Books I Bought in 2004

I'm afraid book reviews are on hiatus. You will find here brief reviews of books through 2011, longer reviews through fall of 2014, and then nothing. Sorry! I got distracted trying to finish a game and then never got back to reviewing.

I acquired 96 books in 2004.

January 2004

McKenna, Juliet E.
The Assassin's Edge
Sixth(?) and last in a series which wasn't all that great. I remember the first one as being very good; should re-read it and see if I was out of my mind, or if the author just lost it.

Britannica, Encyclopaedia
Almanac 2004
Remember when some US gov't official said that buying almanacs was a sign of terrorism? Bought as patriotic duty.

Caine, Rachel
Ill Wind
Begins a new series in the Laurel K. Hamilton genre. Most Mary-Sue-esque published novel I've read this year, but a good read anyway. Sex scenes as characterization, imagine that.

Galouye, Daniel F.
Dark Universe
No memory of this at all. Oh! Right, it's the post-holocaust one about a group of people living in total darkness. High-concept and imaginatively done, and from 1961 when that was unusual. They have what we'd call superhuman audio discernment, and navigate via sonar (clicking rocks together or whatever's at hand). Then the higher-tech surface survivors come with flashlights and bring them back to civilization, and they lose the hearing talents. I wanted there to be irony in this, but I couldn't find any. Good book though.

Moon, Elizabeth
Once A Hero
Young officer gets in trouble, makes good. No, wait, that was Trading in Danger. What the hell was this? I just flipped through the book for five minutes, recognized several incidents, and I still can't remember what it's about. I think spaceships fight.

Wright, John C.
The Golden Age
The Phoenix Exultant
Two great post-humanity books, not yet ruined by the third.

Jones, Diana Wynne
Wild Robert
Minor Jones about a ghost. Minor Jones ain't bad, but it's not great either.

Brinley, Bertrand R.
The Mad Scientists' Club
The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club
The Big Kerplop!
Yay reprints! Two collections of stories from my early geekdom, and about even earlier geekdom. Kerplop is a novel, never published back in the day. All count as science fiction if you allow "technology I can't afford on my allowance" in addition to "technology we haven't invented yet".

Powers, Tim
Powers of Two (The Skies Discrowned; An Epitaph in Rust)
One of these is Forsake the Sky, which was okay but doesn't do anything Anubis Gates doesn't do better. The other was new to me, but same applies. Completists only.

February 2004

Montfort, Nick
Twisty Little Passages
Retrospective of early history of text adventures; also sets up some terminology for discussion, and gives a definition of "interactive fiction". (Not the same as mine, FWIW.) Also, has a subchapter about me! I'm so cool.

Williams, Kit
Engines of Ingenuity
Art book by the guy who wrote Masquerade, the classic puzzle book. Remember all that marquetry in the illustrations? He's really good. This documents a working wood-and-metal model of an ancient gearwork invention: a two-wheeled chariot which contains a compass that always points north (as long as the wheels don't slip. Picture a differential, but not exactly.) Gorgeous work.

Smullyan, Raymond M.
Who Knows?
Small book with some essays about theism and atheism. Not a topic that's going to be reinvented at this late date, but Smullyan is still sharp and says interesting stuff.

Berg, Carol
Son of Avonar (Bridge of D'Arnath, book 1)
Better than her previous standlone book. Another "horrible people invading across the worldwalls" plot -- familiar stuff, but the protagonist is cool and has a great back/current-story to tell.

Doctorow, Cory
Eastern Standard Tribe
Jazzy but unpleasant to be around. Lacks the heart of Magic Kingdom.

Mash, Robert
How To Keep Dinosaurs
Utterly mad little book, with great photos of dinosaurs frolicking around the house.

Czege, Paul
My Life with Master
Modern mini-RPG. Players play the pitiable assistants of an evil baron/scientist/etc. Game mechanics geared towards tragic/triumphant narrative scenes rather than combat.

