Books / Year 1999
Date: 1999-12-10 (permlink)
Author: Lydia Alix Fillingham
Name: Foucault for beginners
Rating: 3 stars

Strange book.

Date: 1999-12-06 (permlink)
Author: Greg Egan
Name: Quarantine
Rating: 3 stars

280 pages of boring metaphysical discussions. The actual plot of the book would fit in 50 pages.

Date: 1999-12-05 (permlink)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Name: Cryptonomicon
Rating: 4 stars

A bizarre book. Before I get into my criticisms about it, I'd first like to say that despite all my negative comments about it, it's still an eminently readable book.

Biggest flaw is obviously the warped world view, which is much more disturbing here than in your average Tom Clancy book. Before you even start reading a Clancy novel, most prominent example being "The Red Storm Rising", you know that the americans are basically saints sent upon the earth, and the russians and other foreigners satan's spawns sent to wreak havoc on innocent civilians. But in this book, Stephenson goes to great lengths to try to give the impression that he's not like that at all. But that only makes it worse, as the underlying current of "us americans/brits are the standards by which all others shall be judged" is much more annoying and harder to shrug away than the obvious tricks Clancy uses. At times, the book reads more like a WWII-era propaganda material for the allies, which demonizes the Japanese and Germans.

There are plenty of other flaws too, like the incessant stereotyping of everything, the comic sidekick parts assigned to minor nationalities like finnish people, the fact that he wrote a 900+ page book and didn't bother to do enough research to get some very basic facts about Finland's participation in WWII correct, his infuriating attempts to display how hip he is by showering the reader with unnecessary technical details about computers and programming that often are just plain wrong to anyone who actually knows something about this stuff, like me, his refusal to use the correct names for IBM and Linux, instead calling them ETC and Finux, while still using the correct names for plenty of other corporations and operating systems, etc etc etc.

Date: 1999-11-28 (permlink)
Author: Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois (editors)
Name: Clones
Rating: 2.5 stars

There's really very little you can say about most science fiction anthologies. Usually most of the stories are at best mediocre with a couple good ones thrown in. But the most annoying thing about them is definitely the writer introductions. Everyone is always "the up-and-coming" or "prominent" or "one of the best-known" or something. It's a fact of life that there can't be hundreds of writers sharing the title of "one of the hottest new writers of the 90's". Inflation really is a bad thing.

Date: 1999-11-24 (permlink)
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Name: Fight Club
Rating: 3 stars

For once a book that was worse than the movie made out of it. No wonder really, as the book reads more like a movie script than a real book anyway...And I think the small differences between the movie and the book actually make the story better in the movie.

Date: 1999-11-15 (permlink)
Author: David Brin
Name: Otherness
Rating: 3 stars

Predictable stories together with annoying features by Brin in between.

Date: 1999-10-24 (permlink)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Name: The Diamond Age
Rating: 4 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

The first part is very good, but the plot seems to slow down and lose focus the further you progress into the second part. And either I'm missing something totally obvious, but what the fuck were Nell and all the other people doing at what-ever-it-was-called in the end, as they surely were perfectly aware that it would be invaded any day now?

Date: 1999-10-05 (permlink)
Author: Greg Egan
Name: Distress
Rating: 4.5 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

Starts off quite spectacularly, continues likewise, but somehow manages to lose the "hard science" edge in the end. The whole "someone comprehends the TOE and everything changes" is just too unscientific for my tastes in a book like this.

The main character, Andrew, is also unsatisfactory. Nothing particular, but he just seems kinda undeveloped. At first we're dropped all these hints that he's possibly autistic and then the whole subject is just dropped for the rest of the book. What's that all about?

Date: 1999-10-01 (permlink)
Author: Greg Egan
Name: Luminous
Rating: 5 stars

Will these excellent science fiction anthologies never stop? (I sure hope not...I had no idea Egan was this good.)

Date: 1999-09-24 (permlink)
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Name: Lucky You
Rating: 5 stars

Great.

Date: 1999-09-22 (permlink)
Author: David G. Hartwell (editor)
Name: Year's Best SF 4
Rating: 5 stars

Another excellent science fiction anthology. I hope they never stop.

Date: 1999-08-16 (permlink)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Name: The State of the Art
Rating: 4.5 stars

Banks shows he can do short stories just as well as novels.

Date: 1999-08-08 (permlink)
Author: Martin H. Greenberg (editor)
Name: My Favorite Science Fiction Story
Rating: 5 stars

Quite possibly the best science fiction anthology I've ever read.

