From Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel.....moreFrom Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel...
Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.
But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right--not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.
To Say Nothing the Dog was July's selection for the Cercle d'Atuan book club. It has received countless genre awards (Hugo and Locus awards in 1999 and nominated for the Nebula the year before), all of them more than deserved IMHO.
It's an unsettling read to say the least that presents complex time-traveling issues and has them played out like a Monty Python sketch. It's completely disarming, wacky and insane and yet, it manages to remain accessible and comprehensible. Quite a feat if you ask me.
Reading the first few pages feels like the author has thrown you in a swimming pool with no bottom, knowing full well that you can't swim. But, despite appearances, Connie Willis is not trying to murder you, she's trying to teach you, and guess what? You will be just fine. You'll even start to adjust to the totally unfamiliar surroundings and rewire your brain so as to understand just what the heck is at stake here... besides your own drowning that is. I can understand why some could feel put off by such a beginning but I felt right at home (this statement actually implies a lot more on my own sanity or willingness to drown if you will...). And even those of the Cercle who could not get the hang of it in the beginning soon came around and I'm glad to say that, in the end, this novel was highly acclaimed by all of us.
As I previously mentioned TSNOTD is an incredibly rich and lively novel that could translate into a wonderful play. Some scenes are simply priceless and if they don't make you laugh like they did me, you will at least smile as you watch Connie Willis use elements from vaudeville to set up crazy fake séances, time lag induced quiproquos, complex cheating during croquet, descriptions of excessive Victorian furniture and faster than light butler. Fans of British humor will be delighted as you may have guessed from my previous allusions to Monty Pythons.
The novel is filled with so many literary references some of which pointed out by my fellow Atuanians had totally escaped me (which did not hinder my enjoyment of the novel in the least, so again, kudos to Connie Willis for that!). There was the obvious Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome to which the novels owes its title, but also allusions to Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, various old mystery novels, etc. Throughout the narration, Connie Willis has fun deconstructing and sometimes purposefully employing various clichés found in said mystery novels (the butler did it!) and time-traveling novels.
To be quite honest, it was a pure delight to read, a real tour de force and a masterpiece that I would happily come back to in a few years, as I'm sure countless details have escaped me the first time around.
This was my first introduction to Connie Willis's work and I do intend to read more, probably starting with Passage of which I have a French edition somewhere, but especially her other novels dealing with time-traveling historians from Oxford: Doomsday Book, Blackout and All Clear.
This is a highly recommended part science fiction and part historical novel that will leave you with a feeling of euphoria and many questions about chaos theory!(less)
Science fiction and erotica... um... plenty to cover here.
When I first heard about this anthology, I was pleasantly surprised by two things. First, t...moreScience fiction and erotica... um... plenty to cover here.
When I first heard about this anthology, I was pleasantly surprised by two things. First, this is a French anthology that contains first-time published stories by some classic science fiction French authors (Joëlle Wintrebert and Francis Berthelot), some well-established young writers such as Mélanie Fazi, Stéphane Beauverger (whose wonderful novel Le Déchronologue I reviewed a while back), Charlotte Bousquet and Sylvie Lainé, and some not entirely unknown newcomers (Norbert Merjagnan, Virginie Bétruger and illustrator Daylon).
Second, this anthology is the remarkable work of a small independent house, Les 3 Souhaits, which is the editorial offspring of the science fiction news website Actu SF. I reviewed one of their titles, Le Guide des Fées. Regards sur la Femme [A Guide to Fairies. A study of women:] last year and they really deserve to be cheered for their original and thought-provoking work and ideas. I hope they will soon have the chance to be more widely distributed. At the moment, the only way to get a hold of their books is through their website or at conventions.
As it always the case with anthologies, some stories clearly stand out and that selection tends to vary from one reader to the next. IMHO, the one which belittles all others is Joëlle Wintrebert's 'Camélions'. For a long time, Joëlle Wintrebert was France's only female science fiction writer, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read any of her novels though I have her novel Pollen (Au Diable Vauvert, 2002) in my to-read pile(s)... somewhere.
'Camélions' is about a human colony which gets stranded on a hostile planet and one woman who will bring down barriers and taboos, and dare make contact with the local population (who resemble human-size butterflies) at the risk of being shunned by her peers. It's a powerful and sensuous story about survival, love and betrayal. And now I really need to unearth Pollen and get to it sometime this year!
