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I find it profoundly irritating that it seems everyone on earth has suddenly become obsessed with A Game of Thrones at just the point where I've realised I no longer have any real interest in the series whatsoever...
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17 - Have you read any of the books? If so, which ones?

Well, as I said on an earlier question, I actually started reading the novels before I’d watched much of the actual show. The best ones – or at least the most interesting ones – are the early TOS novels, written before most of the canon had been set in stone, and, more importantly, during a period where Paramount really didn’t seem to be paying attention to what wacky stuff was being published.

Once TNG started coming out, the novels become a lot blander due to increasing publisher oversight and a refusal to allow anything that might even potentially contradict something in the show. More recent novels seemed to be breaking free of that straightjacket a bit, but unfortunately then took a wrong turn into increasingly convoluted internal continuity, endless crossovers and galaxy-threatening disasters, and utterly senselessly killing off major characters…

Worth picking up are Diane Duane’s novels; her Romulan series gets a lot of attention, and justifiably so, but my favourites books by her are actually her TNG novels. ‘Dark Mirror’ is great fun, featuring, among other things, an excerpt from the mirror-verse version of The Merchant of Venice (‘The quality of mercy must be earned…’), and presents a far more interesting take on the mirror universe than Ds9’s interpretation. ‘Intellivore’ is a wonderfully creepy horror story; both her TNG novels really emphasis the emptiness and hostility of space.

Barbara Hambly’s two TOS novels introduced me to one of my all-time favourite authors. ‘Ishmael’ is, of all things, a crossover with a short-lived western/comedy ‘Here Come the Brides’; the entire novel seems to exist purely due to Mark Lenard appearing in both shows. It features cameos from everyone from Han Solo to the Doctor (two different incarnations) to Paladin from ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’. In other words, it’s pure crack-fic; but Hambly writes it in a way that it’s entirely possible to miss the swarms of references to other series, and to let it work as an extremely well-written time travel story.

Her other Trek novel, ‘Ghost-Walker’ isn’t – to my knowledge – based on anything else, but it is an excellent story in its own right, with a well-developed alien culture at its heart and an extremely tense atmosphere. Interestingly, at one point Hambly has Kirk survive a telepathic attack by storing his consciousness in the Enterprise’s main computer – shades of Callista?

L.A. Graf’s novels are also some of my favourites, for giving more of the spotlight to Chekov, Sulu and Uhura. Their Ds9 novel ‘Time’s Enemy’ is also extremely good; the highlight of the ‘Invasion’ crossover series, despite – or perhaps because – it all but ignores the original premise of the series…

Ds9 also has the excellent “A Stitch in Time”, essentially Garak’s autobiography, written, appropriately enough, by Andrew Robinson. The Ds9 reboot novels that picked up from the end of the series were also fairly strong, at least for the first few until sudden changes in editors led to the schedule being increasingly erratic…
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Observation: After reading a large number of articles, reviews and comments on the Game of Thrones TV series, I've finally realised the Mongol-stand in culture in the books is called Dothraki.

Every time I read the books, I was mentally rearanging it, and believed they were called 'Drothkari'.

Not as bad as the time I managed to get almost five books into the X-Wing series before I realised Nawara Ven was male, but still, I am a little concerned about how little attention I apparently pay to the books I read...
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Finished reading Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; cannot help but feel the book would have been greatly improved, not to mention noticeably shorter, if he’d managed to resist the urge to offer the complete taxonomy of what seems like every species of fish the Nautilus encounters.

Surely someone must have written an essay on the use of Americans as a sort of ‘savage’ archetype in nineteenth century European literature? The French-Canadian harpooner, Ned Land, spends most of the book obsessed with hunting every animal he encounters, and his primary motivation in escaping the Nautilus seems to be a desire to taste red meat again. For that matter, when the ship comes under attack by New Guineans, he ends up being shocked by the same electricity Nemo uses to drive them away. He’d be an almost painful stereotype if he’d been Black or American Indian…

Captain Nemo is the real stand-out element of the book; the actual story is practically non-existent, little more than an excuse for Verne to describe the wildlife of various oceans. Nemo, though, is a fascinating character. I understand Verne originally planned to have him be a Polish revolutionary but this was rejected by his publisher, and a later novel reveals him as an Indian prince – honestly, though, I prefer Nemo mysterious, the little intriguing hints about his past dropped here and there which never really form a complete picture. His vendetta against the surface world is, honestly, more interesting if it’s not directed against any nation in particular but against all great powers and empires.

