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Dennis Grace (Austin, TX United States)

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Red Mars
Red Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.83
55 used & new from CDN$ 3.29

4.0 out of 5 stars God and the devil in the details, July 7 2004
This review is from: Red Mars (Mass Market Paperback)
Kim Stanley Robinson does a masterful job of realizing a diverse array of characters, not the least of which is the planet itself. I found Ann and Frank exasperating, John and Nadia at times exhilirating and something of a disappointment, Sax and Hiroko equally inscrutable, and Maya making me wish someone would just slap her. I am astonished that anyone can keep track of so many personnae and keep their voices distinct.
Equally, I am astonished by Robinson's command of geology, meteorology, thermodynamics, and even economics. The details read well and ring true. For years, I wondered why no one had covered this sort of project in detail: terraformation, colonization, expansion. Most writers seem satisfied to take these things as read. Robinson shows what a great literary work a little delving (okay, a whole lot of delving) can produce.
On the down side, the details occasionally get in his way. In particular, I found three details more than a little discomfiting.
First, in the personna of Michel, Robinson outlines his personal psychometry of personalities. In doing so, he provides both an oversimplification of human character and an unwelcome glimpse at Robinson's methodology for building characters. Like sausage-making and legislation, perhaps this process would have been better left unexamined.
Second, I think the abundance of water in the substrate of Robinson's Mars is more than a tad optimistic. I realize that having to bring in water ice from the asteroid belt and Saturn's rings would have slowed the development quite a bit, but considering what a wealth of story Robinson typically finds in the details, I think this obstacle would have made for even more excellent writing opportunities.
Third, in a move that appears nothing more than a technique to allow character continuity, Robinson introduces the deus ex machina of a revolutionary new genetic longevity treatment. With no foreshadowing or side-plot leading to it, the main characters suddenly have a chance to live for a thousand years. My, how convenient. This device left he second guessing the author's motives through the rest of the series. I love the books, but I don't think this was a necessary addition. As the principal plotline of this first book readily demonstrates, key characters can die without compromising the story.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel
by Michael Chabon
Edition: Paperback
101 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Leaping tall buildings with a single bound, Feb. 6 2004
And, Man, what a bound. I'm still stunned. I would not have believed that a fictionalized account of the early comic book industry could be at once fascinating, jarring, personal, mythic, hilarious, moving.
Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay made me laugh out loud, pester my wife sharing bits of brilliance that played well even out of context, cry, lose sleep staying up to read it, slow down to savor the best language, and feel a deep sense of loss when I finished it. I can't remember the last time a novel reached in and tinkered with my viscera the way this one did. I keep telling myself that Sammy, Joe, Rosa, and Tommy are fictional constructs, but I just don't believe it. Surely I've known them all for years.
Even if he never again achieves the breadth and depth of Kavalier & Clay, for this novel alone, I will never forget Michael Chabon.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain
Edition: Paperback
78 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An Insider's Book - Why You Might Not Like This Book, Nov. 19 2002
Tony Bourdain's work unpretentiously describes the world of cooking as seen by a cook. His gruff prose and semantic swagger match perfectly the world he describes, often reading like a collection of choice transcripts from kitchen conversations. If you want insight into a world you don't know, if you want the lowdown on what those immigrant are doing to your food while you enjoy candle light and conversation, or if you want information on how to become, yourself, a culinary master--this is not the book for you.
If, however, you've spent any time at all behind the swinging doors--as cook, expediter, dishwater, or even waitron--even for just a short time--you'll love it. You'll see a lot of people you know, you'll relive luxurious and painful experiences. You will laugh until you cry.
This insider-chic is not, however, Tony's one big flaw. That flaw, rather, is the foolish notion that his life outside of the restaurant is uninteresting. He left me hungry for more information on his drug problem (and, no, I do not consider this non-pertinent to his culinary career) and more about his wife, Nancy.

