Jon Courtney Grimwood’s Stamping Butterflies doesn’t make any sense until the last chapter. Throughout the book, the real plot revolves around the question of how three essentially unrelated stories (one set in the 70s, one in present day, and one on a Dyson sphere, years and years from now) are really hooked together. The connection is pretty obvious, when it comes down to it, but the execution is done well. I think the book needed stronger editing, but on the whole it was worthwhile.
Non-fiction fluff: David Bodanis was a favorite author of mine in the 80s, and his The Secret House — an examination of everyday life from a microscopic viewpoint — is still worth reading (the bugs and chemicals he talks about haven’t gone anywhere in a decade or two, really). Bodanis lays an egg with E=MC^2, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t break any interesting ground; most of the interesting factoids have been stuck in the back quarter of the book as footnotes, instead of being woven in to the text in a creative manner. You won’t learn much from this, but I guess it makes good bathroom reading.
I’m trying once again to read Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun, starting with Nightside the Long Sun. Unfortunately, like the title of the book, little of the prose makes sense. The characters’ behaviors are random and incomprehensible, their conversation makes little sense, the society depicted seems ill. Maybe this is the point, but I’m unable to get past the fifty or sixty page mark, the point I reached when it was first published.
Finally, Variable Star.
I won’t bore you with the whole story about how the book came to be. Suffice to say that Spider Robinson wrote Variable Star from an outline made by Robert Heinlein in 1955. It’s pretty good, but I’ll go further and risk lynching by die-hard Heinlein fans: It’s better than anything that Heinlein himself wrote after Friday (or possibly Job).
With all of that said, it’s still a book by Spider Robinson, and I found parts of it jarring, thinking that “Heinlein wouldn’t have mentioned X, or used this word, and certainly would never have written about that.” But in the end I think it’s okay. There appears to be room for a sequel. That would probably not be okay. It might not be as bad as the treatment of George Herbert’s Dune universe (link), but I can see it happening in the hands of a weaker author and publisher.
Not sure if I mentioned John McPhee’s latest, Uncommon Carriers. Just get the bloody thing; he’s still one of the best essayists breathing.