© 2003 Jamie Zawinski
For posterity, here are the book reviews that I posted to my
blog in 2002 and 2003.
This isn't a "best of", "worst of", or even, "list of everything
I've read." These are just the few that I happened to write
about for whatever reason.
(See also: 2004.)
Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Most of the book is a fictionalized travel guide to the continent,
heavy on the talking heads. It was pretty interesting, and made me
never want to go there. The actual plot is pretty thin, and the
book is about 200 pages too long; I was skimming rapidly near the
I bought this book mostly because I really, really loved the
and Melt by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Those were way
better than this book, with a much more interesting plot, though not
as obsessive in Antarctica-related detail.
Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Given how I felt about Antarctica, why did I buy this?
I don't know. I fucking hated it. It was about as boring as
reading licenses or material data sheets. The only reason I
kept up was that sometimes it helped me fall asleep. Immediately.
The Fourth World, by Dennis Danvers
A sort-of cyberpunk story set in rural Mexico. The main characters
start off as gargoyles/cameramen for US news/entertainment shows,
get disillusioned, and throw in with the Zapatistas. The majority
of the book is a depressing look at the underbelly of the high-tech
utopia portrayed in most near-future scifi: how the first world
needs the third world as slaves. But the ending really didn't work
for me: after 3/4ths of the book being a total downer with a very
pessimistic view of human nature, the ending springs up with a deus
ex machina happy ending. It really felt like the author was
trying to find a way for everyone to live happily ever after,
but he didn't really believe it. It was a good book, but the ending
pissed me off. He just didn't sell it very well. ``I want to
believe,'' but I didn't, and I suspect he didn't either.
I've read two other books by him that I liked a lot more:
Circuit of Heaven, and its sequel, End of Days.
They're about uploading consciousness, but don't let that put you
off: they are actually a new take on it, very aware that the whole
``uploading'' thing has been pretty much played out. Like The
Fourth World, they also spend a lot of time focusing on the
have-nots, and people who fell through the cracks.
Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis
Somehow I missed this when it came out. It's a graphic novel about
a former superhero turned private investigator, because she just
didn't feel "heroic" enough. This is another one of those
"realistic" looks at supheroes, like Bendis's other great series,
Powers. This one is really good, pretty bleak. And the
interesting thing is, it manages to have a very real-world feel
about it while being knee deep in Marvel continuity. There are a
few great moments like trying to wade through the bureaucracy to
have a meeting with the Fantastic 4. Of course they have a
lobby, and a receptionist...
I only made it 50 pages in to this Stephenson cinderblock (877 pages
to go, or 2,730 if you count the two forthcoming sequels) and it
bored me to tears. After consulting with others who had actually
finished it, I realized that life was too short, and gave up.
I had liked all of his previous books, including the Stephen
Bury ones (the only one I haven't read is The Big U.) Snow
Crash being my favorite, I guess.
Cryptonomicon also started off almost-intolerably slowly
(though not as bad as Quicksilver) and I ended up liking it.
Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, and Diamond Age
all suffer the same problem: he devotes the first 50% of the book to
the first 10% of the story, then rushes through the next 80% of the
story (which sounds to me like "the publisher is breathing down my
neck, time to wrap it up"), then the last 10% is just completely
incomprehensible metaphysical babble that seems to have nothing to
do with what's gone on so far.
Still, though, even with those two pretty glaring bugs, I've
liked his books.
But from what I was able to tolerate of Quicksilver, it
reminded me of The Difference Engine more than anything,
which is to say, utterly intolerable. I didn't make it more than a
few chapters into Difference Engine before throwing it across