Debt To Pleasure, The: A Novel
Debt To Pleasure, The: A Novel
by John Lanchester
Edition: Paperback
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Nabokov, Nov. 7 2001
If you like dark comedies and find culinary arts even the least bit interesting, read this marvelous first novel from John Lanchester.
I truly wish I could tell you that John Lanchester's _The Debt to Pleasure_ is a 5 star wonder, but I just can't. Lanchester's protagonist and narrator, Tarquin Winot, certainly pans the breadth of the author's vocabulary, erudition, and culinary knowledge, and _Debt_ is a spectacular premier effort.
Reading through the first few chapters, I noticed a certain similarity to Nabokov's _Pale Fire_. Unfortunately, the novel ultimately fails to deliver on this early promise. Like _Pale Fire_, the story that the narrator tells and the story the he intends to tell are clearly at odds with one another, and though Lanchester manages to juggle this dichotomy successfully throughout much of the novel, he lets the shoe fall a bit early. Well before the end, the trail is too clearly marked out for us. The trip is pleasant, but the plot is already resolved except for the details of how who did what to whom. Quite unlike Nabokov's masterwork of insinuative commentary, Tarquin ends the novel by tying up the entire plot in a package that is at once too neat and too heavy.
Overall, Lanchester succeeds when Tarquin is strong and fails when Tarquin is foolish. To be more precise, Lanchester fails when he loses control of Tarquin's secrecy and subtlety (as when he describes his clownish attire or when he rationalizes his actions in his explication to the biographer near the end of the novel) and succeeds when Tarquin is most thoroughly and ludicrously in control (when he elucidates his belief that only lesser artists actually create anything or when he passes culinary judgment upon damn near anything at all). When a chuckling Tarquin says to the biographer, "Anyone would think you were writing my brother's biography," I want him to know (as we know) the true subject of the biography. That would help to explain the cross country search and the final act of the novel, but Tarquin/Lanchester does not make this clear, leaving Tarquin looking perhaps just a little bit more foolish and quirky, just a little bit less frightening.
Yes, the novel is funny. Yes, it is a marvelous read. Yes, I await Lanchester's next work.
But, no, it's not quite a masterpiece.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
by Gregory Maguire
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.80
149 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly brilliant, May 16 2001
Maguire's take on L. Frank Baum's _Wonderful Wizard of Oz_ aims to show a second view of Oz. History is told by the victors, _Wicked_ seems to say, and then goes about telling the story of the villainized witches. The impulse is ingenious, and Baum's novels, with their sketchy settings and poorly realized zeitgeist, offer an excellent field of play (although, at least one reference to the striped stockings of the Wicked Witch of the East suggests Maguire also relied on the movie a bit).
As an alternate version, most of the novel offers spectacular interpretations: the Wizard of Oz is a megalomaniacal despot, talking Animals are an oppressed people, the Wicked Witch of the East is a religious fanatic, and Glinda the Good Witch is somewhere on the fringe between bourgoisie and elite class. Because his world is more richly detailed and thoroughly realized than its predecessor, Maguire's version becomes immediately more convincing than the Baum stories. Where Baum's characters are ciphers, Maguire's characters have human traits. Unfortunately, _Wicked_ loses its momentum near the end as the Maguire novel begins to interlace with the plot of Baum's _Wonderful Wizard of Oz_. I think Maguire's mistake here was in attempting to apply the Baum plot too literally. A bit freer interpretation would have made for a better read and would have fit the initial, alternate-version impulse better. The Wicked Witch of the West as portrayed in the final chapter is not the same character we have come to know so well in the foregoing chapters.
Also unfortunate is Maguire's final interlocutory disquisition on the nature of good and evil. I found it distracting and in no way supportive of the tale. It read like a passage interjected to give the tome a sense of Importance.

The Last Dive
The Last Dive
by Bernie Chowdhury
Edition: Hardcover
43 used & new from CDN$ 2.43

2.0 out of 5 stars Poor writing mars a brilliant outline, May 9 2001
This review is from: The Last Dive (Hardcover)
Don't be fooled by all the dive junkies giving 5-star ratings to this dreck. Unless you're a diver, you'll be bored to tears. If you *are* a diver, be prepared to trudge through uninteresting crap looking for the treasure.
The story of the Rouse deaths is merely a hook--their story only takes up a small portion of the book. Essentially, what Chowdhury is pedaling is a history of tech diving. The outline is brilliant, and in the hands of a skilled writer, this could have been a real gem. The prose is mediochre at best. Hard to believe anyone could make so fascinating a topic into a dull read.

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