Where the previous book (Asterix and the Picts) was solid, this one confirms that Ferri and Conrad both understand the tradition they are working in aWhere the previous book (Asterix and the Picts) was solid, this one confirms that Ferri and Conrad both understand the tradition they are working in and, more importantly, how to move it forwards. (And Anthea Bell manages to maintain her own high standards of translation too.)
My sole comment on the content is that p15/16 actually had me crying with laughter. Which is all you could ask for, really....more
Whilst it is increasingly difficult to class Pratchett's work as "humour" in the same sort of sense that "101 Uses for a Dead Cat" is humour, his deteWhilst it is increasingly difficult to class Pratchett's work as "humour" in the same sort of sense that "101 Uses for a Dead Cat" is humour, his determination and commitment to satire is undiminished. And whilst none of the targets of Raising Steam are new within Discworld (we've had dwarvish politics/fundamentalist obsession/industrial revolution etc. often before), they fit together with the usual engineering quality that is a hallmark of the series and particularly appropriate to a story about controlling the world through measurement rather than faith.
The most striking thing about Raising Steam is the travelogue nature of the story. Most Discworld novels content themselves with one or two settings - even ones that are located in Ankh-Morpork are usually confined to specific places (like the University, the Opera House or the Bank.) Here, we revisit a lot of places that have appeared once or twice before (even if only in passing), and, combined with an alarming number of cameos from older characters (including HIMSELF), this gives a distinct sense that this is Pratchett perhaps saying his first proper goodbye to a world that no-one knows better than him.
The story itself is slight, but none the worse for that. And it gets an extra half-star from me because I am a lapsed train geek, so the engineering jokes and the railway movie references were all good fun (even if some of them were alarmingly unsubtle.) And I had more laugh-out-loud moments in this than I have for the last few of the series.
So no, objectively this is not one of the greatest in the series (although I think that it may well end up in my own personal top five simply because of the theme), but - as has been observed often before - even average Pratchett is better than the best of a lot of other people. ...more
What makes PG Wodehouse a genius is the ability he had of making what he wrote sound exactly as though he had just sat down at the desk and dashed itWhat makes PG Wodehouse a genius is the ability he had of making what he wrote sound exactly as though he had just sat down at the desk and dashed it off - when, of course, he had slaved over every word and sentence to make it perfect. With Fortunately, the Milk, Neil Gaiman pulls off the same trick. It has a gloriously easy and assured style to it, with ideas bouncing around everywhere apparently at random, but underneath there is a beautifully structured and clever story that is (almost!) wasted on the children for whom it is ostensibly written. This is quite definitely a book for parents. Not even necessarily for parents to read to their children.
And what elevates this (UK edition) book into five-star status for me is the perfect union of Gaiman's text with Chris Riddell's cartoon illustrations (especially the section at the end where the characters who largely remain unnamed in the story acquire perfect matching identities.)
No, this isn't destined to be a classic Gaiman but it's oh so much fun....more
I want to give this one six stars. Not since I read The Eyre Affair have I felt so enthused about a book; Harkaway captures that peculiarly English faI want to give this one six stars. Not since I read The Eyre Affair have I felt so enthused about a book; Harkaway captures that peculiarly English fantasy humour sensibility of Fforde, Holt, Adams, Pratchett and Gaiman - a perfect blend of an intricate plot, engaging characters, terrific one-liners and clockwork bees. What's not to like?
Essentially, what Harkaway has done here is to write a steampunk novel that isn't - for once - set in Victorian England (despite the overt Dickensian nature of the prose), and combined it with a lovely pastiche of James Bond. That sounds like a mix that couldn't possibly work but somehow it does; perhaps because the inherent fantastical absurdity of Bond fits with the world Harkaway has created, but mostly because of the effort he takes to make the central characters feel both real and unreal at the same time.
Yes, it takes a bit of time to get used to the style (although the gags more than make up for that) and there are moments when you realise that he's running quite fast in the hope that you don't notice the thin ice, but it hangs together wonderfully. The best compliment I can pay this book is to say that Harkaway has joined that short list of writers I shall be buying sight unseen in future....more
Man, I hate trying to review books like this. Partly because the "star" rating I have given is completely unrepresentative: for me, the high concept iMan, I hate trying to review books like this. Partly because the "star" rating I have given is completely unrepresentative: for me, the high concept is worth 5 stars, but the execution was average enough that I felt disappointed to the extent that it almost didn't work at all for me.
Let's start with the basics: this is a meta novel that uses an SF conceit to have fun with ideas around identity and free will. And I love meta novels because at heart I'm a gamer and that's what they are: puzzles and games that are disguised as prose. And I appreciate the effort that goes into constructing something like this - it's not even a case of starting at the resolution and working backwards, it requires a different sort of construction (and one in which, ironically, the characters cannot be allowed to break the structure because it is incredibly fragile, even as they comment about the structure...)
The fundamental problem for me is that Scalzi is writing at least three books here, but doesn't seem sure which one he would like the reader to take away from the experience. Is it the bad TV SciFi parody (mainly the first half), the meta-narrative philosophy (mainly the second half) or the ever-so-slightly-heavy-handed self-help mantra (the codas)?
