I said I was going to listen to it the next time I read it and here I go.
An intelligent man I know is also an incorrigible literary snob whI said I was going to listen to it the next time I read it and here I go.
An intelligent man I know is also an incorrigible literary snob who believes that the last author of any true literary merit was Faulkner, and that anything that has come since must be poor by definition (himself excluded, though I suspect I am not). He reads more recent texts because he must (for school or pedagogical purposes), and his feelings about them are predominantly negative.
So he read the Wasp Factory at my behest while I listened to it, then we sat down and chatted. He was entertained by Frank's tale, but he feels The Wasp Factory is poorly written, that Banks is nothing but a sensationalist writing with overdetermination and a tendency towards the melodramatic. It's the only Banks he has read, and my opinion incorporates a reading of most of Banks' novels, but I disagree with my friend -- both in the case of The Wasp Factory and the quality of contemporary authors.
I am mostly talked out after our discussion of the other day, where we left things unconvinced by the other's arguments. Suffice to say that I find much to admire in the emotional, sometimes passionate, sometimes cold first person revelations of Frank Cauldhame. Banks told the tale in the voice the tale required, and the tale of lies upon lies upon lies upon half-truths is to be much admired as an entertainment and as literature. And a world, such as my friend desires, wherein Dickens would be top-middle-bottom of the reading menu, is a world that would bore me to coma. Leguin, Mieville, Banks, Morrison (an author my friend admits approaches quality), Vandermeer, Hope, Katzman, Atwood, Allende, Mitchell, Murakami, Ishiguro, and others I'm not remembering make my imagination tremble.
I'm glad he read the book for me; I am sad he didn't like it more; I surely loved our conversation, though. Books (and the people who love them) really are good, aren't they?...more
**spoiler alert** All the main characters, Aubrey and Maturin included, faded into the background of The Mauritius Command, becoming a kind of landsca**spoiler alert** All the main characters, Aubrey and Maturin included, faded into the background of The Mauritius Command, becoming a kind of landscape upon which the drama of Lord Clonfert played out. His was the story that most captured my attention this time through.
Clonfert begins the tale as the captain of HMS Otter. He is a vain man. A handsome man who cuts a dashing figure in his finery. He has developed some bravery (after a shaky beginning to his career), is a "capital seaman" and has the loyalty of his men. He is also an unabashed liar when it comes to his accomplishments (even suggesting he was present at the killing of a unicorn, using a Narwhal tusk as his evidence), but his vanity quickly undermines his spirit when he's thrust into the shadow of his former shipmate, now commanding officer, Commodore Jack Aubrey.
Clonfert is eventually made Post-Captain by the man he sees as his nemesis and is given the frigate HMS Néréide as his command. He eventually loses his ship and half his face in a poorly executed action, and once he realizes that Jack Aubrey will again return him to command, after the Mauritius Campaign has reached its successful conclusion, he takes his own life in his convalescent bed.
It's not a tragic death. It's rather pathetic, actually. O'Brian's expression of Clonfert's fall, however, is touching and strikes at a truth I've witnessed amongst many of those who find themselves in competition with one another. Quite often, the successful person, the "bull" in an analogy of Stephen Maturin's, has no idea that the less successful person, the "frog" in the same analogy, envies him, hates him, or obsesses over him in any way. So the bull steps on the frog without ever noticing, and as Dr. Maturin suggests, "how can the bull be blamed ...." How, indeed?
I never want to be a frog, but I fear that there is a bit of that beast in me despite my desire. It is something for which I must be wary. I should probably be wary of being the bull too. Wariness may just be the most benevolent policy.
I just took a second listen to The Mauritius Command, and Simon Vance's performance held up very well. I know many adore Patrick Tull, and perhaps I would too if I ever had a chance to hear his work, but I have listened to four of the novels now (having read them all first) with Simon doing the narrating, and I feel like my brain has settled in on his rhythms. He's become the voice of these men for me. He's never been my favourite narrator of fiction (I most recently listened to his Dr. No, James Bond), but I have enjoyed his Egyptology readings. His voice just seems to suit the more historically driven tales. Maybe it is the pomposity he can achieve with his voice. I dunno. I do know I liked it, though. Again. ...more
I can't remember what I've said previously about the Martin Beck books (beyond my general positivity), so I apologize if you find me repeating myselfI can't remember what I've said previously about the Martin Beck books (beyond my general positivity), so I apologize if you find me repeating myself (I am too lazy to go back and read all my previous reviews). I think it is also important to note that my star rating here is contrasted with the other books I've read in the series. The rating doesn't reflect my feelings about The Fire Engine that Disappeared compared to all books -- only other Martin Beck books.
