow manages to be funny.
Diana Rowland, Mark of the Demon
Mind-candy; hybrid of contemporary fantasy and police procedural, with local color for southern Louisiana. (But no excursions into Southern Gothic.) — Sequel.
Loren R. Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor, Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity
Review: Proving Nothing.
Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire
What happens when the Dark Lord of an epic fantasy triumphs, and rules with terror and magic for a thousand years? More specifically, this might perhaps best be understood as exploring the question "What if Aragorn had seized the One Ring?" (this is not a spoiler), unlike, say, Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, whose point of departure is discussed behind that link. — The first volume of (what else?) a trilogy; I'll be reading the others, but hope they say less about how magic works.
Frank Partnoy, F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street
Hilarious, if ultimately very sad, memoir of being a derivative salesman at Morgan Stanley in the early 1990s. Some of the products (i.e., scams) were truly remarkable; Partnoy is good at explaining them.
Jessica Abel et al., Life Sucks
Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Justin Fox, The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street
Full-length review: Twilight of the Efficient Markets. Also good: Steve Laniel.
Sarah Langan, The Keeper
Wow: that was well-written and creepy as hell.
Spoilers, in which someone who can't tell an anecdote to save his life complains about the construction of a work of fiction (ROT-13'd): Juvyr gur obbx ernyyl vf terng, V gubhtug gur raqvat fubjrq n snvyher bs areir ba Ynatna'f cneg juvpu uheg vg sbe zr. Fhfna Zneyrl orpbzrf gur gbja'f fpncrtbng, bayl gb erghea sebz gur qrnq gb oevat ergevohgvba sbe nyy gur fvaf gurl ubcrq gb rfpncr, fbzrjurer orgjrra mbzovr naq natry bs yvgrenyyl ncbpnylcgvp qrfgehpgvba. Naq gura fur fgbcf orpnhfr fur trgf gb frr gung, qrfcvgr nyy gur ubeevoyr guvatf qbar gb ure, yvsr vf arire jvgubhg ubcr naq n oevtug fvqr, naq orpbzrf n oravta ghgrynel fcvevg, gur "xrrcre" bs gur gbja. (V'ir ybnarq bhg zl pbcl nyernql fb V pna'g dhbgr rknpgyl, ohg gung jnf gur tvfg bs vg.) Jryy, yvsr fubhyq arire or jvgubhg gubfr guvatf, ohg vg'f ernyyl abg uneq gb guvax bs ybgf bs rknzcyrf jurer, gb nyy nccrnenaprf, vg unf orra. V yvxr unccl raqvatf rira gb zl ubeebe fgbevrf (creuncf rfcrpvnyyl gb gurz), ohg V srry yvxr Ynatna purngrq gb trg guvf bar, gung rvgure fbzrguvat jnf yrsg bhg gung jbhyq znxr guvf pbaivapvat, be gung gur fgbel ernyyl raqf va hggre qrfbyngvba.
Update: (loose) sequel.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Dismal Science Writing for Antiquity; Philosophy; The Commonwealth of Letters; Mathematics

Posted by crshalizi at July 31, 2009 23:59 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth:   Hosted, but not endorsed, by the Center for the Study of Complex Systems