Friday, July 17, 2009

I just finished The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

In some ways this is a gimmick novel - the gimmick being that the protagonist is autistic and the book is told in first person from his perspective. But it's a very well done gimmick, so readers won't mind. Moon does a very good job of creating a compelling character and plot, even though she is telling it through the viewpoint of someone who things very differently from most people.

I don't think anyone really knows if her descriptions about what it is like to think like an autistic person are true, but it feels true, and that is all that matters in a novel. Once we get used to the protagonist, we can follow him, and care about him, as he goes through various trials and adventures.

The plot deals with how outsiders deal with autistic people, and how autistic people themselves feel when an opportunity to cure them of autism comes up.

If I had one quibble with this excellent book, it is that the protagonist, Lou, is set up as a little too perfect - nice guy, genius, excellent fencer, capable of fighting off attackers, leader of his group of autistic people, etc. He does grow through the course of the novel, but a more rounder protagonist would have been nice.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Last night we went and saw the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Another good job on the movie adaptation's for Harry Potter. Other than the first two films, of which the less said, the better, the movies have all been quite good. I still think the third one, which fixed the problems with the earlier ones and set the template for the rest of the series, is the best.

This movie had two advantages over the previous one (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). First, the book is shorter. That allows for fitting in all the important elements without feeling too rushed. As it is the movie does have a very quick pace, and will probably be difficult to follow for non-fans, and the titular character gets much shorter shrift than in the book. Second, the book is better. Phoenix is the weakest of the seven books, with too much angst from Harry and other story problems. Half-Blood Prince is a stronger story and gets to start tying up and paying off some of the story arcs that have been building from the previous five books.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Last night we saw The Seldom Scene at Yoshi's SF, with opening act The Tuttles.

The Seldom Scene are a more progressive bluegrass band then I typically listen to, and the version we saw last night only has one original member, but they put on a great show. It was particularly good to get to see Dudley Connell on guitar.

The Tuttles also did a great job as the opening act. The band is made up of Bay Area bluegrass teacher extraordinaire Jack Tuttle, his daughter Molly, sons Michael and Sullivan, and guest A.J. Lee. Molly and A.J. sound great singing together and all the Tuttle kids picked up a storm.

Although the bands were great, like my previous visit to Yoshi's SF, it left me cold as a venue. It looks nice, but the sound in the room comes across as sterile. Combine that with the obvious fact that the sound people are more used to dealing with jazz than bluegrass and didn't have a great sound mix, and it takes some away from even the best performers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Last night I finished The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick, his follow up to the The Iron Dragon's Daughter, which I wrote about here.

The new book is set in the same post-Industrial Revolution fantasy world as the old one, but are otherwise unrelated. The new book is also a better book - both better written and more enjoyable. The action and events are a lot easier to follow in this book, which makes it easier to appreciate the story and the characters instead of puzzling about what just happened. And although the story involves war, death, etc., it is a lot lighter in tone than the previous book.

Like the previous book, this one involves a lone child that gets involved with a damaged cybernetic dragon war machines. In this case, it is one that has crashed and takes over his village. This eventually leads him on the road to Babel, a variant of the fabled biblical city that did not fall and has instead continued to grow. On the way there he gets involved with various shady characters, gets in scrapes and barely survives. As expected in a fairy tale, eventually he comes out on top, whether he wants to or not.

Recommended much more than the previous books by Swanwick.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last night, I finished Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan.

Market Forces seems as if it was written as bid for a movie - picture Death Race 2000 meets Wall Street. The world seems to be divided into three parts - the UK/US, which are ruled by an economic elite that settles their differences in formal duels involving their cars while the poor live in squalid "zoned areas"; socialist Europe, not described much except in Utopian terms; the rest of the world, where the evil financiers manipulate and exploit continual small wars. The action scenes, either duels on the road, fights in the "zoned areas" or brutal acts of revenge are described in loving detail, even though it is nearly impossible to picture the car scenes in any kind of real world.

The protagonist is almost a caricature of something Mickey Spillane would create - he starts out hard, and gets harder as the novel goes along, ending with (SPOILER ALERT) killing his super-hard mentor in a car duel.

At the same time, the author seems to intend the book as some kind of condemnation of capitalism, taking it to what he obviously considers is a reasonable extrapolation of where the current system might lead. It would be flattering to call his extrapolation childish, and in any other book it might be clear that this is parody or deliberate exaggeration, but this book does not seem to have any kind of humour attached to it, and he gives a bibliography at the end of "books consulted", including Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Joseph Stiglitz, that makes it clear that he isn't kidding.

But at the same time, I do have to admit that the book does work as an extreme hard-boiled thriller. The over-the-top action and ever-wrought relationships do pull the reader along.