Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,andFinished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.
But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.
It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept when Thorin died (which took me completely by surprise). Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.
Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.
I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.
Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.
In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.
He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.
I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.
It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.
I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.
*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself....more
Is the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is theIs the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is the Terror a Ripper style murderer and his penchant for mutilation? Is the Terror knowledge? Is the Terror sodomy? Is the Terror a silent Esqimaux? Is the Terror scurvy? Is the Terror unrelenting ice floes? Is the Terror belief? Is the Terror remembrance? Is the Terror dreams? Is the Terror the past? Is the Terror cannibalism? Is the Terror doubt? Is the Terror hope? Is the Terror ignorance? Is the Terror magic? Is the Terror misunderstanding? Is the Terror fire? Is the Terror interminable cycles? Is the Terror hubris? Is the Terror hate? Is the Terror capitalism? Is the Terror “civilization”? Is the Terror humanity? Is the Terror the unknown? Is the Terror failure? Is the Terror duty? Is the Terror ego? Is the Terror alcohol? Is the Terror visions and hallucinations? Is the Terror death? Is the Terror suffering? Is the Terror starvation? Is the Terror ice? Is the Terror morality? Is the Terror shame? Is the Terror foolishness? Is the Terror delusion? Is the Terror love? Is the Terror life? Is the Terror solitude?...more
Do I remember the Cold War? You bet I do. I think about it every day. It is as fundamental a part of my upbringing -- as defining of me as CatholicismDo I remember the Cold War? You bet I do. I think about it every day. It is as fundamental a part of my upbringing -- as defining of me as Catholicism, American Patriotism, Canadian Anti-Americanism, homophobia, abuse and bisexuality.
It wasn't just something that was happening in the world. In my household, with an American father, a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran (he was a Coastie who was all set to go to Vietnam with U.S. Coast Guard Squadron One -- and wanted to go -- when the U.S. finally pulled out. He didn't count himself lucky), a father who was rabidly patriotic, the Cold War was something that we were fighting every day. Trudeau and his "pinko" Liberal Party were bringing Communism to Canada (where we were all living. My Dad and I were born in the U.S., my Mom and sister were born in Canada). The Soviets were hiding behind every corner; the Red Chinese were Communist and "oriental," which made them particularly evil ("Just look at Mao!"); Patton should have pushed straight on through Berlin and driven his tanks to Moscow; all Soviet athletes were cheaters; the Soviets had no business in Afghanistan (of course, my Dad supports the U.S. presence there today); and on and on and on. So yeah ... the Cold War was real to me.
It was real for my sister too. So real that after watching The Day After (she was only nine. Nice one, Mom and Dad), the famous nuclear holocaust TV movie with Steve Guttenberg and Jason Robards, she took to hiding in our basement bathroom, the darkest room in the house, jamming a towel along the crack at the bottom of the door and teaching herself how to do everything blind. She was convinced that the evil Russkies were going to nuke us into the stone age, and she'd be blinded, if not by the flashes than by the fallout.
And while she was busy torturing herself, I decided to read my father's copy of Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward. My Dad loved Solzhenitsyn, of course, and he held the great author up as an example of everything that was wrong with the Commies. They were silencing one of their great men. One of their great men was in exile. Obviously they were evil bastards. My Dad owned everything Solzhenitsyn had written at that point (at least those available in translation), and I'd seen him leafing through Gulag Archipelago, although I am certain he never read anything but the captions around the pictures. I wanted to impress him, and I was reading tons of big books at the time, so I thought, "Why not Cancer Ward?"
I didn't get far. About one hundred pages. But what I read stuck with me for many years. I remembered vividly that the hospital was horrific . It was grey and appalling and squalid and filthy and ineffective, and everyone in the hospital was a Communist. Some were being crushed under the fist of others, some were the crushers, but they were all Commies, and they weren't worthy of pity. They chose their stupid system -- their evil system -- and they got what the deserved.
It's amazing the way indoctrination (and living with my father can be considered nothing other than that) takes hold and shifts perspective. The lenses I saw Cancer Ward through were Star Spangled, and even though I couldn't get through Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's dreary world that first time, I always loved the book and wanted to try reading it again because it made my world -- my North American world -- so much brighter. And damn did it feel good to have my moral and ideological superiority confirmed by a man who had lived "under" Communism.
My lenses aren't Star Spangled anymore, and that same hundred pages that I read when I was twelve revealed a society that I can walk out my door and see today. The hospital is no different from the crowded hospital my wife nurses in. Hell, I could have seen it back then if I'd had other lenses.
Don't mistake me, though. The Soviet Union that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shows us here (and in his equally brilliant One Day in the LIfe of Ivan Denisovich) is no utopia. It's not a pretty place. Horrors abound in Stalinist Russia. Minorities are sent to prison for "criminal activity" (often activities that were intentionally criminalized to insure their incarceration), the poor stay poor and those with power flaunt their ease and wealth and special treatment, the poor were in constant fear of being watched by secret police and local police, of being screwed over by those in power on a whim. It wasn't pretty.
But what I couldn't see through those glasses of mine is that the Soviet Union was really no different than the United States. If your skin was black or yellow or tanned (yes, even today), you were looking at all the same shit in the U.S. that you'd be looking at in the U.S.S.R.. The only difference I could see is that in the Soviet Union the folks that were at risk -- those who could be shipped off to engage in forced labour and starvation when the famine hit -- were the people that are safe here (oops ... and free health care for all, even the poor). The middle class, us, the mainstream ... in Russia they were as vulnerable as those we fucked (and continue to fuck) in North America. So the U.S.S.R. had to be vilified; it had to be evil and horrible and nasty because we never wanted to lose the power that we were indoctrinated into believing was our birth right.
If you read Cancer Ward now, try to read it through the lenses of the poor in Detroit or Toronto or East or South Central L.A. or any other big city with its embarrassing, obligatory ghettoes. See with the eyes of those people you share your country with and your communities with. Recognize that what Solzehitsyn was rightly condemning in the Soviet Union is something we would be right to condemn in Canada and the U.S. and England (riots anyone?) today.
And then allow yourself to take joy in the beautiful spirits of Oleg Filimonovich Kostoglotov and the women he shares love with. They're not different from you at all. There is tremendous beauty in that. Just as there is beauty in the deaths that will come to us all. ...more
I have one of those tacky, International Bestseller, trade paperback, short-listed for the Man Booker copies of A Fraction of the Whole, and its coverI have one of those tacky, International Bestseller, trade paperback, short-listed for the Man Booker copies of A Fraction of the Whole, and its cover is totally f*cking misleading.
Not only is it covered with bullet holes (hardly a shot is fired in the entire book), but the quotes about how funny this book is dominate the obligatory accolades section:
"Laugh-out-loud-funny." ~~Entertainment Weekly "Riotously funny ... deserves a place next to A Confederacy of Dunces." ~~Wall Street Journal "A nutty tour de force." ~~Publishers Weekly "Willfully misanthropic and very funny." ~~Los Angeles Times "Madcap." ~~New York Observer "Inspired, sorta stoned, tender and very funny." ~~Chicago Sun-Times "Devastatingly funny outlook on everything human." ~~Seattle Times
And on it goes for a couple more pages of review excerpts, nearly every one declaring that A Fraction of the Whole is comic gold.
So I can be forgiven, I think, for going into this book thinking it was going to be funny -- even hilarious. It wasn't. It was deadly serious, and I loved every second of the experience. The book touched me at a fundamental level. Yes, I smiled now and then about something the Deans said or did, but I laughed only one time in 561 pages. This was a tragedy, an unlikely one and a beautiful one, but a tragedy all the same. It was not a comedy. Not for me.
But then it is hard to laugh at a man like Martin Dean when you are Martin Dean. And I am. Internally I am his mirror image, so maybe there is comedy in A Fraction of the Whole and I just missed it because it was too close to home. If that's so, though, I think I can be forgiven again.
Regardless, I don't think that Steve Toltz was consciously writing a comedy. I think he was writing a serious drama, attempting to say serious things, and that the humor that is found in the pages, whatever it is, is incidental.
I have to go and see what beat him to the Booker now, and I'm going to have to read it right away. It better be bloody good (I have a feeling it was Hilary Mantel). ...more
Well, well, well, this took me by surprise. I had fairly high expectations for Richard K. Morgan's first Takeshi Kovacs novel for a number of reasons:Well, well, well, this took me by surprise. I had fairly high expectations for Richard K. Morgan's first Takeshi Kovacs novel for a number of reasons: 1. many of y'all love these books, and plenty of you have told me to read them; 2. I have read and loved the first two parts of his A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy; 3. this book had seriously fast Hollywood attention; 4. I dig Sci-Fi.
