Friday, 30 May 2014

Ignorance by Milan Kundera

I really don't think Milan Kundera is an author for me. His characters are all so petty and cruel, so atomized and self-centered. I can deal with pettiness and cruelty being a theme of the book - but everyone? All the time?

And if he were trying to say something about life in a country under a totalitarian regime, that might be one thing (although I'm quite sure not all glimpses of humanity and kindness would entirely disappear) but the outsider character is just as careless of others, just as petty and distant.

Two characters come back to Budapest after years of having lived in other countries, having put down roots there. Irena and Josef meet, and she remembers him, while he only pretends to remember her. The book travels through their experiences as expatriates returning to a country they dislike.

No one in this book listens to anyone else, and yet feels injured when the people they're with don't pepper them with questions. Not willing to give, yet bitter about not receiving. Some of the sections about the difficulty of homecoming were interesting, but undercut by no one in the book having any kind of self-awareness about this. The main character, Irena, is simply irritated that everyone wants to tell her about their lives instead of hanging on every word about hers. But there is no sense she listens to them, either.

Memory is also a huge theme, but mostly in the sense that people actively forget the times they've been mean, in order to live with themselves.

This is a book about spaces, gaps, not knowing each other. Everyone is constantly perceiving petty slights, and going out of their way to inflict petty slights on others.

The only character any other character seems to have actually connected with on any deeper level is the dead one, so we don't really know what that relationship was like. Ignorance is beyond pessimistic about human nature - it seems to enjoy inflicting small wounds on everyone. All the time.

Not for me.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Sailing Alone Around The Room by Billy Collins

I know nothing about poetry. A bad experience in my first-year World Literature class sent me running screaming from the English Department. This doesn't mean I don't like poetry, just that I know little about it, or how to find good poetry.

But when I read s.penkevich's great review of Sailing Alone Around the Room, the poems he posted as part of that caught my attention right away, and I ordered the book from the library.

And fell in love with it. Billy Collins writes poetry that is accessible but not facile. It is frequently funny and just as frequently made me think. It occasionally made me cry.

Collins is a master of examining the particular in such depth that it becomes the universal. He focuses on moments, real moments, right now, and yet makes them something more. Again and again, he would capture sensations, thoughts in such warm, clear prose, in such a way that they were more than just what he was describing.

This is not ascetic or spiritual poetry. (Osso Buco was one of my favourite poems, in which he addresses this head on.) This is poetry clothed in the material, not shying away weight and warmth. But it is the material world that melds with whatever is just beyond our vision.

One verse from Osso Buco (okay, maybe two):

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
A citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach -
something you don't hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife's laughter
on the telephone in the next room....


There are so many poems on writing that I kept grabbing my husband and reading them to him, knowing that he'd appreciate the Workshop poem, and others. And I loved those. But the others, the ones that pierce through somehow through the veil to be show the immanence in transcendence, those were the ones that crept inside me and nestled there.

I want to give you so many examples! About how wonderful poems like Questions About Angels and Tuesday, June 4, 1991 and Snow and a dozen more are. But there was one poem that I came back to again, and again, and again. It's too long to type out in full, but I'll give you the first verse, and assure you that if you go to find the rest, it's just simply amazing.

It's called Directions:

You know the brick path in back of the house,
the one you see from the kitchen window,
the one that bends around the far end of the garden
where all the yellow primroses are?
And you know how if you leave the path
and walk up into the woods you come
to a heap of rocks, probably pushed
down during the horrors of the Ice Age,
and a grove of tall hemlocks, dark green now
against the light-brown fallen leaves?
And farther on, you know
the small footbridge with the broken railing
and if you go beyond that you arrive
at the bottom of that sheep's head hill?
Well, if you start climbing, and you
might have to grab hold of a sapling
when the going gets steep,
you will eventually come to a long stone
ridge with a border of pine trees
which is as high as you can go
and a good enough place to stop.


Billy Collins is the social historian of poetry, finding meaning in the everyday, in the mundane, and making it full of wonder but never saccharine.

I have to take the book back to the library now, and that hurts. Almost literally. I want to keep it here, in my hands, where I can keep leafing back through it and find the poems that moved me the first time and read them again and see what new things I find. This is one I will, without a doubt, have to own.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Hidden Goddess by M.K. Hobson

Second book in the saga of Emily Edwards. I enjoyed it, but didn't love it. The pacing is off. The main character feels curiously passive, even though, thinking back, she actually did keep taking matters into her own hands. But for some reason, it doesn't feel like it. Why is that?

I can't quite put my finger on it, but it doesn't feel tightly plotted, nor does it feel like letting-things-take-their-own-sweet-time meandering. Which is too bad, because I liked the central character dilemmas more in this one than in the preceding volume, where I found them unconvincing.

Emily Edwards and Dreadnought Stanton are engaged, and he is about to take over as Sophos of the Institute of credomancers - magicians who fuel their power through the belief of others. Which explains all the purple prose in those dime novels featuring them. They're trying to increase their prestige and therefore, power.

Emily rarely gets to see her fiance anymore, and has to suffer through interminable social events designed to make her look like a proper young woman, worthy of the love of a hero magician. She'd rather be skyclad and out in the garden. This does not endear her to her future in-laws.

She takes a trip back to San Francisco just in time to catch some aftershocks, gets some surprising news from her Pap, manages to track down her birth mother's family, and is attacked or perhaps protected by the anti-magic Russian organization. In between social occasions. Which she hates. And so do I, which is maybe why I felt the pacing was off.

The investment of Stanton goes horribly wrong, and Emily is packed off willy-nilly to some place for her own protection. She runs away. She is captured by Russians. She allies with Russians. She decides she can't be with her fiancee anymore, as she has started to have doubts about his past.

Actually, the payoff on that looming backstory is pretty good. I was happy with it. And the ending very sweet.

But just liked the previous entry, there was something missing, a layer of engagement I just never got. The story was fun, the characters interesting, but the pace of the plot was off, and there were these long lags of Emily waiting around that were just not that interesting. I would say it's a better entry than the previous book, but still not stellar.

Still, if you're looking for fun American historical fantasy, you could do worse than give this a try. It's probably not going to blow your socks off. But it might entertain you for a while.

A Bigamist's Daughter by Alice McDermott

I've read a few later Alice McDermott books, ones that centre more around Irish-American families, and while I can't say I adored them, they certainly struck me more than this book, one of her first, if not her very first, novels. A Bigamist's Daughter, well, I just can't quite figure out what this book is supposed to be about, or even how it is about it. It's fairly mediocre.

The main character is an editor at a vanity press. She knows it's not a completely ethical job, but dismisses it. Her father may have been a bigamist, but that's not explored. Her mother has moved on since his death, but that's only in a few small vignettes. She starts sleeping with an author who has come to her to have his dreams of publication fulfilled.

His novel, which she never reads, is also about a bigamist, inspiring her to...well, what? Thoughts about her father? Sort of, but not really, not in depth, and not in prose that shows me anything of perception or depth.

Everything in this book just seems to surface-level to me. We never really get what's going on underneath the surface of anyone, let alone the main character. She's an 80s career woman, who, I guess, still misses the lover she left. Again, not much detail here - alluded to, but not really explored.

Maybe I don't sympathize enough with the main character - she does so little thinking about her own life, about her job, her ex, her mother, her father, her new lover. This is truly the unexamined life, but yet, it's not even a commentary on that. I'm not sure what it's a commentary on.

I didn't hate this book, I was just a little bored by it. Everyone in it seemed to live so far removed from other human beings that I suppose it's a tale of big city ennui. But even there, it didn't grab me.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

That was 600+ pages of sheer eccentricity! Not in a bad way, but wow. I love books like this, that push the boundaries in some way, play around with indirect narrative. As long as they know why they're doing it. This one did.

(context)

This book takes place in several different ways. Context is given from future encyclopedias, or other writings. The happening world places this world in, not context, but in an emerging flow of information, which generally manages to give immense texture to the world while being entirely devoid of plot. I kept going back to the first happening world section whenever a new character was introduced. Brunner also zeroes in on individual characters in small portraits, most of them inconsequential to the main narrative but not, naturally, to themselves. And then there are the continuity chapters, where the main story takes place.

This mishmash takes some getting used to, but is used brilliantly, and I felt energized every time I sat down to read it.

(the happening world)

Stand on Zanzibar was published in 1968.

Lady Bic Pens: Shiggies don't know how to write otherwise!

Umm...I'm trying, but I don't think I can emulate Brunner's style. So let's have some:

(continuity)

Two characters stand at the centre of this story, one, a black executive named Norman House, and a white dilettante, Donald Hogan. They share an apartment, as living space is expensive, and taking up more space a mark of extreme privilege.

Both find their view of the world upended: Norman, when he finds something that is more important than his personal advancement. Donald, when he finds out that signing up for government work might mean that they could scoop out his self and replace it any old time they wanted. Norman tries to plot the course for an entire country. Donald tries to divert the course of another.

(tracking with closeups)

This seems to stand firmly in the New Wave Science Fiction camp, if we're still using such terms, for its experiments in form, movement towards less hard science, and, I think, in theme.

