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By Blake de Pastino, Tracey L. Cooley, Julie Birnbaum, Jessica English

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997: 

Radical Reconstruction
by Lebbeus Woods (Princeton Architectural Press, cloth, $45)

As an architect, Lebbeus Woods may never hit it big. But as an artist, he sure is hard to knock down. Woods has developed a cult following in recent years because of his apocalyptic vision, and, in Radical Reconstruction, he illustrates this vision with three projects set in areas of utter destruction: war-torn Sarajevo, bankrupt Havana, quake-ravaged San Francisco Harbor. In Sarajevo, he proposes nightmarish "high houses" resembling 50-foot insects. In Cuba, a massive, undulating wall divides the capital. In California, scrap metal houses look like they've already collapsed. Over the course of 200 drawings, Woods' outlook becomes painfully clear, all sharp angles and impractical spaces. And you can see why--with the mind of a sci-fi writer and the eye of a comic book artist--he has become an underground hero of American architecture. (BdeP)

Depth Takes a Holiday
by Sandra Tsing Loh (Riverhead, paper, $13)

I had a lot more respect for city dwellers before I read this book. With topics such as Tonya Harding, "Baywatch," cybersex and IKEA furniture, Sandra Tsing Loh describes life in L.A. behind the glitz and glamour. She uses writing as a means to vent her frustration, resulting in an unappealing exhibit of her propensity to whine and complain. The constant overuse of adjectives exhausts the possible validity of any of her ideas. While the absurdity of L.A. is laughable at times, Tsing Loh reveals nothing that is not already common knowledge. Obviously the book was meant to be "funny," but in its failure it was not even remotely entertaining. The redeeming quality of her writing is that it could be amusing if it were delivered as a stand-up piece. Her style is simply not effective in black and white. (TLC)

Terminal Velocity
by Blanche McCrary Boyd (Knopf, cloth, $23)

The '60s have been idealized, analyzed, ridiculed, but very rarely have they seemed as honestly examined and expressed as in Terminal Velocity. The novel's protagonist, Ellen (also the heroine of Boyd's previous novel), is a married, former sorority-girl professional, who becomes involved in a radical lesbian commune in California. Within the sexually-charged, intellectual circle of women, Ellen discovers a self she never imagined she possessed. As the intense group hurtles out of control, she begins to realize life on a level of clarity which is both beautiful and incredibly painful. The six major female characters are extraordinarily drawn, full of detail, true and human to the core. Their story is told in a voice that cuts through superficial understanding, and shows insight into the brilliance and disillusion of a revolutionary era. (JB)

by Astro Teller (Vintage, paper, $11)

This first novel by Astro Teller--who happens to be a student studying artificial intelligence and not a psychic friend, as his name would suggest--is the story of a university student's relationship with the artificial intelligence program she helped create. The text is composed entirely of e-mail messages between the student and the program that the National Security Agency is studying to determine whether or not it poses a threat to national security. The gist of the novel is that, for about 200 pages, Alice Lu and the Artificial Intelligence program, codename EDGAR, have boring discussions (every message is in that simple courier font, complete with the annoying little mail header). And Alice actually falls in love with EDGAR. I picked up the book because I thought the presentation really was a neat idea. But don't be fooled: Even my e-mail's more exciting. Any interested publishers? : - ( (JE)

--Blake de Pastino, Tracy L. Cooley, Julie Birnbaum and Jessica English

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