The ending of Fifteen Dogs was a no win for author and readers alike; well, some of the readers lost, and I came down on the losing side.
The problemThe ending of Fifteen Dogs was a no win for author and readers alike; well, some of the readers lost, and I came down on the losing side.
The problem (if one can call it that) is built right into the premise. Apollo and Hermes make a bet (and this is no spoiler since it opens the book) that, having granted human intelligence to fifteen dogs in a Toronto vet hospital, not a single one of the fifteen dogs will die happy. Apollo is on the side of unhappiness; Hermes is on the side of happiness. One of them wins and one of them loses, and whomever you are as a reader, whichever side you agree with, when the opposition wins you are bound to be disappointed. That was me. I was on the wrong side.
But the journey to get there was amazing, and the philosophical questions about animal nature, human nature, the nature of memory, language, empathy, the nature of dominance, sexuality, rape, violence, love, hate, the nature of our sensory engagement with the world, the nature of poetry, and the importance of death to life are all worth the trip, even if the pay off may leave you cold.
Dunno when I'll get back to this, but I intend to read it again someday. Maybe soon. Maybe not. ...more
George Guidall, the narrator, has the perfect voice for The Gunslinger. He has the gravel of too many cigarettes and too much bourbonTwo Good Things--
George Guidall, the narrator, has the perfect voice for The Gunslinger. He has the gravel of too many cigarettes and too much bourbon. But along with the roughness of his vocal cords is an ability to feel the text and convey that feeling, making the story of such unrepentantly awful characters something I wanted to hear even though I can't give a shit about them.
Stephen King's fantasy epic, set in something resembling our world, contains the kind of sprawling, insane mythology that every game master wishes they could conjure, and it makes all kinds of terrifying sense. Unless it is all one giant schizophrenic break, in which case it is even more terrifying and makes even more sense.
One Not-So Good Thing--
The good vs. evil shit is getting so tired, and this book punched it into my ears with fists of ham. I remember thinking there were some shades of grey in this story, but mostly it is all black with no white, yet there is an underlying sense of biblical morality that makes it clear that the black is black, that the evil is evil. Snore. ...more
There was much talk about the gender flip when Goddess Thor replaced Odinson (which was to be expected), and much of the initial talk came from Thor fThere was much talk about the gender flip when Goddess Thor replaced Odinson (which was to be expected), and much of the initial talk came from Thor fans (mostly men) who were critical of the change. Then that talk was answered by the opposition camp (mostly women) who were critical of the criticism.
I have been a Marvel Thor fan since I was a teenager. I have the entire run of Walt Simonson bagged and boarded and filed for posterity, and I have a future tattoo of a Simonson Thor all picked out. My daughter loves Lady Sif (and hates Jane Foster because Jane gets in the way of Sif's love), and her twin brother has won awards for his God of Thunder cosplay at local conventions. We are a Thor family, so I couldn't help be interested in the debate.
I personally loved the idea as soon as I heard it was happening because I'd had my own idea for years that every character that Thor truly loved -- Sif, Jane, Baldur, Freyja, maybe even Steve -- were worthy of Mjolnir, and that any of them in a time of dire need could lift the hammer. My heart and brain were prepared for the change, therefore, and I had no problem seeing someone else wield Mjolnir, especially knowing it was coming from the very capable mind of Jason Aaron.
Surprise, surprise, though ... my twelve year old twins had other ideas.
I was fully expecting them to be on board and excited like I was, but neither of them were, which made me pause and want to take another, deeper look at why it is that some folks (those mostly men again) were so upset by the Thor shakeup.
I started by talking to my daughter. For Bronte it was annoyance at the gimmickieness of the whole thing. You see, Bronte already loves Asgard’s heroines. Her favourite, favourite, favourite Marvel Superhero is the Lady Sif (her very first comic was during the Sif arc of Journey Into Mystery), and Valkyrie was the next Asgardian she came to love, so she was annoyed that the creators must have thought that the only way to get girls to read Thor comics was to make Thor female rather than to start telling tales that foregrounded the amazing women that already exist in the Marvel Universe and give them their own titles.
She, it turns out, wants the already existing women of Marvel to achieve the level of respect they deserve and to, in her words, “Not ride the coattails of the boys!”
Then I went to my son. For Milos, the problem had to do with the loss of Thor “him”self. Milos imagines himself as Thor nearly every day and still, at twelve, pretends he’s Thor, running around the house in helmet and cape with Mjolnir in hand saving the realms. His blonde hair (turning brown slowly these days, much to his chagrin) is down to his shoulders and has only been cut (well… trimmed rather than cut) once a year for his whole life – all of this because of Thor. So he saw Lady Thor as an undermining of all he loved. Not only was Thor suddenly personally unworthy of his hammer, but someone else was worthy, and Milos felt like he couldn’t play her because she was, well, a her. The change hurt him, then the hurt became anger because he wondered why they couldn’t just make a new hero who was a girl and leave Thor alone.
I was surprised. I figured my own opinion would be theirs (not at all self-absorbed, am I?). But it wasn’t, and they were pissed in a place where I was excited. And neither of them fill the stereotype of what one might imagine the opponents of Lady Thor to be. Milos comes closer, certainly, but he lives in a home of strong women, and he is not a basement dwelling square, and all his best friends are girls, and he loves damn near every Marvel Superheroine there is.
But here’s the kicker. Once the two of them read Goddess of Thunder, one of them decided it was awesome and the other had their opinion that it sucked deepened. I imagine you’ve guessed it, but it is Bronte who hates it more and Milos who has decided Lady Thor is “badass cool!”
Bronte just can’t see the point. Lady Thor is just Thor (and by the time she finished Goddess of Thunder, she knew exactly who Lady Thor is), and Lady Sif barely gets any time at all, and besides, Bronte would just rather read stories about the awesome ladies that have always been there.
Milos, however, is super stoked because it’s not like Thor is gone. He has relinquished the name Thor and become Odinson (certainly nonsensical if you are a believer in Norse Religion, but fitting in the Marvel Universe), and even though he’s lost Mjolnir, he still has Jarnbjorn and a sweet new Uru arm. So there is a new-old Thor out there for him to play, and now that he knows who Lady Thor is and is able to put into the context of the overarching tale, he’s just fine.
You just never know why people are going to fear change or even hate change once it has happened, but something about this moment tells me we need to listen to peoples stories rather than shutting them up and shutting them down. And that goes for everyone.
For me, I love Thor, the Goddess of Thunder. She makes sense. It enriches her, the character who is now Thor, and it enriches Odinson, and I am a sucker for the enriching of stories and characters I love. I should get the next 5 issues soon. Can’t wait to give them a go...more
Maybe I am wrong here, but I have a hard time thinking of other authors who can turn seemingly simple ideas into complex ideas with a burst of imagination that makes the simple idea seem unique and rare -- all without the alienating pretentiousness of the author who knows s/he is great. This ability makes Banks one of the most inviting writers I know, and I savour everything he has written over and over again.