Date: 1999-08-01 (permlink)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Name: The Last Continent
Rating: 2.5 stars

The Discworld saga continues its sad downward slide.

Date: 1999-07-30 (permlink)
Author: Bill Watterson
Name: Calvin & Hobbes
Rating: 5 stars

I don't normally include any cartoons here, but I just read through every Calvin & Hobbes strip ever published and that beats your average book by whatever measure, be it total pages, time required, enjoyment, whatever. So I decided to include it.

First things first: C&H is obviously one of my all time favorite cartoons, don't let the following criticisms fool you in any way in that regard. That out of the way, reading Watterson's whole production in one piece gives you a pretty good idea about his values. And I think his values need some finetuning. Quite often, he seems to imply that "we", or I guess he means "American society", has drifted away from some "golden age" when things were perfect, and that we should return to that age. Of course there never was a golden age, so longing for that is stupid.

Then there's the matter of Calvin's mom. She doesn't seem to do anything besides staying home and looking after Calvin. Not exactly the sort of thing we should encourage as we approach the 21th century...Linked to that, there's the constant refusal to acknowledge the progress of technology. Isn't in quite unbelievable that by the strip's end, start of 1996, Calvin's parents still hadn't gotten even a VCR? And the constant remarks about how machines supposedly haven't improved our lives the way they were supposed to. Umm, yeah, right. Try living in a cave or a wooden hut and see how you last without the modern conveniences.

And last, but not least. One of the most important themes in C&H have been the attacks against the superficiality of modern world and how people don't care about complex issues etc. Then in the next strip Watterson attacks nuclear power, usually in the form of "yeah but about the nuclear waste?". One's forced to answer, "Yeah, what about it?" Watterson hasn't followed through in his own logic and done the research to see which is more dangerous, fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

Looking back at all these comments, it's surprising to see how much I disagree with Watterson's ideology. But most of the time the strip doesn't deal with these issues. Snowfights with Susie, dinosaur strips, spaceman spiff strips, snow-art strips, etc etc, are the most common type. And those are the best ones. Who could forget the classic "Tyrannosaurs in F14's" strip? It's strips like that that make C&H the classic that it is.

Date: 1999-07-15 (permlink)
Author: Dean Koontz
Name: Seize the Night
Rating: 3 stars

Shitty sequel to "Fear Nothing". No further character development takes place and the interesting "secret military genetic research project gone wrong" setting has somehow been magically transformed into "god will punish us for even trying to unlock his secrets - we never had a chance - science is the root of all evil". The book kinda loses credibility when a boring concrete research lab of the US army is described as having a "satanic architecture". Koontz also pushes religion constantly at the reader as the "obvious" thing. My least favorite scene from the book was the one where Koontz describes someone who recently died because of the gene-project as "they were atheists...until recently". Oh please...we atheists surely must repent and praise the lord once we discover we're going to die. Overall, the book is just too pro-religion and anti-science to be enjoyable. Koontz seems to be getting more and more religious with every book, which is a disturbing trend.

Date: 1999-07-03 (permlink)
Author: Jonathan Schaeffer
Name: One Jump Ahead
Rating: 6 stars

I don't think there'll ever be a book about the creation of a piece of software as entertaining as this. And the whole Marion Tinsley character is just out of this world in his perfection. Anyone (and that applies to 99% of the populace, I'm afraid) who still thinks that Computer Science is boring should read this book.

Date: 1999-06-25 (permlink)
Author: Steve Matchett
Name: The Mechanic's Tale - Life in the Pit Lanes of Formula One
Rating: 4 stars

Fascinating book. Pretty neat that you can live at home with your parent's until you're 27 and then become an F1 mechanic, a very successful one at that. The author has some contradicting opinions, though. On one hand he feels that we should all remember that F1 is just a business like any other, no more, no less, and it should be treated as such. On the other hand, he feels that every single one of Benetton's driver changes was unnecessary because the one who had to leave was "such a nice guy overall". How can anyone say truthfully that replacing Jos Verstappen didn't make business sense? After all, he just said we should remember that's what the game is all about. I won't even mention how he felt sorry for Roberto Moreno when Michael Schumacher replaced him in the middle of the season...

Date: 1999-06-19 (permlink)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Name: Snow Crash
Rating: 5 stars

Pretty excellent.

