Sunday, November 22, 2009

Young at Heart

Tackling the "List" from the top!

The “children” and “young adult” genres are favorites of mine, although I quibble with the idea of labeling books as such. (And yes, I know this post is propagating the very classification I’m griping about). Maybe I should clarify that it’s not the label I object to, but the idea that these books are somehow “simpler” or “not worthy” to be read by adults. They often deal with Big Life Questions in a way that is neither patronizing nor pedestrian. Unlike much modern “adult” literature, they get to the point and stick to it. And they almost always make me think about the sort of person I want to be, because this is often the question their protagonists are facing. I like that, because I consider myself a work in progress.

Children are demanding readers. They won’t simply accept as book as “good” because a critic tells them it is. (Confession: I’ve never read a Booker Prize novel that I haven’t detested – or even finished.) If a book’s crap, they’ll shrug and move on, not afraid to say that it “stinks.” The best YA lasts because it is both enlightening and entertaining.

The following books are some of the best I’ve read, period. Most of them can go toe-to-toe with any “adult” novel. They’re certainly better than anything written by Tom Clancy or Jodi Picoult.

Little Lord Fauntleroy, Francis Hodgson Burnett

Poor boy becomes adopted son of crotchety old man, eventually winning him over with his generous heart and affectionate ways. This disarming book is too sweet for diabetics to safely consume, but it’s charming nonetheless.

The Witches, Roald Dahl

Four words: bald witches with psoriasis! And they want to turn all the children of England into mice with Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker! Shivers are running up and down my spine, but I’m still laughing. I must have had this read to me as a child in school, but I didn’t recall much about it. There’s definitely an element of darkness here I didn’t remember. The bittersweet ending is different from the movie, so definitely don’t pass the book by.

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

Bored boy Milo goes on a magical adventure, and has fun with words and numbers! Clever, clever, clever. I was distracted by some personal issues when I read it, so I’ve forgotten much of what happened. I think I’ll have to revisit this one soon.

A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L’Engle

Vicky has one last summer to spend with her dying grandfather at his house on the shore. She also learns to communicate with dolphins. (Kate, I suspect that you must have read and loved this.) L’Engle really excels at creating a sense of place here, and the scenes I’ll remember most are those where Vicky is simply sitting by the water, thinking the thoughts that adolescents think. Count this a coming-of-age classic.

The Arm of the Starfish, Madeleine L’Engle

Rather unique in the L’Engle canon, this is more of a political mystery-thriller than a fantasy/sci-fi adventure, although it does feature Murray-O’Keefe characters and Adam Eddington from Endless Light (though Starfish was written first). Adam travels to an island off Portugal to serve as Dr. O’Keefe’s research assistant for the summer. Dr. O’Keefe is working on the regenerative properties of starfish, and some unsavory international characters think they can use Adam to discover his secret findings… Femme Fatale included.

Troubling a Star, Madeleine L’Engle

Vicky from Endless Light gets the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Antarctica (disclaimer: no penguinjas make an appearance in this story). Like Starfish in that it involves international political intrigue. Pleasant enough, and individual scenes stand out, but I don’t really remember the actual plot all that much, except that Vicky ends up stranded alone on a glacier…

Dragon Haven, Robin McKinley

Raising a baby dragon is hard, and McKinley doesn’t spare you any of the grisly details here. (You have to hold them close to your belly to keep them warm, which gives you "psoriasis" -- or at least that's what you tell the doctor. And damn, can they scratch!) Our hero is the son of a dragon researcher, and lives with his dad in the national reserve where America’s last remaining dragons are given freedom to roam as they will. One night, he discovers a dragon dying from wounds inflicted by a poacher. He can’t save her, but her baby’s mewing in the darkness. The only problem? Dragons are protected, but actually saving one is a Federal crime…

The Complete Tales, Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter tales are the perfect “bite-size” bedtime stories. And her drawings are adorable. I didn’t read these as a child, because my American Mom isn’t a reader, and my German Dad only read me what he knew: mythology and Der Struwwelpeter. Maybe I would have been more adjusted if I had? You really can’t compare Peter Rabbit to Little Tom Suck-A-Thumb.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce

A British children’s classic that’s somewhat fallen into obscurity here in the U.S. But it’s a wonderful story about a boy who wakes one night to hear the clock strike thirteen. He goes downstairs and opens the back door of his aunt and uncle’s urban apartment building, only to discover that the gravel-covered backyard has been transformed into a Victorian garden. He returns every night, becoming friends with Hatty, a girl who lives in the house at the time of the garden. But Tom doesn’t notice how Hatty’s growing older, and will the mystery of the garden ever be solved? I really liked this. Gardens enchant me, and the book excellently evokes a time and place where the most exciting thing a kid could do was “go outside and play.” Modern childhood seems so cold and electronic in comparison…

Unfortunately, sometimes even a children’s book by an otherwise decent author can be a complete dud. The following are two unfortunate examples:

Runaway and Swear to Howdy, Wendelin van Draanen

Wendelin van Draanen has written one of my favorite YA books, Flipped, which tells the story of the developing relationship between middle-school neighbors Bryce and Julie. But van Draanen’s other creations haven’t impressed me. Both Runaway and Swear to Howdy were extremely disjointed. Runaway begins as the gritty and realistic story of an orphan girl trying to survive on the streets, but degenerates into unbelievable schmaltz when she is suddenly adopted by two kindly old ladies. Swear to Howdy moves in the opposite direction. It starts with the breezy shenanigans of two mischievous boys, but plunges abruptly into tragedy and darkness. I wasn’t prepared for it at all. Both these books left me scratching my head, wondering what van Draanen was thinking.

Of course, kids aren’t always the most discerning readers. Like adults, they can fall head-over-heels for simple wish-fulfillment tales. It’s the current craze, and I was curious about it, so I read…

Twilight, Stephanie Meyer

I can see the teenager I was obsessing over this – maybe. Luckily, we do outgrow some things. Bookish wallflower attracts the interest of the hottest, most mysterious boy at school. He just happens to be a vampire. If future scholars ever study Twilight, it will probably be for the rather obvious “chastity is good” message. You see, boys, like vampires, have appetites that can’t always be controlled around girls who smell good. But if you find one that’s a chivalrous gentleman, he’ll protect you, even if it means bullying you for your own good. Despite the supernatural elements, it’s quite a conservative book. The Byronic hero, Edward, listens to classical music while driving his Volvo. And his opinion of rock music is that the 50s were great, the 60s and 70s detestable, and the 80s were … okay. Sorry, tweens, I just can’t dig a vampire who doesn’t appreciate a good Led Zeppelin song!

posted by Elizabeth at 5:57 PM


96 Books to Review on the Shelf...

Hmm, I’m a wee bit behind on reviews! No excuses … except that I’m on the computer 9 hours a day at work, and sitting in front of the keyboard is the last thing I want to do nowadays when I get home. There are too many other things to do, like cook or hike or read or run or play soccer! I’m finally learning the truth of the common saying that nothing is more valuable than time.

Anyway, here’s the list of books I’ve read but haven’t reviewed. I’m going to try and write about as much of them as possible, even if only a sentence or so. If there’s something here you particularly want my august opinion on (*ahem*), let me know in the comments, and I'll make sure to cook something up. Also, anything marked with an “*****” is excellent and should be read AT ONCE. I’ve selected these books because I think everyone will probably like them. Some books I personally adore aren’t so marked. And anything marked with a “CRAP” should be avoided … forever. Unless you’re curious to know how bad it is. In which case, you were warned.