(It took me a moment to notice, but when Nemo claims Antarctica in his own name, it seems like a display of arrogance well in line with what we see of his personality – except ‘Nemo’ is an alias, it’s Latin for ‘no-one’… If Nemo’s claiming land in that name, then it’s really the exact opposite of an imperial claim…)

Oddities: I do wonder why Verne apparently believed the south pole would be in the ocean – just fudging details for a better story, or was the Antarctic landmass really not believed to extend that far south then?

I was also a little surprised that Melbourne was apparently already a major enough port to be mentioned several times.
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Raiding Baen's free ebook library for things to read; downloaded, among other things, David Weber's On Basilisk Station. Quote from the first page:

"We're riding a neotiger, Mr. President"

A neotiger. See, because it's the future, and plain old regular tigers aren't futuristic enough, even as figures of speech!

Although, to be fair*, reading the rest of the book, it really does benefit from constant unsubtle reminders like this, as otherwise the reader is quite likely to forget it's not actually set in the nineteenth century.


* And by 'fair', I mean 'snarky'

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Recently read The Picture of Dorian Grey for the first time – One must admire Oscar Wilde’s ability to play to his strengths as a writer. He somehow managed to successfully write a work of gothic horror that is still almost entirely focused on extremely witty people saying extremely witty things to each other.
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I don’t want to say this book is bad, it had its moments, but the more I think about the plot, the less sense it seems to make. I find myself genuinely baffled by the series’ popularity.

To be fair, the title character is entertaining and interesting – even if nowhere near as original as some of the reviews I’ve seen indicated – and the sections from her point of view are the highlights of the book. Unfortunately, just as I was getting into her story, the book cuts back to the mind-numbingly dull protagonist, a character who seems to be comprised entirely of informed attributes and displays no discernable personality. He’s also responsible for most of the story’s idiot plot moments; despite this, the narration insists he’s a brilliant investigative journalist.

One problem is the book is far too long – large sections of the first few chapters are spent providing exposition on a corrupt businessman and the protagonist’s attempts to expose him. This plot is then forgotten for the bulk of the story, which focuses on a completely unrelated murder investigation. Then, just as that’s wrapping up… we cut back to the corrupt businessman story, which I had hoped had been thankfully forgotten. Quite frankly, I’d have had a much higher opinion of the book if that storyline had been cut; it’s dull, bland, unrelated to anything else, and yet for some reason takes up the last few hundred pages, long after the actual storyline is resolved.

The original Swedish title translates as “Men Who Hate Women”. To me, it’s a much better title, and ties together all the various storylines… except the businessman storyline, making it even more obvious how out-of-place and irrelevant it is.

(It occurs to me that in a better book, this could have actually underlined the themes, by contrasting how the 'heroic' male protagonist is conflicted but eventually willing to participate in the cover-up of the rape and murder of women, but won't rest in his determination to expose financial crime. Tie that in with the protagonist's apparent inability to maintain a stable long-term relationship with any woman, and you'd have an interestingly flawed protagonist. Unfortunately, if that's what the author was going for, it doesn't really come through well.)

Oh, and for a book that seems like it’s trying to make a serious point about the systemic nature of abuse of women in modern society, it seems like cartoonish overkill to then make the main villain an incestuous serial killing Nazi rapist!

And I don’t know if this is a translation issue or not, but the prose is just plain awkward throughout the book.

Also, can we declare a moratorium on killing cats in mysteries and thrillers? It always seems like a really cheap attempt by the authors to demonise a villain; easier to hurt a cute animal than make the reader care about their human victims.
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After being recomended them, I've started reading theTemeraire series. Lot of fun, on the other hand, I am slightly concerned that between these and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, most of my knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars is coming from fantasy novels...

I kind of want to see the series cover other periods - even if just sticking with the ninteenth century,  I want to read about Sherman's burning of Atlanta with dragonflame...

One minor quibble - is it just me, or is the author completly inconsistant when it comes to describing the size of the dragons? Temeraire always seems a lot larger when he's in battle than when he's interacting with humans on the ground...

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Anyone remember Stephen King announcing he was retiring from writing a few years back? Because he’s apparently forgotten; if anything, his output seems to have increased recently.