McKillip, Patricia
Alphabet of Thorn
You know McKillip. Not as good as Ombria but still great.

March 2004

Westerfeld, Scott
The Secret Hour (Midnighters, vol 1)
Kickass creepy kids' SF. A few teenagers discover that time stops and the world gets weird for an hour every night. Also, they have powers and there are monsters. Unclear when sequels will appear or how many.

Kay, Guy Gavriel
The Last Light of the Sun
I liked it, dammit, stylistic hoo-hah and all. Kay claims he's taking a break from decadent civilized folk to write about barbarians, but it turns out he's still writing about civilization (the process) as seen by the people it's happening to.

Stevermer, Caroline
A Scholar of Magics
Decent follow-up. Must re-read College of Magics; I recall it as being madder. Must make ginger stem cake.

VanderMeer, Jeff; Roberts, Mark (ed.)
The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases
Many well-known authors make up awesome gross stuff.

Ford, John M.
Heat of Fusion and Other Stories
YAY NEW JOHN M. FORD. Collection of stories and poetry. Now get a novel written dammit.

Johnson, Kij
Cat makes good in Japan. I liked this better than Fox Woman.

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves
Bought because it looked like the weirdest book ever, but dauntingly so. Still haven't cracked it.

April 2004

Brust, Steven
Sethra Lavode
The last trace of what I like about Brust has now been squeezed out of his Dumas style. This is the husk.

Nasir, Jamil
Tower of Dreams
Protagonist hunts archetypal cultural images in order to sell them to advertisers. Catches a goddess by mistake. Author tries too hard to boil down the conflict between fantasy and modernity.

May 2004

Green, Simon R.
Agents of Light and Darkness
Badly-written noir in secret city where the magic shit goes down. Funny lines work, numinous ones don't.

McLaughlin, Robert (et al)
Cthulhu Live
Live-action RPG handbook. I grabbed it for the descriptions of what the crazy GMs did to make their scenarios work. Half-burying actors in faux graveyards, building ten-foot-tall muppets of Nodens.

June 2004

Pratchett, Terry
A Hat Full of Sky
Sequel to Wee Free Men. Still just as good as good Pratchett.

Reynolds, Alastair
Revelation Space
Got me back into big-ship-go-boom SF.

Harrison, Kim
Dead Witch Walking
Yet another Hamiltonian series begins. Author put some thought into the backstory for once (magic-folk came out of the closet in aftermath of human pandemic) but it only makes sense if you don't think too hard, and anyway it's icing on the police-corruption plot. Which also only makes sense if you don't think too hard. Non-thinky fun.

Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Because I wait for the UK paperback, that's why. Wizard continues to suffer high school with best friends, death threats, occasional smoochies.

Desaulniers, Marcel
Death by Chocolate
Death by Chocolate Cakes
Do not get between Desaulniers and chocolate. Stand behind Desaulniers, wait for him to finish cooking, then knock him out and steal food.

Manley, Roger (ed.)
The End is Near!
Art museum exhibition book from the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. My favorite museum dedicated to crazy people art. Bought it for Paul Laffoley's crackpot-science-expressed-as-diagrams art.

Robinson, Spider
Callahan's Con
He read a chapter at Worldcon last year. I could tell it was terrible and had a great time listening. Started reading book in bookstore, bought it when I realized I wasn't going to stop. Terrible book. Note to self: do not start reading his new one in bookstore.

Shinn, Sharon
The Safe-Keeper's Secret
Great story. Small-village life in a world where magical talents are little things, like knowing when to keep a secret. Teenager grows up. I don't know why Shinn keeps writing the angel soap opera instead of this stuff.

Gentle, Mary
Collection of short stories. Mixed, by which I mean good-to-great. I think Gentle's basic trick is to writing caringly about people she doesn't like much. I think Gentle doesn't like people much.

Gentle, Mary
1610: A Sundial in a Grave
More of same, at novel length. Swashbuckling, humiliation, and hermetic mathematicians who can predict the future. The book is overly obsessed with the protagonist's B&D obsession, but still a pounding historical adventure. Read this if you bounced off Neal Stephenson's recent boulders.