Children’s and Young Adult

Little Lord Fauntleroy, Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Witches, Roald Dahl*****
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster*****
A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L’Engle*****
The Arm of the Starfish, Madeleine L’Engle
Troubling a Star, Madeleine L’Engle
Dragon Haven, Robin McKinley
Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce
The Complete Tales, Beatrix Potter
Runaway and Swear to Howdy, Wendelin van Draanen
Twilight, Stephanie Meyer

By, For, and About Jane Austen

I have a specific section below on books that I’ve re-read, but I put the Austen here because I liked having them all together. In short, anything below by Austen you can assume I’ve read at least three times (Northanger Abbey). The others … well, it’s too many to count. (Also, this category has the distinction of having the first book labeled as CRAP! Without reading any further, you may be able to guess what it is…)

Searching for Jane Austen, Nina Auerbach
Becoming Jane, Jon Spence
Lost in Austen, Emma Campbell Webster
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith - CRAP
Emma, Jane Austen
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Persuasion, Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen


They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan, Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsian Deng, and Judy Bernstein
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
The Book of Dead Philosophers, Simon Critchley
I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron
Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman
The Ode Less Traveled, Stephen Fry*****
The Remarkable Case of Dorothy Sayers, Catherine Kenney
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver******
Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver
Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, Linda Lear
A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle
Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv
When French Women Cook, Madeleine Kamman
Savoie, Madeleine Kamman
Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
My Little Red Book, Ed. Rachel Kouder Nalebuff
Real Food, Nina Planck
In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan*****
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks
Touching the Void, Joe Simpson
Night, Elie Wiesel

General Fiction

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood
The Solitaire Mystery, Jostein Gaardner
Changing Planes, Ursula K. Le Guin
Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Contact, Carl Sagan*****
The Five Red Herrings, Dorothy Sayers
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy Sayers*****


Flatland, Edward Abbot*****
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tr. by Simon Arbitage
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins*****
Diary of a Provincial Lady, E.M. Delafield
Light in August, William Faulkner
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, Henry Fielding
The African Queen, C.S. Forester
The Complete Short Stories, Graham Greene
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot*****
All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Herriot
All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Herriot
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
Lolita, Nabokov*****
Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
Night and Day, Virginia Woolf

Target Practice

I don’t know what it is about all the books below that irritated me so excessively. All of them were written fairly recently, and to generally favorable reviews. I wish I had liked them more. But they all struck me as being pretentious and overly-written. And none of them made me happy. If anyone has any deeper insights, let me know.

In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez - CRAP
Genesis, Bernard Beckett - CRAP (But only with a $20.00 sticker price ... it's a perfectly respectable book to get from the library.)
Possession, A.S. Byatt - CRAP
What is the What, Dave Eggers - CRAP
Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer – CRAP CRAP DOUBLE CRAP
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen - CRAP
The Secret History, Donna Tartt - CRAP
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon - CRAP


All of these are fantastic books that have stayed with me for a long time … and will probably stay with me for life. Many were read when I was an impressionable little munchkin, which might account for the fondness I feel for them. Some of them I’ve already previously reviewed as re-reads … and appear here again because I read them – again.

A Little Princess, Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula K. Le Guin
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis*****
Beauty, Robin McKinley*****
The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley*****
Deerskin, Robin McKinley
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery
Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery
Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers

Books My Dad Got Me To Read

The Crusades, Henry Treece

posted by Elizabeth at 5:35 PM


Sunday, November 15, 2009

I miss Castle Rock

Title: Just After Sunset
Author: Stephen King
Bookmark: different offer, same bank

I read a lot of Stephen King growing up, which probably explains more about me than any other single statement I could make. I remember being fascinated that all the freaky shit in the world happened in or near Castle Rock, Maine (or in Mid-World, but that was eventually connected to Castle Rock, too). It was the same sort of phenomena that guaranteed that someone would die no matter where Jessica Fletcher went on vacation, and it would either be one of her friends, or one of her friends would be the main suspect. Later, I learned that all the freaky shit in Dean Koontz's version of the world happens in California, but he has a whole list of fixations.

Now that the King of Horror is moving towards years silver if not yet golden, it seems that he's doing the same thing as all the other retirees: moving to Florida. One of his latest novels, Dumas Key, is set in Florida, and although he returns to Maine for the latest offering (The Dome, whose cover, though impressively illustrated, contains not a single word to hint at what the hell the story is about. So I left it on the Barnes & Noble shelf, bitter at the insolence.), this latest collection of short stories is replete with Florida, keys, dune grass, and one passing mention of a gator. Even the protagonists are older. No more young, fit guys and their beautiful cohorts--now everyone is dumpy and middle-aged, and while it gives a bit of realism, I don't read Stephen King books for their realism. I read them because they start familiar, and then get exponentially unreal.