Overpopulation and living space, you see, are key, and these seem like common themes from the time period, one I've run into in several previous books. Add to this a direct suspicion of urban living, and I think you have a main motif that several writers drew upon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Urban living, in these books, was literally driving us mad. We weren't meant to be living in such close quarters with others. We couldn't adapt. The impossibility of adapting would make us crazy, and this would be acted out violently, starting a cycle where the cities devolved into dangerous madness.

(Think late Heinlein books set on earth, Alfred Bester in The Stars My Destination, Spider Robinson in several books, Robert Silverberg. I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that popped to mind.)

Looking at it from several decades distance, this unspoken conviction that human beings could not live in cities and stay sane, and yet must, because there are too many humans, stands out sharply. We have overpopulation concerns now, but urban living in and of itself doesn't seem to be a focus of fear in the same way.

(context)

Brunner's world is heavily overpopulated, and most countries have coped with that by passing heavily restrictive eugenics legislation, with enforced abortion of defective children, and sterilization of those carrying undesirable genes. Few people seem to be fighting this in any organized way, although individuals rebel.

This is a world gone mad, where lack of ability to have children has driven some into despair, where urban living drives many to numbness, where modernity is coped with with drugs, where violence spawns randomly and terrifyingly. Two small countries may offer very different ways to change the world radically. Some, naturally, have an investment in the world as it is.

The sheer complexity of the book awes me, and the way in which Brunner paints such a rich portrait using unconventional techniques is jawdropping.

If you just want to read the continuity chapters, it's an excellent tale of politicking, spying, and jockeying for the future of the world. If you embrace the book as a whole, it is so much more. But it will not hold your hand. It will, in fact, take you out in the middle of the woods and deliberately abandon you there, and wait to see if you can find your own way out, or if you'll close the book and throw it across the room.

I liked being in those woods. I was sorry to come out.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

Before reading this book, a bunch of people had told me that it wasn't very good, didn't live up to its predecessor, Old Man's War. But while I do agree it's not quite as good as Old Man's War, I liked The Ghost Brigades a great deal more than I was expecting.

It's about an entirely new cast of characters, taking place almost entirely among the Special Forces soldiers whose existence was revealed in the first book. One scientist has defected and is aiding an alliance between three other races against the humans. He left a copy of his consciousness behind, and so the plan is hatched to implant that into a clone, to see if they can pry out why he defected and what he's up to. The clone, named Jared Dirac, doesn't work out quite the way they wanted. He is wholly his own person, although some memories lie below the surface, just waiting to be unleashed.

So Dirac is enfolded into a Special Forces Unit, although Jane Sagan, the sole character to carry over from Old Man's War regards him with suspicion, waiting to see if he too will betray them.

I don't know what other people were looking for in this book, but I found it a thoughtful and complex look at loyalty, consciousness, and particularly, war. Scalzi unwraps issues of war, of expediency and necessity, of what can be done when it can be justified, and how wars perpetuate themselves. He looks at how justifications for fairly horrific things are created and maintained, and how people can come to those justifications.

And yet, this is not simplistic. No one is entirely right. No one is entirely wrong. He avoids preaching, coming down heavily on one side or the other - I'm left with the feeling that both the military brass are approaching every idea like it needs a bullet to make it complete, while the scientist thinks he's found an easy solution. But there are no easy solutions, so easy answers. In a way, that makes this book difficult, but I admire books that don't shy away from complexity, and refuse to come down heavily on one side or the other.

Ghost Brigades may not have been as much sheer fun as Old Man's War but I'm still glad I read it.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This is, I think, the second book I've read about distance running. I am wondering what my fascination with that is, although truly, I've read both because they came up on various lists. I, myself, am a walker. I love to go for long walks in the morning. Running does not as much appeal.

But then you get Haruki Murakami writing about his life as a runner, and some about his life as a novelist, and it is interesting. And yet, I'm still not entirely sure I get it. I enjoyed reading about this life, but I feel some of the same distance I sometimes perceive in Murakami's novels from his characters, in this case from his own life. It's the gaze of someone looking from very far away and trying to make sense of things. It's something I enjoy quite a bit about his books.

But I'm not sure this one will stick with me as long as some of his novels have.

It is interesting reading about preparation for various marathons, when they've been successful in his eyes (so, in other words, when he considers himself successful), and the inevitable changes that start to occur as you get older, and your marathon times, not to mention everything else, are simply going to take longer. What do you do when you notice that things are simply slowing down, taking longer, taking more effort?

The grappling with mortality through the lens of physical ability is probably the most interesting part of the book, although hearing how he prepares to run triathlons, which he doesn't really seem to like, was also a favourite.

All in all, I'm glad I read this, for the brief glimpses it gave into Murakami and his worldview, but that distance that works in his fiction doesn't work quite so well in a memoir. Maybe I'd get more if I were a runner. He may want "at least he never walked" on his tombstone, but that's the pace I'm entirely happy to take.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

This is not a great book. There were times when I wasn't even sure it was a good book. But it's trying so many interesting things, testing the boundaries of science fiction, and perhaps, the comfort of the reader, to get at some truly fascinating things. Some of these experiments may have failed, but I'd much rather read an interesting but failed experiment than an unambitious sufficiency.

The best, the one that works the most clearly, and because of that, is very disconcerting, is his detachment of gendered words from biological sex. In this, he does something that I've been disappointed in Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness for not doing. He brings it to the forefront, instead of letting it fade into the background, and by choosing an option that always rings dissonantly in the reader's ears, makes it remarkable and startling and thought-provoking.

Where LeGuin let it fade into the background by using solely male pronouns and descriptors, Delany takes "woman" and makes it a synonym for "citizen," that is to say, a responsible adult. "She" is used to refer to everyone, unless there is a reason not to. This is entirely separate from male and female. "He" is only used as a pronoun when the person being talked about is an object of sexual desire. Now that's an interesting inversion of gendered language, and the use of "she" is frequently jarring. In a good way. Having to remember what "she" means here made me often think about what it means in my world, about "he," and how male words have for so long been used to mean everyone. (Everyone, sometimes. Depends on who you ask and application.) It's interesting what it does to your brain when it's reversed.

Most of the sexuality explored in this one is males desiring each other. Women who are male. Although interspecies sexuality is also a topic.

Here's something that didn't work for me, though, and I wish it had. This book had none of the lovely lyricism I've come to expect from Delany. I'm glad he had more time to explore themes, but a little dissatisfied with the outcome. And so the prose is sometimes clunky, and the descriptions of the world of one of the main characters often opaque.

And I think I get what Delany's trying to do here, but it just falls short. One of the main themes is cultural difference, and he's riffing on ideas of how much cultural difference there is on a single planet, let alone across six thousand! I think things are supposed to be opaque. But it's too much, at times.

I enjoyed the part where I figured out that Marq's geosector's horror of meat from live animals was equally matched by other places being horrified that where he was from, they ate meat cloned and grown from humans. But there were plenty of other things I never figured out, and while that successfully gave me the stressed-out tourist feeling, much never fell into place. Maybe that's deliberate, but it just doesn't work that well.

But what is this book I've been nattering about actually about? Let's see. Rat Korga is a young male woman who has run afoul of the law on her planet, and in sentence for that, has been sentenced to Radical Anxiety Termination, a procedure I think I understood, but I'm not sure. Later, after years of what amounts to slave labour, she is the only survivor of his world.

Many planets away, Marq Dyeth is an Industrial Diplomat, a professional at negotiating cultural differences between worlds so far-removed as to be almost inexplicable. She is brought into close contact with Korga.

From there, stuff happens? Many of the women near Dyethshome try to see Korga, for reasons I never entirely understood? The narrative kind of falls apart. It's definitely the weakest part of the book. As is the obscurity of what's happening, a good deal of the time.

And yet.

Delany's trying genuinely new stuff here, and foregrounding conventions about language, gender, and sexuality that are usually ignored. I love this book for its experiments, and am frustrated by its opacity. It's hard to recommend, and yet, I'm glad I read it. It won't replace the other two books I've read by Delany in my affections, but it's always refreshing to read something new. Even if "new" is 40 years old.

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover

This is one weird book. But I liked it a lot.

Two personal personality quirks might account for this:

1) The main character has created an entire fantasy baseball league, and is in the process of playing out year 56. Not with real players. Entirely created and maintained and imagined by J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Years are played out, deaths are mourned, injuries happen, he creates complete lives for each player, all centered around the game of baseball.

When I was younger, I used to do something similar, also using dice. Not baseball, but I remember creating whole little villages using my mother's trolls, and figuring out relationships and how friendships and marriages rose and fell according to the how the dice rolled. These games never lasted longer than a couple of days, but I get Henry's urge to create a world like this.

2) It's about baseball. And I love baseball. Some people don't, that's fine. But it is a three hour oasis in the day, it's a sport where an entire narrative is created each and every time they step on the field, it plays into larger storylines of teams winning and losing, and there is something about it that lends itself to ascending to the status of myth.

My father loved baseball, and since his death three years ago, my entire family has gotten more into it, to honour his memory, or his favourite sport, or something. And we all genuinely enjoy it. We go on weekend trips to see our team. I called my sister to tell her that one of her favourite players had been traded last week, and later she emailed me that "we don't speak of her loss." I don't watch every game, but I watch a good deal of many games.