If fact, as I write this, I realize that in the past decade he and China Mieville (perhaps the pretentious one of which I spoke?) are the only two authors I have spent any significant time rereading. The former to visit an old friend, the latter to savour language and be dazzled. I admire, Mieville, but it is definitely Banks I prefer to spend time with.
This time listening to The Player of Games was pure joy. It didn't matter that I knew the outcome of Jernau Morat Gurgeh's great Azad tournament, that I knew the deal with the drone, Mawhrin-Skel, that I knew the ending was going to leave me a little flat. This time I was able to luxuriate in Gurgeh's journey, focusing on the little things rather than the big picture of the plot, letting his sensuality in the games guide me, letting his desire for the perfect game move me like it hasn't before, letting his flaws deepen his attractiveness rather than being fooled into judging him. This time I was able to admire Mawhrin-Skel's arrogance, Special Circumstances manipulation and the Culture's quite brilliant defeat of a dangerous future foe. This time I was able to recognize Gurgeh's warning to the reader that the ending of a great game -- of Azad and The Player of Games -- must be anti-climactic. I recognized it, accepted it, and let the flat ending ease me out of the emotional high I hadn't realized I had been swept up in.
Like Gurgeh missed Azad, I miss Iain M. Banks, and I am going to miss him and The Player of Games until I open another book of his and meet with him again. Even when I run out of new words from Banks, it is nice to know that all his old words get better with each reading. I will never run out of Banks tales to read. And that is comforting. ...more
Poison Study was a pleasant surprise, presenting us with a sort of fantasy-communism in the nation of Ixia, leFire Study is a serious disappointment.
Poison Study was a pleasant surprise, presenting us with a sort of fantasy-communism in the nation of Ixia, led by a (view spoiler)[sort of fantasy-trans gendered, (hide spoiler)] benevolent dictator. It was unique and made me want to read more. Magic Study was only slightly less interesting. It moved from the fascinating world of Ixia, to the less well drawn but more familiar terrain of Sitia, a nation of magic and the perpetual enemy of Ixia. Once there, it was fun to see the heroine, Yelena, learn the depth of her magic, and it kept me wanting to read more.
Fire Study has put a halt to my interest. It is bad. Really, really bad.
Many of the fantasy elements -- particularly the magical elements -- which were interesting in the first two books have become silly (with some of the most ham-fisted heaven -purgatory - hell allusions I have ever seen). The progressiveness I imagined surrounding the books gender inclusiveness has been undermined. The world building, which looked so promising with the Ixian nation, has become unconvincing. And Yelena, as heroine, is entirely unbelievable now. She is too powerful, has too much influence, is not interesting in the least.
It is a sad decline for a book series I was thrilled to have discovered with my daughter, a series that was once full of promise but ended up lying to us. Such a shame, but I shouldn't be surprised because when a character appears in the second book named, "Moon Man," the third book is bound to blow goats. I should have known better. ...more
• Gone Girl is a solid thriller, maybe even better than solid because Gillian Flynn is a cracking author with serious chops, and she kept me guessing • Gone Girl is a solid thriller, maybe even better than solid because Gillian Flynn is a cracking author with serious chops, and she kept me guessing until the final act.
• The way Gone Girl delivers a picture of how easy it is -- and how likely it is -- for a victim of abuse to remain with the abuser is astonishing in its subtle excellence. Some may look at the extremity of this situation and pass by it thinking, "Oh ... it's rare, an aberration" but it isn't an aberration. It is all too frequent. And the frequency of staying is gender blind.
• Flynn's balancing act between Nick and Amy, making us side with one, then the other, then neither, then one, then the other, and making both attractive and repulsive in turns is probably Gone Girl's greatest strength.
•Gone Girl's post film adaptation meme explosion of female empowerment is fucking frightening. Much the way Fight Club's meme explosion of male empowerment is fucking frightening.
•The supporting cast in Gone Girl is just as convincing as its dual protagonist/antagonists. From Boney to Go, from Tanner to Gilpin, I believed in them, and they all carried depths that surprised me.
•The perspectives of Nick and Amy were handled wonderfully, and Flynn really pulled off making them distinct voices, and one of them had multiple distinct voices. It was an impressive feat.
•Having listened to this on audio, I must say it is the first case of multiple narrators that I found fully satisfying. Both Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne made their characters come alive, and their takes on the supporting cast when in contact with Amy or Nick were just close enough to each other while being clearly from their own character's perspectives to be utterly convincing.
•I don't know how others feel about the ending, that open ended, up to us cliff jump, but I loved it; I know exactly what comes next in my head, and I think Flynn rocks for leaving that up to us....more
That a book and its characters could be worth reading when their stories were originally conceived as a way to sell dolls that already existed as concThat a book and its characters could be worth reading when their stories were originally conceived as a way to sell dolls that already existed as concepts, that a corporate crafted method of scamming money from little girls at Toys R Us would be something I would eventually find myself sharing with my youngest daughter, that anything good could come of such cynicism are things I am probably going to struggle with for a long time, but here I am after reading Kelly Thompson's 2015 IDW reboot of Jem and the Holograms #1 for the second time to admit that perhaps where an idea comes from isn't nearly as important as what is done with it once it exists.
I've not watched the old Jem cartoon, so I don't have any preconceived notions of what Jem and the Holograms should be, so I come to this Thompson/Campbell version of Jem absolutely fresh and without Jem specific baggage (and I have already claimed my ideological baggage, so ...).
What I come away with from Jem and the Holograms: Showtime is a warm feeling for its creators, its characters and its tale. I can't help liking a story where the women outnumber the men by a large margin; I can't help liking a story where friendship is at its heart; I can't help liking a story where love knows no gender boundaries or sexuality boundaries without any anxiety, shame or judgment coming from the creators; I can't help liking a story where exuberance abounds; I can't help liking a story with such pinks and purples. So I do ... I like this story. Very much.
But for all the things there is to like, for all the things I do like, I can't help feeling that it is all too slight for my tastes. My mind isn't hungering for anything violent or dark (although Dark Jem is on the horizon for me), I am not looking for anything more complicated when it comes to the plot, but I do want something more when it comes to thematic oomph! I want more than pleasant despite how pleasant pleasant can be.
Fingers crossed I'll get that oomph! in Jem and the Holograms #2....more
Deviant: The shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original "Psycho" is written more like a novel than an act of reportage. The reporting is still there, but Schechter is quite adept at hiding the reportage under a sneaky tale-telling voice, that sucks his readers in to the horror he's conveying and makes us want to reach the mysterious revelation even if we already know the outcome.
Ed Gein, is the prototypical American serial killer. He was the inspiration for Robert Bloch's now immortal character Norman Bates, and most horror movies owe some debt to the crimes of Ed Gein. His mother's farm house -- where he lived, killed and crafted after her death -- was a charnel house of horrors, filled with the victims of his killings, his collection of body snatching bits and pieces, and all of his human leatherworking.
