Happy new year everyone! 2007 has come and gone, and it’s time to take care of the backlog of things one was supposed to do during the Christmas vacation. Let’s see… “Complete Spandex Force” – nope. “Be social with lots of people” – nope. “Conquer the world” – nope. “Do a new blog design” – well, I took care of that yesterday at least. Ah, here’s something I can take care of right away: “Write summaries of the books I read between October and December.” No use beating around the bush – here goes.
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul – Douglas Adams
Description: As I predicted in my previous review post, I would be reviewing the second Dirk Gently book sometime around now. Too bad that I have to say that this book is a major letdown compared to the first one. I have a vague memory of it being a lot more fun – but apparently I was a stupid little brat back then. The premise is great: Old Norse gods, mysterious explosions, strange hostile birds, interesting characters…but something doesn’t work out. The book just trots along, and at the end I was left with a slightly bitter aftertaste. “Is this how my brief Douglas Adams period should end?” Still, if you’ve read all else he’s written you really must read this as well.
Rating: 3 snotty children out of 5.
Recommended for: Douglas Adams fans. I really can’t recommend it for the general public.
Salmon of Doubt - Douglas Adams
Description: Wait a minute… What did I write above? Something about ending my Douglas Adams period? Ha! Thank Bog that I thought of Salmon of Doubt – the last book Adams ever wrote. Or, well, tried to write. He never finished it. So this is a collection of anecdotes and tidbits and stories and interviews, as well as a sorta-edited-together version of what exists of Salmon of Doubt. Amazingly interesting to read – that goes for both the story snippet and the rest of the material – and I really must recommend this.
Rating: 4 bottles of brandy out of 5.
Recommended for: Douglas Adams fans and people interested in knowing more about the illustrious Mr. Adams.
Great Ideas of Philosophy – The Teaching Company
Description: The Teaching Company always delivers, and they deliver good stuff most of the time. They sure did this time: the lecturer was amusing and competent and very pleasant to listen to, and the topics were of utmost interest. I must admit that I’m not totally hooked on Philosophy; I’m more of a pragmatic “who gives a dang if we have free will or not – appearances is what matters” person. (Though I must confess that I believe that the world is deterministisc no matter what quantum phycisists tell you.) Still, this course did an excellent job of guiding me from Ancient Greece to the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment, presenting all the top Philosophy stars along the way. Now I know the difference between Hume and Locke, for example!
Rating: 4 snapper turtles out of 5.
Recommended for: The philosophically inclined geek. If I had been slightly less interested in such things the rating would’ve been 3.
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
Description: This is a book I’ve had lying around for ages, and I finally picked it up. I’m almost wishing I hadn’t. Okay, I may be a young little whippersnapper who can’t imagine the world of the 60s; this book was written before we even landed on the moon, so space was a Great Unknown(TM)…but I get the distinct feeling that Heinlein started taking acid somewhere around the middle of the book. Martians? Sure, I can buy that. Martians who can teach humans special mental skills? No problem. But then the book just got all weird. I don’t agree with the logic presented, or the science, so let’s just end this on a civil tone and say that I preferred Starship Troopers (the book, that is) to this one.
Rating: 2.5 nose bleeds out of 5.
Recommended for: Historically inclined sci-fi fans.
Argumentation – The Study of Effective Reasoning - The Teaching Company
Description: The Teaching Company always delivers, as I said, but it’s not always good stuff; something about this course made it feel pointless. Maybe it’s because a lot of what’s discussed is the formal forms of argumentation instead of practical applications. Maybe it’s because it assumes no prior knowledge in logic. Maybe it’s because many of the techniques and forms could be just as easily replaced by common sense. I don’t know. I just know that I’ll have to give this book one of the lowest scores yet.
Rating: 1.5 frilly skirts out of 5.