So I tried to read it and reached page 10, then I quit. Then I tried to read it again and reached page 12, then I quit. But this last time I reached page 13, then kept going and going and going. It was even better than I expected.
Morgan smashes together Gibson's Sprawl with Banks' Culture with his own brand of sensual violence and comes up with a society advanced to near immortality without ever unshackling itself from market forces and the power elite, maintaining, further entrenching and magnifying our current inequities and iniquities. It is all done in the voice of Kovacs himself -- Envoy, mercenary with a salient conscience, sleeving master, and all around bad ass -- who turns out to be one of the finest first person narrators I've read. Whether he was in a fevered drug state, double sleeved, doing battle, or busy between a pair of muscled, toned legs, I believed in his existence.
Hell, Kovacs is so genuine I wouldn't be surprised if Morgan somehow tapped into Kovacs stack and ripped off his tale wholesale. He is just that real to me.
When I finished the book today, I drove into town and went straight to the bookstore, not imagining for a second that Broken Angels wouldn't be on the shelf. I didn't want to end my conversation with Kovacs, but it wasn't there. None of the Kovacs books were. If I'd had a splinter gun I might have taken off a head on my way out the door, but I had to settle for a head shake and a sneer. I guess I am going to have to wait a day or two longer (more like a week or two) to hear Kovacs whisper in my brain once again. I wonder if I could wangle a medically induced coma until my book arrives in the mail. Would that make the books arrival feel faster or slower? Hmmm. ...more
We book lovers can’t help speaking of authors as “the next ....” We’re always keeping our eyes open for the next Jane Austen or the next Ernest HemingWe book lovers can’t help speaking of authors as “the next ....” We’re always keeping our eyes open for the next Jane Austen or the next Ernest Hemingway or the next Salman Rushdie or the next Ursula K. LeGuin, and we gleefully trumpet their arrival in our reviews. Of course, what we really ought to be looking for is the first China Miéville, the first Lisa Moore, the first Neal Stephenson, the first Iain Banks, the first whomever. When we find those authors who are truly themselves, we’ve really uncovered gold.
There is a comparison that is valuable, however. It doesn’t place impossible expectations on burgeoning authors; it doesn’t reduce the work they are doing; it simply places them in the context of literary history and points us in the direction of their progenitors. What I am talking about is authorial inheritance. There are some authors who, for whatever reason or in whatever way, have “inherited” a technique or a focus or an obsession from an established author and somehow built upon what came before.
Tolkien’s world building, especially linguistically, is legendary. He knew everything there was to know about the races, religions, languages and histories of Middle Earth. It remains a world of immense richness, and Fantasy authors of every generation have aspired to create worlds that match Tolkien’s genius.
I don’t think Vandermeer is one of those authors, at least not consciously. I don’t think he’s sitting down with his scribbled maps and booklets of backstories and rules of behaviour, aspiring to be the next Tolkien.
Yet what Vandermeer has done is create a world every bit as alive and teeming as Tolkien’s, and he has done it in a way that is unique to his time and personal experience and place in the world (a Pannsylvanian born, Fiji raised, Floridian).
Can you imagine a world where the grey skinned alien invaders people fear come from below, not from above, and are living, breathing fungus beings? Jeff Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where historians and artists are the venerated celebrities of the day, rather than actors and athletes? Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where weapons of mass destruction are fungal weapons that alter the world in a fearful burst of steampunky modernity? Vandermeer can.
But Vandermeer doesn’t stop at these peculiarities. He produces artifacts for reproduction, like a fungus rotted page from Janice Shriek’s Afterword, complete with Duncan Shriek’s annotations, and reproduces it in Sirin’s Afterword to her Afterword. He offers us photos of Janice’s mushroom overrun typewriter, the key artefact of her writing process, the green, glowing keys she writes about as she writes about her brother and Mary Sabon and Ambergris and herself.
And Vandermeer doesn’t stop there either. He invites bands into his world to write soundtracks for the works he’s writing. He hints at characters whose roots might be our world, madmen trapped in Ambergrisian madhouses. He offers histories of commerce and religion every bit as alive as the creations of any other world builder. And there’s more, so much more. It's in City of Saints and Madmen. It's in Finch. It's in Vandermeer's mind.
Vandermeer lives and breathes Ambergris and cities and nations it competes with, and all its environs, and his world is always expanding, always becoming. In its own way, Vandermeer’s world is as alive and important as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and he has one leg up on the old master. He’s still alive, still working, and Vandermeer’s world can continue to grow.
For me, Meursault is a hero. Not for killing the Arab on the beach -- which was carried out with far more motivation than I expected -- but for his toFor me, Meursault is a hero. Not for killing the Arab on the beach -- which was carried out with far more motivation than I expected -- but for his total refusal to bullshit. He is a human stripped of our indoctrination to seek ease through conformity, leaving him as human as a human can be. For that, Meursault is a hero to me. And so is Camus....more
I should never read the plaudits plastered on the cover of a book, nor those that litter the first few pages. I am invariably annoyed by what I find aI should never read the plaudits plastered on the cover of a book, nor those that litter the first few pages. I am invariably annoyed by what I find and occasionally even led astray. Luckily with John Barnes’ The Somnambulist, I was mostly faced with the former brand of upset.
According to the book company, Barnes’ style is a mix of Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Susannah Clarke and a little bit of Carl Hiassen. And maybe there is something to these comparisons, but mostly I think these names are lazy choices of a marketing department, choices that will sell more books rather than giving the reader a clear view of what they’re in for. I saw a whole lot more of Tim Powers in Barnes’ writing than anyone else, and was pleasantly surprised because of that.
I could just be lazy at this point and leave it at: “ I saw a whole lot more of Tim Powers in Barnes’ writing,” but I am sure someone would call me on it so here are the connections to Powers:
1. Romantic Poets Make an Appearance: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or some semblance of him, takes part in Reverend Dr. Tan’s attempt to bring Pantisocracy to London with a bloody insurrection, and he’s joined by the left hand of Robert Southey, “several toes ... donated by Charles Lamb,” and some random organs from William Wordsworth.
2. Fantastical Magic and Unexplained Phenomenon:The Somnambulist is full of Powers-esque moments of craziness, from a nine foot giant who inexplicably survives multiple impalings and loves his milk, to a pair of Angus Young-like uber-assassins who enter the fray at the behest of a nasty Albino. There is no explaining it, but then who would want to?
3. Steampunk Sci-Fi and Victorianism: There’s a touch of Frankenstein in the animation of Coleridge, and then a whole pile of the usual trappings of Steampunk: pseudo-science, Victorian gadgets, cops, robbers, government conspiracies, and all things Tim Powers. There are underground societies, far-seers who are forced to flee for their lives, and a pair of Holmesian puzzle solvers, a sort of Victorian Penn and Teller, at the heart of the bizarre mystery.
So you see, it owes more to Tim Powers than his comrades-in-pens. And thank Jabber for that....more
WARNING: This review contains some vulgarity. Please don't read this if you are have a delicate sensibility. Thanks.
8 Things I liked + 1 I didn't + 1WARNING: This review contains some vulgarity. Please don't read this if you are have a delicate sensibility. Thanks.
8 Things I liked + 1 I didn't + 1 I hated
8. It's cinematic. -- I don't know if I'd have appreciated this if I hadn't read The Hunger Games in anticipation of the film's release, but the March 23rd premiere precipitated my read, and I could see the action of this book on my "head screen." It's going to work as a movie, and Collins' successfully tranferred the action she saw moving in her mind to the page. She made me see it too, and I am now officially stoked to see the film of her tale.
7. First person. -- I was not impressed with the first person perspective in the first chapter, but by the time Katniss was moving through the arena I understood how right that perspective was. It ramped up the suspence, and it's going to make for an easier transition to the big screen.
6. The Capitol and Districts. -- Plenty of real world, contemporary issues to be found in the structure of Panem. Plenty of room for criticism. Plenty of bile directed at the haves and honouring of the have-nots (now haves?). It may be worth adding this to a first year reading list, but I worry that things fall apart as the series progresses. Which reminds me of the question I had throughout ... "does this really need to be a series?" It feels like one book should be enough.