Yet somehow Schechter's Deviant filled me with pity and sorrow rather than horror and revulsion.
Of all the serial killers I have read about, Ed Gein seems the most deserving of pity, and Schechter's Deviant deepened my feelings. What made him do what he did seems so clear, so much a fault of outside forces or forces beyond his control -- abuse, isolation, mental illness, gender dysphoria, religious fervour, neglect -- that I couldn't and can't muster anger at Gein for his crimes. Listening to Deviant (as I listened rather than read this book), I couldn't help wondering at how many points Gein's crimes could have been avoided by even a modicum of intervention.
When the last chapter finished pouring into my ears, I found myself thinking again of Stephen Crane's Blue Hotel, and the idea that we are all guilty. All of us. And that Gein, and his even nastier brethren, are simply the manifestations of all our sins. ...more
I come away from The Last Days of New Paris feeling like I've felt after coming away from Vladimir Nabokov or Thomas Pynchon -- mentally drained, slightly humbled and scratching my head. But while that feeling often sends me down rabbit holes of study or instills a fervour to go back and give the writing a second or third or fifteenth shot to increase my understanding, The Last Days of New Paris simply makes me want to close the cover, slip it into my Mieville bookshelf and leave it be.
I never thought I would say that about a Mieville book, but here I am.
The Last Days of New Paris isn't a bad book, and in some ways (the narrative, the embrace of its conceit, its creativity) it is quite brilliant, and I imagine it is even more brilliant than I can possibly know because I know absolutely nothing about Surrealism as a movement and practice. Yet for all the brilliance I can see and all the brilliance I imagine is there, I didn't enjoy my experience as much as I've enjoyed everything else of Mieville's I have read. Which is everything.
I feel the failure is mine rather than his. ...more
I am wemistikoshiw, so I don't and won't pretend to understand what it is to be Oji-Cree -- nor any other nation for that matter. I pass no judgment oI am wemistikoshiw, so I don't and won't pretend to understand what it is to be Oji-Cree -- nor any other nation for that matter. I pass no judgment on their beliefs, their lives, their experiences, their ways, but I do feel the great of weight personal disgust and guilt all wemistikoshiw should feel for the genocide of their peoples and cultures our ancestors began, which we carry on every day.
I've been the lover of a Cree woman, a woman I still love and always will, but I have no illusions that my love for her makes me any less wemistikoshiw, any less culpable for what has been done to the proud nations she sprang from. The most I can ever hope to attain is empathy, an incomplete understanding, and a heart willing to hear Indigenous stories coupled with a resolve to do what I can when I can.
As Boyden spoke through Niska and Xavier and Elijah, and as the voices of Niska and Xavier made Boyden fade away, I began to hear whispers of "let me tell you this wemistikoshiw" and "have you thought of this wemistikoshiw" and "don't ignore this wemistikoshiw" because what I was being told, what the whispers were speaking of, were things too important to be ignored.
Yes there is a terrifying and even sometimes thrilling tale of trench warfare in World War I in the foreground of Three Day Road, but there is so much more being told to us. It is telling us about the end of a way of life. I may think it was a beautiful way of life, others may think it was backwards, still others may think it was "heathen," but what really matters is that it was a way; it was valuable; it deserved better. It is a story of how that way was ended, of the ways colonization tore down, took away, raped, brainwashed, manipulated, murdered or slowly eroded through attrition. It is the effects and affects of colonization and how there is no post-colonial period for Indigenous North Americans. There is only colonization. Niska and Xavier are whispering these things to the wemistikoshiw because we need to hear them and do more than hear them. We need to take them into our everyday lives. To look in the mirror at our own wemistikoshiw visages and see all of those whispers written there.
Three Day Road is rich with meaning, bursting into the mud like the largest shells Fritz could throw at the lines, and I doubt that the multiple readings I am sure to give this novel will ever allow me to tap into them all. And maybe, perhaps, this first reaction that I've written here is the best and most important meaning I will ever take away from Three Day Road -- maybe knowing that I am wemistikoshiw, knowing and recognizing that, is exactly what the story needed me to know. ...more
When a comic store discussion kicks up about Mike Grell's GreenArrow: The Longbow Hunters, there is an almost religious hush that settles on the speakWhen a comic store discussion kicks up about Mike Grell's GreenArrow: The Longbow Hunters, there is an almost religious hush that settles on the speakers as they stand around the stacks or lean against the glass display cases. There is a sort of mythic reverence these nerd acolytes try to pass on to the uninitiated, and having once been one of the latter, I myself was personally touched by the former.
Due to a peculiarity in me, however, I didn't take my copy home and devour it with a born-again religious fervour. I did take it home, that much is true, but as I am wont to do with most things other folks revere, I couldn't bring myself to start. Instead, The Longbow Hunters joined my bedside stack of things to read, then daunted me from that vantage. It took me years to finally pick it up and see what all that love was about.
I understand the reverence now even if I don't feel it myself.
The Longbow Hunters came out between DC's two granddaddy examples of comic book seriousness. Sandwiched between The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and The Killing Joke (1988), The Longbow Hunters features mature incarnations of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance (stripped of her Black Canary persona), as they love one another, ponder parenthood (and the decision on this is particularly fascinating), come to accept their place as "super-heroes," and put their lives on the line for what they believe. Beyond their somewhat comfortable world, a sort of Jack-the-Ripper serial killer is slaughtering prostitutes, while a second bowman is taking out a series of seemingly unconnected, rich, powerful victims, and a plague of drug crime is polluting the streets the two love so much.
In the midst of all this gritty chaos is a favourite of all Green Arrow fans -- Shado. She is a Yakuza assassin, forced to kill a series of targets to regain her family's honour and pay off her blood debt, and her presence forces Green Arrow to consider his own ethics, and embrace the killing of foes. It is never clear if this acceptance of killing is due to a need for justice or a recognition of vengeance as a motivation, but both concepts are possible, and the lack of resolution is one of the story's great strengths.
The Longbow Hunters is a strong story. It is beautifully illustrated (brutally illustrated in some parts) intelligently conceived and plotted, and the dialogue mostly holds up for our contemporary audiences. It also goes some distance towards making Green Arrow a serious hero in the DC Universe, and it is a pivotal moment in what would be Green Arrow's finest years as a solo hero and a member of the Justice League.
Unfortunately, though, Green Arrow has never been and will never be as beloved as his fellow from Gotham City, so this comic will never have the readership the comics that include the BatFamily command. I think, ultimately, it is this underdog status that makes it such a religious experience for the nerdy followers of DC. If they know the The Longbow Hunters, if they've read it and appreciated it, if they can pass on their specialized knowledge to others, if they can proselytize their fervour for this high quality, nearly forgotten brother to the granddaddies, they can hold a tiny little niche of the comic book experience that makes them belong, makes them feel special, makes them safe in a world that they feel hates them. And that may just be The Longbow Hunters greatest accomplishment, maintaining a safe space within which to geek out.
