Books, February 2012
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** John Sandford – Rules of Prey. These books are supposed to be good, but I ended up deciding I didn’t really want to read another book about a guy who stalks and murders women. Or at least, not this one.
*** Richard K. Morgan – Broken Angels. Good future science fiction space adventure war thriller stuff.
*** Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle. Kind of random and dated-feeling alternate history WWII stuff. The end, I think, is meant to be some kind of holy-shit moment, but it just read as half trite and half confused. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it as entertainment, but the things the characters cared about weren’t very compelling and the layers of self-reference kind of made it abstract and hard to connect with.
*** Charles Stross – Rule 34. Pretty cool exploration of what our near future might look like, extending a lot of current trends in terms of internet, connectivity, data, and identity. But it all feels a little too in-the-moment — in 10-20 years it could feel wildly prophetic or incredibly dated.

 
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Books, March 2012
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**** Christopher Priest – The Separation. An interesting alternate-history novel. It’s often unclear which of several parallel workings-out of WWII we’re in, and the various threads weave together and apart throughout, such that the overall impression is of a gestalt of possiblities and secrets than of a specific point about plot or identity. I really enjoyed it.
*** Ted Chiang – The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate. This was really more of a short story than a novel — it was nice, but basically more a tossed-off idea than a fully-realized story.

 
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Movies, March 2012
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*** Bullhead. We weren’t sure what to expect of this movie (I guess a violent European crime thriller), but we sure didn’t expect a nuanced and sometimes brutal character study. Fascinating and odd and kind of messed up, in a good way.
*** The Hunger Games. I may have a few quibbles, but this was very well done. Jennifer Lawrence was great, Josh Hutcherson was good, and the rest of the cast was all strong.

 
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Books, January 2012
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*** Algis Budrys – Rogue Moon. A great idea for a story, explored in a fascinating way. I found a lot of the interpersonal hoo-ha kind of annoying and distracting, but the basic elements of the story and the characters involved were good. And there are some great twists along the way.
*** Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall. Pretty good. The main character was pretty interesting, but honestly most of the book was about Henry VIII’s desire to divorce/annul Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. And therefore, the fact that the book ends before we get to the end of Anne’s story (i.e. beheading) made it feel incredibly incomplete. Yes, I know the book was (supposed to be) about Thomas Cromwell, but the story of Anne Boleyn really became the dramatic center of the book, and the arc of her story should have defined the book’s.
**** Frederick Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth – The Space Merchants. Written in 1952, The Space Merchants is a surprisingly insightful look at our possible future — one ruled by consumption, commerce, and advertising. If Pohl and Kornbluth’s conception of advertising is a little heavy-handed, it’s still far more prophetic and nuanced than many of the alien invasions and future dystopias of mid-century science fiction.

 
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Movies, February 2012
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*** Mean Girls. I’ve been wanting to watch this one again for a while, to see if it was still as good as I remembered. It was. When I first saw it, I thought that Lindsay Lohan girl was great and had a fantastic future in front of her, but I guess now we can give a lot more of the credit for this movie to Tina Fey’s writing. The supporting cast is also very good.

 
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Movies, January 2012
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**** Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Terrific. I don’t really want to compare it to the terrific Alec Guinness version. Gary Oldman makes it his own, and the supporting cast, direction, and look of the film are all great.

 
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Books, December 2011
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*** Patrick Rothfuss – The Wise Man’s Fear. This second book of the Kingkiller trilogy again kept me turning the pages. The slight problem with this one was the sheer arrogance and unbelievability of the main character. In the framing device of these books, he’s a legendary figure, with all kinds of stories and myths told about him. In the first book, we started to learn the story of his younger days, before he was such a legend. As such, he was vulnerable and made mistakes. In this second book, he’s starting to come into his legend and his deeds become more grandiose and unbelievable. Rothfuss perhaps takes it too far — some of what his character accomplishes is unbelievable, and it might have been better to reveal a more humble truth behind the legends. Still, I’m looking forward to the third book, and I hope to like it as much as the first.

 
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Books, November 2011
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*** Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind. Incredibly engaging, kept me turning the (many) pages and made me want to read the next book (it’s the first of a trilogy) as soon as I was done. Many aspects of the story and characters are certainly cliched, but Rothfuss manages to give them enough life and interest that you don’t really mind.
* Diana Gabaldon – Outlander. Awful, if occasionally gripping, romance novel. It was recommended to me as good fantasy, but aside from using time travel to throw the heroine into historic Scotland, there is absolutely nothing fantastic or science-fictional about this book at all; the heroine could just as well have been a visitor from another country, and the story would have been about the same.
** Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore – Titus Awakes. Awful. What this has to do with the Titus Groan of Peake’s Gormenghast novels, aside from sharing his name, I couldn’t say. Admittedly, my memory of the third book isn’t as strong as the first, so maybe this one arises more naturally from it (and it is based on fragments Peake left behind). But still.. not good.

 
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Movies, November 2011
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*** Glee, Season 2. There are a lot of annoying characters on this show, and I didn’t think the musical numbers were as good as in season 1. At this point though, I think we’re watching almost entirely for Britney. But overall still not a bad way to pass the time.

 
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Books, October 2011
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* Joseph Conrad – The Secret Agent. Blaaah. Could not read.
*** Raymond Feist – Magician: Apprentice.
** Raymond E. Feist – Magician, Master. These two books are apparently the two halves of what was elsewhere released as one book, and the beginning of a series. The first set up the standard “nobody stable boy makes good” type story, teasing the idea that he would become a mighty magician, and hinting at the working out of a complex and interesting system of magic. But then everything got caught up in a big transdimensional war that never made that much sense or had that strong an emotional pull for me. At some point, the kid does become a master magician, but we never get to enjoy the “system of magic” exploration — it just sort of happens like blah blah time passes and then he was super magic. I was interested enough to finish these two books, but left with no curiosity about the rest of the series.
**** John LeCarre – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Masterful.
*** Elmore Leonard – Get Shorty. Amusing. Is the movie good? Maybe I should see the movie; it seems meant to be a movie.
*** David Foster Wallace – The Pale King. It’s unfinished, and of course it felt like it ended just as it was getting going. Which is interesting, since I read somewhere that DFW had said most of the book as he intended it was done. So.. whatever. I wish we’d gotten the final book; I don’t know if I’ll read this fragment again.
*** David Foster Wallace – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I dipped into this book again. Some bits are very good, but as a whole it doesn’t hold your attention. I should finish rereading it, but don’t feel like I need to right away.
*** John LeCarre – Call for the Dead. Not as good as Tinker Tailor, but I definitely need to read more Smiley and more LeCarre in general.

 
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