Books I finished in April, 2016

As always, nothing I gave up on, nothing that's still in progress, just the books I finished.

Homestuck finished its seven-year, 820,000-word run on April 13th. I miss it already. (Even though that frog made me cry.)

Slow Bullets — Alastair Reynolds

Reynolds's "Diamond Dogs" was slow to start but packed an unforgettable punch at the end, so I stuck with Slow Bullets despite a similarly uninvolving opening. But by the end the book was nothing more than a generic collection of old SF tropes. Who recommended this to me, anyway? What did they see in it? Wait, this made the Hugo shortlist?

Patience — Dan Clowes

In sharp contrast with Slow Bullets, Patience gets real pathos out of its SFnal idea — an aging man traveling in time to prevent his wife's murder years before — by exploring what an incomplete perspective we have of even the people we're closest to, and how, by the end, the protagonist's own past self is as separate a person as his late wife. Highly recommend — this belongs on the shelf next to Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron.

Vurt — Jeff Noon

"I have to ask," said the waitress at the Gaslight Inn. "What are you reading?"

"Science fiction about aliens whose body parts get you high, and feathers that contain illegal video games," I said.

"I like mysteries myself."

Vurt is hard to describe (maybe that's why my copy didn't bother with teaser text on the cover). PKD is the obvious point of comparison, while Noon is good at PKD-like immersive unreality, he's even better when he strikes out in his own direction – the intelligent dogs, for example, or the erotic prose.

Edda — Snorri Sturluson, translated by Anthony Faulkes

I read Edda expecting 13th century tales of Norse mythology, but that's only part of it; more than half the book is taken up by two lengthy essays on writing Old Norse poetry.

The Haunting of Hill House — Shirley Jackson

The first time I read this I was thirteen, and it was terrifying. This time it was merely creepy (especially in the passages where Eleanor is sensing what's happening elsewhere in Hill House, without even noticing how strange that is.) Is it because I know the book too well? (And did real people in 1959 drop references so casually to Pamela and Don Giovanni?)

Note: I have been informed that I am not to build a miniature Hill House filled with 1:12 scale evil.

The Soul of A New Machine — Tracy Kidder

Non-fiction about the engineers (and managers) creating the Eagle, a computer intended as a rival for the Vax. From 1981, but even then the nerds were filling their workspace with Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who references.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality — Eliezer Yudkowsky

Yudkowsky wrote a wonderful novella, "Three Worlds Collide", about first contact leading to a series of interlocking ethical dilemmas. (He's better known for his speculation about AI.) When I saw that Yudkowsky had written a novel-length Harry Potter fanfic, I was simultaneously intrigued and dubious.

The boy wizard has been replaced by the kind of smug, argumentative atheist who infests social media, while all the other characters remain the same. At its best, it's a fun application of the scientific method to the Rowling universe, as Harry deduces the laws behind magic. At its worst, it turns into Ender's Game fanfic. No, that's not an aperçu, it's literally Ender's Game with Harry Potter characters.

Written on May 9, 2016