Gorey, Edward
Amphigorey Also
Gorey. Bought it for "The Awdrey-Gore Legacy", a murder non-mystery which would make the world's best hypertext. Some Flash programmer needs to ignore copyright law and get on it.

Reynolds, Alastair
Redemption Ark
Absolution Gap
More ships, more booms. Occasional stars and planets buy it too, if I recall correctly. Fucked-up people scheme in a galaxy dominated by posthuman wars. Great.

Marks, Laurie J.
Fire Logic
Really well-written character story. As others have observed, you do have to say "huh" about a book in which opiate addiction is cured by dirt, but still good fantasy product.

Mazza, Ralph; Holmes, Mike
Universalis: The Game of Unlimited Stories
Modern mini-RPG. Generic (genreless) ruleset for role-playing in a group where the players share GM-duty, and share control over all the characters as well. Game mechanics geared towards introducing and resolving plot complications.

July 2004

Wright, John C.
The Golden Transcendence
Wright reveals that he doesn't write stories, he writes Randist tracts. In lieu of ending his great trilogy, he has everybody profess Objectivism and walk away. Won't be fooled again.

Stross, Charles
Iron Sunrise
Much better sequel to Singularity Sky. Has a plot. Has Evil Space Nazis. Has teenager on the run with a secret. All good.

Stross, Charles
The Atrocity Archives
Indescribably tasty. I started reading Lovecraft because of Stross's "A Colder War". This isn't the same gag, but it's still Lovecraft-inspired government thriller, and I'm with it. Describing the Hand of Glory as a 'Wigner's friend disintermediating observer effect' gets all the points.

Cannon, P. H.
Scream for Jeeves
Now that I've started reading Lovecraft, I can appreciate this. Was never a Wodehouse fan, though, so I'm not getting the full impact.

Zelazny, Roger
Wizard World (Changeling; Madwand)
Re-read. Widely regarded as Zelazny's most phoned-in fantasy series. Widely is correct. Still very easy to read, though.

McCarthy, Wil
Lost in Transmission
Unlike previous Queendom novels, this one is an incomplete story. Don't remember how many sequels are coming. Bunch of (perpetual) teenagers with all-the-technology try to colonize another planet, and it turns out their technology isn't quite magical enough. None of these books have ever quite convinced me that McCarthy is using consistent tech abilities and limitations. But, so what.

Gorey, Edward
The Willowdale Handcar, or the Return of the Black Doll
Got this free with the purchase of something else.

MacLeod, Ken
Newton's Wake
Standalone. Better than his last trilogy, not as good as his first few books. Every plot detail has fallen out of my head. Some kind of cultural argument about dead people. Has musical theater.

August 2004

Irvine, Alexander C.
One King, One Soldier
Fisher-King story. WW2 soldier comes home with wounded leg (aha!) and gets tangled up in magical conspiracy. Not as good as the best Tim Powers, but better than recent Tim Powers, so what are you waiting for?

Caine, Rachel
Heat Stroke
Mary-Sue-esque protagonist gains tremendous magical powers. Imagine! But indications are that the next book will return to more normal levels of protagonistness. I haven't stopped reading them, so they must not be crap yet. Right?

Mieville, China
Iron Council
I have decided that The Scar was an anomaly, and Mieville's normal mode is boring plotless stuff with goo. This is a portrait of a political movement which I don't care about. Awesome goo.

Lee, Ji
Univers Revolved
That's "Univers" the font. Art book. This is to computer typography what calligraphy is to handwriting.

Butcher, Jim
Blood Rites (Dresden Files, 6)
Still fun, still not turning to dreck. How long can this go on? Book 7 will be hardback, sigh.

Briggs, Patricia
Raven's Shadow
Author's long rising trend abruptly broken with this vaguely pointless series-start. There may have been characters but I can't remember. If you don't know Briggs, go back and read Dragon Bones instead.