Rather negative review inside... )
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I stopped reading Star Trek novels a while back, when they seemed to abandon standalone stories in favour of an increasingly byzantine continuity with seemingly endless crossovers and a galaxy spanning crisis every other month. I’d heard they’d killed off Captain Janeway a while back, but I’d largely forgotten about it until jedinic mentioned it in passing a few days ago. In the interests of getting some idea just what the hell’s been going on since I stopped reading, I thought I’d track down a copy of the relevant book myself – Peter David’s 'Before Dishonour', and see how her death was handled.

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Well, this was a nice change from the general low quality of the first three Dell B5 novels. I suspect Clarke’s Law was the first of the novels to be written by someone who had actually seen episodes of the series, and it references the existing continuity very well. The story is clearly set in the wake of the fall of the Narn homeworld, and there are references to plenty of other episodes from the end of season two – a brief appearance by Lyta Alexander, a mention of Dr. Franklin still being haunted by the recent death of the Markab, a Vir storyline that’s clearly intended to follow on directly from his attempt to apologise to G’Kar. It’s a welcome change from the earlier novels, which were all rather awkwardly placed in points in the show’s timeline the authors were clearly unfamiliar with.

To summarise the plot, leaving out a lot of subplots and minor details – A recently arrived alien delegate has murdered a human while in a maddened state. President Clark recently reintroduced the death penalty for murder, and, of course, doesn’t want to look weak on crime or to let an alien get away with murdering a human. The problem is the alien first wasn’t in her right mind when she killed the human, and has since suffered brain damage due to vacuum exposure, and cannot be considered responsible – indeed, her own people now consider her to be a new individual. Sheridan tries to prevent the execution while avoiding openly opposing Clark, eventually faking the alien’s execution. The apparent failure of the courts to prevent the execution of an innocent leads to a riot on the station between anti-death penalty and anti-alien mobs in which several people die, while the demonstration of the new tough on crime policy shores up Clark’s position on Earth.

There’s some interesting characterisation of Sheridan here. I suspect this is the first novel written by an author familiar with the character, so that on its own is nice. But specifically, I think the author is taking his cues largely from “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”, which portrays Sheridan as a far more ambiguous figure than most of the rest of the show – and to me, as a more interesting character. The Sheridan shown here is someone disgusted with his government, with his situation – and also a little disgusted with himself, with what he has to do while walking the tightrope of avoiding direct confrontation with Clark or the Shadows while still trying to work against them. There’s also the subtle theme that Sheridan could be susceptible to Shadow influence under the right circumstances, that he's someone who won’t necessarily do the honest thing first off, but will instead try to manipulate and use people to get what he thinks is right. It’s a very interesting take on the character, and I think it does work in the story, and I think the tension between Sheridan’s obvious frustrations with having to solve problems using the same covert manipulative style as Clarke and his apparent willingness to still grit his teeth and do such things, even knowing there could be unexpected fallout on innocents, is one of the real strengths of the novel.

There are weaknesses in the story, though, particularly in the portrayals of G’Kar and Londo. Londo is a little too much of a straight villain here, lacking any of the complexity or internal conflict that he has on the show. Here, we have Londo casually contacting Morden to have G’Kar killed as part of a complicated plan that is not only out of character, but doesn’t seem to make much sense on its own either. It’s nice to see an author that’s noticed that Londo has moved beyond the simple comic relief role of early season one by this point in the series, but here it’s taken too far to the other extreme.

G’Kar meanwhile… well, the alien delegation in this story? They’re from one of the worlds conquered by the Narn regime, who only managed to regain independence after the fall of the Narn homeworld, and they’re on the station looking for foreign help in repairing the damage caused by the Narn occupation. That’s all well and good, and it’s nice to see consequences of the collapse of Narn power. The problem is that the book also includes a flashback to the conquest of the alien homeworld – a conquest in which G’Kar led the Narn forces, destroying their capital from orbit before landing and blaming the devastation on the Centauri, tricking the aliens into allying with Narn, an alliance that would result in a generation of brutal enslavement. Now, sure, G’Kar’s probably got a few skeletons in his closet – but portraying him as someone guilty of crimes as great or greater than Londo’s and portraying the Narn Regime as literally just as bad as the Centauri… no, that just plain doesn’t work with the characters portrayed on screen.

