Monday, February 28, 2011

Top Ten Books Gathering Dust

Not every book purchased gets read immediately, despite our best intentions. This week the Broke and the Bookish are revealing the identities of long-term residents of the To-Be-Read piles, stacks, and mountains hiding in their homes.

1. A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe

I only bought this book last week, so strictly speaking it shouldn't count -- but I've been "meaning to" read this book for well over a year now, because one of the characters quotes repeatedly from Marcus Aurelius and has been the inspiration for some people to study Stoicism.  I've been going to the W's and pondering this book once a month or so for many months now, and every month I find that the book is still big and is still set in the business world.  Last week I noticed it had been discarded, and so snapped it up.

2. Stiffed, Susan Faludi

I heard about this book in sociology class, specifically in my "Gender Roles and Culture" class....then I saw it in the library's bookstore and picked it up. I've read the first few pages several times.

3. Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Volume II: The New Testament (Isaac Asimov)

I read the first volume in this series in the summer of 2008, I think, and purchased this in the fall of 2009. Still haven't gotten around to reading it, but I certainly don't regret buying it -- as with many other rare Asimov books in my collection, the price for finding a copy has risen sharply.  I say carpe diem and buy the books whenever I spy a good opportunity.

4 Marcus Aurelius: A Life, Frank McLynn
Purchased this in the spring of 2010, intending to read it over the summer. Hasn't happened yet but it will: I'm particularly interested in Aurelius' philosophical life.

5. Triangle, Isaac Asimov
My used copy was purchased without a dust cover, but this appears to be from the same edition.

Triangle contains the original Empire trilogy. I purchased it in...oh, the fall of 2008, and in the years since I've read a third of it. I want to finish the Empire series this year, though, so it may be stricken from the list at some point this year.

6. The Captain's Table anthology

This book collects...four or five books into one very BIG book. I bought it because at $2, it was a bargain on Amazon. Never read it, though, nor even started to. I would've, but last year I started getting back into Trek literature and reading dozens of standalone novels set in the new shared continuity.

7. A People's History of the World, Chris Harman
I bought this in the spring of 2010, thinking it to be a summer read.  Since then it's sat on my shelf, though I read the first couple of chapters alongside Will Durant's Our Oriental Heritage.

8. ....that Michael Crichton anthology containing several novels which I also picked up in the library discard bookstore and can't even FIND now.
I can't remember its title, or any of the books in it. But I paid .50 cents for it, and it's...somewhere in my bedroom, hiding under stacks of books.

9 & 10. Various Isaac Asimov science books.
I bought a dozen or so paperback science texts by Asimov last summer and haven't gotten around to them yet.  I mostly bought them because I'm an...Asimovophile and seeing several shelves full of Asimov books all arranged in a neat row pleases me. I do intend on reading one of them soon, though -- "The Wellsprings of Life", which I purchased with birthday money.

Teaser Tuesday (1 March)

Marching headlong into spring, this is the first Teaser Tuesday of the month.
...well, it's Tuesday already somewhere in the world.

"Are you in trouble again? Did you kidnap another world leader when I wasn't looking?"
"No, but the day's young yet," Picard said, pulling down on the front of his uniform.

p. 21, Paths of Disharmony. Dayton Ward.

Combat was physically exhausting for even the strongest of fighter pilots, requiring enormous effort from limbs that were stiff with cold, as well was constant, almost superhuman alertness, split-second reaction to danger, and complete physical indifference to rapidly building g-forces and stomach-churning changes of direction that no fairground ride in the world could have imitated -- with your mouth dry from breathing oxygen; your eyes smarting from the fumes of gasoline, oil, and exhaust seeping into the cockpit and from staring into the sun; and the radio pouring into your ears a constant tumult of static, orders, warnings, and awful cries of pain and despair. All this in the knowledge that you were sitting behind (or in the Messerschmitt, in front of and above) many gallons of high-octane fuel that could turn you into a blazing torch in seconds, not to speak of hundreds of rounds of ammunition, while somewhere from above and behind you another nineteen- to twenty-year old might already be swooping down on you from behind the sun to change your role in an instant from hunter to prey and end your life in a burst of fire lasting less than a second. 

p. 65- 66, With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain. Michael Korda.

With Wings Like Eagles

With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain
© 2009 Michael Korda
322  pages

"The odds were great: our margins small: the stakes infinite." - Vice Air Marshal Keith Park, No. 11 Group. RAF.

As far as drama goes, the Second World War is unmatched, for few conflicts in human history have lent themselves so well to stories of good and evil. Following the unexpectedly quick collapse of the French army in May 1940,  Great Britain found itself the lone democracy actively engaged in opposition against the monstrous ego of Adolf Hitler, set to make himself the master of Europe.  The other democracies had been conquered by the Blitzkrieg, Germany's potent combination of tanks and dive bombers, and the Soviet Union, the only continental power capable of curbing Hitler's ambitions, had become his accomplice in destroying Poland. Far across the Atlanatic, the United States looked on disinterestedly,  not keen on the idea of being engaged in another European war.  Throughout the summer of 1940,  Britain stood alone -- defended by her Navy and her airmen in the Royal Air Force. This is their story.

Though highly complimentary of the airmen -- whose character and fortitude stand out -- and the Spitfires and Hurricanes they flew,  Korda sees the RAF's triumph as being the product of sound leadership, both from forward thinking politicians like Neville Chamberlain and its own military leadership, particularly that of Air Marshall Hugh Dowding. Though reviled as an appeaser, Korda is kind to Chamberlaine and sees his leadership as responsible for the establishment of Britain's "Chain Home" range of radar stations. Dowding is the great hero of Korda's story, though. As the head of Fighter Command, his gifts for organization and grasp of air strategy allowed him to consistently turn back the Luftwaffe through the long summer, a time of generally clear weather and smooth seas that would pave the way for a German invasion in the event of failure.  Korda hails him for not only guiding the RAF's fighters through these perilous times, but standing up to the British government, particularly Winston Churchill, when their actions compromised his fighters' ability to do their work.