That business complete, I have to say "I dig these books!" They are amongst the best police procedurals I've read, and all Swedish crime fiction (perhaps all crime fiction) since the sixties, including (especially?) Steig Larsson, owes these books an immeasurable debt. But I don't care about the plot of this book tonight. I care about the characters, which is, I think, what Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo most wanted us to care about.
Martin Beck -- The man from which the series gets its name is not much more than a bit player in this tale, but he's still the place to start. He is the pivot around which everything else revolves, and the relationship between himself and his daughter, Ingrid, is one of the most beautiful father-daughter relationships I've ever read. It is true in a way that other manifestations simply aren't. At one point, she suggests that he should move out of the family home as she's about to do, hinting at a much needed divorce from the wife and son that make him so miserable. It is an expression of trusting intimacy that is potently honest. I can't help but love them both for that moment.
Kollberg -- Sarcastic, bombastic, sextastic, Kollberg has been my favourite throughout the series, and he remains so here. He starts out petulant and sarcastic, fucking with the rookie, Benny Skacke, incessantly, and winds up with nine inches of steel in his belly. It's a sweet little arc that keeps my favourite vibrant and alive. Will he still be anti-gun after his stabbing? I'm guessing yes. Dogmatically so.
Benny Skacke -- And speaking of young Skacke ... not too bad. He's a smart operator, and it is all down to his tenacity. I get the feeling that his desire to be Chief of Police is going to come to fruition by book ten. And his final error, the error that leads to serious danger, is the kind of error that will be misconstrued as heroism -- much to his benefit. Lucky bastard.
Gunvald Larsson -- Perhaps the most important man in this book, Gunvald Larsson is also the biggest prick, the most unlikeable, the most insufferable. He's the ugly cop. He's not dirty, no, no. But he is brutal, unswerving, unreasonable. He is a bully of the worst kind. He is mean, insulting, close-minded, foolish. Yet he starts this book as a hero, dragging eight people from a horrible house fire. And he milks it for all he can.
Einar Rönn -- He's Larsson's best friend, and he brings Gunvald a bunch of flowers while he's recovering from his heroism, to which his friend wonders aloud: "Did you pick them off a grave, Rönn?" Rönn winces, genuinely hurt, but his love for Larsson never wavers. Dumb? Yes. But I can't help loving him for it, and as cops go he's actually kind of okay.
Fredrik Melander -- is just plain old Melander. He pseudo-solves things early on. He loves his Plain Jane wife. He is his ordinary boring self. I can't do anything but love him for who he is.
And that, ultimately, is what makes me love these books. The characters. They are true. True and real. And I can't and won't ask for 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.
It's been a while since I've been so infuriated by a read. I am pissed this morning after finishing Bitter Seeds because the book is so fucking unevenIt's been a while since I've been so infuriated by a read. I am pissed this morning after finishing Bitter Seeds because the book is so fucking uneven. The highs are very high, but the lows tend to be abyssal. I considered giving it five stars at a couple of points, vowed to give it one star often, and finally decided that I had better split the difference.
Here goes for the Highs and Lows:
High #1 -- The conceit of Nazi engineered superheroes whose presence change the course of the war is a winner. I am loathe to say it is original because an 80s multi-verse timeline in Marvel's Fantastic Four played with that idea, but Tregillis does some original stuff with it, and when he has us hanging out with Dr. von Westarp's damaged children () the book is at its very best. It is, however, partnered by a low.
What we have here in Bitter Seeds is a whole schwack of the silliest kind of Nazis. We have Dr. von Westarp as the creepy, sadistic, human guinea pig using scientist; we have Reinhart as the an overbearing necrophiliac; we have Kammler as a leashed moron; we have Heike as a fragile, suicidal victim.
But then we have Klaus and Gretel, two Nazi Übers, who have real depth and back story. They should bring equilibrium ... except they don't because, you see, they are not "genuine Aryans," not real Nazis, they are Roma, marginalized within their own SS group and treated as other by both their race and their abilities.
Now I don't for a second want the gypsies to change, but some sort of expansion of Kammler or Heike, some sort of explanation for Reinhardt's behaviour (besides the obvious, "he's a Nazi") could have brought the necessary equilibrium. Some time spent defining why anyone else in Germany was the way the were, even Dr. von Westarp, could have pulled them away from caricature and made them antagonists worth spending narrative time with. It doesn't happen, and this missed opportunity is infuriating.