That’s really the problem with the novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a real cut above what’s come before (damning with faint praise), well written with interesting ideas and some interesting examinations of aspects of the series and characters left untouched by the show itself. On the other hand, that makes the occasional missteps just that much more glaring. Not just when it comes to characterisation, either – the book’s generally very good with series continuity and bringing in minor characters, but then there’s a couple of inexplicable errors, like asserting that Lyta is deaf or that the Centauri Emperor is called “Narleeth Jarn”. Even more bizarre is a minor character introduced in the prologue who returns in an epilogue… and for some reason now has a completely different name. I’m beginning to think these books didn’t just not have a good editor – I’m thinking they didn’t have one at all.
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Three books in to the Dell series, and we’re already seeing the same author again. I realise media tie-in novels aren’t that prestigious, but surely it’s not that hard to scrounge up three different authors?

On the plus side, Vornholt's writing has improved somewhat... )
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A few comments on the cover: this book’s cover features G’Kar as Sir Not Appearing in this Novel. Giving you an idea as to how rushed out the door the first lot of B5 novels were – the covers were commissioned completely independently of the books. Then again, G’Kar had prominent appearances on practically all B5 material at this time regardless of his actual role, presumably because he’s more interesting looking that, say, Londo. I remember specifically the video cassette of “Voice in the Wilderness” featured him prominently on the cover, with his cranium being superimposed over the curve of the planet Epsilon 3, despite him not actually being in the episode.

I’m also feeling it’s unnecessary to have the big Babylon 5 logo, and then have a red sign saying “Based on the hit TV series!” And then, just in case you weren’t clear on things, adding “Based on the series by J. Michael Straczynski”. I guess Dell were really hoping they’d be able to churn these out the same way Pocket Books does Star Trek novels. The big “Book #2” is also kind of amusing, considering not only do the Dell books not reference each other, they’re not particuarly in order relative to the series either.

Like “Voices”, the book is largely a murder investigation with the central character being Garibaldi – an understandable choice. As the everyman Garibaldi’s the easiest character to write for - especially if you’ve got no idea where the series might be heading - and a murder mystery’s a nicely generic plot that can fit into any setting with little work. There’s some attempts at continuity – linking the first season raider attacks to the unrest on Mars, and some references to corruption among the upper echelons of the Earth military – which ends up tying in rather nicely to season two’s conspiracy storylines. The writing’s certainly a lot more polished than Vornholt’s novel (Among other flaws, he tends to overuse exclamation points! This can get very irritating to read!), and in general this book feels a lot less rushed.

There is one major flaw, and that’s the characterisation of Sheridan. “Voices” largely kept the captain in the background, with much of the resolution of the story taking place on Earth. “Accusations” takes place entirely on B5, yet Sheridan’s just as ineffectual and irrelevant. At one point, Ivanova’s been accused of murder and treason and is likely to be forced out of her position even if exonerated. Sheridan’s response? To quite literally sit back and muse “What a shame.”

There’s a few token references to the Narn-Centauri war, indicating this is meant to take place after “The Coming of Shadows”, but I suspect that this novel was actually written long before then, before the second season started airing. If the author had never actually seen an episode with Sheridan and had no idea what he was meant to be like, it would explain why she keeps him so much in the background and never has him do anything. Still, you’d think even writing him as a generic action hero character would be a better choice than as the ineffectual non-entity shown here!

Oddly, in a rather blatant example of an editing error, Sheridan is referred to as Sinclair for about two pages half way through the book, implying this book was originally written during season one, then hastily ‘updated’; in which case Sheridan’s characterisation is even odder – the character presented here sure as hell isn’t Sinclair either.

The main problem with these early B5 novels is how restrained they are. I assumed the authors were told most of the interesting elements of the setting (the alien cultures, for example) were off-limits, but stories dealing with the human military isn’t exactly focusing on what was interesting about the series.
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Over at the b5_revisited community, the Centauri trilogy of novels came up in a recent discussion, and it reminded me that I haven’t re-read any of the B5 novels I own in a while. That’s understandable, most of them aren’t very good – still, I thought I’d dig them out and give them a look once again.

Read more... )
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This was on the reading list for the unit on Fantasy Narrative I’m taking this semester. I’m not entirely sure I’d class it as fantasy; I’d place it closer to the science fiction side of the scale. I suspect it ended up on the list largely to compliment the other books there - The Lord of the Rings, Anansi Boys, and The Princess Bride were also on the list, and all have meta-stories or self-reflective narratives of some form.

