Be that as it may, here's what I've been looking at this past pair of fortnights.
Evan Wright's Generation Kill is the product of a Rolling Stone writer's experience with a platoon of the First Marine Division's recon battalion during the Second Gulf War, and reads better than you'd expect a book pieced together out of several magazine articles would. It's a good story, which helps, and the Recon Marines themselves are a bunch of characters no Hollywood scriptwriter would ever buy off on, which helps even more since this particular slice of life is hella stranger than any (mainstream) fiction. It's a weird combination of humor and horror, with life imitating art all over the wretched landscape of Iraq as the Recon Marines dash forward on a mission they weren't trained for under leaders they normally wouldn't be working with. Highly recommended.
Much like Paula Volsky's The White Tribunal, Charles Stross' The Family Business is science fiction that reads like fantasy. This is due to its literary genealogy which traces to H. Beam Piper's Paratime Police novels (e.g. Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen) and Roger Zelazny's Amber novels, which unlike the Piper stories I was never able to fight my way through. Anyhow, Stross' novel starts out fast, with its heroine fired from her job as an investigative journalist and within twenty-four hours being propelled into a semi-medieval world where she's a member of the small number of people who can walk between the worlds, generating immense wealth - and locking their home world into a rigid feudal structure subject to periodic murderous, fratricidal wars. Very interesting stuff; recommended if you like the sort of alternate-world story. It may convince me to give the Amber novels a third try after The Guns of Avalon and Sign of the Unicorn left me cold.
I am convinced after reading the newest Honor Harrington novel, At All Costs, that Weber's Honorverse is getting a bit out of hand. The action here is contemporaneous with The Shadow of Saganami and, I suspect, follows hard on the heels of Crown of Slaves. One can't help wondering if all three were written as one humungous book that was sliced up deftly by the Baen editors...anyway, this novel picks up where War of Honor left off, with the undergunned Alliance getting walloped by the resurgent Havenites in a war that neither side really wanted but neither side can bring itself to stop. Considering the political and technical detail Weber goes into, I don't think it's really fair to compare him to C.S Forester any more. The more appropriate comparison is to Tom Clancy or Larry Bond, since Weber is basically writing SF technothrillers and not stinting on his character development while he's at it. This novel has it all - Honor's family and personal problems mixed in with the politics of Grayson, the Star Kingdom, and the Manticoran relations with the Solarian League and its own minor allies, with extra cheese, meatballs, and a murthering great battle for the climax. If you liked the other novels in the series, you're going to love At All Costs, but I wouldn't start a novice to the series with it unless you want to see their head explode. There's way too much going on.
Not worth finishing: Annie Proulx' The Shipping News. Not since Shinji Ikari have I disliked a protagonist this much...actually, I'm not being fair to Shinji, who is at least mildly interesting in his irritating unlikability. Quoyle is merely pathetic and boring. Close Range, OTOH, was a good collection of stories if you like stories about hapless people in bad situations. "Brokeback Mountain" is actually an interesting story, in its way; it may well be the best one in the collection. Still not interested in seeing the movie.
Do they give all New York Times pundits an extra shot of growth hormone for the Patronizing lobe of their brains? Quite apart from the politics, the writing styles of Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman has long repelled me, and now I find myself adding Thomas Friedman to their company. The World Is Flat was given to me as a Christmas present, and now that I'm halfway through the book I'm ready to hand it over to revolutionaryjo, who expressed interest in it after listening to Friedman on NPR. More power to her...the book contains absolutely nothing that people who read Snow Crash any time in the last few years, or who have spent a minimal amount of time paying attention to the blogosphere, haven't seen already. It's an account of how the world is being made "flat" by the advent of the Internet and businesses moving to take advantage of it. Friedman got off on the wrong foot with me by repeating the canard (long disproved by Columbus' biographer, the eminent S. E. Morison) that Columbus set out to prove the world was round. This immediately made me wonder how many other easily researched facts Friedman was going to screw up. The book weaves together outsourcing and offshoring, Netscape and WalMart, and the evolution of personal computers with their software in a very familiar story. Well, familiar to anyone with an interest in any of those topics, that is, since they are all interrelated and have been done to death in the blogosphere by any number of people who write more concisely and less patronizingly than Friedman. Maybe the second half will have some new insights or perceptive gems to offer, but I wouldn't bet tomorrow's lunch on it. Pass.
Speaking of Snow Crash, I'm re-reading Cryptonomicon. I'm not sure whether I want to bother with Stephenson's Baroque Cycle of novels; my tastes in historical fiction run more towards George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels or Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series. I'm also slowly making my way through Paul Johnson's A HIstory of the American People again, since it's starting to look like I'm going to have to rewrite my Colonial America unit plan from scratch. (Bugger.)
Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a genuinely funny look at proper punctuation and a call to arms for those picky about proper use of the comma, semi-colon, and especially the poor, abused apostrophe. I'm not sure it's worth the $19.95 I forked over to Daytons' for it, but then I'm not to the end of the book yet. I daresay it would go well with one's Strunk & White, a blue pencil, and a good-sized mug of Morning Thunder.
Speaking of impulsive purchases, I picked up DVDs of The Road to Perdition and Dark City at Wal-Mart and Best Buy respectively, and have added them to the stack of DVDs I really ought to watch one of these days when I get caught up on everything else. Which is to say you should look for the reviews sometime in the summer of 2007 after I finish my first year of teaching, if the current plans don't misfire.