With Wings Like Eagles is an excellent narrative history of the Battle, remarkable for its thoroughness and detail. The story begins in the 1920s, covering the evolution of British and German air strategy and advances in airplane design. I had no idea that seaplanes were at one time regarded as the future of military aviation, or that the Spitfire was created from maritime designs. Like Albert Marrin, Korda's use of detail puts the the reader in the driver's seat along with the pilots, or inside Bentley Priory where all the information from the RAF's observation posts and RADAR stations  was channelled and interpreted by Dowding into squadron-by-squadron instructions. Rather than risk all his men in a set-piece battle with the Luftwaffe, he chose instead to force them to underestimate his strength and bleed themselves to death by rushing into apparent breaches again and again. This airborne chess match between Dowding and the Luftwaffe continues throughout the book, ending only in the fall of 1940, when weather conditions marginalized the prospect of German invasion.  Along with his reappraisal of Chamberlain, Korda is also skeptical of Operation Sealion's threat to British sovereignty. Hitler seemed to be less than enthusiastic about the operation and committed to it only after it became obvious that Churchhill was not about to be replaced by 'reasonable' men who were willing to admit to Britain's defeat. 

I'm quite impressed with With Wings as Eagles: I enjoyed it chiefly in one sitting and think it as appropriate for an undergraduate history paper as it is for a leisurely afternoon read. Korda is generous with book recommendations, another boon for students of the subject. Recommended. 

Related (and Recommended):
  • The Airman's War, Albert Marrin.  Coverage of WW2's aerial campaigns from the American perspective.
  • The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, James S. Corum. 
  • The Influence of Air Power Upon History, Walter J. Boyne

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vintage SF Covers

A few weeks ago while browsing eBay and looking for history works by either H.G. Wells or Isaac Asimov,   I spotted someone selling six classic Wells works for $6. Not six a piece, six all told.  They're fifty-cent paperbacks from the 1960s in great condition, and the seller sent me a seventh book just to be nice.  Anyway, being as I an admirer of vintage book covers...

Funny, I don't recall the Martians landing Robo-Spartans...

Is the isle of Dr. Moreau home to Morlocks?

I don't know what these books are about, but if this series is consistent, their covers have nothing to do with them. ;-)

Depending on your resolution, those pictures will probably glitch into the sidebar, but it doesn't seem distracting on my monitor.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Paths of Disharmony

Star Trek Typhon Pact: Paths of Disharmony
© 2011 Dayton Ward
459 pages

Andoria hangs over the edge of a precipice, only generations away from extinction. Founding members of the Federation, Andorians are unique in possessing four sexes, all of which are required to produce offspring -- a single offspring, for twins are rare to the point of nonexistence. Such an arrangement makes it difficult for the population to maintain its own numbers, and they have been in steep decline for decades.  If trends continue, the population will vanish.The crisis has been a long time coming, appearing first in the Deep Space Nine relaunch "Mission: Gamma" series, but attacks on Andoria by the Borg have made the problem more acute, and Federation attempts to help -- which involve complementing the Andorian genome with alien strains that will allow two-sex pairs to produce young, and which will increase the instance of twins -- have produced only mixed results and are regarded by many Andorians, particularly religious "Visionists", as repugnant.  In the wake of increasing hostility toward the Federation, the USS Enterprise has arrived in orbit carrying scientists from across the galaxy to attend a genetics conference in hopes of finding some answer to this troublesome dilemma.

As eager as I was to finish the Typhon Pact miniseries off, its setting of Andoria gave me pause. Relaunch Andorians are a whiny bunch, so much to the point that while reading the Mission: Gamma series, I hurried through the chapters featuring Shar, who appears on the front cover of this book. I like Ward's style, though, so I read Paths -- and found it a political thriller which beats even Rough Beasts of Empire in giving the Trek universe a shake-up.  Though the reader is treated to character development a plenty (Picard is now a father to little René), most of the action takes place on-planet, as Picard and the Andorian government attempt to carry out the conference amid much moodiness, terrorist attacks,  and outright conspiracies while inthe shadows, the Typhon Pact lurks and schemes. This is an excellent conclusion to the miniseries which focuses on the Federation's new rival:  they're obviously growing in strength, and accomplish a masterstroke here: the book's conclusion is stunning -- and a bit of downer.

Paths of Disharmony makes it clear how subtle and potent a foe the Federation now faces and sets the stage for the books to come.  Interestingly, Paths' impetus is more the Vanguard series than the other Typhon Pact books, and it's worth nothing that Ward is one of the two authors (along with David Mack) who has contributed the most to that series.  Though it doesn't end on a happy note, Paths should please most Trek readers with the growth of the Enterprise-E staff and fast-paced plot of political intrigue.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Outline of History

The Outline of History, Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind (Volume I)
© 1920 H.G. Wells, revised edition by G.P. Wells and Raymond Postgate © 1970
550 pages

At the close of the Great War, people wondered how such a monstrous conflict could have arisen and destroyed so many lives. In part to answer this question, and out of conviction that contemporary history texts were not up to the task. H.G. Wells set about penning an epic history of humanity, beginning with the formation of the Earth billions of years ago. His opening chapters cover the tumultous early years of Earth and the rise of life, followed by four hundred pages of human history -- from the birth of agriculture to the Crusades.Though originally published in 1920, Wells continually revised the book in keeping with new discoveries, a work continued by his son and Raymond Postgate after his death. Wells' account and the many revisions through the decades seem to have aged well, as there were no notable discrepancies between this and my readings from last week, consisting of modern treatments of the same subjects. I am altogether impressed with the work of Postgate: his seamless revisions only stick out when they reference events Wells could not have possibly written about, being dead at the time.  I chose to read this book because Wells is for me a representative of the late 19th century: his protagonists in novels such as War of the Worlds are the ideal man -- intelligent, literate in various fields of study, humanistically moral, and advocates of technological, cultural, and social progress. His voice is what I generally expect of Wells: elegant and strong, encouraging me to read sections of the narrative aloud and savor the flow of his sentences and the texture of his word choices. It was such a reading on the Punic Wars that an offhand joke -- completely unexpected from such a 'serious' author as Wells -- startled me into laughter that did not abate for several minutes. Though an intellectual, Wells is not above a sly remark or two.

The Outline of History is an ambitious title, one that forces Wells to be economical with his narrative. He thus focuses on the big picture, studying a given civilization's growth or regress than reciting fact after fact. He quotes liberally from other historians, including Herodotus and Edward Gibbon. Most of the book follows the standard narrative of western history seen: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and finally Europe. It is not wholly eurocentric, though: his frequent diversions to China, Persia, and India, followed by his focus on Arabia in this volume's final hundred pages, succeed in offering the reader a broad perspective with a slight western emphasis.