So there are those things that predisposed me to like this book. The book itself is another, as it is a tale of how the stories Henry creates take over his life, become more real to him than real. As a study in obsession, the writing is hypnotic. Not only the teams, but the league politics, the barroom carousing, the off-field lives of all of his players, past and present, come alive.

When the game comes to a head in its 56th year, when the worst possible outcome on the Super Extraordinary Circumstances chart occurs, Henry is almost shattered. Should he give up the game? How can he restore balance to the universe? Where do his responsibilities to his creation lie?

The last chapter blew my mind. It takes place entirely within the world Henry created, and one player speculates on their being an outside force that created their world, set the rules in place, watches over everything that happens. And what has happened between the last and penultimate chapters is only implied, but fairly unsettling. It feels a lot like Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.

I feel that a certain knowledge and love of baseball might be necessary to get into this book, as jargon and statistics fly fast and free. But if it is a sport that you enjoy, this is a strange and wonderful look at baseball and obsession.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay excels at writing those moments when the world stops, the characters hold their breath, and I do too. Those moments when powers beyond comprehension are right in front of you (worldly or supernatural), and no one knows what the outcome will be, where everything hangs on a knife's edge.

In Sailing to Sarantium, there is at least one moment that I think equals anything he's ever written, but other than that, it's not my favourite. I have started this book probably four or five times, and not been grabbed, have put it down or forgotten it. I persevered this time, though, and was rewarded with that moment, and that hooked me enough to keep me reading the rest.

And yet, this just doesn't seem to be as gripping as The Lions of Al-Rassan or Tigana or Under Heaven. The elements are there, but they don't seem to quite gel. It's still interesting, this version of the world under Byzantium, the imperial politics are fascinating, the clash of cultures as they try to extend their borders to match those of the fallen empire. (Rome, naturally. Rhodia, here.)

So what was it that made this a lesser Kay novel for me? It's still well worth a read, but the push wasn't there. Like Under Heaven, this focuses on a man from outside the realms of power, who has to survive when thrust into imperial machinations. But the drive behind him isn't as urgent this time. The dangers not as acute. The potential consequences less dire. And the entire fate of the empire didn't hinge on the immediate events.

A mosaicist is called to the centre of empire, to work on the dome of the new sanctuary the Emperor is having built. Crispin goes when his colleague should have. On the way, he encounters powers beyond his comprehension, and once there, has to make his way in a court in which straightforward speech is rare.

Crispin is an entertaining lead, the Emperor and Empress brilliantly portrayed, the factions at court and within the city entertaining. It isn't that this is a bad book, it's just not as good as I wanted it to be. I will read Lord of Emperors, the sequel, at some point, and see if it takes this particular world to another level.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is a lovely, whimsical book. I am also sort of at a loss as to what to write about it. Normally, there's some issue, or some literary trick, or idea, that I latch on to, and am dying to write about in a review, for better or worse. This time, not so much. From a couple of days distance, this book feels remarkably like a meringue. Entertaining and sweet going down, but then it disappears in a wisp of foam.

Which is a little strange, given the subject matter about a magical duel between two children dedicated to the battle before they could possibly have understood what was going on in their lives. As they grow, the battle commences, and the battleground is an amazing circus. But is it a battleground after all? Collaboration ensues, and meeting, and falling head over heels in love. In the middle of a contest that cannot be stopped.

There is none of the narrative push that such a description might make likely. No, instead this book floats along on a cloud of whimsy that is truly enchanting to read. And the circus itself - I want to go there! Right near the end of the book, it delves into tension, and that works very well. But it takes a while to get there. This book strives for the effortlessness, and only at the end offers its readers the tension of a high-wire act.

Two magicians, as in, practitioners of real-life magic, disagree on how visible magic should be, and how best to practice. In order to settle this rather petty grudge match, and rather than fighting it out themselves, they sacrifice young people to their vanity by binding them to contests, and apparently have been doing so for possibly centuries. It's sort of glossed over how much of monsters this makes them, but, you know, playing with people, particularly children, to settle a bet? Eep.

Celia Bowen takes a job as an illusionist with the newly founded Cirque des Reves. She does not know who her opponent it. Marco is the almost invisible aide to the man behind the circus, changing things from a distance. The two strive to create new tents in the circus that move the competition forward, without ever really knowing why, or what the competition means.

I wonder if the lack of knowledge undercuts some interesting tension, although perhaps that kind of drama was not what Morgenstern was going for here.

Here's the thing, though. There are other characters I like far better and am far more interested in than the two lovers/competitors. The twins, Widget and Poppet, are far more vivid in my memory, and I cared more about them than I did some of the other plotline. Their fight to save the only home they've ever known  is more compelling.

In the end, I enjoyed the writing style, and lovely, whimsical world Morgenstern created. Little about the book gave me food for thought for later, but as a debut, this is enchanting.

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

I wasn't under the weather this time, and again, I enjoyed, but didn't love it! Maybe I should just save the Terry Pratchetts for times when I'm sick. It's a weird quirk. Or maybe it's just that I love the Watch books, but haven't fallen for the rest of the universe quite so hard.

At any rate, another foray into Discworld, which I do enjoy, but which only occasionally grabs me and shakes me.

In Moving Pictures, the alchemists discover a new technology that allows them to show, you guessed it, moving pictures. However, what they don't realize is that their new insights (and their new insights' lack of blowing up) are due to a power that very much wants to come into the world. And as more and more people flock to Holy Wood, looking for a part in the clicks, the more likely that emergence into our reality becomes.

It primarily follows a wizarding student who never really wanted to be a wizard, a woman who always wanted to be famous, and a talking dog who claims he follows the orders of no man. Except Victor. But that's only because he wants to.

The vision of making movies in Discworld is entertaining, and of course, having CMOT Dibbler as the newly-minted movie mogul is quite hilarious. Particularly as he starts to fixate on having elephants in every picture. Also, his take on the Ankh-Morpork Civil War and the Gone With The Wind analogue he makes about it.

But it just doesn't seem to come together in the way that the ones I've really loved have come together. There are plenty of amusing things to say about Hollywood, but they're not as pointed as some of his more political books.

Or maybe it's just that I'm feeling too healthy these days.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar

For all the steampunk fantasy I've been recently, as well as traditional Western medieval fantasy, this was one that stood out as having its own voice, something to say about that genre, and that incorporated literature and intrigue in interesting ways. It's not a perfect book, but the voice of the author is strong, and I forgive the small faults because the overall ideas and characters are so interesting.

Incorporating elements from some of the wackier conspiracy theories I've heard, England, under Queen Victoria, is ruled by lizards. That's not a metaphor. On Caliban's Island, early explorers discovered intelligent lizards, who are now the ruling royal family. How exactly that happened is not really explained, and that's one of the small flaws.

Some people in London don't like being lorded over by lizards, and resist, through poetry, or, if you're the Bookman, through bombs. That look like books.

This book is populated with fictional characters, mostly references to Shakespeare, or directly drawn from Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed this quite a lot, although I was never quite convinced that Irene Adler would characterize herself as being on the "side of order." But Moriarty as the prime minister, and Sherlock's strange interventions into the story, were fun.

Orphan, the main character, is a mixture of Hamlet and Orpheus, and has to go on quite the quest to regain his lost love. Along the way, he discovers that not only are there humans and lizards, there are also intelligent automatons, perhaps sparked by the lizards, the Bookman, or other forces, and they'd like to be recognized as autonomous beings as well.

Orphan has to go on a quest to find Caliban's Isle, and what is there, and what's behind the lizardine schemes, I'm not going to go into here.

I did find the book sort of wrapped up hastily and a little unsatisfactorily. A little more explanation might have helped, or more action, or something. But the abrupt ending, occasional lack of explanation, and Irene Adler aside, I enjoyed this one quite a lot.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

As one of my reviewer friends pointed out just last week, this book takes a long time to get somewhere, and then almost no time there. That bothers her a lot more than it bothers me, but I do agree that perhaps too much time is taken on the voyage, and not enough on the meat of the book. (Particularly when that means all of China gets stuffed into the last 50 or so pages, after hundreds of pages of sea voyages.) Still, I like what Novik's trying to do here with dragons, and the emphasis on the voyage seems to be a part with these books hearkening more to the tradition of Patrick O'Brien than Anne McCaffrey.

In this second Napoleonic-Wars-but-with-dragons book, members of the Chinese royal family have come huffily to England, demanding back the dragon they sent to Napoleon himself, but which was captured in a sea battle and chose the naval captain Lawrence as his companion. Temeraire, the dragon, will have nothing to do with it. The British government tries to lean on Lawrence to lie to Temeraire and tell him that Lawrence doesn't want to be his companion anymore, but Lawrence, of course, refuses.

So they bundle them all of on a ship to China, obviously hoping for some nefarious parting of the two. Most of the book is the journey to China, and that is a pacing problem. The stuff on ship is interesting, but it takes up so much of the book with not really very much happening. I think there could have been much better ways to show Temeraire becoming disenchanted with the position of dragons in England.

That is the most interesting part of the book, and unfortunately, most of it gets shoe-horned into the time in China. It's a pity. But when they get to China, they find a society that is much more adapted to dragons, provides them a wage, and the cities have wide enough boulevards that dragons can freely mingle with humans. So Temeraire is right to be a little annoyed about his own position and the position of his compatriots.

