Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

(apologies to sarah and jennifer, to whom this was originally an email)

saw hotel rwanda last night.

it's v. well done.

i leaked a bit during the movie and actually broke down and sobbed about half an hour *after*.

it's a bit overly cinematographic (cinemagraphic?) at times, but i'll give it the benefit of doubt and assume that was done to make it more mainstream digestible.


it didn't really give me much of a feel for the history of the events tho.

so i want to read We Regret to Inform You.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

eberhardt again

The Oblivion Seekers is a short book of very short stories by guess whom, Isabelle Eberhardt. Actually the stories are so short that they read much more like poetry to me. It's a good book. Her outlook is simultaneously exultant and grimly morbid. The stories are mostly thinly-veiled autobiography taking the form of various scenes from Isabelle's travels in North Africa. She pushes the idea that the best life of all is the life of a tramp, and seems to believe that it's society's duty to support the tramp. I'm not sure her philosophy totally holds water for me. I'm not sure i would use her philosophy to carry water from the oasis back to my tent, let's say. But. There's some very good stories about n. african life and the description is excellent. Beautiful without being purple.

Am about half way thru William Gibson's latest, Pattern Recognition. It's set in the present for a change, not even the very-near future, and employs no science fiction. Well almost none. Really it's more like magical realism than SF. Basically there's a woman who is physically allergic to successful brands. IE she puffs up and gets weird in the head when she sees the Michelin Man. She subsequently makes her very comfortable living off of this strange talent by evaluating logos for marketing firms; if she can't stand to be near it, they know it's a winner.
The plot is thickened by a mysterious film. I may be grasping here but the film aspect reminded me a lot of 'The Entertainment' from Infinite Jest. That is, a mysterious film which has sinister implications for all of society. But enough plot summary ! The bottom line is that Gibson is a Good Writer. I enjoy about half of the cyberpunk genre, but usually only for all the hip edgy ideas and action scenes. Gibson's writing on the other hand stands firm by itself without the butresses of amazing cyberpunk goodley-boo. So. Thumbs up on that.
Unfortunately i've left it at michelle's house.

Have started Murakami's Norwegian Wood. The first few pages are very nice. I'm not sure why i haven't read more Murakami, since i loved The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. It was pretty much right up my alley. Unfortunately i lost it somewhere in the bed last night, so today i'm reading Eco. Oops - just remembered i haven't real TWUP Chronicle! I read Hard-boiled Wonderland/End of the World.

Eco: I started The Name of the Rose, but have leapfrogged quickly to Foucault's Pendulum, which i definitely may not finish. Eco may simply not be for me. His floridity is not a floridity i seem to enjoy.

orion reads his passport

my passport is due to expire
and i think you have to 'surrender' the old one unless you want to pay like fifty bucks or more.
also i learned form Lauren that if you say have a baby in a foreign land, you may have a need to know everwhere you travelled to in the last decade. hence, here's the stamps i have in my passport.

sadly missing is iceland. i really *tried* to get a stamp there, but they really just didn't care.

also this is weird. there's quite a few things missing, like norway in 200407, or at least one more geneva stamp, or the SF re-entry stamp for the same trip. hum.

los angeles

san francisco














Thursday, February 17, 2005

sixteen magical tales about the most wonderous of all creatures - UNICORNS!

Michelle found sixteen magical tales about the most wonderous of all creatures - UNICORNS!, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois in the uh dollar-bin at the library i think (except there's no library markings in it). It's a pretty mixed bag:
  • introduction by avram davidson: NO
  • The Silken Swift by theodore sturgeon: NO
  • Eudoric's Unicorn by L. Sprague De Camp: YES
  • The Flight of the Horse by Larry Niven: SURE, WHY NOT, REALLY
  • On The Downhill Side by Haral Ellison: NO! SCREW HARLAN ELLISON!
  • The Night of the Unicorn by Thomas Swann: YES
  • Mythological Beast by Stephen Donaldson: YES
  • The Final Quarry by Eric Norden: YES!
  • Elfleda by Vonda McIntyre: WHAT?? NO.
  • The White Donkey by Ursula LeGuin: OF COURSE, YES!
  • Unicorn Variantions by Roger Zelazny: NO
  • The Sacrafice by Gardner Dozois: NO
  • The Unicorn by Frank Owen: YES
  • The Woman The Unicorn Loved by Gene Wolfe: GOOD TRY BUT NO
  • The Forsaken by Ben Evans: YES
  • The Unicorn by T.H. White: YES!
  • Intoductions to Each Story by Dann and Dozois: NO!!
Well, that's the short and sweet. Most of the really good ones are pretty short.

