"What if someone wrote 1984 for junior high school students, only made it creepier?" I read this book years ago, and have always remembered it because"What if someone wrote 1984 for junior high school students, only made it creepier?" I read this book years ago, and have always remembered it because it was so disturbing. Guaranteed to give you a nightmare or two....more
While not as compelling as Sapkowski's earlier Witcher stories (which derive much of their charm from being clever mash-ups of traditional folk and faWhile not as compelling as Sapkowski's earlier Witcher stories (which derive much of their charm from being clever mash-ups of traditional folk and fairy tales with the trappings of low fantasy), I continued to enjoy the comparatively sophisticated characterization in this outing. Would not recommend it to someone new to the series, but if you're looking for a fix of The Witcher, this is a reasonable way to get it.
(This review is filed by goodreads under the 'audio' edition, but I reviewed the eBook from iTunes.) ...more
There are enough books written by non-sociopaths that I don't really feel the desire to give any time to books written by racist abusers, which is asThere are enough books written by non-sociopaths that I don't really feel the desire to give any time to books written by racist abusers, which is as fine a description of Benjanun Sriduangkaew as I've read.
This book gets a lot of grief as the slow sister of Dumas' Three Musketeers books, because it is short on swashbuckling and long on court intrigue. ThThis book gets a lot of grief as the slow sister of Dumas' Three Musketeers books, because it is short on swashbuckling and long on court intrigue. That is exactly why I like it. It's essentially a (presumably mostly fictional) meditation on how Louis XIV went from being a spoiled brat to The Sun King. (The answer, of course, reduces to "Gosh the musketeers sure did teach him well.") ...more
I was very disappointed in The Unholy Consult. This is a book with some major, major problems.
Initially, I was super excited because of all the 5-starI was very disappointed in The Unholy Consult. This is a book with some major, major problems.
Initially, I was super excited because of all the 5-star reviews of it on Goodreads. That's a really good sign! Plenty of the reviews on Goodreads are deep and insightful, and while the whole 'rating' thing can be suspect, surely the fact that so many people liked it was a promising leading indicator, right?
However, once I actually began reading the book, I encountered a serious problem: it doesn't exist. All of the pages I looked at were blank, or, more precisely, existed in an alternate, unreachable universe from the one that I am currently living in. I have spent literally hours and hours not reading this book; yet no matter how much I don't read it, it continues to not exist. The characterization, plot, and writing were all extremely flat - perfectly flat, in fact - and as you can imagine the dramatic tension simply wasn't there at all. The book's complete nonexistence is a major problem, and one that I hope the author will address in future revisions.
And the unanswered questions from earlier books are legion. What is the relationship of the Consult to Kellhus? What are the aspect-emperor's end goals? And what about Naomi? Will she love again? None of this is addressed in any of the chapters that I could read, which is none of them.
Perhaps I will revise this review once the book actually exists, but for now: two thumbs down. This is perhaps the WORST book that doesn't exist that I never read....more
Pity Mark Z. Danielewsi's copy editors. With each book, he pushes the bounds of what it means for something to be a "book" further and further. SurelyPity Mark Z. Danielewsi's copy editors. With each book, he pushes the bounds of what it means for something to be a "book" further and further. Surely, editors and readers thought when reading his creepy and affecting House of Leaves, with its colored type, its pages and pages of concrete poetry, words twisted in shapes, words that formed a literal physical (as well as psychological) labyrinth, surely this can go no further.
Well, he's gone further.
The Fifty Year Sword is intended to be read on a device capable of displaying multimedia. That engendered dread in me, because I had a vision of cheesy full-motion videos embedded in every other page. Instead, what we encounter is a series of bespoke (mostly) text animations, a few moving and breathing line drawings, and some understated and appropriate ambient music.
Setting aside all of the frippery, all of this is draped around a short and simple fable, a tale of sadness, rage, lust, revenge, and perhaps even, just maybe, a little love. The work would have made a fine short story without the multimedia. But taken as a whole, the extras work well to enhance the story, rather than distracting from it. I enjoyed it immensely.
"It was...a symmetrical convenience– for Stalin – that a true description of the Soviet Union exactly resembled a demented slander of the Soviet Union
"It was...a symmetrical convenience – for Stalin – that a true description of the Soviet Union exactly resembled a demented slander of the Soviet Union."
Martin Amis opens his very personal history of Josef Stalin, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million with a quote from Robert Conquest's book on the the Terror-Famine.
We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present case by saying that in the actions here recorded about twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but every letter, in this book.
That sentence represented 3,040 lives. The book is 411 pages long."
Amis belongs to a particular literary circle that is more inbred than the most backward hillbilly clans in Appalachia. They self-congratulate, they self-promote, they review each others' books, and they never seem to tire of writing about the 1980s in London. One must always approach anything by this clique with caution, as if engaging a drunk at a party, because you never know when they will ambush you with tiresome insider rubbish. One moment you'll be engaged in sparkling repartee about Sir Richard Burton's Arabian Nights, and then suddenly you're listening to a pointless ramble about the time James Fenton got really drunk and threw up on the doorstep of The New Statesman, and you have to start looking for excuses to leave the party. I completely fabricated this example — but if you've read any of their works you know that it might have been true.
I am willing to forgive Amis his lapses into inside baseball. Why? Because his sentences are beautiful. Because he is a compelling prose stylist. And because you can recognize his writing from just a few sentences.
