books

Puss in Boots

If it’s been a while since you read the fairy tale, let me quickly recap:

  • Youngest son’s inheritance is a cat.
  • Puss demands and receives a pair of boots.
  • Puss proceeds to hunt and catch animals in the forest and present them to the King as gifts from the fictional Marquis de Carabas.
  • Puss tells his master to strip naked and hide in the river while he cons the King and his daughter into thinking the young man is the Marquis de Carabas and has been robbed.
  • Puss runs ahead and coerces the peasants along the road into telling the King that the fields, farms, and game preserves he passes all belong to the Marquis de Carabas.  Puss threatens to cut them up into mincemeat if they don’t comply.
  • Puss enters a castle where an ogre lives, tricks the ogre into turning into a mouse, kills and eats him, and claims ownership of the castle for his master.
  • The King, impressed by the wealth of the “Marquis”, gives the impostor his princess’ hand in marriage and makes him heir to the throne.
  • Puss lives high on the hog and only chases mice when he feels like it, thereafter.

My thoughts:

  1. Puss is kind of a dick.
  2. This sounds oddly like the set of actions that created the last big Real Estate Bubble.
  3. This is the best example I can find in literature where lying is rewarded, where an apparently completely undeserving individual (the third son) ends up on top of it all through trickery and deception, and appearance and wealth are stressed above all other things as the driving forces for marriage.
  4. I’m pretty sure I’m going to avoid reading this story to my kids until they’re old enough to understand how truly twisted it is.

30 DoB: Day 05 – Happiness is…

30 Days of Books: Day 05 – A book that makes you happy

This may be the easiest day of the 30 day book meme for me.  As soon as I saw this prompt, I knew exactly which book I wanted to write about.

glory_road Glory Road is Robert Heinlein’s one true foray into the fantasy genre, and he pulls it off admirably in a fun Swashbuckling-Musketeers meets Young-Galahad meets Hero-for-Hire plot in a whimsical and humorous set of worlds (yes, that’s meant to be plural) of Heinlein’s creation.

Oscar Gordon (as the protagonist is soon nicknamed) is a veteran of the unWar in Vietnam, and suffers from a bureaucratic Catch-22 of the unWar – namely, he is ineligible to have his much-deserved university education paid for by the G.I. Bill.  In a fit of desperation, he answers an intriguing advertisement he discovers in the Personals section of a newspaper:

ARE YOU A COWARD? This is not for you.  We badly need a brave man […] proficient with all weapons, some knowledge of engineering and mathematics essential, willing to travel, no family or emotional ties, indomitably courageous and handsome of face and figure.  Permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger.

(What young man HASN’T daydreamed about answering just such an advertisement at one time or another?)

Along with a beautiful woman (nicknamed Star) and sarcastic but trusty sidekick Rufo, our hapless hero fumbles his way through dangerous foes and hazardous obstacles on the way to retrieve the Egg of the Phoenix from the labyrinthine Dark Tower where it is guarded by the dreaded Soul Eater.

Yes, the above plot sounds like standard fantasy-fare, but you don’t need a completely original plot to develop a fun story.  Especially when Heinlein puts his own special twist on the fantasy genre and does more than just permit the Hero to achieve his quest and win the girl – he explores what happens to the Hero after the quest is over and done, and the Glory Road has dead-ended with no further goal in sight.

As he does in most of his works, Heinlein also works in quite a bit of commentary about society, cultural morals, sexuality, government, and the quality of life.  Many of the more critical reviews of the book harp unceasingly on his heavy-handed references to free sexual societies and the implication that the monogamous norms of present-day humanity are outmoded and unjustified.  While I too find his arguments hard to accept at face value, they in no way caused me to devalue the fun I had every time I joined Oscar, Star, and Rufo on their foray along the Glory Road. (After all, sometimes a good debate won’t change your mind, but it will make you think, and become more confident in the reasoning behind your own opinion.)

This book exudes some special sort of aura that makes me happy when I pick it up – I can’t explain it but I certainly can recognize it, and that is why this is the perfect book for me to write about in today’s book prompt.


30 DoB: Day 04 – The Fave of a Fave?

30 Days of Books: Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series

Building on my last 30 DoB post, where I revealed that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series narrowly edged out Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for the #1 spot in my series deathmatch, I’m back with more Bujold today.  My favorite book in the Vorkosigan series is, by far, The Warrior’s Apprentice.

Although the third book, chronologically, in the Vorkosigan universe, Apprentice is the first book where Bujold introduces a young Miles Vorkosigan, son of military genius and Prime Minister / Advisor to the Throne Aral Vorkosigan.  Miles, the protagonist in almost all of the series volumes from this point forward, is more “special” than most – his fragile bone structure, short stature, and wonky biochemistry are the result of a poisonous-gas attack his mother survived while pregnant with Miles.  In spite of his physical limitations, Miles’ keen intellect and manic nature power him ever forward through an increasingly more convoluted set of circumstances.