Here, possibly surprisingly, is an excerpt from Eric Norden's The Final Quarry, which made me think perhaps i should go find more by this Eric Norden person. It's a bit weird and questionable re especially the whole Christian thing, but really you don't often find this much epicness so competently expressed in only one longish paragraph.

[scene, a murderous rogue asking after the location of the last U. from a classical filthy hermit wise-man in a cave]

"Listen to me, my son," the priest continued, the ancient words falling with liquid precision from his lips, "this beast you seek to slay is the last guardian of man's innocence. Unicorns live on thoughts of beauty, and the radiance of their sould has fallen like sunlight on the world for thousands of years, even before the Old Ones were dreamed into substance on Olympus." The priest's voice fell even lower and the mad eyes filmed with grief. "But the day Christ died on the cross the king of the Unicorns took it upon his race to suffer penance for the act, for otherwise God's wrath delivered on the heads of man would indeed have been terrible. And so on that day, while the heavens shook and the earth trembled on the brink of chaos, he ordered all the females of his race to die, and in great silver flocks they mounted the heights of Thessaly and threw themselves to death on the crags below, singing the ancient songs as they fell. Their voices reached the ear of God, and the tears of Christ rained upon Greece for three days and three nights, and beauty crept into the dreams of everyone."

He is mad, thought Deverish feebly, why does he keep looking at me, why does he not let me out into the sunlight ?

"Since then," the priest went on, "the remaining unicorns have died one by one, always by the violence of man's hand, because Christ in his love has spared them pain or illness or suffering or death, save that inflicted by his own tormentors. And with the death of each unicorn over the centuries, something of beauty, something of innocence, has gone out of the world, and a candle has been extinguished in the heart of every man, and the darkness has grown. This poor tired beast you plan to kill is the sole custodian of that ancient, guttering flame. When he is slain the last light of God's mercy is snuffed out, and even children's hearts shall become soiled, and wonder will die slowly, strangled until it becomes only a word, and innocence shall never return. A vast darkness hovers over the earth, peopled with the horrors of the apocalypse, and this beast is man's last solitary light. So God intended it and so it shall be. Go and destroy him."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Heaven Eyes

Heaven Eyes was a bust, altho i finished it in about a day. It might be good young adult fiction, it might not. I can't tell. Kai says that she couldn't even get thru one chapter, and that Skellig, also by David Almond is much better.

Am reading now an anthology of 'sixteen magical tales about the most wondrous of all creatures- Unicorns!' Joy! Published in 1982 it .. could be worse. I've only skipped one and a half out of two and a half stories so far.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Stiff - The curious lives of human cadavers

Have finished Mary Roach's Stiff. It's pretty good. Especially if you like gross stuff. Disection, Weapons Testing, Car-Crash Testing, Rotting, Eating, Composting, Other kinds of Rotting.
As Lucia put it, she writes with just the right amount of irreverence and jokes so that you're able to keep your distance (and keep reading) while at the same time not being too flip and levitous.

Also, i have to add that of the various ways of being disposed of after i'm dead, Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak's organic composting is very appealing. They freeze you in liquid nitrogen, vibrate you to powder, freeze-dry you and then compost you. It's fabulous. You can be mulched in under the tomatos.

And of course she somehow missed life gems.

Have started Heaven Eyes by David Almond. Initial impressions are that it may not really be for me, but i think i'll finish it. It's about a trio of foster home children who run away, so far.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Demolished Man

Have finished Demolished Man, and for ridiculous 50s science fiction, it's pretty darned good.

Sarah loaned me Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. I've just barely started. So far Roach seems to be a fine writer. I might get too grossed out to finish.

In the bathroom we currently have an
Andy Goldsworthy photo book. The man who's leading my proper life.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Koba the Dread

(a follow up to this post.)

I think sixth grade was the last time i read a book while walking from some place to some other place. I read Martin Amis's Koba the Dread that way.

