Dhalgren (Samuel R Delany): I had heard a couple things about this book before I started reading it -- that it was a metaphor for the race riots and urban decay of the 60s and 70s, that it had an insoluable what-happened riddle at the heart of it, and that it had lots of weird sex and violence. After reading it, I am inclined to say that it didn't actually seem like it had much to do with the race riots and urban decay as such (although it's clearly informed by their aesthetic), what caused the disaster was pretty clear*, but that the sex was indeed the sort of thing I was surprised to see in a mainstream book. Then after I read a book like this, I usually go to wikipedia to see all the subtext I missed. I guess it says what kind of book it is that the wikipedia article says that nobody else understands it either.
Anyway, I liked this book, even though I don't really have any idea what went on or what it all means. Readers will recall the last Delany I read was Nova; it was interesting to see a bunch of parallels (the kid, the guy with the deadly metal arm, the holographic projectors, the one bare foot) and wonder if any of them are intentional or if it's all generally Delany working out his Things. The ending is, I think, more successful for me in retrospect than it was at the time. It's hard to end a novel like this one, and if you decide to push things until they begin to fly apart (rather than do what Nova did and slow down for a safe landing) it can be trickier to get something that ends with a sufficient bang. I think the way this book ends does work and it manages to both reject meaning in a general sense but still work as an ending, but it takes some chewing over.
*Vg frrzf cerggl boivbhf gung gur pbyyncfr bs gur pvgl (naq gur fhofrdhrag er-pbyyncfr ng gur raq bs gur obbx) jrer pnhfrq ol Trbetr naq Whar trggvat gbtrgure. Ohg guvf qbrfa'g rkcynva jul gung fubhyq or, hayrff lbh ohl gung Trbetr vf vaqrrq n tbq (Whcvgre, nppbeqvat gb jvxvcrqvn). Naq fher, jung gur uryy -- gur nqbengvba crbcyr unir sbe uvz va gur pvgl vf erzvavfprag bs gur fvzvyne ovg va Oevqtr bs Oveqf. (rot13)
1066 and All That (WC Sellar, RJ Yeatman): This is another book where I am sufficiently late for the party that everyone else who is the target audience has probably already read it, or at least knows exactly what it's like. Nevertheless: this is a parody history book, the sort you'd throw together if you were fresh out of Cambridge and it was the 1930s so you couldn't write a blog. I think it probably loses a bit for me now, given that I've already forgotten more history than the book expects, and, anyway, history is no longer presented as the single specific cultural narrative that the book depends on (even if only for mockery). But I can hold no grudges against a book with passages like this:
About this time the memorable hero Robin Hood flourished in a romantic manner. Having been unjustly accused by two policemen in Richmond Park, he was condemned to be an outdoor and went and lived with a maid who was called Marion, and a band of Merrie Men, in Greenwood Forest, near Sherborne. Amongst his Merrie Men were Will Scarlet (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Black Beauty, White Melville, Little Red Riding Hood (probably an outdaughter of his) and the famous Friar Puck who used to sit in a cowslip and suck bees, thus becoming so fat that he declared he could put his girdle round the Earth.And that should tell you exactly how you will feel about the rest of the book.
Precious Dragon (Liz Williams): This is the third Inspector Chen book, and on the whole my review is a bit more positive than my review of the previous one). The plot is not nearly as clunky this time but it can't really be said to prance, and when you have one of the characters at the end say "Wait, this didn't really explain everything, did it?" that is probably a bad sign. I also found myself stumbling over bits of the writing and having to reread to clarify, which is also not good.
On the plus side, we get a little more of Chen's wife, who I've always liked, and while there is still a lot of deus ex machina (more or less literally) in the plot, it feels to me like it's mostly there to set up a clear stage for less of it in books four and onwards. Also, there is the usual thing where the setting is completely awesome, even if there was less emphasis in this one on Earth and Chinese sf, and more on generic-modernist Hell. And finally, if I read the ending right, there is a brilliant good cop/bad cop joke in the making.
Blighted Isle: Eric Eve released this IF game a few months ago, and it's really pretty good. I'm not sure how it'd come off to someone with no IF experience at all, but it's not that complicated and might be worth checking out. My (non-spoiler) review is here; interpreters for TADS games can be can be downloaded from here; and the game itself is here.
Up next: the Lies of Locke Lamora sequel, which I am assured is thoroughly gripping.