Home : Ex Libris : 1 July 1999

ex libris reviews

1 July 1999

Historians have pointed out that it is in times of plenty that people feel like going to war. In times of famine they're simply trying to find enough to eat. When they've just enough to go round, they tend to be polite. But when a banquet is spread before them, it's time to argue over the place settings.
Terry Pratchett


In This Issue:
Publishers 0, Will 1

Last month's issue was the longest to date; I did a lot of reading in May. June was altogether quieter, as I was working on a number of projects and read rather less. At long last, precisely a week and three days ago, I sent my first book, Through Darkest Zymurgia, off to a publisher, comfortably expecting to get a rejection slip some time in the next year-and-a-half. It came by return mail, arriving precisely three days ago. I don't know whether to be pleased or annoyed at the thought that they rejected my manuscript without taking time to look at it. Anyway, I shall shortly be identifying another publisher and sending the manuscript off to them instead. (For those of you who know something about the publishing business, it's a fantasy novel; in that genre, they still buy over-the-transom manuscripts, and it's much easier to get an agent when you've got an accepted book in hand.) I feel like a real writer now, though, and I've got my rejection letter to prove it.

In addition, I've started a second book, which is a mystery; also, I've taken the time to make some badly needed changes to this website. The archives hadn't been updated in months; moreover, all of the issue files were named using two digits for the year, e.g., "ex990701.html". With the year 2000 approaching, it has become increasingly clear that "ex19990701.html" would be a far better name. I made a number of other changes as well, including moving the issue files into a directory of their own; if you have subscribed to ex libris you may wish to cancel your subscriptions with NetMind (the instructions are in the notice NetMind sends you when the site changes) and resubscribe.

Opinions, Please?

Last month I asked for opinions on two questions: should I add a "discussion board" to ex libris reviews, and should I become an "Amazon Associate," thus potentially allowing myself to make a little money from this hobby of mine.

I'd like to thank the readers who responded. The score, at present, is as follows:

Question Ayes Nays
Discussion Board 2 0
Amazon Associate 1 2

I am abandoning the Amazon Associate idea for the time being; one reader suggested that instead I put in a plug for your local independent bookstore. Patronize your local independent bookstore! (In this area, that would be Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena, indeed a delightful place to shop.) You can find them more easily, these days, because they are banding together under the "BookSense" logo.

As for the discussion group idea, I'm still pondering it; the votes were just barely in favor, and the numbers are so small that I'm not sure it's worth doing. I'll continue accepting votes over the next month, however, so if you have an interest please vote! See last month's issue for more information.

-- Will Duquette

Electronic Books:
Blood and Gore

Captain Blood
By Rafael Sabatini

Sabatini is another of those authors who's been lurking about the edges of my consciousness for time out of mind. I had vaguely gotten the idea that he was a writer of adventure fiction, whose books were to be grouped with Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, the Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, and perhaps with Alexandre Dumas. I found Captain Blood at http://www.memoware.com last month, and resolved to take a look. That's one of the joys of reading e-books; the texts available are mostly in the public domain, and therefore old, and therefore they include a fair number of the classics one often thinks about reading but somehow never gets around to.

Captain Blood was not what I expected. I anticipated a story of blood and gore, of cutlasses and doubloons, of prisoners forced to walk the plank, of atrocities and plunder and piracy and thoroughly nasty people. And while it does contain most of that, it surprised me in two ways: the nature of Captain Blood himself, and the tone.

As the story begins, Peter Blood is a doctor in England in the lat 1600's, in a town where he settled after a restless youth as a soldier/sailor. The local duke rebels against the crown, and when the rebellion is put down, Blood, though loyal to the king, is caught up with the local rebels and sentenced to death, a sentence commuted to servitude in the West Indies. After a time spent as the slave of a coarse, brutal man, Colonel Bishop, in Barbados, he and many of the rebels escape, to take up a life of piracy.

I had expected Captain Blood to be a desperate pirate, a man who would stick at nothing, and the tale to be one of his deeds and eventual capture. Far from it! Blood is, above all, a gentleman, a man of his word, an intelligent man, and though his men are hardened enough there are many acts he will not commit nor let them commit. He is a pirate only reluctantly, having no better choice. And in all his deeds he is guided by his memory of Colonel Bishop's niece, Arabella. The tale is not one of a hardened criminal, but of a proud, honorable man, ill-used, and his eventual redemption.