On the other hand, Lawrence decides not to tell Temeraire about the signs that not everything is peachy keen, that it's great if you're part of the royal family, but other dragons are not treated so well. Bafflingly, he decides that it would be churlish to tell Temeraire "well, yes, you're treated very well here, but some dragons starve to death in the streets." That might not be a dealbreaker, but it would add some much needed perspective, and avoid this whole "China is the dragon's paradise" thing, when it's fairly clear that China is awesome if you're part of the royal family, but not if you're a peasant, which could pretty much be said about everywhere, ever.

I do like the idea of Temeraire as a social crusader, though. We'll see what happens when he gets back to England.

As for the book, the pacing was not great, but I still like these characters. And conceptualizing them as naval books as I do, the long sea voyage was not the problem for me that it has been for others. Still, I think there are ways to more elegantly handle this plot.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

It's like Madame Bovary, except that in Northanger Abbey, reading fiction isn't a fatal affliction. It doesn't ruin women for life. It does incline the main character to flights of fancy, but she remains rooted in the real world and in real emotion.

Northanger Abbey is, says the commentary in the book, one of the most accessible of Jane Austen's works. I'd have to agree. It is much livelier than her other works (which is not to say that I don't like her other books, because I do.) But Northanger Abbey has an energy and drive to it that mirrors the main character, and this gives the whole book and writing style a different feel from Austen's other books.

Catherine, a sheltered young woman, goes with family friends to Bath, where she falls in with Isabella and John Morland, both of whom passionately declare their affection for her, whether she wants it or not. (In one case she does, in the other case she doesn't.) This extravagance of affection is likewise bestowed upon her brother.

But Catherine liked one man exceedingly before having met the Morlands (and why, exactly, is probably one of the weaker parts of the book), and she dodges social scandal, misrepresentation of her desires and means, and her own overly vivid imagination in forging relationships worth having.

It's a bit clunky at times in terms of plot, but more than makes up for it in terms of energy.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

It isn't that there is anything particularly new here, but it's done so well that that doesn't matter. It is, after all, not so much about what it's about as how it is about it. (I know that may sound strange coming from me, given that I've spent so much time bemoaning lazily used fantasy tropes the last couple of months. The keyword there, though, is lazily.) So while this is not revolutionary in terms of epic fantasy, it is damned well-told and thoroughly engrossing.

Part of what I particularly like is the framing device. In other hands, I think this would have fallen flat, but it works for me here. We are being told a story about the past, by a figure of legend. So, we know he survives, but we also know he has at some point in the past, been a huge figure of myth and mystery, and that he has somehow fallen or been exiled or self-exiled himself to the life of a failing bartender in a small village. (A small village that might be under attack by demons. Why did it have to be demons?)

And this works remarkably well - the tension is not about whether or not he survives - we know he does. It's finding out how that path was travelled and what raised him so high and then brought him so low.

This book is barely the first part of that story, but this as a way of creating tension in unexpected ways is very well done. (It also circumvents my desire to read the last few pages partway through. I know I'm not the only one who does this, as my review of Gone Girl that is at least half about that particular tendency is my most popular review ever.)

Kvothe, the figure of legend, accompanied by a fae, and tracked down by not just a storyteller, but THE storyteller in this world, is the narrator. As he tells his story, he starts as a young boy travelling with his family of entertainers - a good life, until his father stumbles on knowledge some would and do kill to keep. Lost and destitute, he becomes a streetrat, and these sections are harsh and unwelcoming.

Finally, he gains his initial heart's desire - entry to the magical university, where he skirts to bare lines of poverty while trying to scrape together tuition every semester - think Harry Potter without the bank vault full of gold. And with more danger. And serious rivalries. And being banned from the Library.

The edge of poverty really adds something to this book, and Rothfuss is eloquent in explaining what that does to Kvothe's decision-making processes - he's not prone to thinking of consequences at the best of times, but when driven to the line, makes even bolder and riskier choices.

Kvothe is, of course, as befits a mythic hero, also a great musician, and it is through that that he meets the love of his life for a second time. And a third time. But this is not an easy relationship, and there are secrets yet to be told about this woman. I like the difficulties here, and although it serves to keep what he wants continually out of Kvothe's grasp, it seems rooted in the female character, rather than arbitrary problems that you might see elsewhere.

This is good writing, boys and girls. And while it may have many of the trappings of epic fantasy, it does them well. I am looking forward to the next chapter of what made Kvothe so awesome, and what his eventual downfall was.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux

The Clearing is not a book to go to if you're looking for fast-paced action or a driving narrative. It's got a slowly creeping sense of dread, but this will go down best if you're willing to accept its leisurely pace between horrific violences. It grows, slowly, until it reaches a flashover point. And at that point, no one can go back.

Deep in the swamps of Louisiana, where a lumber camp has been erected to process the cypress trees of the area, the older son of a lumber baron is discovered enforcing the law in a rough settlement rife with drinking and gambling. He disappeared after the First World War, leaving his family and future profession behind.

The younger son is sent to run that camp and mill, and, in theory, convince his brother to come home and shape the hell up. He finds a wet and dirty camp, with few amenities and few graces. His wife follows him, first to New Orleans, and then to the little camp of Nimbus. Notably, she does not freak out at the dirt, or the squalor, or the roughness. For that alone, I would thank Tim Gautreaux greatly.

All his female characters are as rich as the male ones, if fewer in supply. Which, in the homosocial surroundings of a lumber camp, is fitting. Ella, the woman who married the damaged Byron, and stays with him through Victrola-and-alcohol binges, is rougher than the family she married into, but has her own reasons for putting up with Byron's scars. Randolph's wife, who follows him into the swamp, discovers she quite likes the life in the camp. She attempts to introduce more families and a church, but there is no sniffing or moralizing.

But it's not a simplistic look at the freedom on the frontier. Life in the camp is hard, and the dangers real, both from the surrounding swamp, and the men who are as mean as the alligators there who don't take kindly to By and Rando trying to keep the workers less drunk and belligerent.

And then there is May, Randolph's housekeeper, who has slept at least once with most of the men in the story, but for reasons entirely her own. The child born from this one character knows is his own, yet he can't say that openly. In the end, a father is declared, and the results are healing and painful both.

I haven't even mentioned the tangles with the Mafia yet. While the bar is run by an Italian not directly connected with the mob, the dealer supplied to the bar reports directly to the major crime boss/rum-runner in the area. The decision to shut down the bar on Sundays angers the boss, and this results in a series of deaths, accidental and deliberate both. Byron and Randolph and their families find themselves in the sights of killer, who was himself irrevocably altered by the same war that destroyed By.

Oh, and I just remembered the other thing I wanted to talk about! The other thing about this book that I haven't seen for a long time in the fiction I've read is the careful and sad consideration of the emotional damage caused by killing other human beings. Byron is the most obvious example of this, of course, having come back from the war haunted by what he did and saw there. But it goes further than that. When another character is forced to kill someone in the bar, in self-defence and to save another man's life, when it's the most justified killing could ever possibly be - it still has an impact. The person who did it is now a killer, now has to walk around with that, and it haunts him. It made me realize how much fiction tosses off killings as easy, particularly if they're justified. This book does not.

I enjoyed the complexity of The Clearing, the small movements towards a disaster. It's a book that takes its sweet time, but ah, the moments that are scattered on the way. It's thoughtful, and detailed. I don't know that I loved it, but I liked it quite a lot.

To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis

This is the third Connie Willis I've read, and I was a little leery. While I really enjoyed Passage, Lincoln's Dreams was pretty much the same book, written earlier, and less well. So I was a little worried about her recycling plots. And maybe she does, but this book has very little in common with either earlier book, and was thoroughly delightful and surprising.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is hard to explain. It is madcap, in love with the nineteenth century and its literature, full of inventive thought about time travel and the applications thereof, and has elements of both a mystery and a slamming-door farce - with a healthy dose of spiritualism.

Confused yet?

The main character, Ned Henry, is a historian. That is to say, a time traveller. (Seriously, when do I get my TARDIS? If it's not issued with my Ph.D. I'm going to be pretty damn disappointed.) Time travel, however, has proven slipperier than expected, and hard to monetize. So when Lady Schrapnell (with an attitude to match her name) appears and sponsors them in order to make sure everything is accurate for her rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during the blitz, absolutely everyone is dancing to her tune.

But in the midst of the search for the hideous bishop's bird stump vase, and whether or not it was in the Cathedral when it was bombed, a historian in the 19th century brings back a cat with her. This shouldn't be possible, and may create an incongruity which could, in turn, ruin everything. So a time-lagged Ned is sent back with the cat, a set of instructions he didn't hear, and seems to start off by a) not returning the cat and b) making it so that two young people meet and fall in love, when both are supposed to marry other people - one of whom is Lady Schrapnell's great-great-grandmother.

Ned and Verity, the woman who rescued the cat, attempt to part the two lovers, with the aid of a seance, the cat, and the bishop's bird stump, while dodging Lady Schrapnell's demands, and trying to figure out what is causing the problems in time travel. Doors are slammed, ghosts are seen, dogs are smuggled upstairs to bedrooms. (Cyril the bulldog is probably my favourite character)

It's all a grand glorious mess - but it might just be part of the universe's master plan to correct an incongruity. Or is it?

