What Paul’s Reading, 01 March 2006 Edition

01 Mar 2006

I’m halfway through Murakami’s latest novel Kafka on the Shore. Murakami is my favorite contemporary writer and this is a great work — not as long and dark as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, his most powerful book to date, but fascinating. Murakami’s books have the property of inevitability — you are not sure how he will get you to the end, but when you reach the end, it feels as if everything has reached the only conclusion possible. Strangely, rather than making the reader feel claustrophobic, it feels liberating and enlightening, as if you were watching a newly proposed law of physics convincingly demonstrated.

I’ve been re-reading the last book of David Zindell’s “Requiem for Homo Sapiens” books. They consist of Neverness, a standalone volume, not technically part of the trilogy, but that introduces the trilogy, and then the trilogy itself, The Broken God, The Wild, and War in Heaven.

Zindell’s science fiction world is filled with religious yearning and mysticism. His style is flowing, almost stream-of-consciousness in its depth, but not first-person. The negative side of this style is that it results in very, very long books. Conversations take longer to read about than they would to speak. Every word is fraught with meaning and associations, but very little is left for the reader to imagine and associate — instead, the author pretty much lays everything out for you. This can feel a little tedious to readers who like to draw their own conclusions.

Some books, such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, leave you feeling that the book could have benefited from a careful editing. The situation with these books is not so clear-cut; it is in digression and the onrushing flow of descriptive language that these books shine, and not clear to me how they could easily be shortened without brutalizing the style that the author achieves with a lot of words. Zindell’s hero, Danlo wi Soli Ringess, experiences frequent headaches, as he encounters one challenge after another, and after a couple of volumes ranging between 600 to 900 pages, the reader could be forgiven for feeling that same headache.

That said, I still admire these books, and have found them worth re-reading; they fit somewhere into the extropian, man-becomes-God-or-at-least-Godlike tradition that includes A. A. Attanasio’s Radix. Zindell’s universe is built on incongruous elements: computer consciousness, pure mathematical visualization, meditation, memory, tantric sex, candle-light, incense, raw bloody seal meat, and warrior-poets, who elevate killing to a high art. Somehow it works, and if you are willing to push on through the very long text, it feels inspired, although some of Danlo’s adventures into inner space, and some of the words used to describe them, can start to seem a little redundant.

I’m also hung up on several other books: I’ve been very slowly working my way through In Green’s Jungles, the middle volume in the Short Sun books. It took me several tries and a running start to see the qualities of Wolfe’s Long Sun books, so this is not unexpected, especially since I don’t get much uninterrupted time to read these days.

In my pile is also Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, which I was enjoying, but somehow got stuck on. Also in the queue is James Tiptree’s Up the Walls ofthe World. I am looking forward to that after enjoying Brightness Falls from the Air very much. The latest by Stephen R. Donaldson is in the pile too, as well as China Mieville’s novel The Iron Council. I was very impressed by Mieville’s books Perdido Street Station and The Scar.

I’ve been meaning to re-read some Philip K. Dick as well, particularly A Scanner Darkly, in advance of the Linklater movie adaptation due later this year.

In non-fiction, I am re-reading The Little Schemer and working my way further into Paul Graham’s On Lisp. The Scheme is going along with my work on Sudoku in Scheme. I probably won’t be able to do a great deal with On Lisp until I have some uninterrupted hours to sit down with a Common Lisp implementation and really work through the macro examples.

I’ve got a pile of other books on category theory, lambda calculus, Smalltalk, Prolog, Lua, and state machines. Always too many books and too little time!

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