Though writing to (presumably) an early-20th century western audience, Wells does not pander to them by vigorously condemning  paganism or by giving Christianity preferential treatment. Though he regards Jesus and Christianity favorably, he approaches them in the same way as he approaches Buddha, Muhammed, Mani, and Zoroaster. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Cheston are chauvinistic babies for whining about Wells' very complimentary treatment of Christianity. He's also very keen on Buddha, though not so much the religion that others created around him, and regards Islam as a triumph even though its founder was unremarkable, "cast from commoner clay" than Jesus.  While he doesn't praise religion and authority figures as much as Will Durant, he appreciates those which spur humanity on to greater heights and spares the reader morality tales. Interestingly, he's also completly unimpressed with the Roman empire, seeing it as a prolonged epoch of stagnation and rot following Rome's victory in the Second Punic War -- a series of wars he regards as more wasteful than the Great War which he just survived. He emerges from this first volume as an even-keeled author, whose goal is to make the world understandable. He writes in the introduction that the "why's" of the Great War inspired him to write this, and I have some inkling as to how he will address that question: throughout the book he reminds the reader that despite our accomplishments, biologically we are not far removed from our primitive ancestors, and it is altogether too easy to shove a human being and see him gazing back with the "red eyes of the cave man".  I suspect that the Great War will be attributed to  nationalism's primitivism.

Wells is thus far an engaging author, and I look forward to continuing to the second and final volume of this series -- especially to his coverage of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.  This volume was like returning to my Western History 101 class and being delighted to hear these stories of human history all over again.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Revolutionist

The Revolutionist: A Novel of Russia
© 1988 Robert Littell
467 pages

Arise! You workers from your slumber
Arise! You prisoners of want

For  Reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of "can't". 
"The Internationale", English lyrics by  Eugène Pottier.

In the fourth year of the Great War,  the largest and most conservative monarchy in Europe suddenly collapsed in revolution, only to emerge as the world's first self-proclaimed Communist state. The  'spectre of communism' which had so haunted Europe was now suddenly corporeal, and hearts across the industrialized world set afire -- some in fear, others in desperate hope that an opportunity had finally arrived to create a better tomorrow. Alexander Til, an idealist driven by a longing for justice, was such a soul who saw in the revolution a chance to make the world a more just place -- and so the Russian-born American emigrated back to the country of his grandfather is a letter of recommendation of none other than Leon Trotsky.   Arriving in Petrograd, 'Zander' quickly becomes an agent and literary propagandist for the Bolshevik party, working directly under Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and others as they work to make the county theirs -- a firm believer in the Revolution, but driven by his own moral center.

The Revolutionist is intense from the star and its vigor never fades, maintained by lively characters, snappy dialogue, and a plot which follows the lives of a diverse cast of characters through decades of war, terror, and political intrigue . Upon arrival in Russia, Zander begins living with a group of Bolsheviks in an elegant home known as the Steamship: though disagreeing on much, they all believe in the cause which will dominate their life. Some of Zanders' fellow Steamship comrades would live to be bitterly disappointed by the products of their labor: others would be made monstrous by it, and some would die rather than endure it. Zander' morality is taxed to his limits as he tries to find the right course between morality and The Cause, making his way through the paranoid and horrifically murderous years of the Stalinist era.

As far as thrillers go, this must be one of the best I've ever read. My historic interest in popular revolutions made it engaging reading, particularly given that Lenin and Stalin appear as oft-used secondary characters.  The author makes Til entirely sympathetic, and seems to view the revolution as doomed from the start, driven by morally bankrupt men like Stalin who were corrupt from the start.  He takes the same attitude toward as Dickens did toward the similarly disappointing French Revolution, which started out in idealism but ended in its own 'reign of terror' -- the Russian revolution is far more disastrous, however, given that Stalin's butchery lasted for decades. The worst effects of his rule are demonstrated clearly in the novel, as people are made afraid to speak out or live bravely,  dominated completely by the world's first totalitarian state. Zander and his friends are put through the mill, their lives destroyed by the deteriorating political situation which throws more than a few plot twists at the reader. I had no idea how Til would see the end of the work through, or even if he would --  it deemed like a story that would end in death. The actual conclusion surprised me.

A singularly impressive work, one I daresay which will linger in my mind for months to come.


  • Archangel, Robert Harris. A political thriller set in Russia, and likewise dominated by Stalin. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Top Ten Book-to-Movie Adaptations

The best, or at least the most popular, literary dramas are often turned into movies, though purists insist a movie can never better the original novel. While I'm just as biased towards books as anyone, I suspect people favor the story in whichever medium they saw first -- most of the time. Both novels and movies have their  own advantages:  movies are bound by budgets, but authors suffer no such limitations. Readers can enjoy novels at their own pace, savoring particularly well-crafted paragraphs -- for the written word's style can be just as artful as its content.  At the same time, movies can awe the viewer with spectacles that authors can't take time to explain for want of space,  and a good actor can redeem characters who seem flat in books. Of course, the greatest advantage movies enjoy is the musical score.

All that said, this week the Broke and the Bookish are discussing their favorite move adaption of books. 

1. A Series of Unfortunate Events (Daniel Handler)

Series is one of my favorite movies, one of the few I keep on my bedside shelf and watch when I am sick, whether emotionally or physically. It's masterfully done: high points include the earnest narration, visuals, acting, and Jim Carrey at his finest. Most memorably for me is its score, especially the scene at the Wide Window. As soon as I hear it, I know I am in for an adventure. 

If you've never seen it, this is the movie where Jim Carrey pretends to be a dinosaur. 

2. Horatio Hornblower  (C.S. Forester)

I do so dearly love these movies. I started reading the Hornblower books last spring, but when I found the movies online I watched all eight in a single weekend, then bought them on DVD so I could enjoy them once more at my leisure. Ioan Gruffuld plays the young Midshipman Hornblower as he rises in the ranks, watched over by Captain Sir Edward Pewllow, played so grandly by Robert Lindsay. Lindsay's emotionwork is impressive, and adds a fatherly affection for Hornblower that the books don't make plain. It's never obvious, but Lindsay conveys it in his eyes, in the timbre of his voice, in the way he looks at Hornblower with earnest affection and pride. 

