report on recommended reading

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Aug 8 18:10:03 EDT 2002


On Wed, 07 Aug 2002 12:25:41 -0600, Robyn Starkey wrote:

>Catherine Asaro - about half way through the series now, and I loved the 
>book about Quis (The Last Hawk). What a fantastically interesting idea - 
>the dice game that operates as collective consciousness. The others are 
>keeping me reading, but they aren't as interesting conceptually.

That's so interesting--the *only* thing I liked about _The Last Hawk_ was
the Quis idea, and the rest of it drove me NUTS.  I liked the concept and
disliked the characters.  I kept hoping some of the other books would bring
the game back in, but so far, no.  That is, the game gets brought up, but
they don't really play it or talk about it.  But it sounds like we enjoy
different aspects of the books.

>I am also a little impatient with the way the author is packaged - 
>why is it soooo important that she is a physicist, and why if her 
>scientific qualifications are paramount, is there a picture of her looking 
>like a Romance author inside the back cover?

Because she is promoting herself VERY strongly as a crossover author.  I
think I've mentioned the book she's editing, _Irresistible Forces_, that
packages stories by romance and SF writers in an attempt to draw readers
from both crowds.  I couldn't begin to guess why the emphasis on her
scientific background, unless it's to establish her credentials to the
hard-SF crowd, and I've seen that on other authors' books as well.  The ones
who actually have degrees in some kind of science usually mention that
somewhere in the author bio.  David Brin and Robert L. Forward both do it.
It's just so rare, it startles me when I see it mentioned.  I never think
about an author needing a doctorate in quantum mechanics in order to write
SF.
 
I'm not sure why the cover photo/physicist thing is bothering you so much,
though.  Is there some reason a writer of science fiction can't promote her
physical appearance?  Or that only romance authors should have those kinds
of glamour-shot photos on their book jackets?  I thought it was kind of cool
that a hot babe was the author of a science fiction series.  After looking
at a lot of cover photos you could get the idea that the only people allowed
to write F&SF are the scruffy-looking ones.  Who says scientists can't be
glamorous?

>Has anyone read the new McKillip - Ombria in Shadow? I feel like she is 
>getting dangerously close to self-parody. Further comments can be 
>forthcoming if anyone wants to discuss it.

Go ahead.  I can't picture what would make you say that, so I'd like to know
what your opinion was.  For the record, I still read her books, but she's
gone in a direction that I no longer connect with on a gut level.  I still
like the imagery, but there's no emotional attachment, and that makes me
sad.

>Passage by Connie Willis was a compelling read, but why do I always feel 
>like I would never reread her books when I have finished them? I have been 
>trying to quantify the problem, but I don't seem to be able to be more 
>specific. Books I love I would read over and over.

I think Kathryn was right about the lack of an emotional connection.
Personally, I love Connie Willis's books and I *do* feel this kind of
connection with most of them, but I think I would also appreciate them even
if I didn't love them.  But every reader has a different reason for reading,
a different set of criteria for a "good read" and a different level of
reading ability.  It would be more shocking if *everyone* had exactly the
same reaction to a particular book.

What surprised me about this list, back when we did the "which authors and
books do you like best" thing, was how much commonality there was in reading
tastes, as well as how much difference of opinion.  Ven, for example, likes
a lot of books that are totally different from ones I like, to the point
that I wonder how we can possibly BOTH like Diana Wynne Jones!  (This is
what makes her so much fun to talk to and occasionally argue with.)  I'll
meet people in real life who adore some book that I also adore, and it turns
out we have very different reasons for loving that book.

The books I go back to over and over again generally have some experience I
want to relive.  Of all of Connie Willis's books, the one I go back to most
frequently is her third Cynthia Felice collaboration, _Promised Land_, but
after that it's _Bellwether_.  I don't know why.  It just strikes a chord.
_Promised Land_ was one of my addiction books back when it first came out,
even.  And yet I can look at the list of books I don't want to re-read
frequently (or, sometimes, ever) and it's a good list.  _Kavalier & Clay_.
_Cryptonomicon_.  _Last Call_, by Tim Powers.  Dante's _Divine Comedy_.
_The Count of Monte Cristo_ (yes, unabridged, and I am SO GLAD I finally
read it that way).  Dozens more on my shelves and more that I don't own.
All of them are books I deeply admire and that I'm so glad I read--once.

I guess I'm saying that whatever makes me love a book isn't necessarily
going by literary brilliance or intellectual quality, which leaves out a
whole lot of good books.  It's so disconcerting, though, to make it through
a book and be aware of its brilliance and still not feel that connection.  I
always worry that there's something wrong with ME.  :)

>I read some Jack McDevitt, enjoyed the archaeology ones, but the stupidity 
>of his plots got to me. In that book where the planets are about to 
>collide, and like 25 people are killed trying to save 3 people, the whole 
>premise was so dumb. It wasn't believable that people kept putting 
>themselves into peril. Planet's about to explode, but we'll just pop down 
>there in our only vehicle to take some photos. Yep, I'm there.

It made perfect sense to me, but I was also conscious that the book's length
and structure meant that everything had to go wrong, that they had to push
their time limit to the outside, and that everything would have to fall
apart around them--or it wouldn't be exciting.  (Like _Jurassic Park_.)  So
every time it came to a new "solution" that would rescue the stranded
people, I was thinking "okay, how's he going to mess *this* one up? Because
we've still got two hundred pages to go."  It was fun in a perverse way.  I
normally don't enjoy that kind of book, where you just know everything will
go wrong, but I think I was in the right mood that day.  Anyway, I thought
all the reasons everyone had for being stupid were very believable.  The one
I disliked was the sort-of prequel _The Engines of God_--that is, I disliked
the parallel scene where the destruction is coming and they're trying to get
the archaeologists off before everything collapses, and they just kept
trying to save this one last thing...and I really couldn't stop thinking
about all the bad decisions that had led up to it.  Frustrating.

>These are all my nitpicks really, because I enjoyed all the books.

And where would we be without nitpicks, after all?  I had to read Jeffrey
Carver's book _Eternity's End_ for my reading group, and I felt as though I
had a big pile of nits there on the floor after I finished that one.  Or my
favorite, _Promised Land_, where it STILL bugs me that the fireplace is open
to both rooms in the first scene and closed off for the rest of the book....

Melissa Proffitt

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