First Monday Book Day: Paranoia Strikes Deep

Mother Nature has a deathgrip on the Far West this week, with a forecast high of 112 deg. F. for my neck of the woods today, after 109 on sunday, 104 saturday, and 101 friday. The high school jazz camp closed out Friday evening with a gig at the local pizzeria, playing in an outdoor courtyard. Amazingly, only one kid got sick. The crowd plowed through about 20 gallons of ice water, along with lots of beer and 'za.

This miserable weather did not stop me from my appointed task, however. I know how much this post means to all of you...

So, yea, I finished a book this month. Actually, I finished two books: Last month's selection as well as this one's. Both just so happened to have been co-written by Larry Niven. I guess I'm on a kick.

This month's pick is one of the prequels to Niven's 1970 classic, Ringworld. Juggler of Worlds was the second of a sequence of prequels. Luckily, it did not matter. This book stands on its own as an entertaining, well-crafted and complete story, particularly if you have not read a number of Niven's prior Known Space works with which this one overlaps/intersects (for a decidedly less positive interpretation, see this capsule Kirkus review). I think we've pretty well established that I am easily entertained.

Anyway, I found the adventures of paranoid-schizophrenic genius superspy Sigmund Ausfaller to be quite entertaining. Earth, for not-well-explained reasons, suffers from what its world government regards as severe overcrowding and some fascistic governmental interference in individual liberties, despite possession of FTL technologies that enable interstellar colonization. Interspecies politics and machinations are the focal point of this volume, but it is not nearly so deadly dull as that might seem.

What are you reading?

41 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: Paranoia Strikes Deep”

  1. MC has been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately and insisted I try one, so I'm reading "A Whisper in the Darkness". I'm not too far into it, so I don't really have an opinion yet.

    1. I enjoy Lovecraft in small doses. Too much, and he parodies himself.

      I've been reading more cyberpunk. Read Gibson's Count Zero and saw a whole lot of where The Matrix got its ideas. Hoping to finish up Mona Lisa Overdrive now.

      1. I love Lovecraft, but I do agree with that. Also, the racism, watch out for that.

        Mags, I don't know if you dig horror movies or not, but if you do enjoy the Lovecraft stories and you like horror/comedies, Re-Animator is a good one.

      2. I have to admit that I never got what the big deal was about Gibson. He did not easily entertain me.

  2. The List for June:


    * Panorama City by Antoine Wilson - My favorite book of the month. This book completely hinges on its narrator, who, in the same vein as Room or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, doesn't completely understand what is going on around him. Oppen Porter is the village idiot, his aunt's words, who's father recently died and so he has been moved from rural California to suburban LA. As an indication of how well things go there, he tells the story while in a full body cast having been told he won't survive the night. Oppen is certainly capable of carrying this narrative and dropping in some funny and clever observations here and there. I loved it from start to finish, even I did see where it was going pretty early on.

    * Necropolis by Santiago Gamboa - I enjoyed reading this one but I'm not sure it added up to everything Gamboa was going for. A man is invited to a conference in Jerusalem about biography. Once there the entire conference is enthralled by the story told by a evangelical born-again preacher about his mentor. The next day, the preacher is found dead in his hotel room. Meanwhile, the city is being bombed incessantly, and the explosions are reaching closer and closer to the hotel hosting the conference.

    * John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk - Sensory. Tastes and smells of a 17th century feast are what drives this book, and those parts are interesting and a joy to read. The plot that is woven around those descriptions seems a little less sumptuous, it's a standard upstairs-downstairs romance. Not a difficult book to finish, but what I'll remember is the food.

    * Taipei by Tao Lin - I liked the style of this book although I'm not sure what to call it. A sentence will set up some problem or conflict resulting from social interaction, and the next sentence will resolve it. It's easy to get caught up in that constant rhythm of conflict/resolution and forget that the large conflict is still there, unresolved. Generally drug use in a novel doesn't bother me, but the constant cataloging of the pills did start to wear on me in this case.

    * The Lair by Norman Manea - I don't know if I can say much about the plot. Academic Romanian exiles deal with their past and present (often at the same time without always letting the reader know which it is). There's a woman that's connected to all of them. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon happen. There may or may not be a conspiracy to assassinate several of them. Other things. There are some awesome sentences in here, and the first 100 pages were amazing. It settled in after that, but finished well. A very good book.

    * The Dog Stars by Peter Heller - This is what happens when a poet survives the apocalypse. Hig is a pilot who is riding out the end of the world at an airfield in Colorado with his dog and a sociopathic "friend" who protects their perimeter. He can't accept that restricted of a life, and so strikes out pursuing a radio call he heard three years ago. The pace was a slow burn, you could see something was coming, yet once it arrived, it was still powerful. I'll remember this book for quite a while, I think.

    1. Story Collections

      * Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash - Very good. The stories ease you in giving you just enough uncertainty that you think you know where the story is going. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't, but they are all very well written and satisfying. Favorite story - "The Trusty"

      * Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsusi Gartner - Satire of consumerism/entertainment. Good but not great. My favorite was "We Come in Peace" about five angels that inhabit the bodies of five teenagers.

      * The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich - Short, comedic stories that seemed to trade on relationship cliches, and not always in a clever way. There were quite a few funny moments though.

      * Crackpot Palace by Jeffrey Ford - Very creative premises that weren't always backed up or taken advantage of.