Date: 1999-06-09 (permlink)
Author: Dean Koontz
Name: Tiktak (Ticktock)
Rating: 2.5 stars

Worst Koontz I've ever read. Can't believe he wrote this in 1996...

Date: 1999-06-09 (permlink)
Author: Marilyn vos Savant
Name: Of Course I'm for Monogamy -- I'm Also for Everlasting Peace and an End to Taxes
Rating: 3.5 stars

Entertaining while it lasted, which wasn't very long. I thought the math questions chosen were too easy (where was the famous Monty Hall problem, for example?).

Date: 1999-05-29 (permlink)
Author: Bert Hölldobler, Edward O. Wilson
Name: Muurahaiset (Journey To The Ants)
Rating: 5 stars

Truly fascinating stuff. Especially people who think humans are somehow evil compared to "pure and innocent" animals should read this book. Ants rage warfare constantly on a totally different scale than human societies, take slaves, practice cannibalism etc etc etc. I especially liked this quote: "If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably destroy the world in a week."

Date: 1999-05-18 (permlink)
Author: Dava Sobel
Name: Longitudi (Longitude)
Rating: 3 stars

An interesting subject, but the book isn't all that good. For example, the demands of the longitude board didn't really seem at all excessive to me, yet the author continuously claims they were outrageous. Perhaps they were, but if so, the author did a very bad job of portraying the events to us.

Date: 1999-05-16 (permlink)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Name: Lolita
Rating: 4 stars

An inspiring example which I hope to follow some day. Nabokov's command of the English language, that is. What did you think I was talking about? :)

Date: 1999-05-04 (permlink)
Author: John Irving
Name: Ystäväni Owen Meany (A Prayer for Owen Meany)
Rating: Reread

Saw "Simon Birch", and even though it sucked, it got me into the mood to read the book yet again.

Date: 1999-04-23 (permlink)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Name: Use of Weapons
Rating: 4 stars

Not as good as "Consider Phlebas", but then again, what is?

Date: 1999-04-14 (permlink)
Author: Several
Name: Mario Lemieux - Best there ever was
Rating: 4.5 stars

If only he hadn't had health troubles... Then again, bigger-than-life legends are legends exactly because there's absolutely no need for any "what-if" talks; they've done the impossible already. By that criterion (and many others), Gretzky wins over Lemieux.

Date: 1999-04-02 (permlink)
Author: Nigel Andrews
Name: True Myths: the life and times of Arnold Schwarzenegger
Rating: 3 stars

Pretty entertaining reading. The last few chapters disintegrate into pointless rambling though. And the book is full of typographical errors.

Date: 1999-03-28 (permlink)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Name: Consider Phlebas
Rating: 6 stars

The back cover sums it up perfectly: "[...] a space opera of stunning power and awesome imagination". The quote from Gibson is also right on the mark: "[Banks is] ... equally at home writing pure science fiction of a peculiarly gnarly energy and elegance".

Date: 1999-03-19 (permlink)
Author: Douglas Coupland
Name: Generation X
Rating: 4 stars

If you don't know what spectacularism and survivulousness are, you should read this book.

Date: 1999-03-13 (permlink)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Name: The Player of Games
Rating: 5 stars

Can't believe I've managed to avoid Banks all these years. He's brilliant.

Date: 1999-03-03 (permlink)
Author: Jared Diamond
Name: Guns, Germs and Steel
Rating: 6 stars

Should be required reading for everyone in this world. Oh, and every country in the world should switch to an alphabetic writing system while we're at it...

Date: 1999-02-13 (permlink)
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Name: The Eleventh Commandment
Rating: 4 stars

Your average Archer book with fast moving plot etc. Two things stuck out however. First, Archer's image of Finland is very strange indeed. He should get his facts straight. Second, are the car companies of the world paying him for an ad campaign or what? At one point there are several pages devoted purely for wondering whan an amazing thing it is to have a car that is a whopping THIRTEEN years old. I don't know what fantasy world Archer lives in, but I sure as hell don't know a place in the world where a 13 year old car is hailed as a miracle comparable to the second coming or whatever. Archer seems a bit detached from reality in this case.

Date: 1999-02-10 (permlink)
Author: Joseph Heller
Name: Catch-22
Rating: Reread
Date: 1999-01-14 (permlink)
Author: John Irving
Name: Leski vuoden verran (A Widow for One Year)
Rating: 3.5 stars

Pretty much falls apart in the later parts. Seems like Irving peaked at "A Prayer for Owen Meany"...