5. Nostalgia. -- I remember an old Sci-Fi paperback from my Junior High library with one of those pulpy covers. There was some hilltop with a a black sky gate opening above, and for some reason I remember a bunch of kids doing combat on some planet. I wish I could remember something more about the book, but every page of The Hunger Games took me back to the halls of Don Bosco and that book cover keeps flashing in front of my eyes. I love it when shit like that happens.
4. Dystopia. -- I love dystopian books, and as dystopias go this is one of the most normal -- which ramps up the creepiness for me. I pretty much live in District 11 at the moment, and I can see us heading down the road to our own Hunger Games a generation or two from now. There's some compelling immediacy here for me.
3. Mockingjays and Tracker Jackers -- These were some of the best future tech innovations I've ever read. Their backstories made sense, they were well integrated into the tale, they were used subtly, and they added just the right amount of verisimilitude. They were well struck notes, and I will remember them both forever (unless the film fucks them up).
2. Katniss Everdeen. -- I believed in her as a character. She rang true, sure and true (sorry, I'm listening to Albert Hammond), and I can overlook all kinds of crap when I love a character as much as I love Katniss. Her choices made sense to the woman she is; her skills were within reason; I believed her loves and hates; and her conflicts worked. She's the only reason I'd be compelled to read on (well, I would read on also if the movie was good enough to drive me to the sequel).
1. It's compelling. -- I stayed up until the wee hours to read this. I don't do that on purpose anymore. I may keep reading when my insomnia kicks in to keep myself sane, but to actually risk messing up my sleep schedule to finish a book is a rarity. But I needed to finish. And it was mostly worth it.
1. It's sheaf, Suzanne. -- It's not a "sheath" of arrows. It's a sheaf. I thought it was a typo the first time, then it was repeated throughout. Piss poor editing, and an annoying mistake that really could have been avoided.
1. Wolfie Muttations. -- I see no defensible purpose for this bizarre twist. I saw it coming, was begging Collins not to do it, and was left deflated by its happening. Mercifully it ended quickly and we were back on track, but this was a cheap piece of manipulation that really took away from the story for me. I didn't need any more reason to think that Panem and its Capitol were fucked. This was Collins' one bad choice. Overdetermine much?...more
I finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thoughtI finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thought that way. I know that one thing holding me back was some random comment from a random, now forgotten person, that led me to believe I would hate Martin’s politics, and that they’d play themselves out in a distracting way, but that never manifested for me. Beyond that I can’t recall why I thought I would hate the book.
Perhaps it was because many of the people who’d recommended A Song of Ice and Fire to me had also recommended RA Salvatore’s Drizzt books, which I loathe to the very core of my being (and continue to read like some bizarre masochistic ritual).
Whatever the reason, I thought it would be crap and even though I had a copy on my shelf for years, I refused to pick it up and get reading. But then HBO had to go and make a series out of it, and I couldn’t watch the show (which I had to because of the presence of Lena Headey and Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage) without reading the book first, so my hand was forced.
And here I am willing to eat a message bearing crow and say, “I was wrong.”
This series is good. Damn good. It deserves tons of its praise. But is it eligible for the title “Best Fantasy Series” ever? Probably not. Is it on par with The Lord of the Rings? No. But I don’t think they are the same kind of book, so they shouldn’t really be compared.
What A Game of Thrones is -- and I say this fondly -- is a boy’s own soap opera. It is dark and sinister and nasty; it is full of violence and sex and even a hint of magic and the supernatural; it is full of big, brash characters who engage in incest, hide their secrets, make dirty deals, and generally screw up themselves, their families and their friends. It is Days of Our Lives with plate mail armour and bloody battles. And that is all very, very good.
Yet even with its overarching soapiness, A Game of Thrones impressed me most with the way it made me believe in the reality of its world. The brutality, the drive to vengeance, the fact that no character -- however heroic -- is safe, the overwhelming pathos in every action and reaction, the textures and smells and sounds of the our world transplanted in Martin’s made me believe that all of it was possible, even the two punch dénouement of the final Catelyn and Daenerys chapters.
So y’all were right. Everyone who told me I would love this book, you were right. I do. And now I will probably wind up ploughing quickly to the end of the books and find myself right where you’ve all been for so much longer than me. Waiting. But at least my wait won’t be, can’t be, nearly as long as yours. Suckers. ;P
And for anyone who's interested, here're links to my four volume reading journal. Enjoy.
***WARNING*** This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.
China Mountain -- Zh***WARNING*** This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.
China Mountain -- Zhang:- So far, Zhang is nothing like I expected, neither the character nor the book. I expected a cyber-punky action thriller, and it may still become that, but this first chapter offers no signs that a change is going to come. At this point it is a study of two characters: Zhang and San-xiang; the former is our gay half-ABC (American Born Chinese) half-Spanish (from Spain) engineer; the latter is our unfortunately “ugly” political girl. It’s them, together, moving through New York in a Chinese dominated near (not so near?) future, thrust together by her Chinese parents and finding that they quite like each other despite his sexuality (which she never seems to peg) and her ugliness (which fascinates him). It’s moody, it’s atmospheric, and the milieu is entirely plausible. But the banality of the tale, so far, is quite a surprise. It is an average character study that could just as easily be told in your city, right now, today, and it would still be as likable and readable as this story is. If there is going to be something more like actiony Sci-Fi I can’t imagine how it would come about. But then, I don’t think I want it to. I am liking this book for its banality. Why not set a story like this in the future? Works for me.
Kites -- Angel:Now it feels like my favourite of things –- a book of short stories loosely, loosely connected, and I will be disappointed if this book is pegged into a novelistic plot. I don’t want to go back to Zhang (at least not too often); I want new people, new experiences, in this future Socialist Union of American States; I want criminals or a nurse in a future hospital or maybe even some other kite fliers; I want more exploration of gender, of the bents and the straights; I want a far reaching set of stories rather than one deep exploration told close to the body. I loved Angel and her kite flying genius, but I need someone new.
Baffin Island -- Zhang: I am fully convinced now that if this is a novel it is a novel consisting of short stories, even though two of them already follow the same guy. There is no plot to speak of, and I love that –- “Fuck plot,” I say. This is all about character and place, and places –- be they New York or Baffin Island -– are characters in this book. I continue to adore Arctic tales too, so the story of Zhang in the Arctic station doing the maintenance work for a bunch of scientists tracking whales, nearly losing his shit in the land of the noontime moon is exactly the sort of tale I am made to love. I feel the need to go North before it is completely gone, before I am gone. Enough about me: it’s a great chapter as Zhang begins to see himself, and I find myself cheering him on. I can’t wait to see what we get and where we go next.
Jerusalem Station -- Martine: A commune on Mars. Crazy. Nothing prepared me for the leap from Earth to Mars, but it was deftly handled by McHugh, and it’s another place lovingly turned into a character in the tale. Martine’s goat farm/apiary, and the round about way she falls in love with (or falls in care for) Alexi and Theresa is exactingly created. It is all nuance, nuance written to capture truth in a future that almost seems like it is rather than it could be. I am officially in love with this book now. And Martine and Alexi. I have no idea what else Maureen F. McHugh has written but it is something I am going to read. (one more thing: as I finished the chapter I couldn’t help noticing the word “nurse” in the first line or two of the next chapter. I love that I am going to get my wish.)
Ghost -- Zhang: The hint of a plot finally appears in Ghost—Zhang, but only because it is our third chapter following the life of Zhang. He’s in China after his stint in the Arctic, studying Engineering at the prestigious University of Nanjing, and he’s in love with his tutor, a man named Haitao. In love in a place where being “bent” is a crime that the government either Reforms Through Labour or solves with a bullet in the back of the head. Zhang seems a bit naïve about the threat and the world he’s living in, but that naïveté is gone by the time Haitao kills himself. The slightest nudge and all the gains we’ve made will tumble and we’ll be hiding in back alleys and parks all over again. It’s a fucking tightrope. This story hit me where I live.
Homework -- Alexi: Goats. Goats and marriage. Goats and marriage and a tutor for Alexi’s correspondence course through the University of Nanking (a tutor named Zhang). This is, perhaps, the most banal chapter of the lot, but lovely in its simplicity, even so.