High #2 -- The British Warlocks. I loved the idea of supernatural science going toe to toe with supernatural magery. British Warlocks vs. Nazi supermen?! Sounds fucking cool doesn't it?
Low #2.0 -- But then the fucking Eidolons show up and we discover that the Warlocks have no magic; theirs is a linguistic capacity that allows them to "negotiate blood prices" for the service of the near-omnipotent Eidolons. Midi-chlorians anyone?!
Low #2.1 -- But it got even lower for me where the Eidolans were concerned. The narrative response to England's deals with the Eidolans was to give us Will Beauclerk, sort of the head Warlock working for Milkweed, whose guilt over dealing with the Eidolans leads him to morphine addiction and eventually madness. He feels the terrible pain and gravity of what he "must" do to keep England safe. Slaughtering innocents, making human sacrifices, becomes justified -- or at least rationalized -- in the narrative because there is someone of conscience engaged in the perpetration, which in conjunction with the two-dimensional Nazi caricatures, winds up solidifying the simplistic notion that any Allied atrocity is good because the Nazis were unconscionably bad.
High #2.1 -- Yet the ending, (view spoiler)[Will's discovery of the baby isolation vaults at Milkweed headquarters -- wombs of non-language to spawn a new generation of Eidolan negotiators (hide spoiler)], was a killer moment, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Tregillis will engage meaningfully in an examination of his England's tactics during his reimagined Second World War.
Low #2.2 -- I don't buy, however, that Tregillis will do anything of the sort in the The Coldest War. I expect Will's lone voice of conscience will continue to be the factor that negotiates audience acceptance of shitty British behaviour, while caricatured Soviets will be evil no matter what they do. A future low, perhaps, but a low that puts a major dent in my enjoyment of Bitter Seeds.
-- Gretel and Klaus and Will. I kept reading (listening) because of them. When Tregillis takes time with his characters, he can do some good things, and these three are the books greatest strengths.
Low #3 -- Raybould and Liv. All other poor characters aside, and there are plenty, Raybould Marsh (our protagonist, I suppose), his spouse and their "love" was one of the most ham-fisted relationships I've read. I never bought a moment of their love for one another. I never bought the way they met. I never bought their marriage. I never bought how it motivated Marsh. I never bought their split and reunion. I never the homoerotic triangle that developed between them and Will. I never any of it. Most of the time, it felt as though the publishers (or some outside mentoring source) told Tregillis to add a love story. And this was the best he could do. Well, his best wasn't just "just not good enough," it was destructive to most everything it surrounded.
Low #3.1 -- Raybould? What a fucking stupid name. But that's okay, stupid names aren't all that bad, but it puts me in mind of a personal low for me: the names of Brits and Germans in general. I am a huge football fan, so I know, inherently, the names of most footballers in Germany and England, and most of the supporting characters in this book have a corresponding footballer with their name. This is probably coincidence, but it is a coincidence that made me conscious of the narrator every time my mind pictured a modern footballer rather than a person of the proper period.
High #4 -- The pace was brisk and compelling ...
Low #4 -- ... But the book was way too short. The whole of World War II condensed to this relatively slim volume? A multivolume series could have been written about WWII, let alone his next foray into the Cold War. Bitter Seeds is not anywhere near enough -- it is far too slim -- and with a more languid pace and greater time spent with ALL his characters, many (if not all) of the lows of Tregillis' book could have become highs.
I will go on. I will read the The Coldest War because there were parts of this book I really loved. Its potential was great. I wanted to love it. But if the same highs and lows continue, I will stop splitting the difference and go the way of the lowest possible star rating. And those bits of love that make me want to continue will fester into their opposite. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Back when I got stuck in the doldrums of The Shipping News, finally tossing it overboard, then wasted my timeI admit it. I was surprised by Middlesex.
Back when I got stuck in the doldrums of The Shipping News, finally tossing it overboard, then wasted my time with The Stone Diaries a year later, I subconsciously vowed to ignore the Pulitzer Prize forever. I broke that vow in '99 for The Hours, but that was because one of my mentors knew Cunningham, and he recommended The Hours because he knew my love for Mrs. Dalloway. I went straight back to my personal embargo, though, and it stuck until 2009 when I finally caved and read The Road.
I wouldn't say the embargo lifted after that, but my conviction definitely waned, so when I needed something to listen to on my long commute and saw Jeffrey Eugenides's audiobook version of Middlesex on sale for $7.99, I caved and decided to give it a go.
