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Showing posts from December, 2011

2011, A Year in Reading: Best and Worst Books of the Year

I read 59 books in 2011, a bit of a drop from previous years which is mainly due to Strange Horizons and the SF Encyclopedia taking up a lot of my time, but also, as I mentioned yesterday, because commuting by car rather than pubic transport has cut into my reading time.  Probably the most interesting thing about this year's reading is that for the first time since I've been keeping track, I've read more books by women than men.  This is mainly due to my Women Writing SF project from early in the year (though a reread of the entire Harry Potter series in August, inspired by the release of the last movie, also helped).  If you look at the gender breakdown of best and worst books, there's a clear indication that I should strive to maintain, and even increase, this preference for women writers.

All told, 2011 was a good reading year but not a remarkable one.  I read many books I enjoyed, if few that I loved unreservedly, and not many that I hated.  Most of all, I didn'…

2011, A Year in Reading: Kindled

Whatever the opposite of early adopter is, I'm it.  I tend to stick with what works, and am rarely in a rush to discover how a new gadget might improve my life.  I started this blog in 2005 when the format was already starting to get a bit stale (and am still plugging away at it going into 2012 when it's become positively antiquated).  I've only had a Gmail account for a year.  I got my first smartphone last week (and by "got," I mean that my mother, who is an early adopter extraordinaire, was first in line when the iPhone 4S became available in Israel and bequeathed me her old iPhone 3G).  Accordingly, it took a while for me to wrap my mind around the notion of an electronic reader as a viable alternative to paper books, and as something that I might enjoy and get a lot of use out of, and it wasn't until Amazon announced the Kindle 3, at a price point that seemed reasonable for what still felt, at the time, like a dubious endeavor, that I decided to take the…

Recent Movie Roundup 15

A bumper crop of films as the year draws to its close--this write-up doesn't even include The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which I watched only a few weeks ago and already can't remember a thing about.  And there's more to come--the next month sees The Artist, Margin Call, Hugo, and We Need to Talk About Kevin opening in Israeli theaters.  My thoughts at this interim point:
Moneyball (2011) - For brief moments in this tedious, inert film one gets a sense of the very interesting work it might have been, a darkly cynical anti-sports movie.  The film, which follows baseball manager Billy Beane (a typically good Brad Pitt in a run of the mill performance whose Oscar buzz is utterly baffling) as he tries to use statistics to get out from under the huge budget disparity between his team and the league leaders by identifying cheap but under-appreciated players, works to undermine the romanticism of the form.  Gone are the homilies about teamwork--Beane horse-tr…

No Place Like: Thoughts on Homeland

It's late December, which for the last few years has been the time for my annual Dexter write-up.  That's not going to happen this year or, I suspect, any year in the future.  If you've watched the last season of Dexter, you know why.  If you haven't, do yourself a favor and avoid it.  Watch Homeland instead!  One of the biggest problems plaguing Dexter's sixth season was that it aired on the same channel, and back to back, with what is by now widely acknowledged as the best new show of the fall, if not all of 2011.  The contrast between the two shows only served to highlight the fact that Dexter is over, and Homeland is where it's at.

The basic premise--CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) believes that rescued American POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been turned by his captors and is part of a planned attack on US soil--is fairly well known, but Homeland is nevertheless hard to talk about as a piece of storytelling because it takes its story through…

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

It would be both accurate and misleading to describe Neal Stephenson's latest novel Reamde as Cryptonomicon: The Sequel.  Accurate because, like Stephenson's 1999 breakout novel, Reamde is a multi-threaded, globe-spanning technothriller whose SFnal quality is derived not from invention but from a preoccupation with the role that technology plays in its present moment--the dot com boom and World War II in Cryptonomicon, the Facebook era and the War on Terror in Reamde.  Misleading because where Cryptonomicon was a thrilling, exhilarating reading experiences, whose segues and meanderings were as fun and fascinating as the meat of its plot, Reamde is rather mediocre, its fun moments offset by long stretches of tedium.  What's worse, Reamde is the sort of novel that makes you take a long, hard look at its author's previous output--even the parts of it you loved, like Cryptonomicon--and wonder whether it's Stephenson who has changed, or whether we're just now seeing…

Strange Horizons Reviews, November 28-December 2

William Mingin kicks off this week's reviews with a look at two collections of Robert E. Howard's non-Conan stories, Conan's Brethren and Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures, concluding that they illustrate the breadth of Howard's interests and his still-potent appeal.  Marina Berlin reviews the art-house SF film Another Earth, and though she finds much to praise she is also disappointed by the film's ultimately glancing treatment of its SFnal premise and character interactions.  Sofia Samatar reviews Egyptian bestseller Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, a bleak vision of that country in the near future, and comes away with mixed reactions, admiring the novel's aim and message but dubious about its use of rape to deliver that message, and of its construction of female characters.

Shoutout to Erin Hodges.