Recommended for: Yo mama. So she can learn how to stop you from spending dough on courses like this.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Description: Time for some good ol’ fantasy! Or not really. This is Clarke’s debut novel, and it’s an amazing read! It takes place in 19th century Britain, and tells how the two titular gentlemen return magic to England. If it hadn’t been for all the fairies and similar otherlandishness I would’ve claimed that this novel should be classed as fantastic fiction (would it be possible to say “fantastic historical fiction”?) rather than fantasy. But oh well, let’s go with fantasy. Either way, Clarke presents a believable and amazingly vivid England, and she does it in a splendid Jane Austen-esque style that blends Romanticism with the Enlightenment. If you go to the book’s website you can see that the reviewers often compare this work to Tolkien’s…but in my not-so-humble opinion they must be out of their mind. The two authors are completely incomparable; just because the label “fantasy” has been put on both authors’ works doesn’t mean that they’re writing in the same genre!
Rating: 4.5 dried frog pills out of 5.
Recommended for: Everyone with the slightest interest in Austen or fantastic fiction.
Dune - Frank Herbert
Description: You know, I’ve seen the Dune film and the TV series and played the games…but the books completely fell between chairs. Time to rectify that; and I’m happy that I did ’cause the book is excellent. The subtle plotting is never displayed in as much detail in any of the other media, and the character of Paul Atreides really springs to life in the novel. Sometimes I get the impression that he (and many of the others) are characters in a Old Norse tale – observing everything and acting accordingly, but never really displaying emotions – but they have depth despite that. They feel believable in the setting. If you haven’t done so yet I recommend that you give the Dune books a try, and learn all about the fall and rise of House Atreides, and the God-Emperor Muad’Dib. Oh wait, that was a spoiler, right? No, not really.
Rating: 4 sweaty stenches out of 5.
Recommended for: All sci-fi and fantasy fans!
Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert
Description: The story of Muad’Dib continues; this time a decade after he became emperor. Some of the pacing seems off in this book, but it’s still a good read. The religious aspects are prominent in this novel, but I think that the political scheming was a bit less interesting this time around. This feels a bit like a middle-book, so I think I’ll have to wait until I’ve finished the rest of the books before I pass final judgement.
Rating: 3.5 arbitrary points out of 5.
Recommended for: All sci-fi and fantasy fans who’ve read Dune.
När änglar dör (When Angels Die) - Andreas Roman
Description: This book was recommended to me by a couple of work mates, and I must say that I approached the novel with some reluctance. I’ve read another fantasy book by Roman, and…it’s not exactly stellar Swedish penmanship. Still, I gave this one a try, and it’s not that bad after all! The story is a well-known one: the creation of the world, followed shortly by the creation of Man. Basically, it’s the Old Testament shown from the Devil’s eyes – but with lots and lots of little twists; such as the fact that the Devil is another aspect of God. Interesting ideas, but I feel that the dialogue left a lot to be desired. It was awkward and even irritating at worst.
Rating: 2.5 flaming homosexuals out of 5.
Recommended for: Swedish people with an interest in religion and fantasy, who wants to read a Swedish author in order to feel some patriotism.
Medieval Europe - Crisis and Renewal - The Teaching Company
Description: Ah, time for some good ol’ Dark Ages history! Not too much is known about Medieval times, but this course tries to paint an image of Medieval Europe…from the commoners’ eyes. Sure, the noble houses and the great merchants are delt with, but the main focus is on the majority of the population and how their lives played out. The Black Death is discussed, and its political effects, just as many other interesting political, social and religious events. To make a short review even shorter: this course is filled with Good Stuff(TM)!
Rating: 3.5 half-elf foreskins out of 5.
Recommended for: History nerds. Yep, that’s about it.
There! Ten books read and reviewed. That’s way less than a book per week, as I had hoped. I was actually on schedule up until my Christmas vacation; then it all fell apart and I couldn’t be arsed to do anything at all. But enough of that! Let’s see some statistics:
Total number of books for 2007: 40
Highest rating: 6 books got the score 4.5
Lowest rating: 1.5 for Argumentation – The Study of Effective Reasoning
Average rating: 3.5
Sounds like my scoring system is working pretty well. The many top scorers and a slightly high average of 3.5 can be explained by the quite simple fact that I choose my books myself. Elementary, my dear Watson.
All in all, 2007 was a pretty awful year for reading. I can only hope that 2008 will bring more literary goodness my way. I doubt it, though: I have more game projects in store, and I’ve signed up for some Economics courses. No rest for the wicked.