If that didn't leave you confused, nothing will. I make no promises everything will become automatically clear if you read the book, but it is a great deal of fun and thoroughly enjoyable. My head was frequently spinning, but in a good way.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis

I had a rocky start with this book. The author clearly knows politics, but much less about academia - or at least, current academia. The idea that the protagonist was approached about a tenure track appointment a couple of months before the book began, and that the position was still open, and there weren't a stack of CVs from people applying for that job, that the protagonist could just call his old prof and waltz into a tenure-track job? Well, I don't know what the academic job market used to look like, but it doesn't look like that now!

There were a few fumbles like this, and they were driving me crazy. And the start of the book was not that funny, and not that engaging, and I was trying really hard to like it, because I do like reading about politics, when it's well done.

Gradually, though, gradually, I started to care about the characters, and to care about what was going on, and what would happen, and although I never really found this book funny, I did eventually find it absorbing.

Daniel Addison is a former staffer for the Liberal Leader (his party is the present Opposition in this book), who flees Parliament Hill for a tenure-track appointment in English. The cost of his exit? He needs to find and run a candidate in the safest Conservative riding in the country. Muriel Parkinson, the wonderful senior citizen who put herself on the line five times previously will help with the campaign, but not take on the candidacy. (Muriel was probably my favourite character.) Daniel finally strikes a deal with his landlord, engineering professor Angus McLintock. Angus agrees to run, on the presumption that he doesn't have to do anything for the campaign, and will definitely lose. In return, Daniel will teach the English for Engineers course with which he's been afflicted.

(That was another one - English departments run English for non-English major courses all the time. They are not normally taught by the engineering faculty.)

The book makes it sound like it's all about the campaign, but as far as I'm concerned that half of the book is much slower than the second half, which deals with what happens after the impossible happens, and Angus gets elected. (I don't think I'm spoiling here - that outcome seems implied in the description of the book.) Angus in parliament is a delight to behold. He doesn't care if he keeps his seat in the next election, and bends his formidable intellect to the task of being an honest man on Parliament Hill.

Angus is almost too good to be true. He's a literate engineer, the widower of a feminist icon, a fiercely intelligent grammarian, building a hovercraft in his boathouse. But he is an immensely engaging character, and I enjoyed the book more when he was the focus. Daniel is, quite frankly, not that interesting.

This book reads like the fantasies of a former staffer, one who wondered "what if" after days upon weeks upon months dealing with business as it is done in the capitol. The campaign aspects could have been squeezed down to a fraction of the book, and more spent on the maneuverings of a minority Parliament afterwards, because for me, that's where all the fun is.

The first half isn't bad, but the second half is delightful.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places predates Gone Girl, and I think is a stronger book. I liked Gone Girl well enough, but this one is darker, harsher, and has more interesting things to say. This is not a book to embark upon if you want characters you like. Very few of the people who occupy these pages are pleasant to be around. And yet, that seems to be the point. Justice shouldn't only belong to the pleasant, and incarceration shouldn't be punishment for being disturbing.

Is it too much of a spoiler to say that this book seems like it draws heavily on what happened to the West Memphis Three? Don't take it as such. Flynn does a nice job of creating doubt about the guilt or innocence of the man who has been serving a life sentence for the horrific murders of his family. But at the same time, she deftly shows how pieces of the case against him were, really, much more incidental than they were made to appear at trial, and how what could be just the actions of a fairly messed-up teen were used to make him out to be a psychopath.

I'd like to draw attention to how exactly she does this, because I think it's quite brilliant. The book leaps around in time, between Libby, the sister who was the only one who survived the massacre of her family and testified against her brother, and the day leading up to the murders. It isn't that Flynn later reframes things in such a way that lets her readers smack their heads with dismay. No, she gives us the background first, and then we get to watch in horror as these pieces of information we already possess are seized upon by other characters of proof of what Ben was accused of doing. It gives the book the sickening sense of a train wreck in slow motion.

At the same time, the suspicion is there that even though those pieces of evidence don't point to what the prosecution says they point to, Ben might still be guilty. The evidence could be bullshit, and he could still have done it. There are serious reasons to believe it. And I'm certainly not going to be the one to tell you which way it turns out.

Libby, the main character, is for the most part thoroughly unlikeable. Unlikeable even beyond "screwed up because she was there while her family was murdered" screwed up. She lies, she steals, and finds it difficult to do any of the daily tasks that make up life. Now in her thirties, the trust fund provided by sympathetic strangers has been tapped out, and she's broke and angry because other survivors of tragedy are getting the money and attention.

Desperate to meet her rent for the next month, she gets involved with murder conspiracy theorists, a group obsessed with the murder of her family, and in return for cash, agrees to look into what happened that night, even though she's quite convinced that Ben did it. This leads her down twisty roads and the hangouts of the desperately poor.

I'm trying to figure out why I liked Dark Places more than Gone Girl. Maybe because it's because of the focus on crime in the lives of the poor. In the family that was killed, the mother wasn't a great mother, the kids weren't great kids, they were likely known in town as the troublemakers, and certainly as the kids most likely to bring lice to class. Because of this, when bad things start to happen, there is very little recourse, and any number of people willing to think the worst of the situation. It's that refusal to make the characters more lovable, better off, more tolerable, even, that strikes me so much.

I didn't like these characters very much, but by the end, I did care what happened to them. Very subtly, Flynn argues that they do not deserve to have been let down by the justice system because they didn't have the resources to use it to their benefit. And as we know all too well about wrongful convictions these days, they do happen. The mystery is excellently done, and doubt was ever-present.

The King's Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist

I think I am running out of reviews for fantasy books that pretty much consist of "I liked but didn't love it." This is better written than most of the ones I've been writing about, and the plot at least takes the quest of a motley crew someplace reasonably new, but at its heart, it's another "unlikely companions go on a quest for something." Again, if I hadn't read so much fantasy recently, that would roll off my back.

But it's fun. Prince Nicholas and his best friend and squire Harry are sent off to his uncle's castle, just in time for his uncle's holdings to be attacked and people massacred. While they're off at a hunt. It's a little embarrassing. Plus, a bunch of people are taken by slavers, including the woman he has a crush on, and his cousin.

So Nicholas, with Harry, a cousin who doesn't like him, a cousin who is half-elf, the admiral of the King's fleet who is about to marry his grandmother, a mediocre magician, a great magician who insists it's "just tricks," a warrior, a female streetrat thief, a bunch of sailors, and later, a few other people, go after them.

And endure shipwrecks, deserts, and eventually, the evil that can be released by lizard people.

This is well written fantasy, by someone who knows what they're doing. But at the same time, reading it when I did, it didn't bring anything really new to the party. I know this series has been around for a while, and there are interesting elements of unknown evils. (The royal politics I found a bit unbelievable. And the "you'll heal only if you want to heal" was of the variety of positive thinking bullshit that makes me go ballistic. These are quibbles.) It's worth a try, when you're looking for a fantasy in the classic vein.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Power and control, society and structure, alchemy and engineering, machine and gargoyle. This is a world populated by the strange and steampunky, with emancipated (but maybe not really) humanoid robots, and gargoyles slowly turning to stone against their will. It's also a world in flux, where feudalism may be in the midst of being overthrown by industry, and that may be, in turn, challenged by the workers.

There are provocative ideas in this one, but I wanted just a bit more exploration. Sedia touches lightly on a lot of interesting topics, and explores some, but in most cases I was left eager for just a little bit more depth in any of them. The world she creates is interesting, steampunky, but also medieval. And the struggles are fascinating, but need just a little more depth.

The main character is an emancipated automaton named Mattie, who has been freed by her creator and now works as an alchemist. (But is she really free? Her creator still holds the key to wind up her heart, and she is set to malfunction if she does not go and see him.) The complex dynamics of this relationship are sketched out, but again, not to beat the same drum too many times, I just wanted them explored a little bit more.

She is approached by the gargoyles to try to come up with an alchemical answer to their problem - they are turning to stone. They used to control stone, may indeed have created the city, but now it calls to them, and they do not wish to heed its call.

At the same time, the engineers are trying to make a more efficient and rational society, moving people off the land into the mines because it's more efficient and gives them what they need, instead of paying any attention to individual desire. The people, quite understandably, resist. Acts of violence erupt. There is pushback.

Against this, Mattie tries to establish who she is in a world where no one wants to truly see her as human.

I admire this book for all it is trying to pack in, and the complexity of the issues it is trying to address. Maybe further books, if there are any, will explore the issues I felt itching under the surface, waiting to be scratched more thoroughly. But this is worth a read, even if I was ultimately a little dissatisfied. It's because it got quite a bit right that I wanted more.

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I came to this having enjoyed the terribly-named movie version much more than I had expected. Not deep, but pulpy fun. (Seriously, John Carter? "A Princess of Mars" was too girly? "John Carter of Mars" might have, what, given the impression it takes place on Mars?!?) I didn't know how much of the book had made it into the movie, but I was hoping for some of the same kind of pulpy fun from this.

And the book mostly delivered. At times, I was shocked how faithful the movie actually was - things I had guessed had been added in had come directly from the book, including the prologue, and Woola. The Thark storyline was mostly unchanged. The big differences came from the war between Helium and Zodanga, and the guys secretly controlling the Zodangan empire, who do not appear in the book.