I am glad I finally pulled it out of my stacks and gave it a read. It's not my favourite, but anything with Shado, especially Shado at her best, is a comic for me. ...more
This book was a slog. Steven Erikson is an impressive author, and all his skills are on full display in Deadhouse Gates, but it is not an easy read.
SThis book was a slog. Steven Erikson is an impressive author, and all his skills are on full display in Deadhouse Gates, but it is not an easy read.
Sounds like I am really taking it to Erikson, but the truth is Deadhouse Gates isn't meant to be an easy read, nor should it be. In fact, I imagine that the sloggy nature of the read was Erikson's design.
For a great, big, massively huge portion of the book -- essentially the entire book -- Erikson has us following one massive, nearly never ending, running battle. I've never seen anything quite like it, to be honest. I've seen plenty of that classic fantasy battle we're all familiar, some version of The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, that big battle that a small band of intrepid adventurers finds themselves in, the battle that either ends the conflict or comes very near ending it so long as some surprising, seemingly unrelated task is completed elsewhere. I have also seen plenty of those small, personal, highly bloody fights or assassinations, full of guts and blood and horror. Those sorts of moments are increasingly popular in fantasy. And then there are our ever familiar massacres, like the Red Wedding, that remind us of just how terrible and brutal fantasy world should be.
But the Chain of Dogs, Coltaine's bloody march, is something else entirely. It is massacre after massacre after massacre; it is packed with personal brutalities; it is full of outrageous, overwhelming group brutalities; it is a battle joined by countless groups who either perish or leave or disappear; it contains heroism, selfishness, stupidity, politics, entitlement, attrition, disease, exhaustion, and death. So much death.
I think Erikson wanted us to feel what a battle, a true battle -- even if it was in a fantasy world -- is like. It is sort of the Western Front of fantasy battles. It is interminable. It is exhausting for the reader. We are meant to be uncomfortable, to wonder when this battle is going to end, to almost wish it would end so that we can move on to something less depressing.
Erikson wasn't content to tire out his readers, however. He wanted to offer us the promise of some culmination, some giant, wild payoff, some gift for making it through all that pain and blood and shit he poured down on us. So he offers the quest for the Deadhouse Gates, as a parallel to the Chain of Dogs, and then ... (view spoiler)[he says fuck you all, and delivers a denouement that really isn't. I want to get angry about the way he destroys the expectations he has created, but I can't because that disruption of expectations makes the Chain of Dogs even more hopeless, pointless, and devastating than it already was. (hide spoiler)]
Erikson does all this to make us feel things as fantasy readers we probably haven't before, and likely won't again. It is a tough read, you have to be dedicated, but holy shit was it worth it for me. I loved it despite the slog. No, let me fix that. I loved Deadhouse Gates because of the slog. ...more
The erotic aspects of Megan Hart's Dirty are strictly incidental. I hadn't expected that.
I'd gone on a hunt for something sexy and fun to listen to,The erotic aspects of Megan Hart's Dirty are strictly incidental. I hadn't expected that.
I'd gone on a hunt for something sexy and fun to listen to, something to arouse me, something to give me ideas for date nights or let me imagine the things I miss. I searched some lists, read some reviews, and Dirty sounded like it was for me. Turns out it was for me, but not in the way I had wanted.
When the smutty parts appeared, I appreciated the frankness of Hart's prose, I liked the use of clit and penis and vagina to describe the parts, I liked the matter-of-fact laying out of the sex and sexuality, but everything else going on in the book cast a shadow over the eroticism, making it hard for me to appreciate what I had come to the book for in the first place.
The story really isn't about sex. It is a few stories with Elle at the centre, and those stories, different though they are, are surrounded and dominated by the theme of guilt. There is abuse in Elle's past, there is abuse in the life of a young friend of Elle's, Gavin, there is unspoken and possibly underlying abuse in characters we barely see or only hear about, there are multiple abusers in the tale or at its periphery, there is death and anger and frustration, and all of these feelings -- especially when it comes to Elle's feelings -- are inextricably linked with her personal feelings of guilt. Some are founded, most are unfounded, but it is the way that Elle struggles with the guilt that drives the story, making Dirty a much more serious book than I had expected or wanted.
Yet I liked that story, that grown up, wrestling with demons tale. I found myself believing the relationship that develops between Elle and her new man, Dan. I believed their developing love, I could see how and why he would stay for her, why he would remain patient and supportive through all her attempts to drive him away, and I could see (mostly) why she would love Dan. But when the sex happened ... well, it was good, it was written in a way I like, but all of the pain and abuse that sat in the background made it unarousing.
Dirty has become a series of books, and I think I will continue on with the stories of Elle and Dan, but I can't see myself reading them to be aroused. The eroticism carries too much baggage. I am going to read on for the baggage rather than the titillation (unless, of course, the baggage has been emptied and the eroticism is about to begin in earnest. That will overthrow my expectations all over again. ). ...more
I'll keep this simple: if you read this exceptionally researched and beautifully written book and still think the United States is great or has ever bI'll keep this simple: if you read this exceptionally researched and beautifully written book and still think the United States is great or has ever been great, you need to take a long hard look in your mirror, then ask your god for forgiveness. ...more
Increasingly, I find the popularity of the Empire disturbing.
The fact that cosplayers dress as Stormtroopers in massive numbers, that there are plushIncreasingly, I find the popularity of the Empire disturbing.
The fact that cosplayers dress as Stormtroopers in massive numbers, that there are plushy Darth Vaders for sale (or cute little kid Vaders starting their parents' cars with the force), that our girls are meant to look up to First Order ultra-thug Captain Phasma (and it's supposed to be a positive step forward for women in general), that Empire aesthetic is cool, and that we now have peeks into the making of the Empire's greatest criminals, peeks which humanize them and make them at least somewhat sympathetic (as James Luceno does) is at the heart of this disturbance.
It is a massive shift from the way we consumed Star Wars in the seventies and eighties, the time when the Empire was seen as universally evil and beyond redemption. Now, however, the Empire has become only sort of bad, and members of the Empire are impressive for their power, their loyalty, the conviction, their military brilliance, their embracing of order.
It seems to me that this is all a reflection of the shift in our society, in our world of Forever Terror War. So a book like Tarkin, that I might have admired forty years ago as providing some balance to the black and white of the Star Wars universe, feels now, instead, like a tiny part of a greater movement in our culture, wherein the Tarkins and Vaders and Emperors are, once again, to be looked up to and understood as inspirational figures, figures of authority that we should bow to, whose decisions should be accepted, regardless of what those decisions would mean for us (and do mean for us) in the real world.
I am not saying this well, so I will try and boil it down.
Something in me feels more and more that Tarkin (and his Star Wars cronies) are slowly becoming peoples' heroes, and that scares me. Genocidal maniacs are not to be honoured and revered, even if they are fictional. They should be feared and reviled....more
It really is an excellent extension of the Potterverse. I love that Hermione is played onstage by Noma Dumezwini (whomI love so much about this play.
