May 13th, 2012

buzz

May Books 7) The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda McIntyre

It may be ten years or so since I read this, and I had forgotten how good it is. Set at the Versailles court of Louis XIV, it is the story of Marie-Josèphe de la Croix and a captive sea monster, destined for slaughter for royal entertainment, and how her realisation of the captive's personhood revolutionises Marie-Josèphe's world, all in lush yet intense prose. Presumably it was one of the sources at the back of Neal Stephenson's mind for the Baroque series set around the same time.

The Moon and the Sun won the 1998 Nebula for Best Novel, one of those years when the Nebula process came up with an admirable choice from a strong field. I have read three of the other shortlisted books, and two of them - Bujold's Memory and George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones - are particular favourites of mine, though perhaps less obvious Nebula winners. I have also read (though was much less impressed by) Connie Willis' Bellwether; the other nominations were King's Dragon by Kate Elliott, Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt, and City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams. (Blue Mars and Forever Peace won the Hugos around this time.)
buzz

May Books 8) How to Sharpen Pencils, by David Rees

I decided I really wanted this book after the ever-excellent Bookslut tipped me off to this interview with the author. It mostly succeeds; it is the story of a man going through intense emotional crisis and working it out by writing a book about pencil sharpening, except that almost everything apart from the pencil sharpening has been taken out. Rees is good at capturing the tone of how-to manuals, especially when describing really obvious and easy tasks. There are a couple of points when he wanders far off-topic and the humour did not work for me, even taking it as intentionally ironic. On the other hand, I loved the sequence about how best to help your friend use an electric pencil sharpener (by breaking into their house and smashing it). I suspect that most readers will dip into it rather than go through from start to end, and that may be best.