This is, of course, a book of its time, and heavily colonial in nature. Both "green" and "red" men on Mars fill the symbolic place of Natives (mostly the Thark, but still, sometimes the red people of Mars too. Dejah Thoris is, in a certain light, a stereotypical Indian princess.) John Carter arrives, and with his military prowess and code of honour, manages to save the civilization of Helium, on the verge of collapse, and civilize the barbarian Thark.

While watching the movie, I thought it was a bit of overkill to make Dejah Thoris a brilliant scientist and a kickass sword fighter, but I ended up preferring that to the book, where she is there to be clad in thin wisps of material, and be regal when faced with barbarity. As I said, a product of its time. Dejah has immense dignity and pride, but that's about as much as we get of a character from her.

But all of these are general limitations of pulp as a genre, and within that, this book moves along quickly, and immersed me in the action. The world is exciting and filled with peril, and John Carter faces down more enemies than you could shake a stick at. Bravery is rewarded, and treachery punished. The ending notes are some of the strongest in the book, as they give more of a bittersweet ending than a heroic reward.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Just imagine me giving a huge satisfied sigh right about now. That's what I was waiting for. More of that manic Miles energy. I've liked the couple of other Vorkosigan books I've read between The Warrior's Apprentice and A Civil Campaign, but they lacked a certain something that caught me about the first book. It's back in this one, and I couldn't be happier.

Bujold writes out-of-control exceptionally well, and it's such a pleasure to watch Miles working by the seat of his pants, improvising. You root for him, and wince when he falls. But know that in the end, he'll probably work it out. Now we're in the arena of love, and it's a real pleasure to watch him in this all-new opportunity to make a mess of things.

I regret not having read the book right before this one, as it sounds like it was a doozy. The aftermath is so intense I wished I'd been able to get my hands on it. But my library is extremely spotty about which Vorkosigan books they carry, and I have no money with which to buy books, and so I am stuck with what I can get.

In it, it seems Miles found his match, the beautiful and newly-widowed Ekaterina. Now back on Barrayar, he wants to court her, but know if he pushes his suit too soon, he'll lose her forever. But he's besotted, and so tries to scheme his way out of it anyway. It doesn't go as planned.

This works so well for two reasons. One, Ekaterina is a really wonderful character, well-rounded and interesting. Her struggles with who she is in the wake of her husband's death (and, in a related topic, who she was during her marriage,) are complex and compelling.

Two, Bujold doesn't rely on crossed signals to keep them apart. That could have gotten old, and strained credulity. But by the midpoint of the book, Miles and Ekaterina know that the other person returns their attraction. There are still pressing and real reasons that keep them apart, including a newly unveiled political plot to score points on Miles. Ekaterina's reactions to this delighted me. They were slightly unexpected, but entirely in keeping with who she was. And who doesn't enjoy a good smackdown of people who truly deserve it now and then?

The other love story going on is one involving Miles' clone, Mark. (I missed that book too, apparently! Grrrr.) Mark and a young Barrayaran woman, Karine, started a relationship on Beta, but find it strained under more strait-laced Barrayaran gender norms.

But their relationship is not only romantic and sexual. It's also business. The business of taking edible bug vomit and making it palatable to the general public. If you thought that was quite the task, you might have been understating the matter. Much of the (very funny) comedy in this book comes from the misadventures of having a bug butter laboratory in the basement of Vorkosigan House.

This mixture of romantic and political intrigue worked for me, big time. In a situation fraught with the issues of dynastic succession in hidebound Barrayar, one count faces losing his seat because of a rogue and recently discovered ancestor. Another goes to Beta to get a sex-change operation in order to stand as candidate for his recently deceased brother's seat. Miles gets embroiled in these conflicts, and that threatens Ekaterina's position and the custody of her son.

(Strangely, it was only in writing this review that I realized that a character I created for our recent playtest of a storygame my husband wrote borrowed much of Ekaterina's backstory.)

What else can I tell you about this book? If you've liked earlier Vorkosigan books, I'm quite sure you'll like this one. This brings back what I like best about Bujold's writing, that sheer manic enthusiasm, paired with urgent drama and action. It's political action this time, but no less pressing for all that.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There by Catherynne Valente

Even if I didn't love this quite as much as I loved the first one (and I loved that one quite a lot!), I still very much enjoyed my second trip to Fairyland, holding on to September's coat-tails, hiding while she underwent another set of adventures. This time with the burden of a newly-grown heart.

It may just be because the first book was such a delightful surprise, and now I expect this lovely sense of whimsy and beautiful prose from Catherynne Valente. It's hard to equal the thrill of discovering a book that just suits you in so many unexpected and delightful ways. Some books do, like comfortable armchairs, just waiting for you to sink into them, with pre-made dents in just the right places. Others you never get comfortable in, made as they were for people quite a lot taller or shorter, or with legs that seem to bend a different way.

But these books, which are the only two of Catherynne Valente's I've read so far, they fit me just right. I feel like Goldilocks.

September longs to go back to Fairyland, but rarely misses her shadow. That's until she does end up back there, and discovers what her shadow, now calling herself Halloween, has been doing in her absence. She rules Fairyland Below, and is slowly siphoning the shadows of all the creatures on the surface, taking with them their magic. She doesn't want there to be rules, being a wild thing, and thinks that she can kick the rules until they don't apply.

So September ends up with the shadows of her friends Saturday and A-Through-L the still delightful Wyverary (crossbread of a wyvern and a library, for those dreadfully behind the times.) Their shadows are like, but not quite the same as, the friends she left behind. They are wilder, darker, and exciting. Also, she picks up Aubergine the Night Dodo, master of Quiet Magic.

Parts of September enjoy Halloween's revels, but she knows things are not right, and has to go on a quest to find the true ruler of Fairyland Below, travelling through a most peculiar labyrinth, and suffering betrayals and encountering Mad Physicks. But because she has grown a heart, no longer being a child, things are more difficult.

I loved this book so much. I want everyone in the world to read it and love it as much as I do, and yet I feel protective, wanting to keep it from people who wouldn't understand it, who wouldn't appreciate how wonderful it is. You have to have a sense of whimsy and play, a love of story and fairy tale. If you do, please read this and its predecessor, The Girl Who Circumnavigate Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making. And then we can enjoy it together.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

Minor Spoilers Ahead

Goddammit, people. I don't want to read zombie books. I'm not a huge fan of zombie cinema (I've seen two Romero movies, and that's about it.) I don't read horror. I like to sleep, and I'm far too sensitive to such things! (Although it's easier to let go of when it's the written word instead of the screen.) So how have I ended up reading two zombie books this year, both of which I really liked? Dammit, Daryl Gregory! Dammit, Mira Grant! Stop that!

So why did I pick this one up? Well, discovering Gregory's Pandemonium last year was one of the great pleasures of a year filled with great books. It even made it onto my top ten books of 2013, once the dust from the Dust Cover Dust-Up had settled. So I figured, what the hell. Let's see what his take on a zombie novel is like.

I should not be surprised that I enjoyed it mightily. I can also say that it didn't cost me a single sleepless night. This isn't that type of book. It isn't about boo scares or pulse-pounding action. Instead, it's a fairly quiet look at zombies, zombie culture, and the scares come from something far more troublesome than mindless brain-eaters.

Here is what I have enjoyed most about the two books by this author I've read so far. He takes a concept, and in both cases, it's a really interesting one, and then keeps pushing it. Taking it one step further, and then further, delving into the implications of what he's creating. Nothing just lies there, and the ideas are fascinating. This is so very far from what most zombie media is like, but once you take the first innovation Gregory comes up with, exploring all the ramifications of that takes the reader on a really wonderful ride.

This is the first step, the major deviation from previous zombie canon. This first comes up about a third of the way into the book, so I'm not sure it counts as a spoiler, but if you're worried about such things, stop here.

What if the mindless brain eating of zombies was temporary? What if it was part of the initial sickness, and passed 48 hours later? Who would bother to find out? And what if they did? Does the danger to society outweigh the rights of the newly dead but still conscious? How might the government react? The zombies?

That's not where the book starts - the first section is about a zombie baby adopted and hidden by a living family after the first zombie outbreak. Stony Mayhall grows up, shockingly. As in, physically gets bigger. Which, you know, if you're dead, is quite the feat. He learns. He hides. He thinks he's alone.

When things come to a head in his small town, he learns that he isn't, and is inducted into the LDA (Living Dead Army). There, he learns that there is a network of safehouses keeping surviving zombies safe, although the government is after them, big time. And thinks nothing of either killing them, or locking them away in a prison and doing horrific experiments. The facts of zombie existence have never been made public.

So, if that's not far enough, have you ever considered the differences of opinion that might exist in such a quickly-dwindling zombie community? From those who believe no biting ever, to those advocating for the apocalyptic Big Bite.

Also, what makes zombies move? They're dead, after all. How are nerve impulses travelling? What implications might that have for the metaphysics of consciousness?

I am not going to tell you how any of this plays out, except to say that it's always intriguing. This is a zombie book that's heavy on the implications, not the horror. Except that I would argue that while zombies running after you trying to eat your brains is scary, knowing zombies are debating unleashing the apocalypse deliberately is terrifying. In a more abstract way, but terrifying.

