Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Big U, Neal Stephenson

The Big U
Neal Stephenson

Another one for Jeremy, but this time only because of the college setting, not because of anything specific. In fact he's expecting only one book from me, not two. (That surprise will be spoiled now if he reads this... I doubt it, but with Jeremy you never know.)

Anyway... The Big U is a farcical view of college. The setting is a major urban university. The entire place is contained in one vast building - the plex - in which myriad crazy things happen. Jeremy will not recognize the place personally as his school is nothing like the one described here at a physical level. But the people, well, I hope he will have some laughs.

Stephenson's writing is light, even when things take a serious twist. His vision of human affairs in the vast place he describes is both funny and poignant. Things just happen here, usually with no repercussions. Pianos are thrown onto distant roofs, people are factionalized in crazy ways, drugs and booze run rampant, and actions rarely have any basis in reality.

Jeremy, I hope your college days are a lot better than this. Have fun, but stay sane my friend. And be sure to avoid the Crotobaltislavonians!

Doorways In The Sand, Roger Zelazny

Title: Doorways In The Sand
Author: Roger Zelazny
Rating: Good

As some of you may know, I teach stone carving. Something close to five years ago we had a high school student join the class. This was a new experience for me - the class is generally directed at adults - but Jeremy was a great addition. I learned a lot from him, and he added quite a bit to the classroom experience.

This year saw him graduate and go off to college. Over the years we've watched him get ready for this and now seen him leave. I always told Jeremy he should milk his college days as much as he can. If he needed 3 PhD degrees and a 20 year post doc, for example, he should do that, and all on his parent's dime. He says that won't happen, but in the spirit of the idea I am sending him a copy of Doorways In The Sand.

In it, the hero has managed to stay in college for something like 14 years without graduating. He gets close at times, but always changes majors or otherwise manages to escape. The reason is that his uncle's estate pays for his college education until he graduates, but doesn't contain a time limit. As you can imagine, Jeremy needs to read this. The USPS will deliver a copy to him shortly.

As books by Zelazy go, Doorways In The Sand is good, but not one of the greats. It's fluffier than something like Lord of Light, and lacks the grand sweep of the Amber Chronicles. Still, it's fun and well written. Definitely worth your time if you're into lighter SF.

The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone

The Agony and the Ecstasy
Irving Stone

It's been months since I had the time for any reading. In fact, I was nearly finished with The Agony and the Ecstasy when the job started, and though I finished it shortly thereafter it has been a long time since I've posted here, so this review is long overdue.

All I can do now is recommend this book highly, particularly if you're a student of the arts or an artist.

Stone's research is good, and though I cannot tell you where he veered into fiction, I can tell you that I enjoyed this work a lot.

Michaelangelo is one of my favorites, and an inspiration to me as a sculptor. I learned a lot about him and his time from this book, and highly recommend it.