The Eyre Affair is set in an alternate timeline where classic literature is the dominant form of popular culture, and a new invention gives individuals the power to enter books, interact with characters there, and bring items and people out of them into the real world. This is a wonderfully whimsical idea, and thus I think it's something of a shame that it's the premise of such a terrible book.

The main problem is that for a book supposedly focused on literature, a book that potentially has the whole of human written culture as a setting, very little of the text actually deals with other books. The title refers to the climax of the story, where the villain is attempting to hold the character Jane Eyre to ransom, and the protagonist is forced to enter the novel in order to thwart his plan. The blurb implies this is the main focus of the novel; in fact, the story only enters Jane Eyre until more than four-fifths of the book have passed. The majority of the story, rather than focusing on literature, is instead take up by a series of largely disconnected sections dealing with time-travel, vampires, cloned dodo birds and other irrelevancies.

Adding to the disjointed feel of the novel is its inability to find a consistent tone. On the one hand, it’s a comedy, and so features a large number of elements that seem to exist purely for the sake of adding wackiness. On the other hand, there’s other elements that are treated with deadly seriousness. So we have an alternate timeline where performances of Richard III are treated like Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings and those who believe Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays go door to door like missionaries... and also the Crimean War has continued for two hundred years, with the main character still haunted by her experiences in combat and the death of her brother there. We have the Goliath Corporation, a shady mega-corporation acting above the law with immense influence over an all but powerless government… whose main representative in the novel has the name Jack Schitt. The main antagonist seems to have turned to supervilliany largely because his name happens to be 'Acheron Hades', and refers to himself as 'not evil, just differently moraled'.... and recruits henchmen by kidnapping people, destroying their minds and personalities, then replacing their faces with the preserved face of his dead mentor. It's kind of hard to appreciate the wacky elements of the setting when there are these horrible things in the background –but it’s also hard to take any of the narrative seriously when everyone involved has silly names.

On the rare occasions when the novel can draw its attention back to its ostensible focus, its portrayal of literature struck me as fairly shallow. Fforde creates a world where literature is the dominant pop culture – yet seems utterly unaware that the works he’s using were the pop culture of their day. Dickens was absurdly popular in his time, and while Shakespeare as Rocky Horror is one of the few bits of humour that genuinely works, I was left with a nagging feeling that an Elizabethan performance probably would have had a fair amount of audience contributions as well. For that matter, the entire success of The Eyre Affair relies on Bronte still being enjoyed today. Literature doesn’t exist separate from pop culture; it tends to be nothing more or less than the elements of pop culture that have endured for more than a generation or two. Fforde seems to think that literature having mainstream popularity in the modern world is self-evidently absurd – when to me, it's no sillier than a setting where, say, Jazz is still the dominant form of popular music. Odd, certainly, but not outright laughable.

For that reason, a fair number of the jokes fell flat for me. For example, one chapter describes the aftermath of a riot between surrealists and fans of traditional art. The joke I assume is supposed to be that this is a fairly dry academic dispute, but those involved are acting like soccer hooligans. The problem, of course, is that surrealism was incredibly controversial when it first emerged. Fforde quite often doesn't seem to have done the research, and just assumes that an ordinary person expressing an opinion on 'high art' is funny in itself.

As for the metafictional elements – well, they’re something of a mess too. By the time the characters go into Jane Eyre, the plot is beginning to fall apart due to the weight of vampires, temporal paradoxes, and a hundred bad jokes, and really doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Philosophically – well, the most interesting aspect is that as a result of the protagonist’s actions while in the book, the ending of Jane Eyre is altered. The problem is that this ends up being a lot less exciting once you realise that in The Eyre Affair's world, originally Jane leaves Rochester and goes off to India to become a missionary; the ‘altered’ ending is, in fact, the one that Bronte wrote in the real world. There's not much to say about a book that on the one hand seems to endorse the idea of altering the classics, of changing their plots to suit one’s own taste, and yet on the other hand ends with a reaffirming of the status quo, with 'our' ending, the 'correct' ending completely overwriting the 'wrong' ending, the different ending.

There is one other metafictional element, now that I think of it – Chapter 13 of this book is missing; the table of contents refers you to a blank page. It’s nothing but a joke; there’s no gap in the narrative, no hint that something is missing from chapter 14 onwards. Still, I suppose it's possible the whole book's a metafictional joke - that Chapter 13 was the lynch-pin of the plot, but some villain stole it, causing the rest of the book to collapse into a barely readable mess.
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I have to say, I was pretty disappointed with this book. I haven’t read much Gaiman, but there’s a fair amount of overlap between fans of his work and fans of things I’m into, and Anansi Boys has gotten pretty much universally good reviews, so I was rather looking forward to it when I saw it on the assigned reading list this semester.

