I actually had a reasonably productive weekend, at least in terms of reading. I plowed through three books, one on Saturday and two on Sunday, so you get mini-reviews!
THEM: Adventures with Extremists, Jon Ronson.
We had seen several episodes of a British documentary called The Secret Rulers of the World on Trio. Turns out that the documentary was based on this book, or, um, maybe the other way around, as it seems kind of unlikely that Ronson could have gone back and gotten people to do and say the things they did and look spontaneous. So the documentary was first.
But there are more crazies in the book, including Omar Bakri Mohammed, who imagines himself as the absolute leader of a Muslim Britain (and who's been in hot water post-9/11); Thom Robb, the almost New-Agey leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who encourages his followers to take a kinder, gentler approach to racism; Ian Paisley, hardcore Irish Protestant preacher and militant Orangeman; and the very rich, and very odd, Mr. Ru Ru, collector of Ceausescu artifacts.
We also learn that Ronson made it into the Bohemian Grove on his own; the documentary implied that he only saw the goings-on via the tape brought back by radio-show host Alex Jones and his producer. His view was quite different from Jones's, as well: he gives THEM some slack—maybe they're just overgrown frat boys, rather than bloodthirsty Satan-worshippers or 12' tall, baby-eating, Ickean lizards.
Ronson takes a more moderate tack in the book than in the documentary. The power of the testimony of his interviewees gets lost here as he mocks them and they can't respond. Still, the book is an interesting and fun read, and gives you some insight into some additional crazies who didn't make the cut for the documentary.
Them Bones, Howard Waldrop.
One of the legendary second series of Terry Carr's “Ace Specials” (some of the others you may have heard of include Neuromancer (Gibson), The Wild Shore (Robinson), and Green Eyes (Shepard)), Them Bones is classic Waldrop.
There are three interwoven stories, all tied to time travellers from the future trying to save their world by sending people into the past to interfere with events.
The first storyline stars Bessie Level, an archaeologist doing salvage archaeology on a mound threatened by flooding from dams in 1929 Louisiana. What she finds is unexpected.
The second, and most detailed, features Madison Yazoo Leake, a military scout sent back to prepare the way for a larger invasion force. Unfortunately, the technology is a bit buggy, and Leake finds himself lost in a past hundreds of years before the target date. He goes native.
Finally we have the clipped military reports and diary of Maggie Smith, a corporal in the military detachment Leake was scouting for, in a different past, slowly whittled away by the natives.
The threads come together through Bessie's work, but it's the details, especially in her and Leake's storylines, that make the book worth reading.
Also fascinating is the essay at the end of the book that talks about its incubation. Waldrop is famous (or notorious) for thinking about stories for years, only writing them down and submitting them when he thinks they're ready. This book was no exception.
Trap for Cinderella, Sebastien Japrisot.
A murder mystery with a twist—the main character is a young woman who has survived a fire, but with her face and hands badly burnt. Reconstructive surgery gives her a new face, and functional hands, but she wakes up with amnesia. Is she the rich girl Me or her poor friend Do? And just how pure was Do, anyway?
By the time you reach the end you'll probably have figured out which girl she was before she does herself, but the ride is enjoyable. Not quite as good as A Very Long Engagement, but still worth the read.