They're still good, they're still definitely Stephen King, even if they don't include as many pop-culture references as usual, and they still have his quirky gift for seeing horror in the most natural and familiar of places (in the last story, a man is trapped inside a tipped-over port-a-jon). I even liked the brief mention of my own alma mater, nowhere near Maine, but as unlikely as it is that all the weird stuff int he world happens in Castle Rock, it seems strange to me that his stories would retire to Florida along with their master. Even if he and his wife now have a home there.

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posted by reyn at 6:05 PM


lost touch

Title: Lost Boy Lost Girl
Author: Peter Straub
Bookmark: some card advertising an offer from my bank

The novel is divided into five sections. I almost didn't make it through the first section, but the rest paid off. The first section is choppy and disoriented, and although I usually really like nonlinear storytelling (though I've only seen it once, I still think Go is brilliant), Straub hacked his way through that portion of the book. The rest of it, although still slightly nonlinear, worked much better.

Tim Underhill is a horror novelist (I sometimes feel sorry for writers who, having never experienced anything else, tend to make the main characters very like themselves. Even Stephen King, a long time favorite of mine, tends to write about an awful lot of writers, journalists, and English teachers. And drunks, but I think that's part of his coping mechanism for a past life full of addiction) whose siter-in-law dies. He returns to his hometown and his stuffed-shirt brother (himself an absentee father) for the funeral, but a couple days after he returns to New York, he learns that his nephew has gone missing. He returns to the small Illinois town of his youth to investigate and help his brother deal with his losses.

The rest of the book (the last four sections) details how Tim, with the help of an independently-wealthy friend who solves lots of mysteries by looking at public (and somewhat non-public) records on his computer and making connections nobody else has. He eventually finds that his sister-in-law was related to a notorious area serial killer, that his nephew had a strange fascination with the empty house across the alley, and that several teenage boys have recently disappeared from the area of a local park. Natrually, because it's a mystery story, all three threads eventually weave together. Naturally, because it's a Peter Straub story, there's also some spooky supernatural shit going down.

Overall, it was an entertaining read, but there are some things that I still don't really get.
Why would the ghost of a girl who was repeatedly raped and abused decide to make sweet supernatural love to a fifteen year old boy on the same wooden bed where she was raped? Even using the same leather straps on their wrists??
How would said ghost-girl have sex with a living person anyway? I can't get my head around this.

There's another really big question I have about the bodies of the victims, but it's not worth getting into. Suffice to say, suspension of disbelief is essential for reading this book, and leave your eye for detail at home.

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posted by reyn at 5:44 PM


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Sequel?

Title: Magic Street
Author: Orson Scott Card
Bookmark: tag from a metal water bottle

Another weird one.

Mack Street is found as a baby by a young boy, then raised by the boy's neighbor, a nurse, who only lets Mack call her Miz Smitcher, like all the other neighborhood kids. As he grows up, he learns that when he has his "cold dreams," they come true--but they're other people's wishes. People who live near him and think they know what they want wish for these things, but their wishes get twisted, Monkey's Paw style, and show up in Mack's dreams as they are granted.

As Mack tries to understand the source or reason behind his dreams, he comes to find the very real magic in his own neighborhood, and a thin spot where our world gives way to a Fairy world. He learns the truth of his own origins, and how he is connected to Titania and Oberon, and how badly Mssr. Wm. Shakespeare botched their story. Then, naturally, a climactic final battle spanning two worlds simultaneously. Awesome.

However, despite a worm-dragon, near gang-rape, scary magical panthers, a megalomaniacal and extremely powerful fairy king, and a baby conceived and born in a matter of a couple hours, the scariest, most disturbing part of the book was in the acknowledgements. I was reading an Advance Reader Copy, whose back cover explicitly states that you are not to quote this copy without checking an actual release version, but I think that by stating that here (and the relative obscurity of our blog) covers me to quote that paragraph:
"I must also thank the 59, 729,952 people who voted for the re-election of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, allowing me to sleep at night as I wrote the last five chapters of this novel."