This isn't so much a review of the book as a shotgun summary.
(Review: the book is absolutely top-shelf and you should read it.)

The essential aims of Koba the Dread are primarily to draw attention to the massive scale of Stalin's terror and only barely secondarily to distribute some shame to the rest of us for the laughter with which we often meet tales of the Soviet Tradgedy.

In high school my two best friends and i referred to each other with the cognomens Mither, Dinvaldûr and WereDragon. As in "Hey Dinvaldûr do you know how WereDragon beat level five?". I think our motivation was simply expanding ourselves thru alter egos. Altho we still use them very occasionally amongst ourselves, we pretty much left them behind in early college. Stalin was also fond of cognomens. 'Koba' is one of many. I've since lent out the book but i think it was a reference to some sort of comic-book superhero. 'Stalin' is another self-made nickname. It means 'Man of Steel', 'Steellike', etc. I didn't know this. Stalin obviously did not get over the name and went ludicrously beyond using it amongst friends.

In his spasmodic effort to actualize himself as a man of steel, Stalin is commonly attributed with killing 20,000,000 russians.

Some historians make this number as high as 51,000,00.

Not counting deaths due to WWII.

Stalin invented the WWII tool of "Blocking Units", which are lines of troops who stand behind the front line and shoot anyone who runs away.

Stalin expanded on Lenin's invention of Famine as Weapon. The soviet famine of
1926-38 was a specifically administered famine. The Ukraine suffered the most deaths (5,000,000) and also produced the most grain during the same period.

The average life expectancy in a labor Gulag for a healthy person was three months. The gulags were packed.

Every one of Stalin's cabinet had at least one and usually several family members (wives, children) killed by Stalin, usually followed by themselves. The state of terror he exerted was so great however that they remained in his cabinet. There was nowhere else to go.

It was not until some time after Stalin was informed that Hitler was dropping bombs on Soviet cities that Stalin apparently even considered the idea that Germany might possibly be a threat to the USSR. Up until then, anyone who had presented the idea was lucky to escape with his life.

I've realized that Orwell invented nothing for 1984. It was a simple chronicle of Soviet Russia; if anything he understated the terror and societal madness.

This madness, Amis persuasively argues, was just that. Madness. Madness primarily of Stalin, but a matching insanity induced in those around him. In countless cases it was simple spite. If you were smarter or more handsome than Stalin, you would be shot. It sounds unbelievable but it was that simple.

numbers in this post come from http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

the informers

I took Bret Easton Elis's 'The Informers' from Mykle or Kai's bookshelf. I enjoyed the movie 'the rules of attraction', and have been meaning to get around to reading him.
I had to stop halfway thru. While it's definitely quite well-written, has totally believable characters and situations, the stories are moderately interesting, etc, it was making me feel horrible. It's a novel about how being a rich yuppie or a rich yuppie's child in Los Angeles destroys the soul of such RY or RY's child. Which even tho it's not *news* could still make fine reading, except that it was destroying my soul as well. It reminds me of the movie Short Cuts, which actually figured in the break-up of me and a girlfriend because i was stricken by a horrifying and sudden loss of soul from watching the film, and she Wasn't, and that in turn was horrifying and distancing. (Believe it or not, Polanski's Bitter Moon played a similar part in this soul-sucking movie - influenced break up. Maybe i shouldn't take movies so seriously.)

Added to Orion's List of Reasons Not To Date Him:
  • if he experiences a loss of soul from a movie and you don't, he will break up with you*.
So i stopped The Informers halfway thru. But it's a fine book anyhow.

Am now reading Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, a 1951 Signet sci-fi novel about a seriously virile CEO of a huge corporation in 2301 who decides he has to murder the CEO of a rival huge corporation and, the cover leads me to believe, gets away with it despite the omnipresence of psychic mind-readers in the society of 2301. This again, thanks to Kai.

* This somewhat misstates the case. It should be more like
  • if he experi...and you don't, you will soon dump him and crush his heart, and BOY will you probably feel a twinge of regret at some point in the distant future, so really, it's not worth the risk and you should probably leave this guy alone**.