The other two stories which stood out for me were Maïa Mazaurette's 'Saturnales' and Mélanie Fazi's 'Miroir de Porcelaine'.
Maïa Mazaurette is graphic artist, writer and blogger most well-known for her blog Sexactu. I had the opportunity to meet her at the Salon du Livre in March and she is lots of fun to be around. Her novel Rien ne nous survivra is yet another title which needs to make it in my read pile this year!.
'Saturnales' takes place in a future in which sex, and especially first times, is carefully planned and involves so many artifices that there is little to nothing natural about it anymore, but pleasure is guaranteed. It's filled with the stingy humor that characterizes Maïa Mazaurette and will leave you half-smiling, half-horrified.
Mélanie Fazi ranks among my favorite short story writers. I read her short story collection Notre-Dame-aux-Ecailles about two years ago and while I had an overall uneven impression, I simply adore her lyrical and poetic style. Really, she could be retelling this morning's news that I would still find it fascinating. She is also a very talented translator. She got the Jacques Chambon award for Best Translation for her work on Graham Joyce's The Facts of Life (French title: Lignes de Vie which I reviewed here). FYI, some of Mélanie Fazi's works have been translated in English and appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror and The Third Alternative for those you who would like to check it out.
'Miroir de Porcelaine' is a dreamy (bordering on nightmarish), sensuous tale of lovers drawn apart by robots created for an artistic purpose. Well worth your time, and it won the Masterton Award 2010 - Best Short Story category.
I think the only thing lacking from this anthology is perhaps a compilation of short author bios because such an anthology could really appeal to non-genre readers who know nothing about these writers. Overall, a wonderful initiative and a thought-provoking result that I highly recommend. (less)
Once again, GRRM grabbed my attention sometime during the first two chapters with his incredible talent for characterization. Even though, Fevre Dream...moreOnce again, GRRM grabbed my attention sometime during the first two chapters with his incredible talent for characterization. Even though, Fevre Dream presents a fresh take on vampires, to me, this novel was all about Abner Marsh, an endearing old captain, loyal right down his very last bone, more passionate about his ship and navigation than about any woman, and whose dream is to have his boat compete (and win!) with the fastest ship that ever sailed the waters of the Mississippi. Joshua York, the 'good' vampire to put it bluntly (though it hardly does justice to the complexity of his character), is also wonderfully portrayed. Their partnership and later on, friendship really drives the narration as it symbolizes an alliance between light and darkness, human and creatures of the night. This dream of alliance is Joshua's, but he has to reach out and trusts in order to achieve it and so, it's not just destiny that pushed him towards Abner Marsh. As always, GRRM takes in the in-between and depicts different shades of gray: there are no good or bad characters here.
I was very pleased to read GRRM's slow, rich and precise style in another genre than traditional fantasy. Fevre Dream is a historical novel and the descriptions related to navigation, ship's engines and life on board are a pure treat. GRRM's narration is constantly enriched with details about life in the antebellum South, Indians and slavery. It's all presented in subtle touches, but it's there all throughout the novel and makes it that much better. Plus, this human-vampire alliance allows Martin to question the nature of humanity and whether it can include that of races, what it means to be human, to be equals, especially in a segregated racist society. This brings yet another dimension to this rich story.
As I mentioned, the overall pacing is slow. Martin takes his time setting up the story and the protagonists. And even well into the book, he never rushed things. Like an experienced captain, he expertly maneuvers his readers and slowly builds up to some semi-climax before releasing the pressure. He plays this little game over and over and only an excellent writer can pull this off without annoying his reader.
A quick word on the French translation. While I understand that the publishers may have felt that 'Riverdream' was easier for French readers to pronounce than 'Fevre Dream', the French title makes no sense whatsoever! I wish they had kept the original title, especially when it's actually explained in the first or second chapter!
Fevre Dream is a very powerful historical novel with a nice touch of vampire folklore. Highly recommended(less)
Now I really enjoyed Nightshade, I really did and in fact, I think Nightshade might appeal to a broader audience than this second title, but I LOVED T...moreNow I really enjoyed Nightshade, I really did and in fact, I think Nightshade might appeal to a broader audience than this second title, but I LOVED Tyger, Tyger!