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posted by reyn at 10:08 PM


Pulp Affliction

Title: The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps
Editor: Otto Penzler
Bookmark: one I've used before.

The back cover claims that this is "the biggest, the boldest, the most comprehensive collection of pulp writing ever assembled!" Let's examine those claims.

Biggest: It's paperback, printed on the thinnest paper available without actually being transparent tissue, and still the size of a major city's telephone book. You could prop a door open with this thing, or hold your car in place while changing the tire. It has over a thousand pages. Yes, it's huge.

Boldest: I'm really not sure how to address this, especially because my only other taste of pulps was a couple books from roughly the same era, and I'm not even sure they count. Perhaps the boldness is more in claiming that some of these stories are worth reading, but each is preceded by a page giving some history of the author, the story, the pulp magazine in which it was published, or the era itself. Many of those forewords note that the following story appeared in one of the publications that paid writers half a cent per word (the best offered ten cents per word) for the stories, and the quality was a reflection of the price, so this book is at least more honest about its contents than the pulp magazines ever were.

Most Comprehensive: No arguing that. It ranges from Hammett, Chandler, and Gardner (including one Hammett story never published before) to several authors on which the editor could find no information whatsoever. They may have been pseudonyms for someone better known , or simply a nobody who happened to get one story published before disappearing again into obscurity. The book makes no claims to include only high-quality stuff, and even pokes a little fun at some of the poorer stories (and the magazines that ran them). Sometimes, the bad stories were just as entertaining because they were so very bad.

Occasionally, I was bored out of my mind. Usually, it was entertaining. Once, I had to take a break of two or three months because I was so saturated with pulp nonsense that I had to take a break and read something lighter. It took me well over a year--probably closer to two--to finish the damn thing, and it's far too big to stash in a coat pocket or purse for airport or beach use, but if you want something to keep by the bed for a while, it's perfect.

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posted by reyn at 9:43 PM


Monday, November 02, 2009

The voodoo that you do

Title: Count Zero
Author: William Gibson
Bookmark: strip of dinosaur stickers

This is another book I rescued from someone's garage. That's good, because I may have to read it once or twice more to figure out what the hell is going on.

I mean, sure, it's fun to read, but I think Gibson goes a little too far with the "tell the reader as little as possible and let them figure it out themselves" approach that other authors handle a bit better by at least telling us enough to know what's happening.

I'll give summarizing a shot.

There are three main storylines. You'd think that eventually these three sets of characters would intersect somehow, since they're all (apparently... i think...) chasing after the same thing.

Turner is a corporate mercenary, hired through his agent (who may be far more shady than you'd think) to help either steal the best young minds from competing companies, or to help those minds defect to another company. Technological secrets and the people who develop them are valued in Gibson's future, to the point that many companies maintain high-tech facilities where their employees live and work, with no direct contact with the outside world. (one of them is in a hollowed-out mesa, which is a pretty cool idea in itself) Turner is blown to smithereens in the first chapter. They collect enough of him to rebuild him in some sort of tank so he can be hired to help a scientist escape from one company to another. Turner must work with several lower-level mercenaries, one of whom tried to kill him in the past, and figure out which one of them is a mole, feeding information to his back-stabbing, double-crossing agent.

Bobby Newmark, operating with the handle Count Zero, is a wannabe hacker who, using a piece of code bestowed upon him by his own agent, finds something so powerful and strange that it blows his connection, knocks him out cold, and results in at least one death squad coming for him. His apartment is blown up by a missile attack while his soap-opera-addicted mother is inside, and in his desperate flight he meets two men who claim that the Network is full of voodoo gods, and that one of them saved Bobby's ass when his hack went haywire.

Marly Krushkova, still recovering from the scandal surrounding an art scam in her gallery that was actually orchestrated by her dirtbag ex-boyfriend (without her knowledge), is hired by Herr Virek to find the maker of a tiny diorama, really just items in a box, but it somehow captures their imagination, and is very like several other boxes, and nobody seems to know the source. Oh, and Virek is sustained by tanks similar to those that saved Turner, but the apparatus that keeps him alive occupies three semi truck trailers.