It really is an excellent extension of the Potterverse. I love that Hermione is played onstage by Noma Dumezwini (whom I found it incredibly easy to picture as Minister for Magic Granger while I read this, despite not having seen the stage version). Scorpius Malfoy blew my mind. The cameos of all our favourite Potter characters were magnificent, from Severus Snape at his bravest and Albus Dumbledore at his most emotional to Ginny as the rock in Harry's life and Professor McGonagall as the most indomitable of Headmasters. I could go on and on, but I must avoid spoilers. Suffice to say it is beautiful and brilliant.
Yet two seemingly competing thoughts have been occupying my mind since closing the pages of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I am having difficulty reconciling them.
The first concerns two characters in the play (they shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers) who are heterosexual. Much pain is taken at different points of the play to entrench their heterosexuality, to make their heteronormativity explicit, yet these characters do engage in an intense and intimate homosocial relationship that feels almost unique to me in literature. They express their love for each other both verbally and physically, albeit with platonic physicality, in ways that had me certain they were LBGTQ for much of the play. I can't deny I was initially disappointed by their ultimate orientation, but the more I thought about it the more impressed I became. Homosociality is so important to healthy friendships, so important as a way towards acceptance of all orientations, so important to slowly eradicating violence, that seeing it portrayed believably and deftly in a play of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's magnitude is mindblowing. In fact, I would call it groundbreaking; it is, potentially, the play's most important theme.
Which leads me to my second thought, which is the portrayal of the LGBTQ community in the greater Potterverse -- or should I say its near nonexistence? I was initially excited by the not-quite-so-surprising revelation that Dumbledore was gay, and thought his love for Gellert Grindelwald was brave and amazing of JK Rowling. There was a short period after my initial positivity, however, when I thought it really wasn't enough, but then I let it go with my usual shrug of "Oh well, at least Rowling did something."
After reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, though, my concerns about LGBTQ representation in the Potterverse reemerged. The homosociality of the aforementioned characters is impressive, but where on earth are the LGBTQ characters? Albus Dumbledore is the only character we know to be gay, but there is no joy to be found in his sexuality. His love for Grindelwald was doomed, leaving Dumbledore lonely and single for the rest of his life, so the only visible gay relationship ends with betrayal and despair with nothing on the other side of its end to bring light.
Moreover, heteronormativity reigns throughout the Potterverse. Hermione and Ron, Harry and Ginny, Mr. and Mrs. Weasly, Lily and James (and Snape loving Lily from a distance), Luna and Rolf Scamander, Fleur and Bill, Neville and Hannah, Draco and Astoria, and so many more. All of this seems to relegate Dumbledore to the role of token gay man, and the homosociality of the two characters in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child -- those two characters who could so easily have been in love rather than just loving each other -- fully illuminated that situation for me.
I imagine these thoughts of mine are irreconcilable. The latter is something worth criticizing, drawing attention to and contemplating, while the former is simultaneously something to laud and evidence of the latter's existence. I can't help being uncomfortable, however, with the way these thoughts clash. And it is this clashing that leaves me with the slightest disappointment in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
It really is beautiful and brilliant, but it leaves me with a sour brain aftertaste.
Please, JK Rowling, give us an LGBTQ character or two in the Fantastic Beasts movies who have loving relationships that turn out well. It's time. ...more
Miloš, my son, I want to thank you for so many things.
It will be years before you read this. Probably not until I am gone and you are sifting throughMiloš, my son, I want to thank you for so many things.
It will be years before you read this. Probably not until I am gone and you are sifting through the internet looking for scraps of me -- either to scream at or take comfort in -- but you will find this, I know it, and I am speaking to you from this hot July night, across however many years have passed, to tell you that I loved you deeper than blood, deeper than the parental bond.
You are my hero. Everything about you fills me with awe. Your art blows my mind. Your athleticism is beautiful to behold. Your kindness and maturity constantly humble me. Your hair is glorious. Your imagination is ineluctable. The control you have of your temper, your ability to find calm when your storms are brewing, eclipses anything I could ever approach. Your passion for the smallest things is inspiring. And somehow we have become more than son and father. We have become friends. And that is the greatest stroke of luck I have ever experienced.
So imagine what it means to me to have been given -- by you -- the opportunity to read The Road aloud. Every syllable of McCarthy's book is infused with love between the man and the boy, and you shared it with me, night after night, curled up in the red light of my head lamp, even though the nights are too hot in the summer and the girls were clamouring to get to bed. Yet once I started reading, the whole world that is melted away, and we found ourselves in that terrible, awful, seemingly inevitable world that will be, but there we were with each other, being reminded night after night that the fire is love, and we have it for each other because we let it in, we let it be.
Soon you will grow older and you will drift away from me, but I will carry nights like tonight, nights when our tears were shared over the fate of the boy and the man, in my heart and mind until death, and maybe then, when my star stuff is returned to the universe, you will find this letter and read it one night (maybe even the night you finish reading this book to one of your children), and you will remember our love for one another, and you will be back in your childhood home as if you never left, and you will remember the hope of the fire that lifts The Road up beyond seeming hopelessness, and you will remember why we go on, and you will know that you were the greatest friend I ever had.
I love you, Miloš. You are a beautiful being. You have the fire. And you are my fire. I hope your life, when you read this, is as wonderful as mine is because of you right now. Kiss the ones you love, my son, and know that you have always been loved yourself.
Third time through Red Mars, and I think I finally know why I love Kim Stanley Robinson's classic science-fiction book so much -- it reminds me who IThird time through Red Mars, and I think I finally know why I love Kim Stanley Robinson's classic science-fiction book so much -- it reminds me who I am whenever I need a reminder.
Who am I? Naah. That's not for this review. What's important is how Robinson captures the voices of his characters. His book begins with the first hundred people colonizing Mars, and though he adds multitudes to those first hundred, he really only focuses on a limited bunch of the first hundred. This approach sets Red Mars up for some criticism, however, because Robinson's approach borrows from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in that each narrative section takes the perspective of a different protagonist -- Frank Chalmers, Maya Toitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne. They are not telling stories about something else; they are, instead, having the story of the colonization of Mars told from their perspectives, which leads to more than a little archetyping in their characterizations, and let's face it, most of us have been trained to disdain archetyping in modern literature.
But in Red Mars this archetyping is the thing that allows me to look at myself and gain that much needed reminder of who I am. The thing is that Robinson's six major voices (and all those others who spin off from them) view their new, red world very differently, in ways so many of us would view Mars if we were there too. Now I don't think who I am matches any of the main six perfectly, but there are bits of me in all of them, and watching them act and interact is a literary mirror to my soul.
There is simplicity in archetypes, it's true, but there is also something revealing about archetypes, not about the archetypes themselves but about those of us who perceive them. The characters of Red Mars do that for me. ...more
The Big Sleep filled my yearly quota of misogyny and homophobia in one shocking shot.
