One, Two, Three

A quasi-resolution this year is to blog more about books. I’ve finished 3 since the first of the year; here’s a brief rundown:

The one I loved
Ready Player One is a beautiful love letter to geeks of a certain age. Set in a dystopic near-future, it centers on the wild scavanger hunt set up by the will of a dead video-game billionaire equal parts Richard Garriott, Bill Gates, and Howard Hughes — a hunt that takes place entirely in a virtual world, but which has very, very high stakes in the real one. Said billionaire has left his entire 12-figure estate to the winner of an online game centered around his love for 80s nerd culture. It’s all there: the films, the books, the video games, the whole nine yards. This one’s particularly recommended if you enjoyed Stephenson’s REAMDE earlier in the year.
The one about which I’m ambivalent

Seriously, I am, and that’s a first for China Mieville. He’s move on from his Bas-Lag world in recent works, mostly to great success. The City and the City was mindbending and awesome without being full of the sort of physical weirdness that dominated his primary trilogy. Kraken was a bit more of a return to form, but set in an urban-fantasy version of London, and was no less compulsively readable and thought provoking.

So imagine my surprise when I found Embassytown too clever by half. I really had to sort of make myself finish it, and was only kinda-sorta glad I had. What Mieville is doing here is definitely interesting — this time it’s a novel-length rumination on the role of language in cognition, among other things, so if you’ve got linguistic leanings, jump right in — but it tends to overpower a narrative I found murky and slow. Having one’s Big Idea overshadow one’s Story is an ongoing risk in the world of speculative fiction — the so-called “literature of ideas,” as if realistic or literary fiction was somehow free of them — but given his past work, I thought Mieville was immune. It’s probably still worth reading if you’re a fan, or if my thumbnail description here piques your interest, but it’d be a bad place to jump into the deep pool that is Mieville. (For that, go for Perdido Street Station.) piques your interest, but it’d be a bad place to jump into the deep pool that is Mieville.

The about which I almost forgot

I am forever making notes about books I want to read. After Amazon happened, and especially after Amazon’s app meant it was always in my pocket, one way I handled this was to just order the damn book with the idea fresh in my head. In this way, I developed a fucking enormous stack of to-read books in my office.

Fortunately, the Kindle has made this process a little better, but without making the to-read list any shorter. Now, instead of buying a book I might want to read immediately, I hit Amazon and tell it to send a sample to my Kindle for free, which I’ll get around to reading eventually. I do this a LOT. If I enjoy the sample, I buy the book. If not, I found out for free.

That’s how I found myself reading The Trinity Six, which has been described all year as a “literary thriller.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, unless it’s a reference to the fact that the protagonist is a university professor instead of a special forces operative. I found it compulsively readable without being particularly filling, but also without the sort of literary hangover I experience when I read utter crap. Definitely worthwhile for air travel, but otherwise unremarkable.

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