Three Fragrances -- San-xiang: I can’t help thinking of my biannual re-reading of Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Written nearly 400 years ago, Swift’s pamphlet is a catalogue of everything that is wrong with the world. Except it’s not simply a catalogue of what was wrong in his world of 1729, it is a catalogue of what’s wrong in our world of 2012. The problems are all the same. What’s wrong never changes; hence, my confidence that we are doomed to create our own extinction because we can’t change. We like to pretend things are better, but they’re not. And here’s San-xiang, face finally restructured, jaw firmly and perfectly in place, looking pretty for the first time in her life, and a predator picks out her vulnerability, and she walks inexorably into the predator's lair, and he rapes her. McHugh doesn’t shy away from telegraphing what’s to come, and that dramatic irony is what creates the suspense that pushes this story forward. When it finally happens, when Billy rapes San-xiang, but worse seems oblivious to having raped her, I felt the ache that took me to Jonathon Swift and the thought that nothing changes. Why doesn’t it? I’m convinced it is because we invariably treat symptoms rather than diseases. But I have been known to make mistakes ... from time to time.
Rafael -- Zhang: I could read another three hundred pages in McHugh’s future world. The stories were that good. This final short wraps up the “novel” precisely as it should -- with life continuing for everyone in the directions they’ve chosen or had thrust upon them. There are connections that all link back to Zhang, connections to all the other players from all the other stories, that are touched with the most delicate of touches, and none of them feel too good to be true. There is no destiny at work, no impossible predetermined coming together of people from different places. They’re simply intersections and crossings between lives -– all of which make perfect sense (the sorts of things I've experienced again and again in my own life). China Mountain Zhang is about a possible world that probably won’t happen, but could. It is an act of Sci-Fi world building that I’ve rarely seen matched. But for me, Mchugh’s real achievement is the people she created. They are beautiful. The whale scientists and engineers and hustlers and Martian colonists, the wounded the harmed the foolish the suicidal the nasty the kind the living, and the dead, San-Xiang and Haitao and Invierno and Peter and Zhang. I will miss them....more
I happened to be reading this with my daughter at the same time I was rereading the Culture novel Consider Phlebas and I couldn't keep the two separatI happened to be reading this with my daughter at the same time I was rereading the Culture novel Consider Phlebas and I couldn't keep the two separate. Pippi just seems like the perfect member of the Culture, decent, headstrong, hedonistic, in love with her post-scarcity living, and a bit too flaky for her own good. All that led to this:
9. Pippi Goes Aboard*
Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking closed the door to her cabin aboard General Contact Unit Villa Villekulla and hung her red ribbon from her custom door stud for the last time; then she lifted the horse drone down from its pedestal. It was completely capable of using its anti-gravity forcefield, but it preferred to have Pippi set him down –- so for the last time she lifted him down off his pedestal. The primate shaped drone, Mr. Nilsson, already hovered over her shoulder, projecting simultaneous auras of importance and annoyance. He understood that something special was going to happen.
“Well, I guess that’s all,” said Pippi.
“Tommy and Annika nodded. “Yes, I guess it is.”
“It’s still early,” said Pippi. “Let’s walk; that will take longer.”
Tommy and Annika nodded again, but they didn’t say anything. Then they started walking toward the town, toward the harbour, toward the Cliff Class Superlifter Hoptoad. The horse, forced to use his anti-gravity now, floated along slowly behind them.
Pippi glanced over her shoulder at her cabin door. “Nice little place,” she said. “No bugs, clean and comfortable, and that’s probably more than you can say about the hovels where I’ll be living in the future.”
Tommy and Annika said nothing.
“If there are an awful lot of bugs in my Drezen hovel,” continued Pippi, “I’ll train them and keep them in a box and play Run, Medjel, Run with them at night. I’ll tie little bows around their antennae, and the two most faithful and affectionate I will call Tommy and Annika, and they shall sleep with me at night.”
Not even this could make Tommy and Annika more talkative.
“What on earth is wrong with you? asked Pippi irritably. I tell you it is dangerous to keep quiet too long. Tongues dry up if you don’t use them. On Vavatch I once knew an Eater who never said a word. And once when he wanted to say to me, ‘You look yummy, dear Pippi, come let me eat you,’ he opened his mouth and can you guess what he said? First he made some horrible faces, for his teeth had fallen out and he needed metal ones, and then a sound came out: ‘U buy uye muy.’ I looked in his mouth, and, imagine! there lay his tongue like a little wilted leaf, and as long as he lived, which wasn’t long I admit, that Eater could never say anything but ‘U buy uye muy.’ It would be awful if the same thing should happen to you. Let me see if you can say this better than the Eater did: ‘You look yummy, dear Pippi, come let me eat you,’ or at least, ‘have a nice mission, Pippi.’ Go on, try it.”
“Have a nice mission, dear Pippi, and thanks for your visit,” said Tommy and Annika obediently.
There was the Smallbay; there lay the Hoptoad. Captain Efraim stood near the ramp, shouting his commands, the drones hovered back and forth to make everything ready for departure. All the people on the GCU had crowded into the Smallbay to wave good-by to Pippi, and here she came with Tommy and Annika and the horse and Mr. Nilsson.
Pippi nodded and smiled to the left and the right. Then she took up the horse, who obediently shut down his force fields and carried him up the ramp. The poor old drone cast a suspicious aura, for old drones don’t care very much for Contact missions.
“Well, here you are, my beloved operative!” called Captain Efraim. He folded her in his arms, and they hugged each other with all the power that their hyperactive adrenals could muster. They nearly cracked each other’s ribs -- captain and operative -- and it took a moment to catch their breath. That was when Pippi noticed Annika’s tears and Tommy’s frustration.
Pippi came running down the ramp and rushed over to them. She took their hands in hers. “Ten minutes left,” she said.
Then Annika threw herself against the force field of Mr. Nilsson and cried as if her heart would break. Tommy clenched his teeth and looked murderous. He would not cry for anything.
All the people of GCU Villa Villekulla gathered around Pippi. They took out their bird whistles, manufactured by the GCU for the occasion, and blew the farewell tune the GCU had composed for her. It sounded sad beyond words, for it was a very, very mournful tune. Annika was crying so hard she could hardly catch her breath, and Tommy was so tense he had to think to engage his endorphins just so he could calm down.
The people crowded in from all directions to say good-by to Pippi. She raised her hand and asked them to be quiet.
“Hereafter,” she said, “I’ll only have little Drezeni savages to play with. I don’t know how we will amuse ourselves; perhaps I’ll actually have do some work. Perhaps I will teach them some pluttification. I suppose we’ll manage to pass the time some way.” Pippi paused. Both Tommy and Annika felt that they hated those Drezeni Pippi would know in the future.
“But,” continued Pippi, “Perhaps a day will come when their planet is a part of the Culture, a long dreary century from now, when I will have taught them all to pluttify, and then I could come back here, to the GCU Villa Villekulla and everything can be just like it is now all over again.”
The people blew a still sadder tune on their bird whistles.
“Pippi, it’s time to come aboard,” called Captain Efraim.
“Aye, aye, captain,” called Pippi. She turned to Tommy and Annika. She looked at them.
“Close the ramp, Fridolf” cried Captain Efraim to his knife-missile. Fridolf did. The Hoptoad was ready for her mission of Contact.
Then -- “No, Captain Efraim,” cried Pippi, watching the crowd in the Smallbay -- watching Tommy and Annika -- through the viewscreen, “I can’t do it, I just can’t bear to do it!”
“What is it you can’t bear to do?” asked Captain Efraim.
“I can’t bear to see anyone in the Culture crying and being sorry on account of me -- least of all Tommy and Annika. Put down the ramp again. I’m staying on Villa Villekulla.
Captain Efraim stood silent for a minute. “Do as you like,” he said at last. “You always have done that. And so you should too.”
Pippi nodded. “Yes, I’ve always done that,” she said quietly. “You know, Papa, Efraim? I think it’s best to live on a decent GCU and not disrupt my comfort on some stinky, backwater planet -- don’t you think so too?”
“You’re right, as always, Pippi,” answered Captain Efraim. “It is certain that you live a more ordered life on GCU Villa Villekulla, and that is probably best for you. Fridolf anticipated your decision, and your replacement is already onboard.”
“Just so then,” said Pippi. “It’s surely best for me to live and orderly life, especially since I can’t order it myself.
Pippi said goodbye to the drones on the Hoptoad and hugged Captain Efraim once more. Then she lifted her still grounded horse and carried him down the ramp. Mr. Nilsson floated along beside her with a content aura. The Hoptoad was cut off by a force field generated by the GCU and vented out of the Smallbay, leaving Pippi with the people of Villa Villekulla where she would always be happy.