Gorey, Edward
Completing trilogy.

Wrede, Patricia; Stevermer, Caroline
The Grand Tour
Decent follow-up. Must re-read Sorcery and Cecelia; I recall it as being madder.

September 2004

Berg, Carol
Guardians of the Keep (Bridge of D'Arnath, book 2)
Not as solid as the first one, since the plot has to advance, which it does in a series of contrivances. The Evil Demon Enslavers are just so Evil, you can't imagine. Well, you can, really. Still enjoyed it.

Kirstein, Rosemary
The Language of Power
Fourth book, better than the third, which was not as good as the second but so what? Great series. Watching Rowan be smart is more fun than entire navies of ships going boom. (Want more Bel, though.) We finally start to see some of the causes of the long-running plot.

Lowachee, Karin
War brat adopted by aliens in midst of alien war. Decent stuff.

Stackpole, Michael A.
Eyes of Silver
Author is trying for the huge, rich fantasy backdrop with many cultural viewpoints and war cast on top. Doesn't make any part of this work.

Ash, Sarah
Lord of Snow and Shadows (The Tears of Artamon, book 1)
Fairy tale about whiny idiots.

Asaro, Catherine (ed.)
Irresistable Forces
This is the one with "Miles Vorkosigan gets married". Not interesting except to completists, but there are a lot of Bujold completists out there, so let me amend that to "decent Vorkosigan anecdote".

Morrow, James
The Cat's Pajamas and Other Stories
Morrow is still a freak-boy. I didn't like every story, but they were all fantastic lunacy. You read Morrow because there isn't anything else like that, except maybe Effinger and he's dead.

Reynolds, Alastair
Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
Two novellas. One alien death-maze set-piece, with a point too blatant to be interesting. The other one was okay.

Erikson, Steven
Blood Follows
Short story in chapbook form. Turns out I enjoy Erikson in short form! Utterly unpleasant villains square off against each other, and they're all great fun to watch for this long. Never touching his novels again, I'd claw my eyes out.

O'Leary, Patrick
Other Voices, Other Doors
Some very good short stories and poems (the surrealist / magical realist variety) mixed in with some incomprehensible hero-worship of Spider Robinson. Spider Robinson? Didn't you notice where hero-worship got him?

Gardner, Martin
Visitors From Oz
Martin Gardner writes Oz fanfic, but I outgrew Oz a long time ago. (Which is how Baum differs from Carroll.) Some mathematical-games byplay about Klein bottles, but nothing much worthwhile.

Moore, John
Heroics for Beginners
A few funny ideas.

October 2004

Baker, D. Vincent
Dogs in the Vineyard
Modern mini-RPG. You play Mormons. I am not kidding. RPG people say this is the best thing since everyone gave up D&D; I only read about RPGs, but I can believe it. Players are travelling priests, wandering around a settlement-era Westerny territory, isolated towns full of muskets, guilty secrets, and sin. Players are vested with infallible Church authority; their job is to hit town and Sort It Out. GM's job is to make the next town even more morally ambiguous. Game mechanics geared towards defining and resolving conflicts between people.

Pratchett, Terry
Going Postal
Pratchett still great.

Duncan, Dave
The Jaguar Knights (A Chronicle of the King's Blades)
Our favorite smelly fantasy kingdom is invaded by Aztecs. (Except the tearing-out-human-hearts thing really does give them magical powers.) The Blades decide to invade back. Politics, fighting, the whole bit. Duncan never screws this stuff up.

Edghill, Rosemary (ed.)
Murder by Magic
Ok, ok, I bought it for the Diane Duane short story. I'm allowed. Familiar gimmick, well-done. The rest of the stories range from good to bad, mostly bad.

Butcher, Jim
Furies of Calderon
I had fun.

Donaldson, Stephen
The Runes of the Earth
No mockery please. Donaldson has always been a good storyteller, and his writing has gotten a lot better. Linden Avery is not a whiner. As others note, this is more setup than anything else, but the series should end up being a solid piece of work in, um, 2010 or so.

