February Book Reviews

The Autobiography of Stalin. Richard Lourie. Every single word is brilliant. This book is perfect.

Mostly Wonderful:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Michael Chabon. It has a few rough spots, when the foreshadowing gets oppressive or when it briefly feels like Chabon's writing above his weight. But it pulls through impressively. Although it reminds me a little bit of histori-fiction like, well, like the unholy union of Neal Stephenson, Thomas Pynchon, and Salman Rushdie, it usually has the readability of the first, a hint of the depth of the second, and every now and then a fantastic turn of phrase that's just words on a page but makes you gasp out loud.

Lives of the Monster Dogs. Kirsten Bakis. This book is, somehow, the ghost of a better book. It's very enjoyable, it's well written and the atmosphere is great, but it's missing something.

Shrub. Molly Ivins and some other guy. Stupid White Men - Michael Moore. Both of these books just make your blood boil and highlight the futility of paying attention and staying informed.
Kiln People. David Brin. Every new David Brin book makes me more afraid to go re-read Startide Rising, one of my all-time favorite books, because I'm afraid it just isn't at good as I remember it. Kiln People does quadruple-duty: first, as a mediocre sci-fi detective thriller; second, as a reasonably interesting if superficial exploration of the ramifications of a world in which people can literally duplicate themselves and send their copies out on their daily business; third, a pulpit for Brin's views about the "Transparent Society," i.e., how society can and should change to accomodate privacy-destroying technology that is here to stay for better or worse; and fourth, as an attempt at pun-based humor that would embarrass Piers Anthony. Interesting, a quick read, and a bit thin for a 500-page book.

Don't Bother:
Polgara the Sorceress. David and Leigh Eddings. Bought it for airplane reading and because I got guilty pleasure out of Belgarath the Sorcerer. But by now the repetition has reached the ad nauseum stage. It was a guilty pleasure without much pleasure.
The Gates of Hell, Kings of Hell. C.J. Cherryh and Janet Morris. The Stephen King of fantasy/sci-fi, Cherryh churns out readable, engaging, intelligent, ultimately empty prose by the ream. Here she's anchored by Janet Morris, who brings both interesting historical tidbits and patches of flat writing. This pair of books follows the story of Julius Caeser and his household (Kleopatra, Hatshepsut, Antonius, and others) as they get entangled with Alexander the Great (and his sidekick Judah Maccabee), a perpetual re-enactment of the Trojan War, Achilles in his new career as ace chopper pilot, and assorted other Great Kings. I'm completely addicted to this pulpy series - about thirteen books published between 1986 and 1989, mostly short story collections, wildly varying quality. I read them out of order and it doesn't seem to matter much.