1. The Zombies are from space! 2. Not all the uniforms are Trek. Can you say Princess Leia fighting zombies in her slave girl bikini?! 3. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Star Wars references abound, driving our captain, Jim Pike, crazy! 4. Serious, gory, Zombie slaying madness with seriously cool Trek weapons (remember Amok Time?)! 5. A Convention within a Convention on the Edge of Forever! 6. Nuclear Blasts that turn out to be fusion bombs that put an end to USA's sixth largest city! 7. Twists and turns and octopus hands! 8. Plenty o' death to plenty o' red shirts! 9. A Kirk style hero with some genuine military training for that added flavour of believability ;) 10. 35 exciting chapters named after the best Trek episodes you can remember :)
I expected the book to end with me smiling a little -- maybe more of a smirk -- and shaking my head over the 17 bucks I wasted. I didn't expect to love it. And I did. It started to drag for about two chapters at the end, but even that couldn't wipe away the brilliance of Night of the Living Trekkies.
I don't know that people will like this book if they aren't fans of at least Zombies or Trek, but if you're a fan of both this book is a photon torpedo. It's slick, action-packed, wittingly hits all the right notes and plays by the rules of its sources, and it is ready, this minute, to be turned into an excellent film. I hope it makes it to the big screen, but even if it doesn't, I'll be returning to Houston and the problem of Third Eye Space Zombies real soon.
Many months ago, I ordered some books online, and when the box arrived I discovered Peter Abrahams' Down the Rabbit Hole had mistakenly found its wayMany months ago, I ordered some books online, and when the box arrived I discovered Peter Abrahams' Down the Rabbit Hole had mistakenly found its way into my box. Being the anarchic thief that I am, I decided to keep the book, tossing it on my tertiary to-read pile and promptly forgot about it.
But last week I needed a book to read while doing the dishes, and noticed Down the Rabbit Hole sandwiched between A Game of Thrones and The Drawing of the Three, and since it fulfilled my doing-the-dishes requirements I decided to give it a go. My doing-the-dishes requirements are: 1. it has to be a book that can get wet, which means I can't care about it before reading; 2. it has to be something that doesn't require undivided attention (for instance, Gravity's Rainbow wouldn't qualify); & 3. it has to be a book I can toss aside without guilt (a complex internal system I can't explain here) if I'm not enjoying the experience.
Down the Rabbit Hole fulfilled those three requirements, so I found myself reading this totally random book that's full of problems yet somehow manages to be a damn fine read.
Problem 1. It is written in the third person, but just screams to be written in the first. Problem 2. Its reference to Alice in the title creates some reader expectations (at least in me) that were never fulfilled. Problem 3. The end made me feel like a lemming who suddenly realizes he's falling off the cliff. I was invested, I was excited, I was looking for more, and then it was over and the chapter to the next book was beginning. Not good. Problem 4. The Sherlock Holmes love fest was just too damn silly for me. Problem 5. Abrahams left too much hanging for future books, making me want to find out about Grampy's farm, how Joey and Ingrid develop as a couple, and all sorts of other things. Clever bastard! So, yeah, there were problems.
But I actually DO want to read on. I really took to the characters in this book, and I actually came to love Ingrid. I even felt worried for her. Abrahams generated genuine emotion in me, and I'm impressed by that.
Down the Rabbit Hole was a nice diversion while scrubbing pots and glasses and toddler bottles. I am guessing it would be equally welcome when taking a poop, showering, or even lying on a beach. Take your pick. ...more
There are three reasons why I love The Magic of Recluce: 1) it's not like the Star Wars movies in one crucial way; 2) it is built around training rathThere are three reasons why I love The Magic of Recluce: 1) it's not like the Star Wars movies in one crucial way; 2) it is built around training rather than adventure; 3) woodworking.
1) Not Star Wars: There is a line in Empire Strikes Back where Yoda says, "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack." There is no equivocation in that. It is NEVER for attack. Pretty simple, I would think. Yet the movies are packed with our Jedis on the offensive, including Yoda in the prequels. I wanted to believe Yoda. I wanted it to be true. I wanted Luke's confrontation with Darth Vader in Bespin to be as much a mistake because of its offensive nature as it was a mistake of his youth.
I've debated and discussed this with many over the years, and one of the most frustrating excuses for the movies is that "there is no other way." I've always argued that there is another way, and that the failure to embrace that other way is a terrible failure of the films and its creator (I am fine with using the violence of attack as an answer, so long as the great guru of our hero doesn't say that it is NEVER for attack). But my argument has been written off as mere theory because while I have argued that there is another way all I had was my assertion that there was. Now I have The Magic of Recluce. Where Lucas fails, Modesitt Jr. succeeds. Where Luke Skywalker fails, Lerris succeeds. Where the flawed use of force fails, order succeeds by letting chaos destroy itself.
Lerris doesn't need big weapons. He actually breaks his own staff at one point and uses a shield as his "weapon." Lerris spends the novel disarming people, avoiding people, protecting people and attempting to bring order to the chaos around him. And there is no loss of excitement in the story. Big action be damned.
2) Training: I am a big sucker for training stories. It has always been one of my favourite aspects of war movies (raw recruits becoming soldiers), martial arts movies (ninja and samurai mastering their weapons), and sports movies (especially the crappy baseball team going back to basics). I suppose it is because I like to learn and I like to teach, but it is also a wonderful tool of storytelling because it breathes life into characters very naturally. Character development must happen. There is no avoiding it when a character's raison d'etre is to change. And here, in The Magic of Recluce, Lerris is learning from the first page to the last, even when he is bored, even when he is seeking, even when he is teaching and even when he is just riding his pony. Lerris learns and that is good.
3) Woodworking: This may seem like an odd reason for loving the story, but the woodworking is quite a beautiful addition to The Magic of Recluce. It grounds our hero, is key to his search for his place in order and chaos, links him permanently to the land of his birth and provides him with an occupation when times get tight. And it is the latter economic use of woodworking that I liked best.
Fantasy novels and their characters rarely worry themselves with anything as mundane as money. Even the poorest farmboy turned hero just goes out in the world and has everything happen for him. There is some early testing adventure that puts him in danger, and when he walks away from it he has a full purse and food just falls into his lap whenever he needs it (either because he is an accomplished hunter or everyone's happy to give their food away). Not for Lerris. He makes his way through the Easthorns after a last ditch escape from Jellico and finds himself short on food and short on funds. So what does he do? He gets himself a gig as a journeyman woodworker and spends a good third of the novel becoming a master builder. This, of course, does much more for him than simply providing money (it is probably the most important part of his personal training), but to see a hero concerned with the day to day difficulties of living pushed The Magic of Recluce into rarified air for me.
It is a damn good novel, but the woodworking? The woodworking makes it great. ...more
WARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planWARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planning to read it for some time.
Star Trekiteuthis: The Original Series Episode: TOS 061 - Spock's Brain Season 3 Ep. 1 Air Date: 09/20/1968 Stardate: 5431.4
The U.S.S. Architeuthis is on a routine mission in its preservative bottle when a riffling, ink stained, paper tiger beams into the National History Museum. Without a word, the tiger reorders the ink of its pages and everyone is rendered unconscious. It moves around the Museum until finally it comes to Miéville. Smiling an inky smile, it lays a hand on the author's head, as if it's found what it was looking for.
When Wati Kirk awakes, Miéville is gone from the Museum. Before the labour organizer can find out where his author has gone, Dane Parnell calls, demanding his presence immediately. Miéville's body lays on a diagnostic table, on full life support. Dane Parnell explains that his brain is gone ... miraculously removed with some technology that the Kraken Agent has never seen before. Every nerve was sealed and there was no blood lost. However, Parnell tells him if the author's brain isn't returned to his body within 24 hours, Miéville will die.
Wati Kirk orders the city's familiars to pursue the paper tiger. By following its lack, the Architeuthis arrives at the Sea's embassy in Varmin Way. When Wati Kirk and party shift inside, they find a soaked, underwater world inhabited by two villains: Grisamentum, who is comprised of ink and paper, and the Tattoo, a crime lord tattoed onto the back of a man named Paul. While Grisamentum is resurrected in the liquid body of ink, he doesn't fully understand the power of metaphor. Only the "Great Prophet" -- a.k.a. Billy Harrow -- has this knowledge, and he was left behind by ancient squid cultists (or bottle angels) who once lived on the planet.
Dane, having borrowed a device which will control Miéville's body without the aid of his brain, goes with the author to join Wati Kirk and his party. They find Grisamentum, the tiger who came into the Museum. They quickly realize that Gris doesn't have the skill or knowledge to have understood the operation on Miéville, and the Londonmancers tell them about the Great Prophet.