I read this years and years ago, watching it somewhen around theThe Big Sleep filled my yearly quota of misogyny and homophobia in one shocking shot.
I read this years and years ago, watching it somewhen around the time I watched Bogie and Bacall in Howard Hawke's adaptation, although I can't remember in what order I read/watched the two versions. I do remember loving the book, though, and I have since seen the film a dozen times over thirty-some years. I remembered the hard-bitten cynicism of Philip Marlowe, I remembered Vivian Sternwood's languorous sexiness (although it turns out this is much more Bacall's performance as Vivian than Raymond Chandler's character). I also remembered the general nuts and bolts of the story. What I didn't remember, what I had no sense of at all, was just how normalized the disdain for women and homosexuals was in this book.
It is virulent.
Women are to be avoided at all costs. They are either the devil herself, or succubi there to tempt men into their own downfall. They are incapable. They are weak. They are irresponsible. They are foolish. They are objects in the worst ways. They are infantile. They are spoiled. And they are flat (which might not be saying much considering that every character in this story, including Philip Marlowe, is static and without a hint of growth). To read it now (or to listen to it, as I did) is to feel every moment of misogyny as a pinch to the nervous system. At least that's how it felt to me.
But then there is the homophobia, which isn't omnipresent like the misogyny (since women abound in the story) but is no less disgusting. The homophobia carries with it the stain of disgust that homosexuality carried with it in our general popular culture well into the nineties (and in so many places still today), and the gay characters in The Big Sleep are the worst kind of humanity. They are positioned as no better than vermin, and homosexuality is discussed in the book the way that child molestation is discussed today.
If the misogyny was a pinch to my nerves, the homophobia was a Vulcan nerve pinch to my bisexual mind (it's no wonder it took me so long to come to terms with my sexuality with such stories shaping my mind as a child).
Yet for all my anger and disgust over the misogyny and homophobia, I find myself guiltily admitting that I really enjoyed The Big Sleep all the same. I should probably be ashamed of myself, and I assure you part of me is ashamed, but Raymond Chandler could sure tell a tale. The dialogue was crisp, the pacing was taut, the story was compelling, the setting of 1930s' LA was everything my mind has come to imagine it to be, and The Big Sleep kept me so riveted I found myself setting aside the misogyny and homophobia as just a product of the time (yeah ... I know. I am guilty as charged).
I feel like there is more to say about all this, more I should say, and much self-criticism that I should ponder (and I will), but for now I will stop, and let you make of my guilt what you will.
One last thing, I listened to the Audible audio version, narrated by Ray Porter, and his performance was one of those uneven performances that drive me mad. His vocal feel for Marlowe and the other men in the book was spot on, and he really nailed the cadence of Chandler's dialogue, but his vocals for the female characters made Chandler's misogyny audibly tangible. He cannot do women's voices, so that every woman in the story sounds like the worst possible version of themselves. It is one of those cases where a shared narration with a woman performing the female dialogue would have elevated the production far beyond what it achieved. I will be avoiding Ray Porter narrations in the future. ...more
Anders Winroth delivered exactly what I expected in his book The Age of the Vikings, but he also delivered a little something more, and it was the surAnders Winroth delivered exactly what I expected in his book The Age of the Vikings, but he also delivered a little something more, and it was the surprise of that that little something more that filled me with a hint of wonder, rekindling my dreams of my career that never was.
Winroth's overview of the Viking Age was broken up into precisely the categories I hoped, addressing the stereotypes and our shared knowledge of what the Vikings were with a desire to dispel the myths and mistakes embedded in the knowledge we think we have. For instance, his discussion of our vision of the Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders takes on the witnesses who have passed this image down to us by analyzing much of the overlooked evidence that points to countless motives that go beyond mere bloodlust, and uncovering the many times the Vikings turned their ships around and went home when they were paid off by the "targets" of their raids. Then he takes his argument a step further, pointing out that much of the reports of Viking savagery come from the priests living under the incredibly bloody -- and genocidal -- reign of Charlemagne (a man celebrated today for his enlightenment despite the enormous death toll he amassed).
This deconstruction of our perceptions is at the heart of Winroth's history of the Viking Age, and it reveals that theirs was a culture of complexity, flexibility and durability that was much, much more than a band of violent raiders, pillagers, and plunderers.
But then there is that extra little thing that Anders Winroth delivers in The Age of the Vikings. It has to do with a commentary on history (and the places from which history draws its evidence -- archaeology, literature, religion, anthropology. Winroth's unstated thesis is that ultimately we just don't know the way things were, in any age, and we can't. All of our sources are biased, or speculative, or flawed, and that maybe the best any historian can do is eliminate things we know a time was not. That and give the best guess without pretending it is an absolute truth.
This idea brought me back to my sideways love of archaeology, of my desire, long held but never acted upon, to become an archeologist. And right here, near my home, I have one of the richest Viking finds connected to a school I love's archaeology department, and maybe 45 is not too old to just go ahead and start digging in the wet, cold soil and turning my speculative mind to the evidence of a thousand years ago. I like that. I like being reminded of those paths long overgrown but always waiting to be returned to....more
I have been known to argue against hope. To argue that hope is evervating. That it leads to apathy and inaction. That it is anathema to change. I haveI have been known to argue against hope. To argue that hope is evervating. That it leads to apathy and inaction. That it is anathema to change. I have argued these things and probably will again, so it is particularly strange that one of my all time favourite books should be a book so filled with hope, so about hope.
In this age of fantasy books great and not so great getting their own shows on HBO or Netflix or MTV, my most fervent wish is to see The Lions of al-Rassan on screen. Not only do I think it would make an insanely entertaining show, but I think it could be the most important show of its kind in our popular culture precisely because of its message of hope.
Guy Gavriel Kay's Lions of al-Rassan offers a slightly veiled take on the al-Andalusian period in medieval Spain, replacing the Catholic Spanish with the Jaddites, the Jewish diaspora with the Kindath, and the Muslims with the Asharites. Amongst these groups are individuals capable of almost any atrocity, but there are also individuals capable of almost any sacrifice or goodness too. It is from these benevolent moments, springing out of two cultures of fundamentalism, superstition and ever changing power, that Kay delivers us his message of hope. That there are men and women -- no matter what surrounds them -- who strive to make their world and their lives and the lives of those around them better, and that they can come from the same culture (and religious background) and ethical structure that creates the ugliest expressions of humanity.
Some of the criticism I have read of the Lions of al-Rassan, takes Kay to task for both the almost superhuman skills of his main players, and what is often seen as the black and white of their beliefs and actions. And while I can see that this is present (more in their talents than in their belief systems), I do think that these qualities are purposefully present so that Kay can make his greater case for hope. Jehane, the brilliant Kindath physician, and the two men she loves, the poet-assassin-swordsmen-general Ammar ibn Khairan and the swordsman-general-leader Rodrigo Belmonte, are great at all the things they do, and they each embody what could be best about their peoples. These archetypes are employed to point a way to greatness of spirit as much as greatness in the individual, to offer us inspiration in a trio of characters deserving of our love.