Here’s the problems I had. One, race. A lot of reviews make a big deal out of how the book handles race, and to be fair, it is nice to see a fantasy narrative where the protagonist is a black man of Caribbean ancestry. It’s also kind of clever that Gaiman doesn’t mention character’s race unless they’re white. On the other hand, I’m not sure if it’s necessarily praiseworthy to have written a book with an almost entirely black cast in which it seems most readers completely missed that aspect on their first reading. The book seems to almost go out of its way to avoid racial issues – a particularly bizarre example is the British police officer of Ethiopian and Korean ancestry who feels there’s a distance between her and the other officers she works with… because she focuses mainly on computer crimes.

I also found it a little dubious that the scenes in Britain were all in a fairly realistic London, while the scenes in the Caribbean are set on a fictitious island, the people of which are played mainly for laughs.

Two, storytelling. I felt the narrative rather wasted its concepts. Early on, it raises the idea of storytelling and who controls stories through the myth of Anansi stealing control of stories and by doing so turning stories of brute strength into stories of tricksters. Except this isn’t really a trickster story, rather it’s the story of the ordinary man who discovers he’s a prince and through overcoming adversity grows into his power – which is, if anything, the complete opposite of trickster stories which are about the proud trickster acquiring things or power that he has no innate right to, and often ending up humbled as much as his enemies in the process. Anansi himself ends up almost a footnote in the story, and really, the story wouldn’t have changed much if the protagonist had instead found out his father was really a Jedi Knight.

Three, and most importantly, the issues I had with the role of women in the story. This is pretty much the main reason I ended the book with a negative impression. The other two issues aren’t really problems so much as missed potential and the book is well written and generally entertaining. But there’s one bit that I felt was so badly handled that it completely threw off my enjoyment of the rest of the book. See, the main character, Charlie, has a brother Spider. Spider’s much more in tune with his semi-divine nature, to the point that people believe things he says just because he said them. So, at one point, Charlie’s too hung-over to go to work, and Spider decided to impersonate him for the day so he doesn’t get in trouble – said impersonation consisting entirely of walking up to people and saying confidently “I’m Charlie.” Now, Charlie has a fiancé, Rosie. You see where this is going, right?

So, yeah, Rosie sleeps with Spider thinking he’s Charlie. Just in case this wasn’t dubious enough, it’s already been established that Rosie and Charlie aren’t sleeping together; she’s intending to save it for when they’re married. So just in case it wasn’t bad enough that she wouldn’t have consented to sleep with Spider if she’d known who he was, she apparently wouldn’t have normally consented to sleep with him even if he was who he claimed to be!

Not only does the narrative not seem to realise this is a rape scenario, it doesn’t seem to recognise that there’s anything dubious about the situation at all – or when it does, the main focus is on how humiliated Charlie feels. And then, just in case the whole scenario wasn’t leaving a bad enough taste in my mouth as it was, it then goes on to have Rosie come to the realisation she never really loved Charlie in the first place, and then gets together with Spider, with an epilogue detailing that they’re happily married.

Throw in the fact that this otherwise light-hearted, vaguely Douglas Adams-esque novel also features bizarrely mood-breaking scenes where a woman is murdered or where two female characters are locked in a meat locker for at least a day by the murderer while he decides how best to dispose of the bodies… throw in that the only goddess in the story is the main villain, yet is still characterised as primarily a scavenger, a subordinate to a male figure who has power in his own right, and, well, like I said, the whole thing left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Anyone else read the book and felt the same? I was a little surprised not to be able to find a single review or discussion that mentioned these issues even in passing.
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Doing a unit on Fantasy narratives this semester – which, so far, consists mainly of sitting around Tuesday mornings discussing Lord of the Rings. It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it!

Haven't actually re-read Tolkien for many years, so it was fun to revisit it. Thoughts, in no particular order:

Read more... )
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When the reading list for this semester’s English unit included an author chosen specifically because they’re Australian, I rolled my eyes somewhat. The fact that she was also chosen to increase the number of women writers on the list didn’t bother me a bit. But then, I’ve read good books by women, whereas I’m not sure if I’ve ever really enjoyed a book by an Australian. I’ve got something of an allergy to ‘Australian authors’, particularly those writing in the Henry Lawson/Banjo Patterson style. The blokey comradeship of the bush is not something I relate to or enjoy reading about. Call it cultural cringe, whatever – the literary giants of Australia are not authors whose style I enjoy.

