Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Housekeeping: Books Reviewed Q1 2017

As I generally do, I have collected all the books I reviewed in the first quarter of 2017, in no particular order.

The week of February 20 was “book week”, with a book review every day, including longer reviews of five non-fiction books (starred).

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
* The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
* How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
* Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
* Wonderland by Steven Johnson
* Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson

 

Book Reviews

 

 

Book Review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

By this point, Neil Gaiman no doubt takes on whatever projects he wants to, and in this case he wanted to go back to the original sources of Norse Myths, and retell them.

I can’t speak to his use of the sources, but the result is a nice little collection, smooth and easy.

There is some interesting and beautiful material here, such as the idea of the Mead of Poetry. But mostly the stories are about theft, lies, revenge, and bad things happening to nice people. Bummers all around.

I think these stories may have been aimed at younger readers. There is some violence and dark material here, but it is handled very gingerly. I know Sensei Neil can go way, way darker than this. And he can go way, way, way more poetic.

And this would be a potential criticism of this book: the stories are fanciful, but there isn’t really much meat here. He hews closely to the spirit of his sources, which are incomplete and do not completely make sense. It’s hard to fathom the motives and actions of these gods and giants, and their magical powers are pretty arbitrary.

What do the gods and giants aim to do? Why is Loki such a nasty bit of work? How can supposedly far-seeing Odin be fooled so often?   Everyone seems to have astonishing magical powers, except when they don’t. For that matter, the dialog is dull and idiotic.

It’s baffling, dull, and depressing. No where near the best of Gaiman.

Still, Neil Gaiman on his worst day is still readable.


  1. Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews: Three Old But Good Books

Here are three books in the category, “if you haven’t read these, go get them immediately and read them right now.” I believe these all won awards, too, but that’s not important. Just read them.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

One of the best books of the Twentieth Century, not least because it was a collaboration of two of the finest writers of the 20th.

These two master story tellers recount the coming of the end of the world (much on our minds as the millennium approached). In this case, the world apparently will end in neither water nor fire nor ice, but in irony.

Who can forget the Four Motorcyclists of the Apocalypse, marvelously updated to the late twentieth century, or the reaction of Satan’s representative to software licenses:

Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: ‘Learn, guys.’

Underneath the slapstick and satire there is a steely core of humanity and the beauty and morality you expect from these gentlemen.

Awesome.  Thank you, sirs.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

O’Malley is an Aussie and a civil servant and gives us a very peculiar tale from the hidden magical government of England. Go figure.

This story follows a rather bad couple of weeks in the life of Myfanwy Thomas (rhymes with ‘Tiffany’), who wakes up with no memory and a letter to her from herself.

She has to quickly learn that she is part of a secret organization (the Checquy) in constant battle to protect Britain from supernatural attacks.

The tale is wonderfully funny, as the supernatural is wild and very weird and her side is—wait for it—a bureaucracy. She must unravel a massive conspiracy and unmask the evil doers, within and without her own organization. Who is who and what is what? And for goodness sake, what are the rules, anyway?

This is a great yarn, and we come to really like Myfanwy and want her to come out OK.

Evidently, a sequel is in preparation, though who knows when it will appear.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

This is one of several novels about time travelling academic/time police, which includes several stories and Doomsday Book (1992).

This particular story was inspired by Jerome K. Jerome’s gentle Victorian novel Three Men in a Boat (which I have never read myself).

These stories involve time traveling Oxford historians, who visit past eras and live among the natives, attempting to blend in. This is a perilous game, both for the traveler and because a mistake might rip apart time and space. In particular, you mustn’t contaminate either the present or the past by transferring objects.

To Say Nothing of the Dog involves an emergency foray to the Victorian era by an underbriefed student who must try not to stumble and also to find his contact and try to fix the potential rend in time.

The story is a beautiful homage to Jerome’s story, and filled with comically English Victorians. It would all be lovely if the fate of the continuum wasn’t at stake, and if we knew what the heck is going on.


 

  1. Daniel O’Malley, The Rook. Hachette, New York, 2012.
  2. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, New York, Workman, 1990.
  3. Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog, New York, Bantam Spectra, 1997.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Housekeeping: Books Reviewed in First Quarter 2015

These are the books reviewed here in the past quarter.

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee

Fiction

Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

 

Sunday Books: “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

A wonderful collection of short works by one of our contemporary masters. The prolific Neil Gaiman is one of the finest and most imaginative writers in the English language today.