Finally, Wati Kirk finds Miéville's brain. The Tattoo has hooked it up to control his main thug, Goss and Subby. The brain is now revered by the thug as the "Controller," which the thug hopes will fulfill his (its? their?) murderous thirst for the next 10,000 years. After trying unsuccessfully to get Gris to repeat the operation on Miéville in reverse, Dane submits to the Great Prophet and gains the knowledge of metaphor needed to restore Miéville's brain and save both the author's life and all their existences.
Without his Controller, Goss and Subby succumb to the wrath of Paul who conquers his Tattoo. Wati Kirk suggests the familiars go on strike once more, and Grisamentum's attack on Miéville never-was.
I've never been a fan of fictionalized works of authors' lives, and the fact that The Paris Wife recounts my favourite author's life during the writinI've never been a fan of fictionalized works of authors' lives, and the fact that The Paris Wife recounts my favourite author's life during the writing of my favourite book of all time, The Sun Also Rises, antagonized the hell out of me. It didn't bode well.
But I promised my sister I'd give it a go; she wanted me to read it because we'd just read A Moveable Feast together, and she sent me the hardcover that she'd read for a recent book club. I couldn't say no.
Then, straight away, Paula McLain pissed me off with some of her early writing in the book. They pulled me out of the immersion I prefer to give myself over to when I read; I would just start to lose myself in Hadley's Chicago, or Hemingway's Michigan cabin, and she'd do something inauthentic to break the spell. Things were getting worse.
Later on, my own personal feelings, connected to a long dead relationship of my own, a relationship I always thought of in terms of Hadley and Ernest, yanked me out of my immersion -- not once or twice but many times -- and I would be forced to take a break and try to immerse myself all over again. But I blamed myself and tried not to let my attitude spill onto McLain.
Around the same time, some clever moments marrying Papa's fictional writing with his "real" world were appearing, which had to be McLain's fault, and I asked myself: "Why do we even need books like this? If a book is just retelling the stories another author already told so well, fictional or autobiographical, surely a fiction that retells these already told tales is superfluous?"
The answer, I must admit, took me by surprise and changed my relationship with The Paris Wife. We need books like this because sometimes the finest stories are the ones we already know told from another direction by someone who loves the original stories and people just as much as we do. It seems obvious to me now, as I write it, but it wasn't at all obvious to me while I was reading.
It is beautiful the way McLain loves her subjects. She is fair to them all. She understands them in her own way, a way new and compelling to me, and she overcame all my prejudices, eventually suspending me in my immersion despite herself and her source material and me.
I wanted to hate this book. I set out to destroy it and tear it apart. I wanted to come on here and thrash it and Paula McLain. But I can't. I think this book is something special. And it will take its place on the right hand side of my Hemingway shelf, just this side of the biographies, and the Michael Palin Hemingway books. McLain's earned it.
Always read with a mind willing to open itself (even when you find it difficult to open your mind from the start). You never know what joys you'll find. ...more
Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck"Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck" like Paul Newman.
But there's this awesome cat named Samuel L. Jackson who can say "fuck" amazingly well, and since Newman is dead, Jackson is the perfect choice to read Adam Mansbach's brilliant Go the Fuck to Sleep.
I haven't laughed so hard since George Costanza visited his Mom in the hospital to watch a sponge bath in silohuette. My baby, little Scoutie, was more interested in my insane laughter than the book, but she was sitting on my lap at 12:10 am, so it was all rather fitting.
I love this book. I wish I'd thought of it. And boy do I want more. Just be aware that this is more of an adult spoof of a kid's book than a straight up kid's book. but when SLJ reads it ... hell, it's fun for the whole family.
I wonder how it would read if Cartman were the narrator?...more
Reading (or in the case of Star Wars The Han Solo Trilogy rereading) Star Wars books, with all their cheesie craptasticness is a great reminder of jusReading (or in the case of Star Wars The Han Solo Trilogy rereading) Star Wars books, with all their cheesie craptasticness is a great reminder of just how bad George Lucas' universe is.
It is all contradictions and stock characters and pretty lights and bad plots and predictability and self-referential bullshit and unspeakable dialogue and sci-fantastic worlds. And that's exactly why we love them so much -- or at least why I do -- because they are drivel.
So when A.C. Crispin, who is obviously a fan of Han Solo, has her hero leading smugglers in an attack on an Imperial Fleet come to destroy Nar Shaddaa, it doesn't matter that it further damages his original trilogy character development (the worst damage was done by Lucas, after all, so the Creator himself set the precedent). And when Han comes up with the master plan that will help defeat the fleet (an ex-lover whose illusions would put David Copperfield to shame), and when Han is used by Jabba and Jiliac the Hutts to bribe the Admiral of the fleet, and when Han barely escapes from Boba Fett long before his Empire encounter with the bounty hunter (and makes him a mortal enemy by stealing his Mandalorian wrist darts), and when Han falls in love with the Millenium Falcon in about as banal a way as I can imagine, and when Han meets and befriends Lando Calrissian on the spot, who turns out to be a man who loves responsibility long before he becomes responsible for Cloud City, and when Han peaks out of a closet at a Darth Vader murder, it doesn't matter because its just as contradictory and silly as all Star Wars tales. And it's just as fun.
So I admit it ... I really, really liked The Hutt Gambit because I am a nostalgic git with no taste. But I'm okay with that....more
My first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listeMy first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listened to; three chapters read, two chapters listened to; and on. Teaching this book in a town in a different province than the town I live in, across a straight, over a bridge (my adopted country's longest, the adopted country that plays such an important role in the piece, which is itself a nation sandwiched between nations in our always); a soccer game was played with four teams and two balls, simultaneously filling the same grosstopography, unseeing each other, unseeing the other game, but there was I in net, in perpetual Breach, defending one goal from two teams, and my fellows from Breach were busy removing those who Breached during play. And I found myself loving the mystery of the book then thinking it was too weak then loving it all over again when the twist I'd forgotten reminded me of Miéville's genius and why the mystery really does work. And I found myself loving and loving and loving the alterity of the spaces that Tyador and Corwi and Dhatt navigated with their unseeing, unhearing, unknowing senses as they were forced to see and hear and know. The City and the City is a masterpiece. One hundred years from now this book, and others of Miéville's ouevre will be canon. He's the first writer I've discovered, and long before others had, that I can say that about. And one of the few of the future canon with whom I am contemporary. I am lucky to be reading him now, in his pomp, the way little boys were lucky to see Wayne Gretzky play hockey live. I will never see Miéville's like again....more
Nicholson Baker himself intended it as a memorial to “Charles Pickett and other American and British pacifists. ThHuman Smoke is many things, I think.
Nicholson Baker himself intended it as a memorial to “Charles Pickett and other American and British pacifists. They’ve never really gotten their due. They tried to save Jewish refugees, feed Europe, reconcile the United States and Japan, and stop the war from happening. They failed, but they were right,” and to some extent he intended it as an argument for peace –- more likely peace as pacifism.
It is a chronicle of the worst war criminals that we’ve ever seen, specifically Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt (and their lackeys), with cameo appearances by some other nasty criminals like Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, and Tojo. It shows how their actions and decisions continue to reverberate into today, and how the positive or negative mythologies that have sprung up around them don’t even begin to tell the truth. Moreover, we’re still fighting the fights they started, and seem doomed to keep fighting them.
As I write this the “Blue Angels” and “Snowbirds,” those dazzling, acrobatic show offs of American and Canadian aviation military might are streaking over my home to the delight of my militarized neighbours. Their delight and my disgust. Their delight and my shame.
But back to Human Smoke. It is an anecdotal history that uncovers the ugliness of us all. There are contextual gaps, there are omissions, there is spin, but it is a powerful book and an important one. I, in my dilettante historianism, knew most of what Baker was offering already, but he surprised even me at times, and I’ve never seen the dirtiness of WWII presented in quite so powerful a way.
As I closed the cover, though, I didn’t end with a new dedication to pacifism as so many have before me. If anything, Baker’s moments spent with Gandhi merely underlined the failings of pacifism. Gandhi’s non-violence would have been for nought if England wasn’t busy bombing and being bombed by Germany. England would have rolled over Gandhi and Nehrou and we'd have forgotten all about them and their desire for independence. I didn't heed the call to pacifism, nor was I filled with a new dedication to war as an answer either.