      * Uncreative Writing by Kenneth Goldsmith - In context versus content, Goldsmith is arguing strongly in favor of context. Writers don't need to be original, writing can be art when it is framed the right way (pun intended). I like reading about literary movements, so I enjoyed this. Maybe not a lot here for someone who is already familiar with ideas like flarf, but having it in one place and getting to spend some time with these ideas was worth it for me.

      * The First Four Notes by Matthew Guerrieri - Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and how it has been interpreted and influenced since it premiered. More about philosophy and intellectual interpretation of Beethoven than about the music itself. That required a bit of recalibration on my part, but there were parts that I very much enjoyed (particularly the Transcendentalists). There was a lot to digest here, and it wasn't always easy reading.

      * Internal Time by Till Roennenberg - Our natural sleep rhythms and how they are ignored or reinforced in our current lifestyles. The writing was just bad here. Each chapter was started with an anecdote to introduce the topic, and let's just say that creative writing is not a strength. There was some interesting information to be had, but I'm not sure it was worth it.

      1. Seriously, my goodness. Well done, dude. That's what I wish my monthly lists looked like.

    2. I remember enjoying The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but I've steered clear of Room due to the subject matter. What did you think of Room?

      1. for a second there, I thought you were talking about To Say Nothing of the Dog and got excited.

      2. I was disappointed by Room. I was expecting something more literary (if that makes any sense). I didn't like the narrator much, although watching the mother through his eyes was enough to keep me involved in the book. Then the second half of the book kind of dropped the mother and focused on the narrator's plight and I pretty much lost interest.

        Panorama City isn't really like either of those books, it just uses the same narrative trick. The narrator isn't a child, and I'd say that he's higher functioning than either of those two narrators, but he's similarly naive and unaware of subtext.

  3. I think all I read in June was the Honorable Guild of Specialists books by Joshua Mowll. It's a fun little young adult adventure series, sort of like Indiana Jones meets the Hardy Boys with a nice appreciation for science. But they were books that could be read in a few hours, so I'm not sure what I was doing with my time the rest of the month.

    I plan on doing a lot more reading in July. I'm a couple chapters into Cloud Atlas right now (it's interesting so far, but not mind-blowing), and once I finish that I'm going to punch through The Art of Fielding before getting to a book I'm really excited about: Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles. Then I don't know. I'm excited to go to the books store soon.

    1. Do you find your to-read books online? If so, where at? You seem to consistently come up with books that I've never heard of, but that immediately spark my interest.

      1. The vast majority of my books I find by just going to the store and browsing until something catches my eye. I also get a lot of recommendations from my sister, since we share very similar tastes. I sometimes poke around on, but usually only when I'm really struggling to find anything.

        Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles I actually found because I was applying for a job at the publisher (Milkweed Editions) and spent some time looking through their catalog. I didn't get the job, but finding out about a cool book was at least some consolation.

        1. Heh, I interviewed for an internship at Milkweed and didn't get it. Clearly they turn down all the best people!

  4. I finished The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison just a couple of days after the last book day. It's fine. I'm now reading The Sun Also Rises and in general have set aside more reading time than I have in years. Which means: any, at all, that isn't related to Spookymilk Survivor.

  5. I got about halfway through "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." I obviously don't get it. I was thoroughly bored.

  6. These days are starting to make me feel incredibly pathetic.

    Still working my way through The Brother's Karamozov. No where near the end.

  7. Finished Peter the Great by Robert Massie (fantastic book!) and am just about done with Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert Bix (not quite as fantastic).

    At a charity book drive the other day, I picked up a whole bunch of goodies for the next few months:
    Vietnam by Stanley Karnow
    A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan
    The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966 by Rick Atkinson
    The Last Lion: Winston Churchill: Alone, 1932-40 by William Manchester (volume 2 of a 3-part set)
    Never Call Retreat by Bruce Catton (volume 3 of a 3-part Civil War trilogy; I had picked up vol. 1, The Coming Fury, a few months ago at a thrift store)

    I'm sure I'm forgetting a book or two. It's going to be hard to sneak in some fiction!

      1. I'm with bs. It was one of the best biographies I've read in awhile. Actually, I think what made it so great was that it wasn't just a biography, but that it really illuminated the politics and conniving throughout all of Europe at the start of the 18th century. I knew none of any of it, yet it was fantasically interesting.

  8. Making my way through House of Leaves. I'm finding it very interesting. The friend who recommended it to me eight or nine years ago said it was about a house... I'm not sure he really understood what the book was about.

    1. Man, that book still haunts me. It's probably the one book I would erase my memory of just so that I could re-live the experience of reading it for the first time.

  9. I'm about half way through Towers of Midnight. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on this series!

    I've never read Ringworld, should I, perhaps as my next endeavor?

    1. Ringworld is, IMNSHO, great. I've read pretty much all of the sequels (and am now starting on the prequels) too. Entertaining, but not quite at the same level as his original (and original BDO (Big, Dumb Object) novel.

  10. I recently read the graphic novel Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci, illus. Sara Varon. I'm a huge Sara Varon fan and will read anything she does. This book is probably for ages 8+ and it's super cute. It's the story of a quirky duck named Theodora and the crazy neighbor, Chad, who moves in next door. The storyline is engaging and the art is great--full of lots of fun little details.

      1. If Brandon Sanderson dies before the last one is finished, how many more volumes would it take to get to Tarmon Gai'don?

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