I loved the characters, the dialogs that had that witty and querky feeling I adore, the world-building; it's just not the goblin book you expect! I loved it because it was so utterly different from other YA fantasy novels. It was all at once touching, hilarious, action-packed and fast-paced. Kersten Hamilton has the imagination of a Nnedi Okorafor and the mischief and wittiness of a Sarah Rees Brennan! What's there not to like?
Her characters are made of awesome. I can't seem to pick my favorite: Teagan's mother, her father, Teagan's little brother the-living-jukebox Aiden, Teagan herself, Finn, Finn's grandmother! They all have a little something that makes them unique. It's like a Joss Whedon dialog: characters are so well drawn that you know who's speaking without having to read the "Finn said", "Teagan said" at the end of the line.
And the characters are put in such situations! I swear if you don't laugh out loud when Aiden starts singing "Kiss the girl" from the Little Mermaid, you are dead inside... and it's all the more brilliant when you realize that it perfectly fits in the overall narrative.
Okay, I do realize that, as it is always the case when I've enjoyed a book this much, I have trouble being coherent and presenting a half-decent review. The thing is I can't quite explain why I loved it so much (okay, so there are all the above reasons, sure!), it just had this little something that made stand out. It hit all the good spots for me and I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel!(less)
This novel is a wonderful, querky, witty and refreshing novel ! It's all the more brilliant that it deals with the serious themes that are abandonment...moreThis novel is a wonderful, querky, witty and refreshing novel ! It's all the more brilliant that it deals with the serious themes that are abandonment, perception of one's self and others and one's acceptance of another's difference and flaws, no matter how great those may be.
But then, I've always been one to agree with the idea that the best tragedies are always comical and the best comedies are the ones with a strong tragic angle to them. Ellen Potter takes us exactly in this grey zone and she does so using one the Hardscrabble's voice (you're not supposed to know which one of the siblings is telling the story, but really, it's not hard to guess and the narration is all the more touching for it).
This is my first introduction to Ellen Potter's prose and it's definitely got me wanting to read more. Recommendations anyone?
This is a highly recommended read for all those looking for a "fake" light read, no matter how old you are, because, let's face it, we all have a bit of the Kneebone Boy in us. (less)
Like most fantasy titles nowadays, this novel is the first in a trilogy. However, this trilogy is not the first in the overall series dealing with the...moreLike most fantasy titles nowadays, this novel is the first in a trilogy. However, this trilogy is not the first in the overall series dealing with the Grey Griffins. I mention this because, IMHO, this novel does not stand well on its own. As you may have guessed, I have not read the first trilogy (composed of The Revenge of the Shadow King, The Rise of the Black Wolf and The Fall of the Templar) and I found The Brimstone Key somewhat lacking in several fundamental aspects. Most of all, I felt that it lacked substance.
I never got emotionally attached to any of the characters, most of the cool technological and fantastical elements turned out to never be fully explained, plot elements and characters introduced once, never to be used again. It left me frustrated. I may seem harsh, but I'm fairly certain that, had I read the first trilogy, already "known" the characters, been given more background on the overall universe, I would have been better prepared for this read. I'm well aware that, being the first in a trilogy, it's quite normal for there to be unresolved plot points and cliffhangers, but throughout my reading of this novel, I could never quite shake the feeling that I was missing something, that I didn't have all the elements in hand.
In the end, I can't quite recommend this title. If, like me, you haven't read the first Grey Griffin trilogy, I would tell you not to start here. But, having not read the first trilogy, I can't recommend it, can I? But I still think it's the best way to go. You can tell it's a rich and complex universe the authors have brought to life, it's simply that their explanation and exploration of it remain too superficial in this novel for the reader to come out satisfied.(less)
I wish this book had been written back while I was in university writing my master's dissertation. It really would have added to the discussion on ide...moreI wish this book had been written back while I was in university writing my master's dissertation. It really would have added to the discussion on identity issues with regards to gender, race and sexuality, and would have fit perfectly alongside Octavia E. Butler's Wild Seed and Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads (which were the two books around which I constructed my study). N.K. Jemisin's debut novel really made me want to go back to university and pursue a thesis. This book is so rich, complex, beautifully written, at times fast-paced, at others introspective and touching, sexy. The world-building is excellent and the characters exquisitely rendered. This is exactly the book I wanted to read! It pushed all the right buttons.