In the first few books of this series, Bujold borrows heavily from a classic space opera heritage, and there are plenty of battles (both in space and planetside), twists, political/planetary conspiracies, and enough energy and dry humor to please just about any science fiction fan.  Later in the series, Miles takes on more of a detective role, and there are some romance aspects and political/court intrigue that come into play that add another dimension to the characters and keep the series fresh.

Yet it is this first  book of Miles’ adventures that I return to when I want to re-read my favorite from the series – early on, he still has the naivety to believe if he just tries hard enough, everything will fall into place just as planned, and enough energy and determination to see things through when they don’t.  He is vulnerable, flawed, and yet constantly struggles to make the best of what he has and come out on top.  His charismatic way of attracting the loyalty and respect of those he comes in contact with is arguably the most fascinating aspect of his personality, and one I personally envy.  The Vorkosigan series is an entertaining romp through the life of Miles Vorkosigan, and Bujold has stated that the series structure is modeled after the Horatio Hornblower books, documenting the life of a single person (yet another series I need to add to my to-read list!)

If you’re a fan of science fiction, or just want a quick and energetic read, I’d recommend checking out The Warrior’s Apprentice. But be warned – once you get hooked on Miles Vorkosigan, there’s no turning back, and you’ll have at least 12 or 13 other books in the Vorkosigan series that you’re liable to beg, borrow, or steal to get your next Vorkosigan fix!


30 DoB: More Than I Can Handle

30 Days of Books: Day 03 – Your favorite series

I swear, it’s taking me ten times as long to work out which book/series I want to talk about in these entries as it does to actually write about them! There are just so many series that I adore (most of the ones I’m thinking of I’ve read at least 2-3 times) that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. So I’m going to sort of bend the rules here, and give you my top 10 favorite series.

Yes, my preferences lean staunchly towards science fiction and fantasy, which is why these series all fall into those genres. I promise I’ll include some other genres in other entries in this 30 Days of Books exercise!

10. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series – I read these avidly as a child. Back then, I saw only the wonderous plots and characters and was relatively immune to any of the religious underpinnings. Playing Fenris Ulf (Maugrim for those reading a version printed since 1994) in a city production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe helped cement my love for all things Narnia. It only made #10 on my list, however, because in my last re-read of the series as an adult, they had lost some of their luster.

9. Piers Anthony’s Bio of Space Tyrant series – This one would be a bit higher in the list but I still haven’t read the 5th and final book of the series. I got my hands on it last year, though, so I am planning to spend some time this summer re-reading all of them and closing it out. These are great novels though, chock full of space-pirates, intrigue (political and military) and some grandiose ideas about colonization of the outer planets and the implications stemming from such societies.

8. E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman series – By far the oldest of any of my choices, the Lensman series harkens back to the days of pulp publications, and sadly, shows some of its age in the language and two-dimensional characterization of the mostly-male cast of characters. In spite of that, this is space-opera at the Golden Age’s finest. With a scope that spans galaxies and aeons, the series is a fun romp through the technological, mental, and moral evolution of humanity into something much greater than our current society.

7. Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series – I’d be remiss if I left this series out – it makes my previous comments about “grandiose ideas” seem paltry in comparison. What can you say about a world that has everyone who has ever lived waking up side-by-side with each other, learning to coexist in an environment where basic necessities are almost magically provided for, but virtually no other technology exists? Farmer leads Sir Richard Francis Burton (of 1001 Arabian Nights fame) up and down the river, making allies and enemies on his quest to discover the source of the giant river that bisects the planet, and uncover the secrets of those who resurrected the world and gave everyone a second chance. Makes for a fascinating and truly unforgettable read.

6. Jim Butcher’s Codex of Alera series – This is Butcher’s fantasy series, combining the culture of Ancient Rome in a world very different from our own. The biggest difference? Elemental spirits, called “furies”, are linked to and controlled by the humans who populate the continent of Alera. I love the depth and details Butcher includes to make this world and the people within come alive. He does an amazing job with military/battle engagements, and has a great grasp on what makes for interesting political intrigue. Add in the magic scheme and you’ve got me hooked almost within the first chapter.

5. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series – Not much to say about this series that hasn’t already been said. I grew up with Bilbo and Frodo, reading these books to their exciting conclusion before I was even out of the 7th grade. Unlike some others, I don’t get too bored or tired with Tolkein’s forays into language and history that add little to the plot. I haven’t read these aloud but from what I’ve heard they go down much more smoothly that way, and if you can get them on the audiobook format, you’ll enjoy them that much more.

4. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – I think two or three of these books were out before I dove into the world of Hogwarts, and I probably should have waited even longer! As it was, I was anxiously awaiting each new publication in the series, and voraciously devoured each in turn as soon as I could get my hands on them. Sure, it’s not the best-written of all the series I’ve read, but it captured something special that hits me just right and just makes me love these books.

3. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series – Butcher is the only one to get double-billing on this list, but for good reason – I’ve got just about everything he’s written in either of his two hit series, and can’t get enough. Yes, urban fantasy and wizard-detectives might be getting played out a bit, but I don’t think it’s the genre that draws me to this series as much as the character of Dresden himself. His strength, ethics, magic, and of course his loner/outsider image all strike me just the right way – painting a picture of someone I sometimes daydream about being. The fact that Butcher layers on the complex plots and cadges them in a quasi-mystery format only adds to my affection for the books.

2. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series – I almost made this #1 on my list, and it is the most recently re-read of all the series I’m listing in this post. I’ve reviewed most of the individual books on my Goodreads account, and I urge you to go check those out if you want to hear my thoughts on any of them. Until I read this series, I thought King was a decent and entertaining writer. After reading about Gunslinger Roland and his adventures traveling to the Dark Tower, however, I know how talented Stephen King really is when he hits his stride. With the news that King’s got a new in-between novel in the series on the way and with the plan for a series of Dark Tower movies in the works, I’m a very happy camper.

1. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series – In the end, this series, one I had not heard of AT ALL until about 7 years ago, won out over all the others. Bujold has a way of drawing me into the world of the Barrayar and Cetagandan empires that I just can’t describe. I live inside these books when I read them. I can’t help smiling as I experience manic/depressive Miles Vorkosigan use a combination of smarts, determination, and lucky timing to blast his way through the stolid and entrenched culture and traditions of a militaristic society, shaking things up and leaving a trail of bewildered, shocked, and impressed disaster-victims in his wake. I’m probably not doing them justice with this short teaser of the series – they’re better experienced than described. In day 4, I’ll try to share that experience with you as I talk about my favorite book from this series.


30 DoB: Day 02 – The More the Merrier!

30 Days of Books: Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

I’ve been stymied on Day 2 of this book meme, but unlike Steve and Bookmole, it doesn’t have to do with only having a few books that meet this criteria; on the contrary, I have so many books that meet the criteria of having been read more than three times that it was hard to decide on just one to post about!

To me, some books are the equivalent of comfort food, but for the mind & soul.  When I’m feeling sick, or down, or just out of sorts, often picking up a book that I have read many times before will be enough to kick me out of my blues.  I have a couple shelves of go-to authors & books that I have no problem reading once every year or two – sometimes my difficulty is in limiting the re-reads so I can get on to some new books that I haven’t yet absorbed.

With that said, my choice for today’s post is one I “bought” from the library* – Convergent Series by Larry Niven.

This book is a collection of Niven’s short stories – about half are previously published stories from various magazines of the ’60s and ’70s and the others were apparently written specifically for this collection.  Although Niven is best known for his science fiction, about half of these stories are merely Niven’s take on environmental concerns, war, death, and society, frosted with a light scifi/fantasy coating of an exotic setting or set of circumstances.

As the title might imply, there are also quite a few that touch tangentially on Niven’s love for mathematics (he majored in Math in college, and even pursued some graduate work in the field before becoming a prize-winning author.)  The title story, “Convergent Series” combines math and demon summoning in an entertaining and humorous tale that stuck with me ever since I first read it.

Some of the stories, though, are much more poignant and even disturbing.  “Wrong-Way Street”, “Cautionary Tales”, and “Dry Run” all touch on the fleetingness of life and caused me to pause and reflect on my own actions and the merits of how I’m spending my days.  And “The Deadlier Weapon”, involving interplay between an automobile driver and the hitchhiker who threatens him, definitely got me thinking.

All in all, this book is a nice collection of shorter, somewhat-fluffier pieces that nourish without too much challenge.  I find myself coming back to it not because it is my favorite book, but because it’s so easy to pick up and put down, as needed, and rejoin the characters and plots of some stories I first read as a teenager.  Most people probably won’t want to read it more than once, but then again, as I’ve seen, most people probably don’t read ANY books as many times as I tend to do.


*I had checked out my copy of this book from the library, and somehow lost it.  I paid the lost book fee for the book, only to find it a couple years later after a move.  The library didn’t want it back by that point, so it became mine.  I don’t advocate acquiring books this way though – it’s not nice to the other patrons who would want to read it!


Day 01 – Best book you read last year

This is a 30 Days of Books entry.

I just looked back over my Goodreads account at the 45 or so books I read in 2010, and checked out their ratings.  Some of them I’m not sure I’d still rate as highly as I did immediately after finishing the book, but there was one that definitely earned its 5-star rating, and merits the title of “Best Book I Read in 2010”.

That book is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

image

This book was so amazing, that it went past the point of “can’t put it down” and into the realm of “make it last as long as possible.” The world of the novel (post Zombie-Apocalypse) is horrifying, but not without its own hope for the future. No one is left unscathed from the horrors visited across the entire planet by the zombie infestation, but that’s where the beauty of the novel comes into play.

The book is so wonderful because it’s more than an idea and its implications; the voices of the people in the 2-4 page-long “interviews” are so vibrant and real that you can’t help but get sucked in to their lives and imagine yourself in their place. The Zombie War is portrayed from so many viewpoints, each with an amazing story of its own, that by the end of the book I felt I too had lived through this fantastic apocalypse.


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