This collection of mostly previously published pieces is diverse, but mostly in the Gaiman wheelhouse of fantasy and ghosty stories. These are not for children, and not necessarily nice, and not necessarily with happy endings.

In fact, from any other hand, I’d probably never read them.

But Mr. Gaiman. Oh, Mr. Gaiman. He does it so well, so easy, and so clean. I wish I could write like this.

This is a short review for his “short fictions and disturbances”, because there isn’t much that needs to be said. Get it. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.


 

  1. Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, New York, HarperCollins, 2015.

 Sunday Books

September Fiction Roundup (Fantasy Shelf)

I read that John Scalzi’s Red Shirts (Tom Doherty Associates, 2012) has won this year’s Hugo award for best novel.  I was quite surprised.  Not that RS is a bad book, but I found it just ordinary.  I mean, the whole, entire concept hinges on a nerdy, Trekie trope, and the plot is based on the schlocky writing in popular TV.  Who cares?  Well, Hugo-ians do, obviously.  Anyway, my basic point is that there are plenty of better novels out there.

Cases in point, several good recent “fantasy” novels, fairy tales set in essentially contemporary life.  Blurb writers like to mention similarity to Harry Potter or Tolkien or whatever.  That is absurd.  These stories are, and of right ought to be, completely original visions.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Random House, 2011)

EM was clearly influenced by immersive theater, which is on display throughout the story. Of course, it is easier to imagine and even to describe such wonderful experiences, than to actually deliver them (and a lot of magic doesn’t hurt).  But if this book doesn’t make you want to enchant your everyday world, then nothing will.

One of the things I liked best is how well the immersive experience is described, subtly portraying the wonder of the experience, while giving detailed descriptions of the actual effect.  In many cases, I can almost imagine not just experiencing the show, but actually constructing the wonders myself (with enough skilled help from my friends).  I loved this feeling of things so enchanting, just out of my reach, so close that, if I just exert myself to the limit, I might be able to make it myself.

I might add is that the magic (enchantment? Illusion? manipulation?) described is psychological and physical—and very hard work.  Not much mystical claptrap, and a lot of hard study and learned skill. This has an effect: you get the feeling that you, too, can do it, if you try hard and pay attention.

Finally, I have to note that the enchantment is very social.  A circus is a public theatrical display, and it is also a closely knit group of collaborators, united by love, friendship, and desire to create wonders.  This story will inspire you to create your own “circus”, make life beautiful together, and, if necessary, run away to chase your destiny.

A really fine book. (better than Red Shirts by far.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow and Company, 2013).

Neil Gaiman is past master at this sort of fairy tale.  His recent Ocean the End of the Lane is one of a long line of beautiful stories (e.g., American Gods (2001), Stardust (1999), Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett!) (1990) etc.).  The Ocean is a fairy tale set in the 20th century, that unfolds as the protagonist recalls a frightening childhood memory.

As in any good tale, there is menace and wonder, and in the end, loss. The boy has grown to be a man, and we see hints that his magical experience has touched his life and made him a sad, but apparently creative individual.

Wonderfully written, the horror is balanced with humanity, hope, and beauty.

(Everything by Gaiman is better the Red Shirts.)

Lexicon by Max Barry (Penguin, 2013)

Max Barry’s latest fantasy is rather odd, but it kind of works.

For some reason writers seem to be obsessed with the power of words and books (See Jasper Fforde for another extreme case.)  What could possibly explain it? 🙂

This story involves the persuasive power of words, in this case, literally and extremely powerful.  As in, the right word can take command of a person’s entire will, so that they will do whatever you tell them to.

The concept makes little sense to a psychologist (because behavior is neither rational nor controlled by verbal imagination), but I guess it is a logical extension of some theories of language (in which language is the foundation of all thought and action).

Of course, we don’t all know about this fabulous, semimagical linguistic technology because it is controlled by a secret cabal (who can keep it secret via mind controlling secret words…)  New members of the secret elite are trained up at academies, where they learn to control their abilities and assimilate to the values of the ruthless overlords.

Naturally, there are rifts and troubles, not to mention rebellious youths.

The story involves a couple of youngsters, trying to find a calm and decent life, with some safety and love, to boot.  Can’t go wrong with “boy meets girl”, can you?

I liked Jennifer Government (2003) better, but this is not a bad book.  (Certainly better than Red Shirts.)