...and of course, that dramatic music that plays when the Indefatigable is on her way to adventures on the high seas is also a plus. And don't forget the scene where a French aristocrat insults a crowd of rural townsfolk and orders them around, only to be met by a chorus of "La Marseillaise"! (The fun starts about ten seconds in.)

3. Where Eagles Dare (Alistair McLean)

If you've seen this movie, chances are you can hear the drums from its intro score beating in your head right now. Where Eagles Dare is my favorite World War 2 movie, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as covert agents of their respective (Anglo-American) governments, infiltrating a castle in the mountains in the middle of World War 2 to strike a blow against the Nazis.  Their stated objective is to rescue a general who knows the Allied invasion plans, but this is a spy thriller with many twists and turns, and so many of them pop up in a given scene that Eastwood's character speaks for viewers when he says to his comrade, "Right now, you've got me as confused as I ever hope to be." There are car chases, explosions, and gratuitous fight scenes involving MP-40s and "potato-mashers".

Strangely enough, Iron Maiden retold this story in rock form. 

4. True Grit (Charlies Portis)

John Wayne plays Rooster Cogburn, a one-eyed drunken crank who also serves as a U.S. Marshall. In True Grit, he's tasked by an exceptionally stubborn and loud-mouthed girl with finding the man who killed her father. This ranks as one of my favorite John Wayne movies (along with Rio Bravo and North to Alaska), though I never like the actress who plays the girl.

5. The Rainmaker (John Grisham)

While I'd heard of John Grisham before my 11th grade creative writing class watched this movie, I'd never encountered his work before. This movie and its book remain my favorite Grisham productions (though as far as books go, The Last Juror is occasionally in first place). Matt Damon plays Rudy Baylor, and he's joined by Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, and Jon Voight. The bluesey soundtrack is especially effective in transporting the viewer to Memphis, as is Damon's drawl. 

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)

Like I'd miss mentioning this movie, which captures the charm and adventure of the first movie perfectly while introducing us to John William's scoring,  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and others? 

7. Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)

Speaking of movies scored by John Williams, this one also features Jeff Goldblum's voice and CGI dinosaurs.

8. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
I watch this movie every year, naturally, and I'm prone to watching it during the middle of summer just because I like it so much. It stars Patrick Stewart as Ebeneezer Scrooge, and he does a masterful job as the old crank whose soul is redeemed. Casting and visuals are impressive throughout, but some scenes in particular are well done:
  •  the casting of Scrooge's nephew. Their every scene together is precious.
  • the sweet, haunting melody that plays in connection with the mention of his sister Fran.
  • The dancing scene when Picar - um, Scrooge is seeing his young self as an apprentice. Very lively, and the sounds of those period instruments linger with me.
  • That oh-so-heartwrenching scene where Scrooge's love walks out of his life, disappearing into the snow, while Young Scrooge sits debating with himself and Old Scrooge pleads with him to "Go to her".  
  • The dramatic score of "The First Noel" when Scrooge is being yanked around during Christmas present..
  • And Pic- SCROOGE! -- in the graveyard scene, when Pic.. *ahem*. 
  • And the Scrooge scene in the graveyard, when Scrooge argues with the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come and redeems himself.

9. Contact (Carl Sagan)

Ellie Arroway is a radio astronomer whose interest in extraterrestial life relegates her to the fringes of scientific thought until the Very Large Array in the American southwest picks up a Signal from another solar system. The Signal includes, among other things, blueprints for a machine -- function unknown. It's a film that takes science seriously -- both the wonder those who study it enjoy, and the value of their method and idealism. 

10. The Bicentennial Man (Isaac Asimov)

Although I read one of Isaac Asimov's science books in high school, this movie starring Robin Williams and featuring Oliver Pratt was my first introduction to Asimovian fiction. This is the classic tale of a robot who wants to explore his humanity.  Because of it, I read The Positronic Man, thinking the two stories were the same. (They're not.  Bicentennial Man is based off of a short story.)  Robin Williams made the movie for me, though I also found Embeth Davidtz to be a very alluring actress.

Honorable Mentions:

The Three Musketeers. Frankly, this adventure-comedy starring Christopher O'Donnell, Charlie Sheen (as a priest!), Oliver Pratt, and Tim Curry as the hamtastically evil Cardinal Richelieu would have been number eight, but I remembered I'd never actually finished reading the book. My own rules for this were that I had to have seen the movie and read the book. I doubt the movie pleases lovers of classic literature, or film critics in general, but it's a favorite of mine.  It's the reason I've tried (and failed, twice) to read the original book by Dumas. 

Gettysburg (The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara)
In 2002, my parents and I went on vacation in Tennessee and Kentucky, where we visited the Abraham Lincoln museum and I bought both a movie and a book from the Civil War period. I read the book, a stirring account of the Battle of Gettysburg, on the way back to Selma, and that very night on our return I decided to watch the movie. I then realized the movie was an adaption of the book, and both were splendid. I can still quote parts of the dialogue at length (including the awkward "Shouting over Cannons Firing" speeches), even though I haven't seen it in years. The casting is excellent, which made Gods and Generals a disappointment by comparison.(I'd expected to see the very colorful General Pickett played by his former actor, but that fellow played Thomas Jackson instead.)

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell.
I dropped this from the list because my only comment was "How stunning is Vivien Leigh"?

Teaser Tuesday (22 February)

Teaser Tuesday once again, and I'm throwing out extras.
Before the evening was out she had seduced him into seducing her, a conquest that the young Tuohy lived to regret when he discovered, at roughly the same time as the dean, that his latest mistress was the dean's youngest daughter. Which is how Tuohy, despite his passing grades, came to be expelled from the Columbia University School of Mines.

p. 39, The Revolutionist. Robert Littell.
"...cannot outward appearances be deceptive?"
More thinking. "I suppose. My supervisor says I appear unintelligent. For that matter, so does my wife. And she appeared warm and loving when I first married her."

 p. 271, Over a Torrent Sea. Christopher L. Bennett.

"The situation is worse than we thought," Melora told Vale and the others in the observation lounge."
"Naturally," Vale said. "Because things have just been going so well this week."

264, Over a Torrent Sea. Christopher L. Bennett.