For all their archetypal greatness, however, I am and always have been most impressed by their complexity. Each of them contains beliefs that can't help but create internal conflict in a world of mixed loyalty, religious complexity, cultural inertia and extreme violence. So many of the feelings they have are in direct opposition to the things they are told they should feel, so many of the things they are contravene the standards of the day, and rarely are they faced with easy decisions, and when they are they don't always make what we may consider the best or right decisions. Yet through it all they -- and even many of the supporting characters -- remain self-aware, and that it is within that self-awareness that the good of all the characters, even the most blatantly villainous, can be found.
And that is the place from which the hope of The Lions of al-Rassan springs. It is a beautiful message, and we need it now more than ever. So long as it doesn't make us believe that it can be done by anyone other than ourselves. ...more
It's been a long while since I read a book about the First World War, but I've read many and was always going to find my way back to its histories inIt's been a long while since I read a book about the First World War, but I've read many and was always going to find my way back to its histories in this Centennial period of the conflict. The one book I had long wanted to read but had never gotten around to was Barbara W. Tuchman's The Guns of August.
I have heard of its excellence from many folks I trust, and their praise was mostly borne out --especially when it came to The Guns of August's two major strengths.
First is Tuchman's decision to focus on the leaders who brought the world to war, and the generals and decision makers who fought the war during that fateful August. It was a decision that turned The Guns of August into a dramatic character piece. It was told, at times, with a fiction writer's flair for her characters' strengths and weaknesses, their passions and foibles, their hatreds and loyalties. Ludendorff and Hindenburg loom large on the Eastern Front for the Germans; King Alfred of Belgium takes on heroic proportions as he saves his nation in the first weeks of the conflict; Franchet d'Esperey and Gallieni are the decisive figures that pull France back from the brink; John French, the commander of the BEF, comes off as a man out of his depth; while Joseph Joffre sits above them all as the calm, unflappable saviour of the Allied cause. It's all wildly entertaining, satisfying the craving to read about great people doing great things.
Second is Tuchman's microscopic focus on a tiny period of the First World War. No grand overviews for The Guns of August. This is, as the title states, a look at that first August of the war. We see how many (but not all) of the pieces fit together to lead inexorably to the conflict, and Tuchman delivers an thrilling account of all of August's engagements -- from Germany's almost victory and near capture of Paris to France's almost repulsion of the Huns and their near ending of the war in only a month. It all takes place before the trenches that have become synonymous with WWI are dug, before the war is mud and gas and horror and attrition, before hindsight could clarify and taint the decisions made by the great decision makers. As with her focus on great men, Tuchman's narrow focus lends itself compelling narrative, and reading this book is a thrill.
For all of its quality, however, The Guns of August has flaws, and the flaws are also rooted in the books strengths. Tuchman's focus on the great leaders makes perfect sense to her history book, to the history it's trying to tell, but it also leads too easily to her own biases (which is something I find myself saying about nearly every historian. Sorry historians). It is too easy to tell who the people are that she most admires (a KitKat of French generals top the list), too easy to tell whose side she is on (England's) and which side she despises and blames (the Germans). These biases lack subtlety, and once they are put together with her narrow focus, their lack of subtlety are compounded by a tendency to oversimplification -- and increase of black and white, of contrast, and the decrease of shades of grey.
Regardless of its flaws, The Guns of August is an excellent piece of work, especially if you are knowledgeable about the First World War, but have taken a break from studying this decidedly depressing period and need a way back in.
p.s. Nadia May's narration of the audio version is perfect. She delivers light versions of all the accents, which work beautifully without any silly attempts at impersonation, and she sounds just like Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey's Isobel Crawley (amongst other roles), which is a blast for any fan of Downton who loves Matthew's Mum. ...more
I am a sucker for Swedish Noir, all Swedish Noir as it turns out, but for all my enjoyment of Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm, it's really not that good a boI am a sucker for Swedish Noir, all Swedish Noir as it turns out, but for all my enjoyment of Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm, it's really not that good a book. It doesn't rank anywhere near the books of Sjowall & Wahloo nor Mankell nor even Stieg Larsson, although Åsa Larsson is comparable in talent to the last of the Swedish crime writing elite. It is good for giving the brain a rest, good for late night time killing, and a great way to kill time in a waiting room, but there is better out there to be had.
But perhaps I am being unfair. The thing is that this first Rebecka Martinsson has some excellent elements within. Rebecka, herself, is a tax lawyer rather than a detective or journalist or even a criminal lawyer, and she has no professional business being wrapped up in the brutal murder of Viktor Strandgard (a born again Christian who has died, gone to heaven and returned to tell the tale), but Ms Larsson avoids the cliches that would usually accompany either a young lawyer or an amateur investigator, and what she delivers is really much more a thriller than a mystery, and we spend zero time in court.
She also introduces us to a number of fascinating characters, and even if we never see them in any future books, she does well in breathing life to her cast with very little room to do the breathing.
Yet it is that same claustrophobic space her story inhabits that is its most serious weakness. Brevity can be a benefit, but not in the case of Sun Storm. Martinsson's story, and the stories of those she comes in contact with, need more time -- both for us, the reader, and them. Yes she makes some of the characters compelling, but that just puts her failure to flesh them and their stories out even more disappointing.
Whatever the shortcomings of the book, however, I am sure this could be made into a fantastic film, and I understand there is a Swedish version out there somewhere. If only I could get my Netflix from Sweden, I might be able to see if it turned out as well as I imagine. ...more
We found a vestige of our creation on Saturday night, a fight club buried in the bowels beneath a Chinese restaurant.
ProjeWe are Jack's hollow soul.
We found a vestige of our creation on Saturday night, a fight club buried in the bowels beneath a Chinese restaurant.
Project Mayhem long dead. The uniform leaves scattered to the wind. Returned to desperation, ineffectuality, servitude. A new breed populated that basement, and we were the skeletal old man, that frightening combination of tight muscles and bone and rage, smiling our Joker smile as we tagged the nearest recovering junkie.
It was our "first night" at fight club, so we had to fight.
We weren't what we used to be, but we were more than enough for the Apple Genius who we'd spotted with the split lip and black eye two days before. His nose cracked like a creme brulee beneath our fork. We had his arms pinned beneath our knees and only after the blood coated our knuckles was he able to tap out with his fingers and wrist. He grabbed us in a tearful embrace when we all rose from the cement.
It wasn't the same. They're further gone than we were, tempered by years of Oprah and Hillary, too deep in their self loathing to do anything but shoot up schools when they're not eating Cheetos in their parent's basements. There's no saving them.