This is a good one, folks. I continue to be impressed with Daryl Gregory, with the way he keeps pushing at the boundaries of his concepts, and coming up with cool answers. The characters are great, Stony in particular, and the story moves along to an inexorable conclusion. The way the story twists might lose some people, but I was in. I'm in for the next one. Even if it's another zombie novel.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters


A story of ghosts or madness?

If ghosts, ghost or poltergeist?

If the latter, caused by whom?

If madness, whose?

The Little Stranger is a wonderfully creepy book, set in immediate post-war England, when everything is still in short supply, and old country estates are becoming impossible for some of the landed gentry to keep up, yet are white elephants they can't get rid of. At one, Hundreds, things are happening - but are they supernatural or horribly natural?

Dr. Faraday, son of a former servant at Hundreds, attends the only live-in servant they can find, a young woman who tells him that there is something wrong with the house. He dismisses it, but as he gets to know and become entwined with the Ayres' family, mother, son, and daughter, he and we become less sure of this.

I found for the first part of the book, I had trouble staying focused, but as odd things started to creep in around the corners of my vision, it got more and more engrossing. Particularly as the manifestations of ghosts or a disturbed mind(s) became more evident.

Sarah Waters does an excellent job of painting a time and place, and also setting it subtly askew. There are many hints, but she doesn't lead you by the hand to certain conclusions. Oh, no. This is much more ambiguous than that. And in many ways, any of the options are horrifying. If you're watching a malevolent force tear a family apart, that's horrifying. If the same effects are caused by madness, there's the same effect.

As Waters refuses to categorically state an ending, the reader is left to their own decisions, their own inquest into the events, as it were. Since I worked as a tour guide for a Haunted Walk once, I tend towards plumping for a supernatural cause. Ah, but then, what cause? And who is the Little Stranger?

I have my theory. We can discuss.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Some Shameless Self-Promotion: I Have A Podcast!

This isn't a book review. But we reached a milestone with the podcast I'm a part of, and I'm excited about it. The podcast isn't about books either, but there may be some overlap, and some people who read this blog who might be interested in the podcast.

In addition to being obsessed with books, I'm also a long-time roleplayer, and, more recently, a GM. A while ago, my husband, one of our friends, and I decided that given that we spend a lot of time talking about gaming anyway, perhaps we should start a podcast.

As of yesterday, our 10th episode dropped. (It's Episode 7, officially, but there are also an introductory Episode Zero and two gaming wrap parties available for download.)

What is it, where do you find it, and why should you listen to it?

Good questions, all.

First of all, it's called Shake, Rattle, and Roleplay. It can be found on iTunes by searching that title, or you can get it directly from our hosting service here.

Why should you listen to it? Well, I think we're fairly entertaining and approachable. And if you've ever wondered about taking your games in a more drama-oriented direction, you'll definitely want to listen, as we talk about techniques that have worked, and some that haven't.

(While we're in the mood for plugs, my husband writes a blog about this stuff too, which you can find at High Trust, High Drama).

Oh, and while the show is not book-oriented, when we get to our regular segment on Inspirations, you can almost always hear me enthusing about the book that most recently caught my fancy.

If you're into roleplaying, this type of play, or just vaguely interested in the topic, check us out!

Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee

This is my first Coetzee, and for the first sixty pages, it seemed to be an interesting but not arresting book about an older man coping with losing a leg, and his mobility and freedom, and the after-effects of such a loss, including falling in love with his nurse. Nothing earthshattering.

And then the author showed up.

Not Coetzee, but the fictional author Elizabeth Costello (about whom I think he's written another book?) and suddenly the book got a whole lot more interesting. Costello wrangles with this recalcitrant character who persists in moving slowly, in picking what she thinks are the wrong narrative choices, and not being quite interesting enough for her to write about.

And in a strange way, this becomes a courtship between author and character, with the author trying to mold the character to a more interesting story, but the character resisting her charms and her machinations.

The main character maintains his dignity through these schemes, never quite believing that Costello is the author of his story, instead of a slightly batty author who showed up on his doorstep on day, wanting to write about him.

And so this becomes a meditation on character-driven storytelling, and how sometimes characters just will not do what you want them to do. I didn't love the book, but I enjoyed what Coetzee was trying to do.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

He, She, and It by Marge Piercy

Fairly Major Spoilers Below

As you may imagine, people recommend books to me a lot. It's hard to know when or how to fit them all in! And then there's the worry I won't like a book that is very dear to a dear friend's heart. So for a long time, I just avoided reading books that had been recommended to me, unless someone pushed a physical copy into my hot little hands. I decided I needed to be a little more lenient on that one. So I started a new list from which to pick, of books friends recommended. If you want to get in on this, you can recommend a book on this post.

A friend loaned this to me, telling me one of her profs had told her it was cyberpunk, and she hadn't been enthralled with it. I've read at least one other Marge Piercy, and for the most part, enjoyed this one, although there were some issues that I've seen in both books so far that I'll get to in a minute. But first of all, let's address genre. Is this really cyberpunk? I would tend to fall on the side of no, not really, although there are some elements of classic cyberpunk in there. But instead, I would classify as a late entry into that genre of feminist science fiction that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s. In this case, Jewish socialist feminist science fiction. It's an interesting mix.

Why am I bothering to split hairs over this one? Because I think cyberpunk is used too thoughtlessly, applied to books that I don't think it belongs with. It's a lazy box in which to chuck things. Body modification? Must be cyberpunk! Big evil corporations? Must be cyberpunk! And both of those things are undoubtedly features of cyberpunk. But they aren't exclusive to it.

And what I keep coming back to is the punk part of the equation. There's a feel to cyberpunk, a sort of gritty cynicism. The world is fucked, and nobody's trying to make it a better place. Are you kidding? They're all trying to scrape by in a world beyond their control. There are variations on this to be sure, but that feeling of a punk reaction is something that I think is definitive about the genre.

And so, a book like John Varley's The Golden Globe has body modification, sure. Transhumanism, even. But it's this exuberant book about the theatre, about an actor/conman on the lam, and his lifestory. It's sometimes heartbreaking, but it's got none of the feel of cyberpunk. And in He, She, and It, we have the big evil corporations, but we also have little enclaves trying to experiment with socialism, and working with inner-city groups to fight the power, bring down the corporations, make real change in the world. That's not cyberpunk either, by my lights.

In a world not that far ahead of our own, corporations do own most of everything, although there are small enclaves of small alternative societies, and a huge mass of humanity in slums like the one in the middle of North America called The Glop. Shira works for one of the major corporations, but when she is stripped of her custody of her young son, she leaves and returns to her home, a small Jewish socialist enclave on the East Coast. There, she finds that her grandmother and the father of her childhood lover have been dabbling in forbidden cyborg technology. This has yielded one that finally seems to work and be stable - Yod. The parallels to the golem of Prague are overt, as Makva, Shira's grandmother, tells Yod the story of the original golem over the course of the book. As their small town comes under increasing attack, Yod must juggle what he was made for, the protection of the community, against his own desires.

For the most part, this is pretty good. There are some thoughtful things here, and the story was well-told. But Piercy has to stop writing these staggeringly naive characters into her science fiction. They bug the hell out of me. In Woman on the Edge of Time, I excused it because Connie wasn't a science fiction reader, and had been plunged into an entirely new society. So if she had weird and dumb assumptions, you could kind of understand.

Shira has no such excuse. She grew up in this world, went through the corporate hierarchy, knows how things work. So, after the computer systems of her village were attacked by the corporation she'd just left, nearly killing her grandmother, after knowing that the corporation would be very interested in this cyborg technology that Yod contains, knowing everything about this, to then respond to a corporate request for a meeting with her with "Maybe they have no ulterior motive! Maybe it's utterly unconnected to everything THAT JUST HAPPENED 24 HOURS AGO! Maybe they're just going to give me my son back, and presumably milk and cookies!" is mind-numblingly stupid.

I hate it when characters are written as theoretically smart, but then do incredibly dumb things just to advance the plot. It's lazy plotting, and infuriating.

This is frustrating, because there was little else I didn't like about the book. I just hated it when the author decided to rely on character idiocy instead of clever plotting or writing. Shira could have been a bit naive. That would be fine. But no one is that naive. Certainly no one who has been through what she's been through.

I'm also a little ambivalent about the ending. It becomes apparent through the book that much of this is about parenting and wanting to control your children, what they do, who they become. Yod suffers most from this, because Ari, his creator, literally thinks he owns Yod, his time, the products of his labour, not to mention what he thinks. And that he should have the power to destroy Yod if he deems necessary, something he actually laments not being able to do to the son he begot in the usual ways. Makva is a better parent to her granddaughter, as she doesn't try to control Shira or who she is.

Huge Spoilers Dead Ahead

So at the end, Shira's choice doesn't sit well. She decides not to create another cyborg because she will want to control him into becoming her perfect lover and husband. She can't envision making a cyborg in circumstances in which she wouldn't try to control him the same way Ari did Yod. Which, if you extend it to the parenting metaphor that the book is heavy with, is sort of a cynical thing to say about having children, and isn't borne out in how actual children are raised. If you have accepted that a cyborg like Yod has consciousness, why not create and let him find his own path? What is it about machinery that makes that inconceivable? That part of it is insufficiently explored, and so, her final conclusion seems as short-sighted as everything else she does in the book.