I've always had a soft spot for books (genre or otherwise) that dealt with questions of identity, probably because these are the questions I struggle with on daily basis. And I do mean identity in a very general sense: sexual and/or racial representation, fragmented identity based on context, notions of minority and majority, normalcy, dominating and dominated. All these are very flexible notions depending on history (personal or History), context, interactions, etc. And this is what I enjoyed above all in THTK, everything is flexible, ever-changing and the character which most embodies this is Nahadoth, God of all that is extreme, dark and passionate. His apparance constantly changes to please and seduce all those around him. It's a fascinating concept really.
There is also much to say on the main character. Yeine (pronounced "YAY-neh") is one of a kind and is really up to the task of carrying this remarkable, multi-layered narration. The reader aches and easily relates to her as we discover her struggling between her upbringing (she was raised in a matriarchal society, I wish we'd learned more about that in the book, it is sooo cool!), her royal inheritance and a little something else which I won't go into lest I spoil you all of this wonderful plot twist. Little more than a pawn in the eyes of most of her royal peers, she will manage to turn things around and make with all that she is, bring all the pieces together but not into some nicely homogeneous whole.
It's a truly brilliant book and so much needs to be said about it. I am, of course, eagerly awaiting book 2, The Broken Kingdoms, which comes out this November. In the meantime, I can already tell you that THTK easily ranks among my favorite reads of 2010 (and my favorite reads period). I look forward to re-reading it in French when it comes out in Calmann-Lévy's wonderful and really underrated Interstices series.
I can't recommend this book enough, it grabbed me and didn't let me go until long after I'd finished and set it down.(less)
Some books you just can't resist even though you know most literary critics would call their quality into question. Others, you can't help but admire...moreSome books you just can't resist even though you know most literary critics would call their quality into question. Others, you can't help but admire the originality and what it brings to a specific genre, even though you can't quite bring yourself to claim that you like it. Such was my experience reading The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart.
It's got the humor and cynicism of a Pratchett novel, mixed with the grotesque of a medieval quest for the Holy Grail. It's insane and yet, manages to make sense in its insanity. It's really something that needs to be experienced but, at the end of the day, I believe it's either a hit or miss. Well, clearly a miss for me but still, I can't help but admire the mind who brought to life the Grossbart brothers. And, if you take into account that it is only a debut novel, you can't help but shudder in anticipation (and fear) at what might be coming next.
I believe my problems with this novel are tightly linked with what I found so brilliant about it. The Grossbarts are a cruel, vile pair that care little about others' welfare (and when I say 'others' I do mean it in the broad sense of the word: women, children, priests, animals, plants, unidentified living creatures, etc.), and yet, they have this unexplained love for the Virgin Mary. They believe themselves to be under her protection and do the most despicable things in her name. This creates a wonderful opportunity for the author to criticize current fundamentalist societies, not to mention some nice comic relief. However, the Grossbarts are so well depicted antiheroes that you can't possibly like them or relate to them. All throughout my reading, the intellectual part of my brain kept telling me how brilliant and original this novel was, but the emotional part of my brain just couldn't seem to care whether or not I finished the book! This novel made me schizophrenic! That is how insanely original it is!
I am immensely pleased that French-language rights were licensed a few months ago, but I can't help but pity the translator. Translating this is going to require a lot (lot, lot!) more work than translating your average 400 pages novel. But then nothing about this novel is average. I can't even seem to be able to recommend it or tell you to disregard it. So why don't you just go read it and make your own opinion? I know... very helpful review, isn't it?(less)
The Windup Girl is one novel I had been expecting for quite a while, having loved the short story "Yellow Card Man", as well as others written by Paol...moreThe Windup Girl is one novel I had been expecting for quite a while, having loved the short story "Yellow Card Man", as well as others written by Paolo Bacigalupi. I purchased The Windup Girl a while back and, as always, it lay in my To Read pile for a while before I could turn my attention to it.