What it did leave me with was a desire to dedicate myself to imagining a new way. Militarism doesn’t work. We know that. Pacfism doesn’t work, even though it makes those engaged in it feel better about themselves (and superior to others). But we seem incapable of finding another way. What good are our minds if we can’t imagine another way? I am positive there must be another way. I want to find it.
My gut tells me it has something to do with forgiveness. For now I will go with my gut and see where it takes me. Thanks for the kick in the ass, Nicholson Baker. I hope you do the same for many, many others. ...more
Surprised: I didn’t expect to like World War Z at all. I’m not even sure why. I like Brooks’ parents, so that shouldn’t have negatively impacted my expectations. I’ve loved Zombies since first I saw Return of the Living Dead in the movie theatre, so I was predisposed to like this book. So I dunno. But I had low expectations, and they were thoroughly exceeded.
It is a great idea, and Brooks’ total commitment to his mock history was convincing. There were times when I couldn’t help letting my imagination run to a parallel universe where this War had actually happened.
The best part, though, was the places Brooks took his Zombiepocalypse – places only The Walking Dead has even approached. Most Zombielit is about the outbreak. The Walking Dead takes the next step, letting us see what it would be like to be a survivor of the outbreak, what it would be like to live during the Zombie occupation, but Brooks gives us the aftermath. How he hell does the earth rebuild after something like that? Brooks takes a pretty convincing stab at imagining how, and it isn’t pretty, nor is it even all that inspiring. I buy it, though.
Fulfilled: My low expectations didn’t extend to the Zombie violence. Even with the oral history format, I expected gore and grotesquery and nastiness, and I got exactly what I expected. There were even a couple of kick ass violent – and not so violent – superlatives, like the marine-Zombies attacking divers, the madness of Yonkers (a pretty impressive moment, actually), the greed of Breckenridge Scott and his Phalanx, and the Redeker Plan (along with the Redeker Twist – which was my absolute favourite part of the book).
Disappointed: Once Brooks blew apart my low expectations with some strong writing and brilliant ideas, he created a new expectation – and a very high one that he failed to deliver on.
Brooks attempted to make his book a global chronicle of the Zombie War, and he populated World War Z with characters from nations on every continent. By the end of the book, though, they were homogenous. The Japanese folks didn’t sound Japanese. The Russian folks didn’t sound Russian. Everyone sounded American. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Brooks gave in to the temptation to make America and their “great” President the saviours of the human spirit. Yep, the Yankees led the charge to defeat the Zombies, to take the war to the Zacks rather than hiding in their fortresses and embracing safety.
We bought an antique piano today, and we were comparing middle C on our dreadfully out of tune piano and our electronic keyboard. The warbling shred of the antique piano made the kids sad because they wanted to sit down and play, but they knew they couldn’t until the piano is tuned. That sadness is exactly the way I felt about Brooks’ decision to make the USA the heroes of his War, but there’ll be no chance of a tune up to take away my sadness. ...more
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John ByrneBloody fantastic! What a great surprise.
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John Byrne -- and I thought, "I must have this." My whim needed to be fulfilled, so I fulfilled my whim.
I didn't expect much, though. I figured I'd be disappointed, but that would have been okay because the only reason I bought it was nostalgia. I could cope if it sucked. I mostly wanted to revisit John Byrne's art, and see what he could do with my favourite Star Trek character. I was wrong to have low expectations (mostly because of myself, though. I imagine the power of my personal nostalgia is a large part of this book's success with me).
Leonard McCoy Frontier Doctor takes place just before Star Trek The Motion Picture, and Bones McCoy is busy gallivanting around the Federation in pseudo-retirement, curing diseases, saving folks of myriad races, getting in adventures, reflecting on his career, repairing timelines, writing letters to Jim, and visiting old friends.
Those old friends were my favourite part. I expected to see Kirk (who was there) and Spock (who was not, which was a surprisingly nice ommission) and maybe even Scotty (who had his obligatory drink with Bones), but it was the unexpected cameos that gave me the greatest joy. I turned a page, for instance, and out of the corner of my eye, in a future panel, I saw a guy who looked familar, "Kooky," I thought, "That looks like Gary Seven." A page and a half later I found out it was Gary Seven. And Roberta was with him. Then the Admiral of the USS Yorktown looked like Majel Barrett, and it turned out it was her -- she was the former first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Pike. And on the same ship, who should be the Chief Medical Officer? Doctor Chapel, of course, looking like Majel Barrett with a different hair cut. Silly, I suppose, but it sure worked for me.
The stories themselves were light and fun and beautifully illustrated. The colour palette was perfectly Star Trek. Bones's beard was positively regal, and even the new characters, like Dr. Duncan and his hot Andorian lover, Theela, were a welcome addition.
I just wish Byrne had done more. Five issues in one graphic novel isn't nearly enough. ...more
I am not sure why she couldn't simply have finished her story before the Star's End adventure happened (but I haven't finished her book either. I paused my reading so that I could read Daley's book, so I will return to her book tonight), but since I had the Daley books handy, she nudged me into reading the source of the interlude, and it would have been better for Crispin's Han Solo if I hadn't been diverted.
See my Han Solo love runs deep. It burst out fully formed in 1977 when I watched him blow away Greedo, then nonchalnatly toss a credit to the barkeep, saying, "Sorry about the mess." My Han Solo was a genuine criminal. A drug running, pragmatic, mercenary S.O.B., whose only redeeming qualities were charm, skill and loyalty. And it was the latter which would lead him into becoming the only Star Wars character with a genuine arc. Come Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo found himself sucked into the Rebellion with a burgeoning love for Leia and a feeling of responsibility for Luke. Once there his other natural gifts flourished, and he began to change in a logical, believable way. He slowly became a "good man."
Unfortunately, much of that was undermined in Return of the Jedi when Solo began to make decisions that made no sense at all -- like giving Lando, his betrayer, the Falcon, behaving like an idiot schoolboy in his relationship with Leia, and behaving like a knob everywhen else (and it didn't help at all that Lucas had Solo dispatch Boba Fett through sheer luck rather than ruthlessness or skill).
The message of Return of the Jedi (particularly when coupled with Lucas's later decision to have Greedo shoot first) was that Han Solo was weak, and he'd always been a good man. He just hadn't been surrounded by the right people. And that's the Han that AC Crispin loves and embraces. Don't get me wrong. That Han's okay, and I was enjoying reading about him. And Crispin genuinely loves that Han. But that Han is not my Solo, and I miss the character I fell in love with as a kid.
Crispin led me back to him, though.
He is fully present in Daley's Han Solo at Star's End. A little more hard SciFi than contemporary Star Wars books, along with clunkier dialogue and a heavy reliance on space tech, the first in Daley's trilogy was published in 1979 -- one year before Empire Strikes Back appeared on screens -- and it breathes freely without the density of the now massive Star Wars canon. So Daley's Han Solo is the original Han Solo. His Han Solo is still the Han Solo who would publicly execute a bounty hunter without remorse, and go charging after a pack of stormtroopers at the heart of the Empire's ulimate weapon.
And what does this original Han Solo do in Daley's book? Well, he cares first and foremost about his ship, which is right and proper; he cares next about Chewbacca; and these loyalties, the Falcon and Chewie, embroil him in the Star's End adventure -- not some bullshit, post-Empire apologetic idealism. And while he's busy improving the Falcon and saving Chewie from some nasty torture, he vents a traitor into space with brutal pragmatism. He kills anyone who gets in the way of his goals, and aids anyone who can help him achieve the same. He slaughters hundreds, maybe thousands of prisoners with a split second decision that is good only for him and his closest friends, then saves a droid to which he's suddenly become loyal over the course of his adventure. He does what is good for Solo, and everything else can suck his vapour trail.
This isn't just Daley's Han Solo. This is my Han Solo, and it was nice to have him back, even if it was only for one hundred and eighty pages. But now I am faced with the prospect of returning to George Lucas' butchered Han Solo in the hands of AC Crispin. A Han Solo who is heroic on an epic scale, a Han Solo who takes in stray street kids, loathes slavery, and is already busy working for the Rebellion without even knowing it, and I am pretty sure it isn't going to be anywhere near as fun as it was before I was sent off to read Han Solo at Star's End.
Nice job, Crispin. Whatever star rating you receive for Rebel Dawn will be all your fault. ...more
This review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it waThis review was written in the late nineties (just for myself), and it was buried in amongst my things until today, when I uncovered the journal it was written in. I have transcribed it verbatim (although square brackets indicate some additional information for readability) from all those years ago. It is one of my lost reviews.