Considering that the captain and another officer went missing after being engulfed by a massive hurricane on a water-planet, the ship is partially disabled after trying to stop an asteroid from smacking into said planet, the inhabitants of said planet are angry as a swarm of hornets that Titan has seemingly shot an asteroid at their ecosystem, and the Captain's very pregnant wife has been kidnapped by a large, paranoid dinosaur who insists she give birth someplace safe, like an industrial planet on the edge of their own WW1,.....I think she's being sarcastic.

"As the indignities of the present became more and more disagreeable to contemplate, the past and the other world became more splendid to Egyptian eyes. It is from the festering humilitations of peoples that arrogant religious propagandas bring."

p. 302, The Outline of History. H.G. Wells. For those who have wondered why I haven't updated since last week, it's because I've been reading nothing but this Outline. ;-)  I am on the cusp of finishing it, though, so today I cut back on it and started The Revolutionist.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This Week at the Library (9 Feb - 15 Feb)

February has been dominated by fiction so far, helped in part by my recent back of Trek acquisitions which I've not yet exhausted. I've also been in a weird funk as of late, unable to find science and even history books of interest to me: Asimov's history of The Near East was a book I purchased and saved for such just an occasion. It succeeded in whetting my appetite for more history.

Last week I added a new label, 'military', which applies toward works (fiction or otherwise) expressly about combat or military action. I've also added a new page this week, which keeps track of my Nonfiction Reading Challenge reads.

In addition to two excellent Trek works (Summon the Thunder and Over a Torrent Sea), and a short police story, I read A History of Life on Earth by Jon Erickson. I didn't do full comments on it because as I found out, it's more of a reference book focusing on planetary science and evolution, tracking the changing nature of the Earth and the forms of life which dwell upon it.  The book mostly describes the history of life and is laden with charts, maps, and illustrations that range from beautiful to embarrassingly simplistic. Erickson frequently comment on how geography drives evolution, and offers a look into how planetary scientists have struggled to piece together a history of the planet.

I am also halfway through The Ten Great Ideas of Science by Peter Atkins.

Since the challenge began, I have read eight applicable books, two of which I added this week. I've created a 'page' which contains the full list.

  • The Near East (History)
  • A History of Life on Earth (Science)

Next Week's Potentials..

  • I may very well finish The Confessions this week, as for the first time in months I am excited about reading it. I don't know why, but I am feeling recharged in other areas as well. 
  • The Ten Great Ideas of Science, Peter Atkins. I am rather proud of the way I have been faithfully reading this every night, though my pace is variable. I've gone through a chapter in a day before, and spent three days pondering four pages of details on RNA. 
  • I have a history of Japan I checked out last week. It tried to hide itself between the bed and another piece of furniture, but I found it today. 
  • The Revolutionist by Robert Littell is the story of an American who goes off to fight in the Russian Revolution.

Over a Torrent Sea

Star Trek Titan: Over a Torrent Sea
© 2009 Christopher L. Bennett
356 pages

Cover art and design by Cliff Nielson and Alan Dingman, featuring Aili Lavena, an aquatic member of the Titan crew who has a primary role in the exploration of the world and the book.

Only weeks after the calamitous events of Destiny, the good ship Titan is resuming its mission to explore the further reaches of the galaxy. The discovery of a waterworld mysteriously abounding in life attracts the ship's attention, but (surprise!) their peaceful exploration quickly becomes fraught with peril when an asteroid threatens to impact and a sentient ,whale-like species turn on the Titan crew in confusion, fear, and pain. A plot deep in scientific wonder and mysteries unfolds, and Bennett surprises with some astounding character drama late in the book. The Troi-Tuvok-Dr.Ree story is especially impressive from the emotional angle, though its primacy is threatened by a last-ditch effort on the part of another character to save the day  by facing some of her worst inner demons.

Torrent Sea is fifth in the Titan series, and my only major grumble with it is that most of the Titan books up to this point and even beyond it seem to have the same basic plot: Titan cannot enter a star system without crashing into a Prime Directive conflict. I don't know about Red King, but from Orion's Hounds on through to Seize the Fire,  the Prime Directive plays a central role.  They've been good stories, too, for the most part, it's just odd that the editors don't seem to have caught on. Torrent Sea is an especially strong version of this, because the problems show that the Prime Directive is in place to stop the good guys from making matters worse by trying to help. As in all Bennett novels, this one is inundated by science (which makes me happy) and humor, the author being especially fond of sarcasm and understatement. The amount of character drama and emotional turmoil toward the end of the book rocked me: I wasn't expecting it, and it played out well. Especially impressive is Bennett's handling of the development of sentience and technology in a waterborne race: I used to think that if whales were intelligent, we couldn't tell because they don't have hands to make tools with, but a race in this book succeeds through a kind of bioengineering. Fascinating stuff. He's usually an exceptional author, and it is no accident that his Orion's Hounds and this rank now as my favorite Titan novels.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top Ten Literary Love Stories

Following on the heels of Valentine's Day, the Broke and the Bookish inquire: what are some of your favorite bookish love stories? This is going to be rather difficult for me, because I don't read a lot of books with romance in them. Most of my reading is nonfiction,  and when I do read about a romantic pair in fiction, they're usually already together.

1. Max and Liz, Roswell High (Melinda Metz)

When Liz Ortecho catches a bullet in the stomach,  secret alien orphan Max breaks his cover to save her life, even though it means he might be exposed to a soulless sheriff. Though both science geeks with a longstanding interest in the other, Max doesn't want to let her get too close, given how much danger his life might put her in. Eventually they get together, and a friend of mine and I were so fond of them that we  referred to  Phil Collin's "A Groovy Kind of Love" as "their song".

2. Horatio and Barbara, Captain Horatio Hornblower (C.S. Forester)
"What are we  to do?" he asked feebly.
"Do?" she replied. "We are lovers, and the world is ours. We do as we will." (Beat to Quarters, C.S. Forester)

As soon as these two appeared on deck together, I wanted their spouses to disappear so they could be together. I felt kinda bad about that when their universe of war and disease obliged me.

3. Jean-Luc and Beverly, Death in Winter (Michael Jan Friedman)
"I find you extremely....extremely...-- of course, we haven't time for that sort of thing!"
"What sort of thing?"
"Oh, god, would I love to show you."

For seven years and four movies, these two denied what was bleeding obvious to everyone else. Picard finally realizing  that he's getting a bit too long in the teeth to keep his feelings at a distance is the highlight of the book for me.

