September 30, 2015

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, September 2015

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Linda Nagata, The Trials
Sequel to First Light, where the consequences of that adventure come home to roost. — If I say that these novels are near-future military hard science fiction, full of descriptions of imaginary technologies and of stuff blowing up, and clearly inspired by an anxious vision of America's ongoing decline, I am being perfectly truthful, and yet also quite misleading. People who enjoy books which fall under that rubric will find it very much the sort of thing they like; at the same time, normally I'd pay to avoid having to read such works, and yet found these two quite compelling, and eagerly await the conclusion.
ObLinkage: Nagata's self-presentation.
Letizia Battaglia, Passion, Justice, Freedom --- Photographs of Sicily
Battaglia comes across as a bit of a crazy woman, but in a deeply admirable way; and, of course, a tremendous photographer.
Paul McAuley, In the Mouth of the Whale
Hard-SF space opera, set in the same future as his terrific The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun, but many centuries later. (He's good at filling in enough of the back-story to make it separately readable.) In this book, we're plunged into a conflict over the star system around Fomalhaut among four different more-or-less-post-more-or-less-human clades, seen from three points of view, two of which prove to be peripheral grunts. (Spoiler: Jung, rneyl ba, nccrnef gb or bar bs gur zbfg uhzna ivrjcbvagf cebirf, va snpg, gb or cebsbhaqyl fgenatr, gubhtu guvf vf fbzrguvat ernqref bs gur cerivbhf obbx pbhyq thrff.) I thought it was very good, though not quite as great as those two earlier books.
Edward K. Muller (ed.), An Uncommon Passage: Traveling through History on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail
A decent collection of essays, and really pretty photos, on the natural and human history of what is today a bike route from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland (and so on to Washignton, D.C.), but has had a lot of other incarnations over the centuries. Of only local interest, but locally interesting.
ObSnapshots: From a bike trip last year.
Gillian Flynn, Dark Places
Mind candy mystery: In which the Satanic panic of the 1980s meets the economic collapse of family farming, and makes for something bitterly poisonous and engrossing. (Though arguably not as poisonous as some of what actually happened back then.)
Carolyn Drake, Wild Pigeon
Photos, collages and a translated story, meant to illustrate the contemporary life of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Bought from the author; I learned about it from the New York Review blog.
Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce
I picked up this middle volume of a trilogy, without having read the first book, because someone left it in a free-books pile at work, and I was curious. Whoever got rid of their copy: thanks. This is a truly fascinating look at the development of the market economy and capitalism in early modern Europe, and to some extent in the rest of the old world at the same time, full of fascinating information (*) and perspectives, as well as chewy and questionable hypotheses.
One notable feature, for me, is that Braudel wants to distinguish between the development of a market economy and the development of capitalism. He does this not to suggest an early-modern pre-history for market socialism, but because he identifies capitalism with "the realm of investment and of a high rate of capital formation", i.e., the activities of men, and of firms, who made substantial investments of money which resulted, or could result, in high rates of return. This was, in this period, in finance (especially financing the developing sovereign territorial states), in long-distance trade, and in monopolies. These were activities which could hardly have gotten off the ground without a large market economy around them, but where competition was precisely what one would want to avoid...
I wish someone had told me before this that Braudel was a good writer, and not just an important historian. Also: I'd have given a lot to see what he might have made of the "new international trade theory" and "new economic geography", which were just forming at the time he was writing.
*: The bit on p. 556 where he says that a "prohibition on lending at interest" was a "condition not present in Islam" was rather boggling, and does leave me wondering about the accuracy of some of his other statements.
Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes
The story of the American conquest of Hawaii, told in Vowell's signature style. (It works better read aloud than on the silent page.) With many thanks to "Uncle Jan" for my copy.
Iain M. Banks, Surface Detail
Mind candy: space opera, in which the Culture, in its own inimitable fashion, harrows Hell. Somewhat longer, I think, than it needed to be, but still compulsively readable.
Amanda Downum, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters
Mind candy, at the urban fantasy / horror border, in which Vancouver's art scene confronts an outbreak from the dungeon dimensions — or, more exactly, Carcosa. I quite enjoyed how Downum is able to use pretty much the full canonical Cthulhu Mythos, from the seventy steps down to the Dreamlands to night-gaunts and everything else, and manage to make it seem not a formulaic exercise but genuinely creepy. (And I mean "creepy" in the "hairs standing on the back of the neck" sense, not the "bigoted distant connection at Thanksgiving" [*] sense, which says something considering the source material.) I have the impression this novel didn't make much of an impact when it came out, but if so that's unfair.
*: Of course I'm not thinking of you, dear distant connection with whom I have shared Thanksgiving.
Kelley Armstrong, Deceptions
Mind-candy contemporary fantasy in which discovering that her biological parents are convicted serial killers is the least of the protagonist's problems. (Previously.)
Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession
This is a very nicely done popular history of not just the teaching profession but also of the public schools, and just why both have been such a point of political contention for so long — and why we keep trying incredibly similar fixes time after time. Because it's not an academic tome, it doesn't attempt to be altogether comprehensive, rather a series of portraits of particular episodes, but so far as an interested non-expert can judge, those episodes are well-chosen and the background to the portraits accurate.
(I read this a year ago, but forgot to blog it.)

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Writing for Antiquity; The Beloved Republic; The Dismal Science; The Great Transformation; Heard about Pittsburgh PA; Afghanistan and Central Asia; Cthulhiana; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Corrupting the Young

Posted at September 30, 2015 23:59 | permanent link

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