The thing that really gets me--and this might be due to the fact that I read it months ago, and may have forgotten--is that I'm not sure all three stories intersect. None of those characters actually meet each other, and I think I know the connection between Turner and Bobby, but either I never found a link betwene either of them and Marly, or I've forgotten it. It's a very strange book, but it still held my attention for the duration.

Seriously, though. Voodoo gods. In Cyberspace.

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posted by reyn at 10:06 PM


Worth it

Title: The Worthing Saga
Author: Orson Scott Card
Bookmark: I read this months ago. Who knows? Probably a candy wrapper, or grocery receipt, or a child's stolen dreams, or something.

Orson Scott Card doesn't really write books. He crafts worlds. Granted, I've only read the first two books of the Ender series, and there's a good chance that, like Frank Herbert's Dune books, or the Hitchhiker Trilogy, that one will also eventually show the author's boredom with the idea, or burgeoning insanity. But it's still more than just a sci-fi story; he includes little details of the life in that society that you may not think to ask about, but when presented matter-of-factly, and in a way that isn't overt ("oh, and look at this other cool technology! And see how we do things this way, instead of the way things are done in the reader's world??"), it comes across as though you're just peering into that world, and learning from your own casual observations, rather than being spoon-fed the things the author thinks will impress you most and think he's a good writer. Card doesn't prove he can write by trying to impress you--he proves he can write by writing, and damn well at that.

The Worthing Saga is actually a compilation of three earlier works, all in the same universe (I think in the foreword Card mentions that he didn't even think to connect them all in the same universe until after some of it had already been written, but I read it ages ago, so maybe I made that up. It still works.). The Worthing Saga tells of the arrival of two mysterious strangers on the day that a mountain village experiences pain, death, and loss for the first time. Both of the strangers are telepaths with vibrant blue eyes, and tell their story by feeding dreams to a boy in the village, and he writes the stories as they come to him. The man turns out to be Jason Worthing, a name spoken as a god on their world and, it turns out, many others as well. Through the boy's dreams and his conversations with Jason, he learns why Jason brought them pain (or did something else happen? yeah, probably. It's sci-fi, after all), why they needed pain, and what his own purpose in the world might be. We also learn the history of a trans-planetary society, from its roots of a few dozen people, to the seeding of dozens of planets, and up to the day when they all found Pain. At the center of it all is Jason, guiding his people up from a Tool Age to a spacefaring civilization as he skips through time on waves of Somec.

Tales of Capitol is a collection of short stories that sets the stage for the Worthing Chronicles. Each focuses on a different citizen of the city-planet Capitol, and in one case, a colony planet. Somec is a drug which allows people to sleep through years, or decades, prolonging their life indefinitely, but it is rationed according to status. The Empress is awake for only a day every five years. Others may only sleep for a year in ten, but even that is considered a great accomplishment. These stories show how Somec affects peoples lives and the society as a whole, but they also give glimpses into all layers of Capitol society, from the poorest dregs to the Empress herself. And behind it all is Abner Doon. Doon, whose name is that of the devil in the sleepy mountain village of the Worthing Chronicle. Doon, who sent Jason out as a Somec pilot on a colony ship and thereby saved humanity. Doon, whose machinations brought about the fall of the empire in the first place, not to destroy humankind, but to save it from its Somec-addled stagnation. He's a bastard, but he's a magnificent bastard, and though his methods may be questionable, I can't really argue with his reasons--or his results.

Finally, Tales From the Forest of Waters recounts some of what Jason's dreams told his biographer, but with greater detail and, honestly, quite a few changes. Jason explains the discontinuities by pointing out that the stories written by his biographer are the remembered dreams of transmitted memories of generational retellings, and some details may have been lost or addled along the way.

Card didn't just write a universe, he wrote the entire history of a trans-planetary society's rise, fall, death, rebirth, rise, stumble, and recovery. What's more, he does it in a way that gives the broad scope and personal stories at the same time, and manages to not bore me to tears while doing it. Excellent stuff.

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posted by reyn at 9:30 PM