"But that is want they want, the believers, the steely ones, that is what they live for: the politicization of sleep. They want politics to be going on everywhere all the time, politics permanent and circumambient. They want the ubiquitization of politics; they want the politicization of sleep."
I approached Koba the Dread with some trepidation also because the reviews of it in the mainstream British literary press were so universally tepid, and surprisingly negative. Now, with the benefit of having read the book, one can see the level to which the criticisms are not political, or even literary, but personal. Certainly one might forgive this of the late Christopher Hitchens, since after all Amis includes a chapter written to him in the book, and — gently but directly — indicts him. When punched, it's fair game to punch back. But this excuse doesn't extend to those such as Johann Hari (am I allowed to be publicly amused at his fall from grace?) who mix valid criticism of the work (Amis interpreting Stalin's crimes from a personal perspective come off as somewhat lightweight) with purely personal ad hominem (of course Amis' book isn't any good, because Hari didn't like his father.)
"I was in my late twenties when I first realized–the moment came as I read a piece about Islam in the TLS– that theocracies are meant to work. Until then I thought that repression, censorship, terror and destitution were the price you had to pay for living by the Book. But no, that wasn't the idea at all: Koranic rule was meant to bring you swimming pools and hydrogen bombs. Collectivization, similarly, was meant to work. Stalin had earlier expressed doubts about the "Left-deviation" (i.e., extremely doctrinaire) attitude to the peasantry: its policies, he said, would "inevitably lead to ... a great increase in the price of agricultural produce, a fall in real salaries and an artificially produced famine." And his preparations for Collectivization, in the initial burst, were frivolously lax. Yet Stalin believed that Collectivization would work Collectivization would astonish the world. This was a Stalinist rush of blood. And that is how Stalinism is perhaps best represented: as a series of rushes of blood."
Other criticisms of the work center around the choice of topic ("Who, today, are the Stalinists who must be denounced?") and the appropriateness of Amis as the writer. Amis relies heavily on the works of Robert Conquest, whose book The Great Terror remains the most encyclopedic treatise on the topic. Why not just read Conquest?
Amis himself is not coy about his credentials: he presents himself as a novelist who has read "several yards of books about the Soviet experiment." He does not pretend to be Robert Conquest, but rather someone writing a book that summarizes and distills the horrors that he's read about and tries to grapple with certain questions. Among them, why were so many seemingly otherwise intelligent Westerners seduced into sympathizing with the Soviet experiment in the face of the pile of corpses it produced? Why can people so easily joke about Communism, when it is so much more difficult, comparatively speaking, to joke about Nazism? And why, in world where the name Stalin is only somewhat less reviled than the name Hitler, do people still speak admiringly of Lenin and Trotsky ("a nun-killer", opines Amis), who were no less brutal in their aims, albeit more limited in their capabilities?
"Some prominent comrade further remarked that only then, when Communism ruled the earth, would the really warm work of class struggle be ready to begin....And I instantly pictured a scorpion stinging itself to death. Scorpions have of course been known to do this–when surrounded by fire, for example. But where is the fire, on a Communist planet? It is a fire in the self. It is self-hatred and life-hatred. After all, the scorpion has an excellent "objective" reason for killing the scorpion: it's alive, isn't it?"
The central part of Koba the Dread is concerned with the events leading up to the Great Terror, including the numerous famines and the Party machinations that resulted in Stalin taking power. Amis makes the argument that this became inevitable years before, around the time of the Kronstadt rebellion when the Bolsheviks realized that they did not, in fact, have any meaningful support among the workers they claimed to represent. Kronstad made it clear, even to Lenin, that World Revolution was not about to happen. And so the Bolsheviks decided that if the People weren't going to support the revolution, than the Party itself would have to safeguard it. By murdering the People the revolution was on behalf of, if necessary. The Party, in other words, became its own raison d'être, and from this point some result similar to the Terror became inevitable. Although Stalin did manage to be truly impressive in his brutality. To quote Amis, "when Stalin wished for a death, then that wish came true."
This core of the book is shocking to anyone whom, like me, was not acquainted with the breadth and depth of human misery the Great Terror encompassed. As Amis observes, all of us would say we feel that the Holocaust was "worse" than the Terror. But if called to account for this based strictly on numbers and the horror of personal stories, I think any of us would be hard-pressed to reduce that feeling to a cogent and consistent explanation. From that perspective, I think that Koba the Dread is an important book. It takes a topic that I would be willing to wager most Westerners simply don't know much about and distills it into an emotional blow that can be absorbed, and that will leave the reader thinking for days.
Wrapped around this core are some of Amis' personal recollections - the death of his sister Sally, some struggle understanding his father's move from a dedicated Communist to that of a dedicated right-winger, and all of this wrapped up with not a little guilt about his many happy years running in a social circle that was (and, honestly, still is) all too happy to make excuse after excuse for the Soviet experiment, despite the piles of corpses. While I understand Amis' need to provide a framework to hang the core upon, it does, in my opinion, weaken the work somewhat. It may have been cathartic for him to create that frame, but next to the edifice of Soviet dead, any such frame will appear trivial at best, and petty at worst.
Despite my reservations about the framing, I think that Koba the Dread is still an important work, and one whose importance will only become apparent some years from now - after the cocktail party clique grows old and is forgotten, and what remains is an exploration into the depths of pain and degradation into which ideology can drag us....more