Reeve, Philip
Mortal Engines
Post-holocaust kids' adventure SF with grim, grimy grim oozing out all over. Mobile cities chase each other around Europe; Victorianesque society with the gnashing teeth de-metaphored. Pirate queens, dirigibles, cheery con men, zombie robots, sullen gutter children. How can you dislike this?

Bontecou, Lee
Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective
Art book -- delicate ornate wire-and-metal sculpture.

Spencer, Wen
Dog Warrior
Series is getting old; new protagonist/ally fails to rejuvenate it. The first book was great because of lovable gawky teen/werewolf/alien, lesbian moms, grumpy boss/mentor, FBI sweetie. Now it's just this secret war dragging out and megadoses of alien aphrodisiacs. I won't enjoy these forever. I'd say "start a new series" but Tinker sucked.

Reeve, Philip
Predator's Gold
Sequel to Mortal Engines. More of same, still fun.

November 2004

Carless, Simon (ed.)
Gaming Hacks
Includes chapter on text adventure creation by me! (I'm so cool.) And another by Adam Cadre. I tried to work some design perspectives in among the Inform how-to.

Norton, Andre
Star Guard
Weak mix of "military patrol lost on hostile planet" and "humans revolt against benevolent elder civilizations". Feel-good ending where protagonist gets best of both plus pony.

Sleator, William
Parasite Pig
Sequel to Interstellar Pig! Yay! Only, not nearly as good. No new secrets, just being kidnapped by aliens.

Jones, Diana Wynne
Howl's Moving Castle
Somehow I never bought this, despite multiple re-reads. Still charming in six different ways, even though it doesn't have the impact (for me) of Homeward Bounders or her other really great books. Hope the movie holds up.

Foglio, Phil; Foglio, Kaja
Agatha Heterodyne and the Airship City (Girl Genius, book 2)
This took forever to appear, didn't it? But in color! Not sure the plot is going anywhere, but it sure is fun.

Image Comics (ed.)
Flight (vol 1)
Anthology of pieces (thematically related, or sometimes not) by up-and-coming web-comic artists. Some very nice bits.

December 2004

Jones, Diana Wynne
Castle in the Air
Very flimsy. Army of princesses is worth a laugh, though.

Baker, Kage
The Anvil of the World
"Major snarkage," said Christina Schulman. It is so. Peculiarly old-style fantasy -- reminded me of pre-irony swords-and-sorcery stuff somehow -- only this has irony, oh yes. Sentimental streak is buried nearly an inch deep. (Ignore the apparent condonement of 14-year-old girls marrying and having kids.)

McDevitt, Jack
A Talent for War
Unusual war book: set two centuries after the war. An amateur archaelogist dies, leaving notes about Great Secret. His nephew must delve back into stories about the great war heroes; also poetry, monuments, lingering prejudice, mad historical societies. A few contemporary chase scenes and assassination attempts, too, amid the research. The Secret is less interesting than I'd hoped, but the picture of the aftermath of a culture-defining war is really well done.

Morgan, Richard K.
Altered Carbon
Badass private detective in era of mind downloading. Spare bodies are the new bling-bling. Drugs, sex, street thugs, prostitution. Lotta fun.

Williams, Liz
Banner of Souls
Far-far future Solar System, after eons of biological and nanotechnological engineering. The penis is obsolete. Earth is flooded, hot, moldy, and a backwater satrapy of the Martian Matriarchs. That old nanotech crap has been obsoleted by haunt-tech (a gift of the alien Kami), which seems to work via actual ghosts. A girl with mysterious powers is hunted by one warrior, guarded by another. The setting isn't Mieville but it's the next best thing, and the plot holds together pretty well. Albeit with the requisite Mysterious Resolution (which is merely adequate).

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Books I own

Comments on books I bought in: 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

Zarfhome (map) (down)