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Hominids

3 settembre 2003

Hominids

A few days ago I read that Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids had won the 2003 Hugo Award as best novel, so I put aside Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures for a while, grabbed a copy of Hominids and started reading.

I finished the book tonight, and I have to say I am a bit disappointed. The book, as many sf/fantasy books or movies (one of my favourites being the movie Groundhog Day), is built around an interesting idea involving space or time. In Hominids, Sawyers imagines that somewhere in Earth’s past a duplicate universe split off from our own, where Neanderthal men evolved instead of our race.

Unfortunately, this idea is just about the only good thing I found in this book. The plot is mediocre, the characters lack depth and psychological introspection, and the artifices the author uses to bridge the language barrier between the two worlds are really simplistic. Moreover, a good part of the book deals with a court case between the Neanderthals, and I found the topic really boring (maybe it appeals to US and Canadian readers) and its development superficial.

What I (somewhat) liked in this book is its rythm, and the wealth of notions about quantum theory and anthropology. All in all, it’s not one of the worst books I have read lately, and if you liked Michael Crichton’s Sphere or his Jurassic books maybe you will find Hominids a good read, though a simplistic one.

update: Out of curiosity, I had a look at the Amazon reviews for Hominids, and among all the celebrative reviews there’s one by JR Dunn which is worth quoting

This is Wellsian didactic SF on the kindergarten level. Intelligent Neanderthals turn out to be bisexual, atheist Canadians, and are willing to tell us about. And tell us about it. And tell us about it. Passage unto page unto chapter. (And just think–this is the beginning of a trilogy.)

If that sounds like your thing, go to it. Otherwise, your time would be better spent reading… oh, the government-mandated cooking directions in chicken packages. You’ll learn a lot more of value there.

Ouch! Well said, and in far less words than I used. Glad to know I’m not the only one to think that this book is overrated.

John D. MacDonald

5 giugno 2003

Last night when I left the office I stopped at my favourite English bookstore (The English Bookshop, via Mascheroni 12, Milano — they have a very nice if a bit too fat female Siberian Husky, pat her for me if you go there) to try and find something decent to read without having to resort to the Internet.

They don’t have that many books, but they have a good selection and they don’t limit their stock to bestsellers or new issues. After a while, I picked up a copy of John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue GoodBye, without expecting too much. The book was published in 1964, and I had to overcome my usual diffidence towards “old” mystery novels (though most of my favourite books are pretty old and I don’t like shops stocking only new issues lol).

I read about half the book last night, and if the rest of his novels are like this one I wonder why it took me so long to find him. Travis McGee reminds me somehow of Spenser (Robert B. Parker’s Boston detective), a private eye with a heart. Unlike Spenser Mc Gee is a kind of a social bum, and he is less macho and more introspective. A nice site dedicated to Travis McGee can be found at http://members.bellatlantic.net/~mwarble/slipf18/home.htm

On a side note, while checking the spelling of Spenser (what is the usual Spenser’s phrase for that? Spenser like the poet maybe…) I came upon The Spensarium, an interesting site devoted to all things Spenser (and more). For an Italian the name is a bit funny since it sounds a lot like names we use for hospitals or recovery homes for specific illnesses but the site is very nice, if you’re a Spenser or Robert B. Parker fan check it out.

Looking For Books on the Net

4 giugno 2003

As the only reader this weblog has ever had probably knows, I’m Italian and live in Italy. What he (yes, I’m not politically correct) probably does not know is that I mostly read English books, since translations into Italian from a non-latin language are usually awful.

I regularly scout the few English bookshops in Milan where I live, but they mostly only carry serious literature, school books and the latest books in print. To find any good book published more than a year back takes time, and luck.

So I started buying books from the net as soon as it was possible (I still remember telnetting to books.com in uhm 1993 or 1994), and later discovered that many books (well, a few if you don’t count technical or sf/fantasy books) are available on IRC to the great relief of my ever-empty wallet (but I try to buy the books I like in paper format anyway whenever I find them). I bought (well, bartered for a 1U rackmount server) a Compaq Ipaq and started reading e- books to save shipping costs and taxes, or the book price whenever I manage to find something on IRC.

One of the problems with buying on the net is that you can’t feel the books, which for me (as, I suspect, for everybody else) involves browsing the shelves, looking at the covers, reading a few pages. So I often find myself trying to coerce the Amazon recommendations engine into fetching decent results, then looking on IRC/Fictionwise/Amazon Ebooks. From time to time I come upon a good site or a good list.

A while ago I found (and posted as a comment on Slashdot earning a few karma points *rubs his hands*) the Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Works site, a huge collection of reviews cross-indexed by author, title, rating, etc.

Last night I spent a good twenty minutes reading the reviews on the Amazon list by mystery_ink (which, incidentally, is ranked 548th among the Top 1000 Amazon reviewers), and I agreed with many of them. The list features mostly hard- boiled mystery novels and is pretty extensive and very well done.

Intro

2 giugno 2003

I’m a mystery fan, some of my favourite authors are James Lee Burke, Robert B. Parker, George P. Pelecanos. I also like some fantasy and Science Fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien of course, Robin Hobb (Assassin’s Apprentice is one of the best books I’ve read last year, the other in the series are average), Stephen Donaldson (his short stories are ok).

I read an average of a couple of books each week, sometimes more than that sometimes a bit less. The two books I’m reading now are the wonderful Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck (East Of Eden is one of the best books I ever read) and Mortal Prey by John Sandford. I bought the Sandford book because I liked a couple of his earlier novels, but I wasn’t expecting anything much. Maybe I’m refining my literary tastes a bit, after years of reading mystery. =)

update: addedd links to Amazon, I might as well try to feed my reading a bit by writing about it =)