Because none of them are quite strong enough to sustain the narrative on their own (oh, the even bigger irony of that) and when he tries to sneak in an ultra-ridiculous meta-meta-conceit, it almost made me abandon the whole thing (luckily that's only in a one page aside and it's very unclear to me why he didn't just cut the whole character involved anyway.)
In essence then, I definitely enjoyed the three separate books, but together they added up to less than the sum of their parts. And that's a shame....more
I find this one as funny today as when I first read it decades ago, and that was decades after it was originally written. Wodehouse is a master of theI find this one as funny today as when I first read it decades ago, and that was decades after it was originally written. Wodehouse is a master of the farce plot, and this one combines his love of England and America in one beautiful package, in which it is clear that he understands the foibles of both societies perfectly. To new readers it will doubtless feel dated, but - as with many other things - the problem is mostly that inferior later copies have made a genuine original feel too much like pastiche. This may be my favourite "stand alone" Wodehouse....more
I have a very soft spot for the computer game on which this novel was based. It was over-ambitious, flawed and frustrating but it did some things thatI have a very soft spot for the computer game on which this novel was based. It was over-ambitious, flawed and frustrating but it did some things that even all these years later have yet to be equalled in terms of conversational AI.
And I also have a soft spot for this novelisation because at the time of the game they posted the entire text of the novel on the official website. But they did it by sorting all the words into alphabetical order first. It was a typical Adams idea - funny and off-beat but which also made you think, just a little....more
It's often difficult to read books that in their day were pioneers of certain forms of literature, because now they often feel dated. It's even harderIt's often difficult to read books that in their day were pioneers of certain forms of literature, because now they often feel dated. It's even harder with books that are pastiches when the things they are satirising are long forgotten.
But somehow the woes of Mister Pooter are still funny, even when the precise social nuances are almost meaningless to us today. I think that's partly because the characters are so recognisable (the social structures may have changed, but human nature hasn't) and well-constructed farce never gets out of date.
Naturally today we have more modern forms of self-humiliation (e.g. David Brent and Larry David) but the basic principle still holds true - and is as funny and as tragic as ever. And as a primer on mid-Victorian society, it's also surprisingly handy....more
This is essentially an old-fashioned Literary Competition (of the sort now only really found in the Spectator and the New Statesman) but sustained toThis is essentially an old-fashioned Literary Competition (of the sort now only really found in the Spectator and the New Statesman) but sustained to such an amazing degree.
The conceit is fantastic, and manages to remain interesting all the way through to the end. And as with any good "smart" humour, there are so many jokes and references in here that you're unlikely to catch them all even on a second reading (one of the quiet delights is to review the entire results table which is provided and speculate about some of the matches not featured in the main book.)
Probably a somewhat acquired taste though - I imagine that if you don't "get" it straight-away, you probably won't....more
Not as intrinsically funny as his first book, but a much more interesting basic premise, combined with a selection of unforgettable characters and a gNot as intrinsically funny as his first book, but a much more interesting basic premise, combined with a selection of unforgettable characters and a glorious punchline (which someone who was there assures me is exactly what happened.)
And an important book as well. The small countries of Eastern Europe are in danger of being lost and forgotten, especially (as I write) during a global recession. It's easy to write funny anecdotes about America (stand up Fry) or even Ireland (Hawkes himself), but to bring to life such a grey country as Moldova is impressive....more
This earns an extra star from me simply because I am only about three months younger than Adrian Mole - so I related to almost everything in here whenThis earns an extra star from me simply because I am only about three months younger than Adrian Mole - so I related to almost everything in here when it originally appeared. Again, the trick of being able to see what are perfectly normal social encounters through "innocent" eyes is well used and makes for natural humour, and Townsend doesn't overdo it, leaving plenty of things off-stage for the reader to fill in....more
This is a stand-in for the whole Just William series by Richmal Crompton. As with Molesworth, these books are not only really, really funny, but alsoThis is a stand-in for the whole Just William series by Richmal Crompton. As with Molesworth, these books are not only really, really funny, but also offer an insight into aspects of the British class system - the subtle distinctions, prejudices and interactions between the different strata of the middle classes (frankly, the working class and aristocrats are virtually absent here.)
And all of this filtered through William's eyes, making perfectly normal social situations into mystifying, suspicious or simply hilarious experiences, with William also able to find the most improbable explanations for the most innocuous events.
And the introduction of Violet Elizabeth Bott also led to one of the great double-acts of English literature - Douglas, Ginger and Henry had to take a back-seat to this magnificent creation.
A glorious evocation of childhood, and subtle social commentary. Fantastic....more
This is a hoot. Not only is it a splendid book in its own right, but the fun of trying to see how the incidents from The Hobbit are going to be recreaThis is a hoot. Not only is it a splendid book in its own right, but the fun of trying to see how the incidents from The Hobbit are going to be recreated in this lunatic universe is almost unmatched (I think only Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair has a similar symbiotic relationship with it's source, and that is far more tangential. Although on reflection, Bridget Jones' Diary probably qualifies too.)
edit: just finished a reread (in the light of Mr Jackson's work) and I'm putting it up a star because it's just wonderful in so many ways....more