Wednesday, February 24, 2016

5. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

My wife picked this up and enjoyed it with some reservations.  It was thin and seemed like an important book in a sub-genre of fantasy.  Also Fritz Leiber (I need to reread his Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories).  It is the story of a successful professor in a small, stuffy northeastern university in the late 40s who discovers that his wife has been using magic to protect him and boost his career. He is a rationalist and believes she is deluded and the book is about the mistakes he makes because of this and his slow realization of the truth. It actually gets pretty intense and all the spell details and magic explanation are well constructed and fun.  The setting too, with the various flawed faculty and their malevolent wives juxtaposed against the free spirit that is his wife and his own independence, is instantly sympathetic.  The ending was a bit pat and deflated some of the import and horror that the narrative had built up.  It's a short and enjoyable read, and lives up to the reputation touted by the publisher.  Recommended.  (heh heh, my wife recommended Conjure Wife.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

I was sort of done with Neal Stephenson.  I loved Snow Crash and The Cryptonomicon (the guy who recommended this to me accurately described it as "the kind of book you feel sad about when it is over") but just could not make it through the first book of the Baroque cycle.  So much nerdy diversion that was not in service of the story!  My brother-in-law helped bring me back into the fold first by convincing me I might like Reamde and then by giving it me for xmas.  I picked it up at the end of January and while it was a beast (1000+ pages) I had a hard time putting it down and was able to crank through a huge section during two train rides to Toronto.

It's still really nerdy, but the nerdiness is a light peppering rather than a deep sauce.  Actually, the very foundation of the book is pure nerd ideology.  That ideology says that if only people would base their existence on rationality and skills and not get caught up in social convention, they will then succeed and kick ass in all kinds of situations.  There is some truth to this and it is very appealing to an old ex-nerd like myself.  The dark side of this is the libertarian techbro dolt that we see all too often today and I'm sure a lot of them loved Reamde.  Stephenson doesn't take us down this far because he maintains a human, sympathetic side, but also because the priority here really is the story.

And it's a great, crazy story.  It somehow manages to be both empirical and theoretical at the same time.  It's empirical because he brings in a wild mix of characters and situations, whose behaviour and premises driver what happens next.  Yet at the same time the whole thing is structured into some neat unities (it all takes place in 3 weeks) and maintains several consistent, interesting themes (the virtual world vs. the real world; terrorism as a thing, far right rural wingnuts as real people, family).

Ultimately, it is a teeny bit too American jingoistic and the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped (by the time you get to it, you can kind of guess how things will play out).  But the ride itself was thoroughly enjoyable and I will keep my eyes out for his next book.