The second thing that surprised me was the tone. As narrator, Sabatini's voice is often present; as a result, I seemed to watch the events of which he wrote from a great distance. There was none of the immediacy which I've come to expect from Patrick O'Brian, of the wind singing in the rigging, the water rushing down the sides of the ship, and so forth. At times, I almost felt like I was reading a summary of a novel rather than a novel itself.

All things considered, though, Captain Blood was quite an enjoyable read, an adventure story in the classic mold.

Books to Read Aloud:
A Land Down-Over Redux

by Will Duquette

The Last Continent
By Terry Pratchett

As long-time readers know, we've read quite a lot of Pratchett's books aloud, and typically they work very well. This one was a disappointment in that regard; about two-thirds of the way through we were both tired of slogging through it, and read the remaining third separately and silently. Jane didn't like it nearly as well as many of Pratchett's other books; I liked it well enough, but I'd agree that he's done much better.

I think the core of the problem is that this is a "Rincewind" book. Rincewind the inept wizard is Pratchett's original Discworld character, and he's always rather refreshing, in that he's not the typical fictional inept wizard. He's not the kind of inept wizard who has a single, relatively minor spell with which he must nevertheless save the day; he's not the far-more-common kind of inept wizard who is incredibly powerful but can only use his powers at times of great stress and danger, and then uncontrollably; no, he's the kind of inept wizard who's simply no good at magic, but fortunately is very, very good at running away.

The trouble is, the Rincewind books tend, by their nature, to be light confections. The focus isn't so much on the plot, as on the variety of scenery and situations that Rincewind runs past during the course of the book. As a result, there's little to pull the reader through it. Read silently, that's not a problem, but reading aloud is slower and requires more pull. I'll note that we had similar trouble getting through Interesting Times, the last Rincewind novel.

If you like Pratchett, by all means, buy it and enjoy; but read it silently. If you've not read Pratchett, there are better books to start with.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

No Score
By Lawrence Block

This is the first of Block's Chip Harrison books. I reviewed what I believe is the final one, The Topless Tulip Caper, back in May; it was an entertaining mystery which also absurdly, gratuitously bawdy. Its one saving grace was that it was indeed funny. It was therefore with both hope and trepidation that I bought No Score.

Alas, I've finally encountered a book by Lawrence Block that I could have done without. Although No Score bills itself as a mystery, the only real mystery is why I bothered finishing it. And the reason is that I kept expecting the mystery to show up, and it never did.

At 17, Chip Harrison (given name Leigh Harvey Harrison, but always called Chip after a certain date in 1963) is kicked out of his private boarding school for lack of funds. As both of his parents (his only family) are dead, he's on his own. The remainder of the book is the story of his attempts to get by and get laid. There's no mystery; no murder, no crime, just little Chip Harrison trying to lose his virginity and failing, over and over and over and over. It's like a dirty joke expanded to the length of the novel. How many experiences can Chip have without quite going all of the way? Bawdy humor is one thing, but this became just plain tedious. Give it a miss.

Shards of Honor
The Warrior's Apprentice
By Lois McMaster Bujold

At the present time, Bujold is the best author of good, old-fashioned space opera that we have. She has a deft touch with characters, a flair for funny, convincing dialog, and a vivid, fertile imagination. She is also a great favorite of ours; we've read all of her books, most of them aloud and silently both. If you've not read any of her books, these are the three to start with; they tell the story of the first meeting of Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith, unlikely lovers, the birth of their son Miles, and Miles' first big adventure. They are well-written, and more fun than just about anything I can think of. If you've never met Miles Vorkosigan--well, you've got a wild ride ahead of you.

The Thirteen Gun Salute
The Nutmeg of Consolation
The Truelove
The Wine-Dark Sea
By Patrick O'Brian

It has been said that O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels can be read as a single, long novel, and to a large extent this is true. Within the series, though, these four can also claim that title, as together they comprise a single circumnavigation of the globe that takes our heroes to Indonesia, New South Wales, the South Seas, Peru, and eventually back home to England.