4. Heinrich and Ludmila, WorldWar (Harry Turtledove)

In 1942, Heinrich Jaeger is a German tank officer doing his best to acquire Russia for the Fatherland. Ludmila is a diehard daughter of the Bolshevik revolution. By all rights, they should hate each other: their countries are at war, and their nations' ideologies are fundamentally hostile to the other. And yet, when space lizards interrupt the human-on-human bloodshed, these two become an unlikely pair of comrades, friends, and later lover-commandos.  Aside from Sam Yeager, they were my favorite characters in the series.

5. Sidney Carton, Lucie, and...another; A Far Better Rest (Susanne Alleyn)
Carton's love for Lucie Manette reforms his life in A Tale of Two Cities, but while in Paris he meets another woman, and while I can't say a thing without hopeless spoiling the book for anyone else reading, suffice it to say I continue to be impressed by Alleyn's talent for character drama.

6. Sam and Caroline, Redcoat (Bernard Cornwell)
I never expected to become interested in a love triangle  (of all things) when I picked up this novel of the American War of Independence, but so help me I did. I was rather irritated at Cornwell when I realized all three characters were good people who I didn't want to see hurt.

7. Romeo and Juliet, "The Tragedy" thereof. (William Shakespeare)
They're a cliche, I know, but the play has some great lines in it from start to finish, and I think it nice that their twin suicides brought their families together.

8. Kathyrn and Chakotay, Full Circle and Unworthy. (Kirsten Beyer)

I would have never picked this prior to 2010. I didn't like Chakotay. But Kirsten Beyer made me not only like the guy, but actually root for this pairing. Full Circle is just that good.

9. Jacob and Rachel, Hebrew scriptures
You're awfully white for a mideastern chick, what gives? 

I'm not Jewish or religious, but I woke up this morning with these two on my mind. Go figure. If you're not hip to the Hebrew legends, once a fellow named Jacob ran away from home and fell in love with a girl named Rachel. Jacob asked Rachel's father for permission to marry the fair lass, and the father says "Sure! -- if you'll work for me for seven years."  Jacob, who apparently finds Rachel quite fetching, agrees. After seven years Rachel's pop walks his veiled daughter down the aisle, and Jacob takes her to bed only to find out -- oops -- he just married Rachel's homelier older sister, Leah. Turns out in Daddy's tribe, younger sisters can't marry out of turn.  Jacob protests, and daddy tells him that he can marry Rachel, too, if he'll work seven MORE years.

Now, seeing as this guy has already proven himself an untrustworthy cheat, there are a great many things I might be tempted to do to him -- but taking him at his word and working seven more years isn't one of them. But apparently Jacob thought Rachel was worth it -- worth the work, worth the humiliation of having been cheated, worth the lack of satisfaction he may have gotten from kicking daddy dear in the hind quarters.

Later on Leah  mocked her sister for not being able to have kids. That gal  is a real prize. No wonder daddy had to lie to get her married.

10. Rudy and Kelly, The Rainmaker. (John Grisham)
Sometimes doing the right thing means suing an insurance company. Sometimes it means helping your girlfriend get away with offing her abusive husband because the judge won't put him away.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (15 February)

Tuesday already?

"With that rhetorical but heartfelt flourish behind us, it is time to get down to sex." 
 - p. 32, Galileo's Finger: the Ten Great Ideas of Science, Peter Atkins.

"'Kidnapping' is such an ugly word, Ambassador", the Chelon replied as he made his way back to the sat of the table. "I prefer to think of this as a unilateral yet temporary rearrangement of your calendar." 

p. 281, Star Trek Vanguard: Summon the Thunder, Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore

"Well," the burly Tellarite remarked with no small amount of enthusiasm as he stepped into the room, "command colors and braid appear to suit you, Captain. Though I have to say, I miss the skirt."
Khatami smiled at the remark, one that only a close friend such as Mog even would attempt in the first place. "Captain's prerogative. I always liked the pants, anyway."

- 242, ST Vanguard: Summon the Thunder,  Ward and Dilmore

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Near East

The Near East: 10,000 Years of History
© 1968 Isaac Asimov
277 pages

Come, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings. ("Richard II", William Shakespeare)

Civilization first began in the 'land between the rivers', Mesopotamia, and as this epic history of the area proves, the near east has been the cradle of many of humanity's ideas throughout the centuries. Asimov's history begins at the birth of agriculture, and so as the story unfolds we witness not only the birth of various political entities, but of civilization proper itself -- the first cities develop, men begin to make tools and weapons of bronze and iron; horses grow into impressive creatures capable of carrying armored men to war, and the first histories and records are read. Religions and philosophies flower in these highlands and deserts that survive today -- either by themselves, or through altered forms. No era  in human history has seen a lull in the action in this land, and The Near East is accordingly an exiting and fascinating read.

Asimov surprised me by committing to such a vast expanse of time: that "ten thousand years of history" starts with agriculture and ends shortly before the Israeli-Arabic wars,  with Asimov penning hopes for peace that seem sad, so many decades into the future with permanent concordance seemingly impossible. The meat of the book is ancient history, though the rise of the Arabs and Turks is given plenty of consideration and I learned far more about the period's fate in the early 20th century that I anticipated. I had no idea that Britain and Russia both invaded the area just to ensure stable communications  The book's emphasis is not misplaced, for the stories of Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria, and others deserve to be told. Egypt is only mentioned tangentially, which seems curious, but is understandable given that Asimov covered the land of the Nile in another book. Egypt's political influence on the affairs of other Near Eastern countries is addressed properly, though.  The book's scope allows one chapter's heroes to be another chapter's mythic legends, and Asimov's narrative shows how kings were constantly trying to co-opt the legacies of prior rulers. I had no idea that the most famous Nebuchadrezzer  lived in entirely different era than his namesake - the original Nebby, who lived not too long after Hammurabi.  That Asimov draws from the Sumerian king lists and 'official histories' is obvious at the start of the book, which emphasizes history as driven by the wills and capabilities of great men.  