Well, as it turns out, Barbara Baynton’s really good. She wrote at the turn of the twentieth century – so, contemporary with Lawson. Of course, as a women, writing about women, she’s got something of a different perspective on the culture of the bush. Her stories are dark – almost gothic at times. Her bush isn’t a wild frontier tamed by strong men who are all good mates; it’s a dark, isolated location where women must survive without outside help, with the greatest dangers coming not from the wilderness, but from the sort of men who would make such isolated land their home. They’re generally not fun stories; most end with their protagonists dead or worse – but they seem a more honest portrayal of the bush than the jolly swagmen and mateship of traditional Australian literature.

The text is available free on Project Gutenburg – I specifically recommend the last story “The Chosen Vessel”.
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Assigned this as part of a literature unit; more readable than I expected.

- I was somehow under the impression that this was more of a ‘romance novel’ than a ‘nineteenth century people are horrible to each other novel’.

- Are we meant to be sympathetic towards… well, anyone? Is it just the passage of time and change of culture which leads me to dismiss virtually everyone as smug, self-absorbed, classist, racist, upper class twits who deserve to lose all their property and assets to the first person who comes along who’s willing to put a bit of effort into it?

- I think it is a great loss to literature that improved medical technology and life expectancy have meant that modern novel writers can no longer realistically dispose of characters no longer necessary to the plot by having them abruptly drop dead.

- Heathcliff’s a great character; I rather feel he deserves a better setting and storyline. Granted, a great deal of what makes him interesting is how petty he is in his obsessive pursuit of inflicting suffering on others… putting him in a setting where he could be a villain with grandeur would rather defeat the point. Still, he seems rather wasted in such a miserable location as Wuthering Heights.

- There’s some unusual plot structuring here; we have the narrator, who tells the story he’s been told by another narrator, who is in turn often telling the stories she’s been given by other characters via letters. I don’t read much from the early nineteenth century; is this sort of structure common there? It makes Tarantino films look like models of linear storytelling.

- I am very glad the edition I purchased provides translations for the characters who speak in strong accents.

- The second half of the novel seems to me to be greatly inferior to the first. The subtle supernatural elements of the first half are gone entirely, and the resolution of the main story seems to come out of nowhere. A happy ending feels very out of place after the story so far.
4thofeleven: (Default)
So, George Martin’s had a bunch of posts up regarding people complaining about how long it’s taking for A Dance with Dragons to come out.

So, on the one hand, I sympathise if he’s being bombarded with nasty messages and demands he get on with it, and I do feel a little bad about my comment on the series in the book list meme being simply ‘FINISH THE SERIES ALREADY’.

On the other hand – well, the post-script to Feast for Crows seemed to imply the next book was near finished, and the main reason for splitting them up was just to reduce the physical size of each volume. That was three and a half years ago. So either he was lying then about having totally already written a ton of stuff about Tyrion and Daenerys and Jon, or he actually had written all that stuff and now he’s just rewriting it over and over again. In which case, there comes a point where you need to be told “Dude, get it in a publishable state and then stop fiddling with it!” There’s a point where revisions don’t improve a work any more, they just delay it.

And I’ve been a little concerned right from the start about how - and if - all the disparate storylines are going to tie together. It seems to me there’s three main stories; the Others in the north, Daenerys’ growing army in the south, and the squabbling noble families of Westeros. Now, for the most part, the series has focused on the Westeros storylines – which is why I’m concerned, since once either Daenerys’ army finally reaches Westeros, or the Others break through the Wall… well, who’s ended up ruling King’s Landing becomes a little irrelevant, doesn’t it?

A Feast for Crows didn’t do much to allay my concerns, since it completely fails to advance any of the existing storylines, instead opting to introduce a bunch of unrelated plots. The delays in the volume that’s supposed to focus on the movers and shakers of each storyline makes me even more concerned that Martin doesn’t actually have a plan for where the storyline is going. Maybe there’s some fannish entitlement in demanding he get on with it, but I don’t think it’s that arrogant to ask that a storyteller not be stringing everyone along with a shaggy-dog story…

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David Newgreen

August 2017

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