Bacigalupi has written a smart, tightly-built science fiction narration that revolves around a cast of main characters that are neither good nor bad, but simply struggling to get ahead in a world that's been drastically altered by science and in which bio-engineered viruses lurk on every corner. The frontier between what is human and what is not, what is natural and what is not, is a blur to say the least. Themes broached range from ecology, to geopolitics and ethics (the treatment of bio-engineered humans and animals). It's a complex, multi-layered novel that makes for a most satisfying read if you are willing to pay attention.
So why did it take me so long to read it? No kidding, nearly a month! The fact that I was reading several books at a time only partially explains this. And I think I've only just figured out the other reason: I was never truly engaged with the characters. It's not that they are two-dimensional or cliched in anyway (though perhaps I will admit to being a bit tired of the woman as a sexual slave trope). There were moments during which I really felt for the characters, especially Emiko, but this was too punctual to drive me throughout the novel. Also, one remark: half-way through, I still was not sure why it was entitled The Windup Girl as, though Emiko was definitely part of the cast of main characters, Anderson seemed to be the one around which the narration most revolved. But, there was still a certain distance that I'm not sure how to explain.
Like I said this is a novel that demands an active reader. You have to piece details together, recognize connections, understand this utterly unfamiliar world in which you're being thrown. Perhaps I was too focused on the world-building (which is fantastic!) to really connect with the characters. A second read would probably confirm or deny this.
Either way, this a solid SF debut which well deserves the many awards and nominations it's been getting since its publication. Not perfect in my opinion, but a truly original and satisfying science fiction read that confirms, just in case you weren't aware of it before, that Bacigalupi is one heck of an author. (less)
Before properly reviewing this book, I have to mention two things.
First, this is not the sort of book I usually turn to. I admit that I mostly decide...moreBefore properly reviewing this book, I have to mention two things.
First, this is not the sort of book I usually turn to. I admit that I mostly decided to check this out because it was translated by a friend of mine and that I wanted to have a better idea of what she worked on. That does not goes to say that I did not enjoy it. I think reading a outside of your comfort zone is always a positive experience.
Second, the French edition of this title does not exactly correspond to the original American edition which is entitled "Legend of a Suicide". "Sukkwan Island" is a novella part of "Legend of a Suicide" but the original book includes other short stories that complete the story told in the novella.
I finished this title a few days ago (being a novella, it was a fairly quick read, though not a light one by any means!) and I still don't really know what to think about it.
The first part of the novella, told from the point of view of the teenager, was really powerful; showing not just the technical and practical difficulties faced by father and son on this deserted island, but also the ugliness of human nature and the incapacity for this man to act as an adult, let alone as a father. So the son is forced to take matter in his own hands and well, there's no other way to this besides, that's when the book slaps you in the face!
Then, the narration's point of view shifts to the father and you feel a lot of pointless procrastination and meaningless mental wondering on the part of the father who sadly cannot come to terms with the novella's events, his life in general and his fatherhood. This character was constantly mistaken, so much so, that it is tragic. Till the end, he simply does not get it.
It's a tragic, poignant story that you probably shouldn't be reading if you're feeling down. It successfully depicts human nature in all its ugliness, selfishness and meaninglessness (is that even a word?) and it is well served by the short, incisive and bare style of the author.
However, despite all these qualities, I can't help but feel somewhat unsatisfied and frustrated by this reading. I couldn't figure out why until today. I initially thought it might have something to do with the gloomy aspect of the narration or perhaps, the crude narrative style. But now I doubt it.
When speaking with a friend about it I told her that I felt I may need to read more of the author's work to be able to put this novella into perspective and find a place for it in my mind, but also in the author's overall work. At the time, I was not aware of the fact that the French edition was in fact a truncated version of the original. I now believe that I would have needed to read the rest of the collection to have a clear opinion on this and do away with my own frustration.
I know a great many French readers did not feel this way so I'm not saying the editor was wrong to only publish one novella (I love Editions Gallmeister and I think they're doing the most fabulous work). I know how difficult it is to sell short stories collection these days. I'm glad this talented author has had a chance to be published in France, in a wonderful translation and is selling extremely well at that! I guess the frustration on my part can be interpreted as something positive in the sense that it means I need to read more from this author. Anyway, I definitely think this is an author to keep an eye on. (less)