Asimov enjoys a reputation as 'professional explainer',  one established by his use of simple, clear language and  general command of many varied subjects. His prowess as a generalist is an enduring inspiration to me, for he wrote books on science, history, poetry, literature, and others with equal ease: that showed here, as he draws facts and conclusions from literary sources like the Jewish bible and Persian epic poetry. I found the book tremendously helpful in understanding the Hellenic period -- all of Alexanders' various generals and their kingdoms confuse me -- and the the history of Persia. I'll be using The Near East as a general reference book for when I want to refresh my knowledge of the period, but the presence of one erroneous fact does give me some pause: when writing on Roman-Persian interaction, Asimov mentions that Hadrian died in 161 and was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, skipping over poor Antonious Pious and his twenty-year reign entirely. (Hadrian died in 138, and was succeeded by Pious, who died in 161.)  I only noticed this because of my fondness for Aurelius. It's a fairly forgivable mistake, as Rome is only being mentioned in connection to Parthia's expansion, Still, I hope it's an error he caught and corrected at some point. 

If you can find this, it should serve well as an introduction to the period, especially for teenagers and such. I say "if you can find it", because Asimov's history books are rare indeed. Some of them don't even have Amazon or eBay entries. (By the way, if you should ever spot the following books in a used bookstore, think of me and we can work out some kind of arrangement: The Roman Republic, The Roman Empire,  The Greeks, The Egyptians, and The Dark Ages.)


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Overlook

The Overlook
© 2006/2007 Michael Connelly
240 pages

In the hills above Madonna's former Hollywood Mansion, a physicist named Stanley Kent has just been found dead, neatly executed by masked men. The Hollywood detectives are only more than happy to turn the job over to the "Homicide-Special" division that takes on the bigger jobs, and Harry Bosch is their man. No sooner has he arrived at the scene of the crime and started to gauge the situation for himself, however, than does the FBI show up. Kent is authorized to handle and transport radioactive materials used by hospitals in medical treatments -- but if someone used him to steal those materials and then killed him to take care of a loose end,  it's a fair bet that the killers aren't out to open up a cancer ward in a free clinic somewhere. The FBI is concerned that Kent may have been used by terrorists to obtain materials for a 'dirty bomb', and if that's the case, the entire city of Los Angeles may be in trouble.

The national security angle brings in a host of acronymed government agencies into "Harry's case", but of course he's not impressed by the exciting and sexy world of domestic terrorism.  He's a cynic, a grizzled outsider who refuses to surrender the case completely to their hands, in part because he believes they are ignoring the torture and murder of Kent to chase radioactive materials, and thus headlines and acclaim. The only FBI agent whom he does not openly despise is Rachel Wallers,  his ally of sorts and an old flame.   I finished the book largely in one sitting, owing both to is quick pace and short length: the case is solved in about twelve hours, and the novel itself began as a serialized mystery that was 'substantially expanded' before appearing in bound form. It's still very much on the short side,  but it works as a quick read. The terrorism angle bored me at first, especially when the primary suspects were two Arab men who yelled "Allah Akbar!" before killing Kent (how stereotypical can you get?), but appearances are deceiving and there are more than few twists and turns buried inside.  The Overlook strangely mirrors the Black Echo, not only in the presence of an FBI Love Interest Lady, but in the setting (Hollywood) and in the identity of the ultimate culprit.  This was a weak point for me, but I doubt many other people have managed to read only these two books and immediately following the other. There are at least a dozen other Bosch books, and I figure it's just coincidence.  Only future reads will tell, and there will more -- because I like Bosch.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Summon the Thunder

Star Trek Vanguard: Summon the Thunder (#2)
© 2006 Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore
420 pages

Cover art created by Doug Drexler, depicting Vanguard Station and the USS Lovell, a Daedalus-class still in service after over a century. 

Something ancient and malevolent is stirring in the mysterious systems of the Taurus Reach, a foreboding area of space that managed to defy exploration and colonizations until recently, despite being at the crossroads between three great powers. Starfleet is compelled to explore the area by hints of a great scientific discovery waiting in the wings, and the abundance of still-functioning remains speak to the existence of a long-dead, but vastly powerful interstellar society. The Tholians regard the area with dread fear, and  their responses to Klingon and Starfleet activity within the area threaten to turn it into a warzone.  The greatest danger to the peace may not be the powers themselves, but the fact that the ancient civilization isn't quite dead. On Vanguard station, Starfleet officers, diplomats, spies,  pirates, and a reporter try to keep the peace and their lives intact, all the while wondering -- just what does the Reach hide?  

David Mack's Harbinger provided a superb explanation to the Vanguard series, relying on an excellent cast that continues to impress here under the direction of Ward and Dilmore. They expand it by focusing part of the story on the crew of the USS Endeavor, led by  a newly-minted captain who is struggling to live up to the success of her recently deceased XO, who died in the course of Starfleet's work in this region , whose mysterious death emphasizes Starfleet's need to understand the nature of the artifacts and hidden installations they've unearthed. Vanguard's ensemble started out strong and continues to mature:  none of the viewpoint characters like nuance, and some of them are particularly conflicted. I especially appreciated the development of Starfleet's rivals: I especially looked forward to seeing the Romulans, which was unexpected given that, despite their pretty ships, I tend to find Romulans predictable and boring.  We get it, Romulans, you are oh-so-sneaky and superior to everyone else.  While most of the characters are involved in political intrigue or scientific enterprise,  the authors also treat the reader to the adventures of Quinn and Pennington, a charming rogue and disgraced reporter who have managed to become the playthings of both an Orion gangster and intelligent agent T'Prynn, easily one of the series' more interesting characters. Though she's not in charge of the Vanguard Project,  she clearly knows more than Commodore Reyes -- and I'm given to wondering if it's not Starfleet Intelligence she works for, but a more ominous organization. All of the interesting adventures and pursuits of these characters are woven into one rich story by book's end,  and I'm thinking rather than buying the Terok Nor trilogy,  I'll go ahead and buy the rest of the Vanguard books.  

Vanguard started out strong indeed and hasn't yet diminished -- and considering that Mack returns in the third book, I don't expect it to. 


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This Week at the Library (2 Feb- 9 Feb)

Rather slow week, but I've been working my way through two science books. Science generally takes more time and attention for me to read than anything else, and one of my books is particularly dense. I've been averaging twenty pages a day on it, though some days are slower than others: I spent two days staring at illustrations of codons and re-reading passages on various kinds of RNA.