The most important part of Heston's book -- and his life -- is his ability to speak his feelings with no remorse. He is not a racist, as far as I can tell he is not a sexist, but he is also not politically correct (God, bless him).
Heston's writing is superb, and it forced me to re-evaluate the man whose acting I've enjoyed, albeit with a sense of mockery (it's late...i wonder if this will make any sense later). He is not only entertaining, he is smart, talented, courageous, loyal and a loving father/husband (according to himself).
But the one thing he game that eclipses my enjoyment and newfound respect was my first glimpse of a long future with Michelle. It is more than a dream. It is something that could happen. Thanks for the early look into your life, Chuck. ...more
It took me nearly three years to get through Finch.
I picked it up the first time, got started and found myself stopping for what, at the time, was anIt took me nearly three years to get through Finch.
I picked it up the first time, got started and found myself stopping for what, at the time, was an inexplicable reason. I had already read and loved both City of Saints and Madmen & Shriek: An Afterword. The former for its insane originality and the latter for the way it appealed to my post-modern academic self. But I couldn't break ground in Finch, so I put it down and thought I'd take another crack later.
I don't know how much later I started my next crack, but I always have a book to read in the shower while I am letting the hot water work on my beard before a shave. Somewhere along the line I made Finch my shower book. I started again. Got a chapter or two beyond my first attempt, then moved away from my home for a year and a half, and left it sitting there in the bathroom awaiting my return. I hadn't been taken with it enough to take it with me, though, and I was starting to feel like Jeff VanderMeer had finally taken a misstep. I went to Anguilla and forgot all about Finch.
When I came home, there Finch was sitting in the bathroom, waterstained, slightly mouldy, a little bit daunting. I left it for a good while, just languishing on the bathroom shelf. I ignored it for magazines that talked about baseball and Star Wars and naughty sex, but then those all ran out, and I happened (as I always do) to be teaching excerpts from VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen again, and I grudgingly picked up Finch for what turned out to be the last time.
It was a slog, a tough read, it was dribs and drabs under the hot water. A page or two every couple of days at first, adding damp to the pages so the mould could take hold. I almost quit a couple of times. I started to piece together why I was having so much trouble with the book. I felt all at sea with the story, like there was too huge a gap between the tome that was City of Saints and Madmen, the meta-brilliance of Shriek, and I couldn't place it in the time or space of its predecessors. But worse, Finch was a first-person narrative of constant fragmentation that wasn't a first person narrative at all. It was a third-person limited narrator, limited to Finch's POV, but written as though first person. It was strangest, most prolonged bit of literary torture I have experienced. It was work. It was VanderMeer telling us to work. It was Finch slipping in and out of consciousness in the big scene with the Partial actually taking shape for a reader oneself.
I hadn't been willing to work before, but now, somehow, I was, and as the story unfolded, and the mould began to colonize the pages I had left behind and water continued to stain the pages I was reading, preparing them for the fungus that would conquer them, I began to see the genius of what VanderMeer was doing, had done.
Finch is a glorious completion to his Ambergris cycle. A bizarre, frustrating, oddly delicate, gynecologic, spore of a book that colonizes the reader the way Wyte is colonized by the Grey Caps. It is emotional; it is powerful; it is sinister; it is violent; it is fiercly imaginative; it is genius.
But it's not easy. Take your time. Give it a chance. VanderMeer deserves your loyalty. ...more
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of theA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell....more
I've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanI've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanks, Kim) to finally make me pick up the old, water-stained copy that's been sitting on my shelf.
I imagine I knew what to expect once upon a time, but that time was long gone and When Gravity Fails was full of fun cyberpunky surprises. I loved the easy, full acceptance of the transgendered in the contained culture of the Budayeen, especially the acceptance of it by our protagonist, Marîd Audran. His acceptance made it seem normal, barely worth mentioning, and I loved the comfort this engendered (sorry ... couldn't control myself there). Moreover, I thought George Alec Effinger offered one of the best visions of cyberpunk body alterations that I have ever read. "Daddies" designed to boost one's skills -- mostly for language, but for all sorts of other physical and mental skills -- "mods" to give you other personalities and experiences, and plenty of plastic surgery to reassign one's gender, reshape one's look, reinvent oneself. None of it went too far. All of it made sense to me.
At the nuts and bolts level, the story was a readable one (despite its familiarity). A gritty, noirish, underground mystery where the hard loner who moves teflon-coated through the dirty streets is sucked into a murder investigation to protect himself and the place (and people) he loves. We've seen it a squillion times before (and it rarely tires me). I liked it just fine and was all set to give When Gravity Fails three stars. Don't get me wrong, it was better than okay for most of the read, but it never compelled me to pick it up and read voraciously to the last page. It was mostly just a comfortable read -- the kind I'd pick up when my brain needs a rest.
But then Audran found his killers, and When Gravity Falls did things with Audran (freshly modified despite years of remaining free of augmentations) that I didn't expect. What he becomes, beyond his control or not, is a tale-changer, and the way those around him react is precisely as it should be.
Sometimes bad endings can take something I love and make me hate it; it's nice to know that great endings can take something mediocre and make me love it too....more
I read this twice in close succession. I read it, then I read it again. The two readings were necessary, and not because William Golding failed in anyI read this twice in close succession. I read it, then I read it again. The two readings were necessary, and not because William Golding failed in any way, but because his novel, The Inheritors welcomes so much failure from his readers -- I don't say this lightly.
I taught this for the first time this year, and it was beyond my first year university students. The Inheritors challenges. It challenges readers to work hard. It challenges readers to pay attention. It challenges readers to empathize. It challenges readers to think about themselves and humanity. It challenges readers to consider other ways of seeing the world. It challenges readers to question the things they hold true. It challenges readers to look in the mirror. It challenges readers to actually read!
The Inheritors is a damning criticism of us and what makes us us. It is an attack on the civilizing drive of humans and a call to consider the wreckage we left behind and continue to create.
Mostly it is a scream into a vaccuum that swallows all sound, reminding me of my favourite contemporary authors, like ki hope, who can imagine others that the rest of us wouldn't even remember let alone imagine. It reminds me how much I miss the people (... or that person ...) that voice such important messages.
The Inheritors is a difficult read. But a necessary one for anyone who cares about life and living. ...more
I was going to give this five stars, then I thought, "It's too much fun for five stars," so I clicked on four stars, then I thought, "Fuck that! FiveI was going to give this five stars, then I thought, "It's too much fun for five stars," so I clicked on four stars, then I thought, "Fuck that! Five it is." And so it came to be.
New Novella --
I have been tossing around an idea I have about the shift in novella writing from a thing unto itself into a portion of "larger" works (I first started talking about it here), and it seems to me that John Scalzi's quite marvelous Redshirts is just such a work.
I would split it into two novellas: Redshirts itself, and the three Codas. Redshirts is, after all, a mere 200-ish pages that read very quickly. Its length is similar to many of the classic novellas (many of which, like Heart of Darkness are densely packed into their slim editions); it gets going, gets its story told and gets out.
The Codas, then, make up the second novella. Though they work as narrative additions to Redshirts proper, they also work on their own, stringing together three short stories (a novella in short stories?) that make one cohesive unit, and I think they could be read as one piece minus Redshirts and be quite excellent in their own right. Moreover, they offer up first, second and third person perspectives, respectively, binding themselves together as one unit with a mechanical throughline that weaves together the narrative threads into a piece.
You may not consider it two novellas, but the idea works for me in my brain, and next time I read this book I am going to read the Codas all by themselves to see how they work.
Fun & Funny--
Novella talk aside, this is one enteraining piece of fiction. It hits that special place in my liver where my Trekkie love rests, it hits that special place in my hypothalimus where my Firefly love rests, it hits that very special place in my testicles where BSG rests, it hits that special place in my joints where Deep Space Nine rests, etc., etc.. Scalzi knows all the pressure points (and of course he would being the nerd that he is and having worked on Stargate too), and he pokes at those points with joyful abandon. I haven't had so much fun reading in a year.
Fuck yeah! Anyone who is interested in Baudrillard or Eco or spends their time seeing the removes in everything they perceive with enjoy their time down the wormhole or ten.
A Yeti in the Jeffries' Tubes. Seriously fun.
I know I am missing some things I wanted to say when I finished reading last night, but those can wait until the next time I read Redshirts. It is sure to come. ...more