So, in summation, there were things I really liked about this book, although one of the main characters annoyed the hell out of me when she suddenly decided not to know anything about anything. Repeatedly. But it's not cyberpunk.

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

I dabble in reading mysteries - I enjoy them, but I don't generally seek them out.

Louise Penny is an exception to this rule. These days, she's the one mystery author I will actively seek out, often borrowing copies of her books we've given to my mother or mother-in-law. Her books are always a pleasure to read, combining well-crafted mysteries with wonderful characters.

And this is where these books shine. In most mystery series, the recurring characters are the detective and maybe some subordinates. That is true in this case as well. But these are the only books I've seen that all take place in the same location, in this case, the small Quebec town of Three Pines. And so not only are the police characters you get to know and love, so are the people who live in Three Pines, and are the suspects, witnesses and onlookers to various crimes. (So far, although one long-term character was arrested for committing the murder in one of the books, none of the victims have been people we know. I suspect that may be coming, and that it'll hurt.)

Penny has a deft hand at drawing characters who are lovable but deeply flawed, and often in pain. The Three Pines community in A Trick of the Light is still reeling from the arrest of one important character for murder two books ago, and its aftermath. Friendships have been strained, and some have been strengthened. Artist Clara Morrow, one of my favourite characters, has finally gotten a solo show in Montreal, and is poised for big success, but that might be more painful than she realizes. Her artist husband, Peter, is still eaten up by jealousy about the recognition she's getting for her work, and that finally comes to a head in this book.

And then, the morning after her show opening and celebratory party, a woman is found dead in her garden. A former friend, and former art critic who savaged her works as a young artist, along with the works of many other people just starting out.

A Trick of the Light is about the art community and the reactions to new artists, but it is also about Three Pines. And finally, it is about hope. If you like mysteries, this is a series well worth seeking out. In addition to everything I've said, the writing is also some of the best I've seen in mysteries. Using the same characters over and over allows for developments outside the mysteries (which are themselves excellent) that greatly enrich the experience. But start at the beginning of the series. They're all worth reading.

One final note - Ruth Zardo is one of my favourite characters of all time.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Nursery Crime Division head, Jack Spratt, has a Gingerbreadman on the loose. And a missing reporter named Goldilocks. And Punch and Judy just moved in next door, raising the noise level in the neighbourhood considerably.

Did I mention that one of his constables is an alien named Ashley? Or that he bought a car from Dorian Grey that self-repairs (although that painting in the trunk is getting pretty beat-up)? Or that porridge-smuggling among bears is on the rise? Or that cucumbers might just be the deadliest substance on earth?

Ah, Jasper Fforde. Your books are insane, but they're just the kind of insane I like. And The Fourth Bear works quite well as a straightforward mystery, despite all the nursery rhyme and literary trappings. Cases end up being interlocked in ways that are strange, but internally logical.

There are a few too many nods of the characters to the author, as they know they're in a book, but I suppose that if anyone was going to realize they were part of a narrative tale, it would be those who police literary creations. (The Pippa joke and the resulting lines did tickle my funnybone.)

The subplot with Jack's wife finding out he was a nursery rhyme character himself was disposed of rather too quickly, and with a pat, unsatisfying leap to a conclusion.

Fforde always creates these worlds that are several steps east of normal, but he thinks them through, and creates a world and stays within it. I find them amusing, and challenging, and enjoyable. The Fourth Bear is nowhere near as good as Shades of Grey, which I absolutely adored, but it is a solid mystery, an amusing tale, and a loving romp through worlds I haven't played in since I was a child.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, I'm disappointed in you. And that's the first time that has happened. I don't share your religion, but it's never kept me from enjoying one of your books before. I have been in love with the Narnia books since first I read them. I enjoyed the first book in this series. I even enjoyed the start of the theological discussions in these books. And then I hated where they went.

What happened?

Perelandra started out so well. It grabbed me from the start, and, in the world he created on Venus, totally enchanted me. It was so utterly unlike anything I'd seen in science fiction before, so delightful, so lush, so evocative. I was utterly in love with this book for about the first hundred pages. I am amazed that I can find in these decades and decades old science fiction genuinely new ideas, ideas that haven't been plundered a thousand times over.

I was even fine with the modified Snake-in-the-Garden scenario, as the "Unman," dressed in the body of Ransom's foe from the previous novel tried to tempt the Lady of Perelandra to disobedience. A good metaphor's a good metaphor. The theological discussions were fascinating. I don't have to share them to find them interesting.

But then two things happened. Lewis started leaning harder and harder on fixed notions of gender that started to get under my skin.

Annoying as that was, it paled in comparison to my main problem. When Ransom was having difficulty persuading the lady to his side by act or deed, Maleldil (God/Jesus) informed him that what he had to do was remove the temptation entirely, by killing the Unman. Or at least his human host

Excuse me? Did I miss something somewhere? I know "Thou shalt not kill" is kind of contradicted, over and over, by the Old Testament, but you're supposed to be a New Testament kind of devotee, Lewis. Turning the other cheek, taking on the sacrifice of yourself in order to save others. Not "this guy is a pain in the ass, and I can't outargue him, or show the worth of my side by word or deed" (like, for instance, revealing the Unman's torturing of small animals to the Lady, which certainly would have put him out of the running in seconds.) In that case, the answer, divinely sanctioned, is obviously killing.

Perelandra lost me right there. I mean, right there. Why not throw out most of the major tenets of forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and love, when you can take the easier path of killing?

I don't mind some religion in my science fiction. I do mind this.

I expected better of you, C.S. Lewis. I'm disappointed.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

My initial reaction to being done this book is relief. Like the other Thomas Mann book I've read, I've found this a slog at times. It was one where I had to give myself permission to read around 20 pages a day and no more, or else I never would have sat down with it in the first place. But despite that, despite how long it took me to read, and how I was never quite eager to get back to it, I am glad I read it. A difficult read, but still, a worthwhile one.

Someone else pointed out just a little while ago that the title itself is a spoiler for the book. The extent to which it is a Doctor Faustus retelling is not overt, except for a few points. But I think that's not so much a spoiler as it is a foreshadowing. We need that knowledge to loom over every moment of the book, to know that it is inevitably leading somewhere dark, to keep urgent and pressing. Otherwise, it's the fairly straightforward story of a composer.

But, of course, it's not. It's also the story of Germany, and German politics and intellectual thought, and the deal the country made with the devil for a sense of destiny, of strength, of mastery. Adrian is that deal made flesh, but Germany continues down its path in the background.

More than anything, this book made me wish I knew the first thing about classical music or criticism. I'm sure anyone who does will get more from the long descriptions of Leverkuhn's compositions and how they were radical. I found them interesting, but came out of them still befuddled. Without that background, I was totally at sea. But these sections made me wish I knew more, rather than wishing they'd been skipped, so there's that.

Then there's the nature of the relationship between Adrian and the narrator. It's exceptionally close, to be sure. But what struck me is how little we know about the narrator's wife. If the book is about Adrian Leverkuhn, the wife of the narrator gets but a handful of mentions over the entire huge span of the book, and only physically appears in two scenes. And then, she has no lines or actions. It's this giant omission of a woman who shares his life from the story being told that is so striking. I don't want to over-psychoanalyze and wonder if it mirrors Mann's own life, and his known struggles with his sexuality, but the presence-but-absence of the wife is striking.

Right, the plot. This is the story of Adrian Leverkuhn, celebrated but not prolific composer, as told by his boyhood friend. It is the story of his withdrawal from the world, his contraction of a venereal disease, his deal with the devil, and his dissolution. It's also the story of the literary and intellectual community of German in the interwar years, arguing with each other while celebrating the new turns the German state has taken. Except for the narrator, who sees the looming danger for both his friend and his nation, without the ability to do anything about either.

I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this book, but even the surface was worthwhile. I'd be interested to read it again in a few years, and see what that did to my understanding. Without that musical training, though, I just don't know if there are bits I'd ever get.

Bloom County Library, Vol. 3 by Berke Breathed

Ah, Bloom County. I've been slowly picking up these collected editions over the last year or so, waiting for our local comic store to get remaindered versions in. At least, that's the way it had gone until a week or so ago, when I went in and found both the third and fourth available for $10 each, and then, a day later, the fifth! So now I have all of them, barring the Sunday comics collection. Woo!

I'm trying to pace myself reading them, though. I could just rush through and be done, but it's more fun to space them out a bit and savour them thoroughly.

Ah, Bloom County. Where Bill the Cat runs for president, dies, comes back, gets rich, joins a cult, and...what have I forgotten? And Opus loses his memory. And Oliver is hot on the track of many inventions from a working model of a nuclear bomb to a pigmentizer intended to use on the South African ambassador to the UN.

I had no idea how many comics I'd missed by just reading the collections that had been put out. There are so many that are new to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to read the comic in its entirety. Also the author notes, although there aren't that many.

Bloom County is always notable for its topicality, but luckily I still get most of the references. I wonder if that would make parts of it inaccessible for people younger than I am, which would be a pity. It's so inventive, so much fun.

And there's Opus. How can you not love Opus?