There's probably no saving us. Shopping carts and Vodka are our only hope. ...more
I've not been in the happiest places in literature as of late. I spent a few books in Vietnam, reading all about their history, and also about the dirI've not been in the happiest places in literature as of late. I spent a few books in Vietnam, reading all about their history, and also about the dirty U.S. business there and in Cambodia and Laos. I was getting pretty damn bummed out, yet even so I started reading DeLillo's Libra. I finished one chapter before I was turtled in bed.
Luckily I had a trip to town scheduled with my loved ones, and I went looking for something lighter, less depressing. I sort of found that with Joe Abercrombie's Half a King. Sort of.
Half a King is a simple story (and maybe that's why if felt lighter and less depressing) and vastly less intense than Abercrombie's more adult fair, but if this is meant to be a YA novel it only manages to be YA through a reduction of sex and violence and a slightly less complex plot.
Half a King is emotionally satisfying in the way that all revenge fantasies are. We meet our “heroes” we meet our “villains” and our “heroes” seek vengeance as we cheer them on. I cheered on Yarvi and his crew as they sought vengeance. How could I not? It’s what we’re meant to do, and when I put the book down I was thoroughly sold on its excellence. I put it down with a smile and a sigh and thought, “That was a rip roaring adventure.”
But then I let it sit for a while, and I started connecting it to other revenge fantasies and the joy of the revenge fantasy -- that inescapable tale of our time that inures us to all forms of violence and torture and bad governmental behaviour because the vengeance seeker has been wronged and we now equate vengeance with justice -- slipped away from me, making Half a King just another drop in the sea of ugliness we offer our children. It is why I prefer Superman to Batman (against the seemingly ever-increasing wave of Kal-El haters). The latter seeks “justice” through revenge; the former seeks to make things better for the sake of bettering us all.
For now, though, revenge fantasy is here to stay. And because of that I would like to make a plea: if your child loves Batman or other vengeance seekers, please talk to them after they watch their cartoons or read their comics or watch their movies. Please talk to them and explain that we don’t need more vengeance. We need more forgiveness. ...more
As a big fan of Henning Mankell's Wallander series, I had high hopes for this story on the periphery of Wallander's Sweden, since it is one of MankellAs a big fan of Henning Mankell's Wallander series, I had high hopes for this story on the periphery of Wallander's Sweden, since it is one of Mankell's highest profile non-Wallander books, but while it was okay, I found myself mostly annoyed.
My annoyance was easy to pin down. Mankell is wearing his politics like a big old Groucho Marx nose on this one. It's not that I disagree with his politics. I don't. But there was a complete and utter lack of subtlety in his anti-Nazi, anti-neo-Fascist diatribes, and they reached a point where I felt his message lost power, nearly making some of the Nazis, particularly the one at the heart of the tale, almost sympathetic.
Mankell lacked the ability to weave his message into the tale, to hold onto his message, to win over the reader while having his characters overtly discuss their concerns. This ability was the hallmark of two of his greatest influences, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, and it certainly felt like their ability to be politically critical while keeping us engaged with the plot and the characters was something Mankell was striving for here. He was striving, but he didn't reach his goal.
It was an interesting enough mystery, but the heavy handed preaching took its toll -- on me at least.
I was pleased, however, to see how Mankell tied this story into the greater Wallander-verse. It was a nice touch. A light touch. Not overdone at all. Too bad he didn't apply that lightness to the whole tale. ...more
Stanley Karnow was a journalist before and during America's war in Vietnam, so he comes at his subject with all the biases of his era, his job and hisStanley Karnow was a journalist before and during America's war in Vietnam, so he comes at his subject with all the biases of his era, his job and his country (and admits as much in his Prologue), yet he still manages, for the most part, to present a balanced view of the history he is undertaking -- a history of Vietnam's wars rather than America's Vietnam War.
The title suggests that the book is going to be a history of Vietnam, an informative overview of its entire history. The title is misleading. Karnow has written an overview, it's true, but it is an overview of conflict. Once the minor disappointment over the focus of the book passes, however, it is easy to appreciate what Karnow has done.
I think this is a great starting point for anyone really interested in understanding how South East Asia become one of the most important moments in the history of a country so far removed from its shores. By tracing Vietnam's long history of warfare, from its attempts to dominate its Laosian and Cambodian neighbours and its prolonged attempt to hold off the influence of the menacing Chinese power to the north, to its disdain for French Colonial dominance and their ultimate war against (or use of) US Imperialism, the Vietnamese history of conflict shows us that wars, all of them, were likely inevitable, and that anyone taking the fight to them in their land was doomed to failure.
Karnow's best moments, however, are when the book leaves behind the jungles and cities and towns of South East Asia and returns to the machinations of the US politicians during the Vietnam Era. He addresses Kennedy's shortsightedness and belligerence (suggesting, to me at least, that his unsavoury role in Vietnam is one in a series of shortcomings his assassination have mystified for the public), Johnson's morass, Nixon's downright villainy and nuclear sabre rattling (which is a form of mental terrorism if there ever was one, and it was standard Nixon policy, actually called the "Madman" policy), and all the fucking about the other US players engaged in to prolong or fight or avoid or pull out of a war that should never have been engaged in but could not be avoided.
A good read. And a good start for anyone interested in understanding an important moment in time. ...more
I've been waiting a long time to read first Linda Wallander mystery. I've always liked her character, particularly in the BBC version of the WallanderI've been waiting a long time to read first Linda Wallander mystery. I've always liked her character, particularly in the BBC version of the Wallander mysteries, and I was worried Henning Mankell's elevating of Linda to a place of prominence would be diminishing for me. That seems paradoxical, I know, but there are some characters who just shouldn't be leads. My fears that Linda was such a character were misplaced.
In fact, having so much prior knowledge of Linda made for a much richer "first novel" for the main character. Mankell wasn't starting from scratch, and neither were we. Her back story was already established in depth, and that story was allowed to form and shape her actions in Before the Frost in ways that loyal readers could trace. That familiarity was actually comforting.
But really, what I loved most about my familiarity with Linda was what that allowed me (and us, I imagine) to see in Kurt Wallander, her father. It's one thing to have fan authors or future authors or even members of an author's family offer different perspectives on a beloved character, but it is something else entirely -- and something entirely superior -- when the original author of a beloved character offers a different perspective on their beloved character through the distinct perspective of another character who we would expect to know them best.
I feel like I know Kurt (and Linda too) better now than I ever have before. I saw more flaws, I saw more blemishes, I saw more reality, and all of these things made me love them more. Both father and daughter are genuine people in my brain now, and it makes me even sadder than I already was that Henning Mankell's struggle with cancer is going to cut short his gift of their lives to us.
I must mention one thing about the audio performance of Cassandra Campbell. As Linda Wallander she was everything I hoped she would be, but as Kurt Wallander she was thoroughly one note, and disappointingly so. Mankell's writing was strong enough to overcome this, but Campbell's unwavering crankiness as Kurt Wallander conjured more than a few sighs from my tired old lungs. Since I am basing my rating on this edition of the book, just know that the stars also reflect Campbell's performance, not just Mankell's writing....more