If you've been reading ex libris for any length of time, you already know how I feel about Patrick O'Brian; if you haven't, I suggest to click over to our Patrick O'Brian page, and read some of the past reviews. It doesn't get any better than this.

Aunt Dimity's Good Deed
Aunt Dimity Digs In
By Nancy Atherton

After re-reading Atherton's first two Aunt Dimity books last month, and enjoying them more than I had thought I would, I went looking and found that two more have been released. These are those, and I liked them. They are just as sweet as their predecessors, without quite being insipid. I do have a slight complaint about Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, however. With these two books the action returns to Lori Shepherd, and her husband Bill; and as with far too many other mystery series, the book in which the loving couple gets married is followed by the book in which they begin to wonder whether they should have. It's predictable and tedious, and I think Atherton could have been rather more inventive. Nevertheless, these are a fine way to spend an afternoon sitting on the porch.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jazz
By Alan Axelrod

As I mentioned above, I'm working on a new book; as part of the book, I realized that I needed to know something about jazz, a musical form I have hitherto avoided. I took my particular question to the book store, found this book, looked up an entry in the index, flipped to the indicated page, and found my answer. That's almost my definition of a good reference book: can I find the answers to my questions quickly? Consequently, I took the book home and read it; and perhaps unsurprisingly found myself buying a large number of CDs for the first time in several years. You can't educate yourself on the topic of jazz without listening to a lot of jazz, and this book has a fine list of important, representative, and influential albums from every period of jazz. I'm finding a number of artists and albums that I really like, and others that leave me cold, and I think I'm beginning to understand it.

I'd recommend this book to anyone in my position: it has taught me enough to get me started.

The Forever Hero
By L.E. Modesitt, Jr

This book is a trade paperback comprising Modesitt's first three novels, none of which I'd ever seen on a bookstore shelf. If you're a Modesitt fan, go out and get a copy; you'll find all of the typical elements. The action begins on Old Earth, an Earth that has suffered a complete ecological collapse; the story is about one man's struggle to rebuild Earth's ecology, a struggle that ultimately entails the undermining of the galactic Empire and its entrenched power elite.

I had only two problems with this book. The first is that Modesitt (if you like his work at all) makes compelling reading; you just can't stop turning the pages. As this is three relatively long books in one volume, the page turning can go on for quite a while. Jane was quite relieved when I finished. The second problem is that the final chapters of the third book seemed rather pointless as I read them; it occurred to me later that they are a somewhat witty answer to the question, "What do you do with heroes when they get past their prime?" I won't answer it; you'll have to read the book.

Children's Books

Diggers and Dumptrucks
Published by Aladdin Books

You're right, this is the same book I discussed last month. Shortly after the last issue was written, I sat down to read Dave his bedtime story--this book--and realized that several pages had been torn out. Dave, naturally, was the culprit; he's the only one with opportunity who might do such a thing.

Now, taking proper care of books is second nature for me. Damaging books is simply not countenanced; books we no longer want are taken to the library or the used bookstore. Seeing those torn pages made me, I confess, rather angry. On top of that, I had to use the situation as a way to teach Dave that books are to be treasured. Fortunately, Jane reassured me later that my first, angry reaction was quite appropriate.

I told Dave, in a hurt voice (for I really was distressed) that I couldn't read this book to him; it was broken. And that he had broken it, and that that made me so angry that I just couldn't bear to read anything to him that night at all. And then I got up and left, leaving Jane with Dave. Dave was shocked. As I walked down the stairs there were great lamentations as Jane explained that she was upset, too, and gave him a hug, and left him without a story.

Dave never goes to bed without a story.

Over the next couple of days he requested Diggers and Dumptrucks, and we explained that no, we couldn't read it, it was broken, and he had broken it. Meanwhile, we went out and ordered a new copy; we also found several other books in the same series, all uniformly good, which we bought and brought home and hid. And since then, every so often we will bring out a new one, including the revived Diggers and Dumptrucks. And though he loves them, and reads them, and sleeps with them, there have been no more incidents.

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

Home : Ex Libris : 1 July 1999
Copyright © 1999, by William H. Duquette. All rights reserved.
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