** This also misrepresents poor ____. If you're reading this ____, um, i guess i just hope you're not reading this.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

the need to buy it

Jennifer loaned me Peter Verhelst's Tonguecat. It's apparently a sort of magical realism and fantasy. Which fantasy and sci-fi are absolutely not J's cup of tea, and even tho she knew tonguecat is fantasy she somehow decided to go for it, even tho i've been pushing fantasy/sci-fi books at her without even a glimmer of acceptance for years now. Anyhow. So indeed she couldn't read it and passed it on to me. I'm probably not going to read it either because the first or second page contains a passage so entirely off-putting that i feel a bit ill. Here's the passage: (describing a sister & brother huddled together for warmth in a freakishly cold winter)
... I watched my breath curl up into a plume. Two heads protruding from a blanket pitched around us like a tent. Breathe in, breathe out. His shoulder blade against my spine.
"What's happening?" he asked.
I shrugged.
"Look," he said, scraping a frost flower off the windowpave. At that same moment he screamed, and with that scream the house came alive. My mother had to use boiling water to separate my brother's finger from the frost flower. A fingerprint of matter, red glass was left on the windowpane.
- Now this may not initially seem so offensive, except that it just doesn't ring true. Here is an author writing about things which he has no experience with.
1. your fingers/tongues only stick to cold things when they're *wet*. The boy had been shivering in bed. His fingers were dry. His fingers simply would not have stuck to the pane. This scene could Never Happen.
2. when your finger or tongue freezes to something cold, you don't scream. It doesn't particularly hurt. You spend several seconds just figuring out what's going on. And you don't scream. Even a kid doesn't. It's too bizarre an experience to even register as Trouble. I did get my tongue frozen to a very cold thing (a pot full of dry ice & acetone) as a kid (tho not a child) and had to use hot water to get it off, and panic only sets in after a while and terror or horror remain absent.
3. the fingerprint. you *might* leave some tissue on the pane if you simply rippingly pulled away, but his mom used Hot Water. it solves the problem. you just don't leave a red fingerprint. it simply isn't Done.

If you want a *good* literary passage about body parts freezing to icy windows, check out the section in Infinite Jest where Stice's forehead is frozen to a lonely dormitory lounge window. (circa page 867)

So, we've got a passage here which simply could never happen in reality, and while it is a fantasy novel, this passage is not intended as fantasy. If i were ignorant of the feasability of freezing a finger to a lousy frosty window pane, then maybe this scene wouldn't bother me. This is a curious feeling, that of "if i were just a bit dumber, i'd like this book", and i often wonder how many books i've liked only by the grace of being sufficiently dumb.

So, peter, your chances with this one and me are pretty slim.

While i'm at it, i may as well give some advice to future writers of science-fiction: Unless you actually are a scientist and you Know you know whereof you speak, keep the technical details to an absolute minimum. Nobody cares about them anyway. Just ask the reader to believe that humans eventually evolve a triple-lobed brain, *don't* explain how it happened with your shoddy understanding of mendelian genetics or what have you. Double for space-technology, and septuple for computer technology. If you aren't a computer bad-ass, don't get technical. And if you are a computer bad-ass and do want to get technical, take a second a consider your audience. You're going to bore the normal folks to tears with what they don't care about and can't follow, and you're going to bore the geeks to tears with what they don't care about.

I think this reading blog is me at my most critical. Shame to say, but i feel kinda liberated in here.

Have finished Koba the Dread, and need some time before writing anything about it. I'll just say that i want to send it to pretty much everybody i know.

Am reading at random thru Isabelle Eberhart's The Oblivion Seekers, which is pleasant.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Koba the Dread

Jennifer gave me a copy of Martin Amis's Koba the Dread.
It's difficult to even begin. It's a history of the death in russia which came about thru Stalin and also Lenin. I'm almost halfway thru and pretty much want to read it constantly.

The following is stolen from here.
Amis opens the book by quoting from Robert Conquest's book, THE HARVEST OF SORROW, which details the Stalinist era: 'We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present case by saying that in the actions here recorded about 20 lives were lost for, not every word, but every letter, in this book.' Amis then tells us: 'That sentence represents 3,040 lives. The book is 411 pages long.'
Rob has also told me that Baudolino is not Eco's best, and barely worth reading. Which is good news for me, because i was thinking maybe i was a freak. So i may try The Name of the Rose.

i'll be silkscreening patches etc of this.
lemme know if you want one.