I expected crap when I started listening, but when Lucky and Desdemona hit Detroit I really started to dig it, and when it ended today with Cal/liope learning the truth of the 5-alpha-reductase deficiency from his YaYa, the recessive gene that made him a hermaphrodite, I realized I'd been a convert to Middlesex's beauty for the bulk of the book.
I don't know if I would be as impressed with Middlesex if I had read it rather than listening to it because Kristoffer Tabori's vocal performance was absolutely mindblowing. I don't think I have heard too many vocal performances that can beat his work on Middlesex. He's no Orson Welles playing Lamont Cranston, but he kicks the crap out of most of the contemporary voice actors I've heard in animated movies and audiobooks. His voices were so distinct, his performance so complex, that characters masking their voices over telephones or through heating ducts had just enough of their original voices to be recognizable while still convincingly masking them from others in the story. Even better, Tabori turned much of Eugenides' prose into poetry. Or -- perhaps -- Tabori simply revealed the poetry of Eugenides' words that were there all along.
I like to think that's the case because the way Eugenides writes about Detroit, San Francisco, and Smyrna is some of the most beautiful metroprose I've ever heard, and I found myself caring for every character Cal/liope came in contact with. I'd hate to know that Tabori's performance made the story better than it really is (although I have a sneaking suspicion that I'd have felt some of Eugenides' descriptions and characterizations were a touch precious without Tabori's performance). So I will never actually read this book now that I've listened to it. I like this story, and I want to keep on liking it.
So am I finally back reading the Pulitzer Prize winners? I dunno. Perhaps. But even if I do start reading them again, I won't be seeking them out.
Maybe I'll buy them on audiotape, instead. You never know what the bargain bin is going to turn up....more
Before I go on, though, I should mention that The Accidental Time Machine is only the third book I have ever listened to on tape. So I didn't "read" this book, I listened to it; a mode of delivery that I fear may have fatally altered my perception of Haldeman's story because I couldn't stand the narrator.
Kevin R. Free's vocal performance was terrible. Often, he failed to match the emotion that Haldeman's words intended; the voices he provided for different characters occasionally bled into one another, detracting from the flow of the story, forcing me to struggle to figure out who was speaking; and his accents -- Boston, Australian, Imaginary -- were universally unconvincing. I found myself wishing over and over that someone else was reading this book.
I am not convinced, however, that Kevin R. Free is completely to blame for my disappointment in The Accidental Time Machine. I never seemed to connect to the story itself, and a big part of that had to do with my feelings for the painfully flat protagonist, Matt.
I never cared about Matt, and I had a hard time buying his slacker calm. Whether he was walking into the Massachusetts Institute of Theosophy, being interrogated for the murder of his former drug dealer, turning over his bottle of wine to an insane auction in a distant, future, uber-L.A., or placing his trust in the strange, time machine sextet, Matt was totally unflappable.
But get him around a naked woman, a futuristic porn computer, a cuddly ex-girlfriend, or his Nobel Prize winning grandson nee mentor, and he is suddenly Mister Flappable.
And that's his entire personality in two mini-paragraphs. Maybe I can make it even simpler still: slacker unflappability or squirmy, petty flappability. He never grows, he never changes, and he ultimately makes a happy life out of mediocrity. What a hero.
And I won't even get into Martha and her boring sexual naïveté, athiest/agnostic awakening, or modest/immodesty.
Sure, there were some clever and likable bits. I enjoyed "La" for a while, the artificial intelligence who embodied Los Angeles; I thought the memory helmet was a nice touch; and something about the family Matt caught fish with in the time of the Christers was satisfying. But there was way too much crap. Haldeman referenced countless sci-fi classics without subtlety or inspiration, his ending was too pat, too deus ex machina, and the constantly forward moving action -- jumping, jumping, jumping -- never really made sense to me in connection with Matt's character. I just didn't believe he was a curious enough person to drive the plot forward in that manner.
And then there was Haldeman's constant use of "not un-." George Orwell's disdain for the "not un-" configuration is one that I share not undeeply. Haldeman did it and did it and did it again, and I wanted to not unstrangle him..
He's not the only author who uses "not un-." Many do. But I usually notice its use and move on, letting it fade into the background when the story has anything to offer me. The fact that my aggravation grew every time Haldeman used it is a sign of how disappointed in The Accidental Time Machine I am.
My feelings about Kevin R. Free's vocal performance mitigates, ever so slightly, my negative feelings for Haldeman's book, but if Haldeman doesn't impress me when I read The Forever War our relationship as author and reader will be over for good....more