What I have read this week is Agincourt, by Bernard Cornwell, and Vanguard: Harbinger. Both were excellent bits of fiction. Harbinger sets up the Vanguard series, which involves an ancient mystery of sorts being unearthed. Great cast of characters: I'm especially looking forward to seeing more of T'Prynn, the Vulcan intelligence agent and jazz artist who almost infatuated Spock.

No additions to the 2011 Nonfiction Reading Challenge this week,  because I'm not done with either science book and wasn't really in the mood to commit to the WW1 book. I just read a history of the Great War a few weeks ago, and while it's a subject of interest to me, it's not THAT great unless I'm writing a paper on it.

Potentials for this next week...

  • Vanguard: Summon the Thunder, which I kept stealing peeks at this week.  I'm a hundred pages in already. 
  • Expiration Date by Sherril Jaffe. This is an advanced review copy sent to me by LibraryThing about a woman who is told she's going to drop dead in twenty-five years. I'm anticipating an Oedipal-like struggle with the idea of fate, though I assume it won't involve incest with her mom.
  • A History of Life on Earth, which is an epoch-by-epoch  account of biological evolution. Right now I'm reading about great big jellyfish. I didn't know most of our ages were named after English places.
  • Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, by Peter Atkins, which I purchased with some of my birthday money. When I first saw the thin pages and teeny text, I thought it might go unread for a while. The author's voice is  pretty alluring, though. 
  • ...I really should read something in history, though.  A month into 2010 and no history? That's out of character. Guess natural history sort of counts, but not really. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top Ten Characters I'd Name a Kid After

The Broke and the Bookish want to know (they're always so curious): what characters might you name children after?

1. Tobias (Animorphs, K.A. Applegate)
Unknown model as Tobias; Christopher Ralph as Tobias in the television show.

I don't know that I'd heard the name Tobias before reading this series, but I immediately developed a liking for it. I supposed it helped that I identified with the character of Tobias so much, and now I pay extra attention to a character when they have the name (like Tobias Fornell, of NCIS). 

2. Maria (West Side Story, Arthur Laurents.)

(Hey, the movie is based on a play!) Maria has been one of my favorite female names ever since watching West Side Story obsessively during spring break 2004. It's a beautiful name, and I don't say that just because there's an entire song about it in the musical. Natalie Wood's acting may be influencing my judgment as well. 

3. Isabel(la) (Roswell High, Melinda Metz)
Unknown model as Isabel (Roswell High), Katherine Heigl as Isabel (Roswell). The books receive new covers once the show hit the air, and The Intruder was the last book to feature the original, and in my view superior, models. Heigl excepting, of course. You might recognize TV-Michael as a lab grunt in CSI Miami, but the fellow who plays Miami's Eric Delco also stars in the third season of Roswell, as Isabel's husband Jesse.

I am not particularly fond of Isabel in either version of Roswell High, as she is snobbish and aggressively hostile to prevent anyone from getting too close to her. She can't have people realizing she's the child of a pair of scientists who died in 1947 when their survey ship did a nosedive into the New Mexican desert.  (Or that she's secretly the clone of a traitorous alien princess. The television series changed the characters and their backstories considerably, to the point that I regard them as different people altogether) She's not quite so mean to her brother and close friends. I do like her name, though!  

4. Marco (Animorphs
Unknown model and Boris Cabrera, who looks dubious at the prospect of having to morph into a poodle.

When I read Animorphs back in middle- and early high school,  a close friend who read the series along with me liked to call me Marco, because both the character and I were joke-cracking wiseasses  who never seemed to take anything seriously. Today, my niece and nephew call me Marco (to the bafflement of my sister) because when I play video games with them on rainy babysitting days, I use the player name 'Marco'.  My middle name is similar, so I'm fond of names like Marco and Marcus.  The following picture may be cut off for you, so if you want to see it click here

Another hobby of mine, other than reading and photography, is PC gaming -- and The Sims 2 is a favorite. When I first received the game, I made a 'sim' version of myself and named him Tobias. His wife was Isabel, and their children were Maria and Marco. In this picture, Tobias is old and puttering around, while his two adult children have come for a dinner and a visit. The teenager is Thomas, Maria's son. Marco's wife, by the way, was named...

5. Amalia (California Diaries, Ann M. Martin)

As is the case with Isabel, this is more me liking the name than the character. Amalia is nothing like Isabel, aside from being female, but her story arc didn't have a lot of intersections with the California books I was most interested in, the diaries of Sunny and Ducky.  

6. Klaus (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Daniel Handler)
Liam Aiken as Klaus, Emily Browning as Violet.

Maybe it's my German language studies or the fact that Klaus is a fellow bookworm, but I like both the character and his name. 

7. Horatio (Horatio Hornblower, C.S. Forester)
Ioan Gruffud as Lieutenant Hornblower; unknown model/artist as featured in a 'portrait' of Sir Horatio Hornblower as portrayed in The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower, by C. Northcote Parkinson.

Like Klaus, Horatio is a name that I'm fond of but don't imagine actually being able to name a child after. It conveys to me a sense of class and bravado. 

8. Anne (The Diary of a Young Girl)

My first exposure to Anne Frank was reading a play based on her journal. one that ended with stormtroopers   kicking down the door and hauling everyone away. I remember becoming angry and sad and shaking my little eighth-grade fist at the heavens.  Later I bought and read her diary and found Anne to be a source of surprising inspiration. In a time of hate and despair, she held on to what little beauty that remained and managed to find happiness in the darkest of places.

9. Elizabeth (The Lady Elizabeth, Alison Weir)

Elizabeth is an old favorite, though I don't know if I like the name for its grand beauty or for the magnificent woman who made it most famous. 

10. Christopher (California Diaries, Ann M. Martin)
I've mentioned a 'Ducky' in a couple of these lists: Christopher is his real name.Curiously, no hint of his physical appearance is ever given by the covers: while the other characters have covers that show some of their features (Dawn's long blonde hair, for instance, or Amalia's whole person), Ducky gets a pair of sneaker-boots, a purple shirt, and his hand.  He's described at one point as wearing a bowling shirt and shoes dyed green. 

11. And of course, Albus Severus. How can you not name a kid Albus Severus?  And if your last name is Potter, all the first-years can tell him he's making an ASP of himself. 

For the record, I've named Sims after virtually everyone in the Animorphs, Roswell, and California Diaries series over the years.  I thought about making a collage of them, but realized that might be a bit much.