(10/10) 2011 re-read: If I wasn't sure about the all-time greats status of this book before, reading it again confirms it, in one of those lovely time...more(10/10) 2011 re-read: If I wasn't sure about the all-time greats status of this book before, reading it again confirms it, in one of those lovely times when your current, hopefully more evolved taste confirms your past ones. More than just a reasonably prescient vision of the future, Brave New World is a fundamentally modernist work, and not just in its more experimental sections. What Huxley is grappling with is a sense of lost authenticity, a true meaning apart from consumerist bliss. John and Bernard are in a way searching for the same thing that Joyce and Eliot and all of those other High Modernists are. But of course authenticity has always just been lost, existing in some era we can't quite remember, or in the virtuosity of emotions that are unsustainable. Once again, it's hard not to think that Lenina, with her passive acceptance of superficial pleasure, might be the smartest person in the book. The society of Brave New World is not just a dire prediction of the future, but a part of the world around Huxley, the novel is then a consideration of modernity itself and the divided aims of humankind. That it addresses these ideas while still being accessible enough for teenagers to read it by the millions is a sign of its true greatness.
I'm not really sure why I'm reviewing this, because everyone has read it in high school already, but it's next up in my queue of old unreviewed books, so Ima do it anyway. Brave New World is usually paired with 1984, and that makes it look like the more prophetic of the two, predicting a dystopia not controlled by authoritarian fear but by consumerist complacency. The future, according to Huxley, is not a boot stomping the human face forever, but a human shopping for boots while the world burns. Despite this, it manages to be almost ambiguous: there's a case to be made that, whatever the intellectual angst of the Bernards of the world, a society where everyone is happy (even artificially) is indeed a just society. Huxley grasps that all dystopias present themselves as utopia, and it makes his vision of the future stronger. Of course, there's not much of a novel here: it's mostly flat characters wandering around the setting, but the setting is so distinct and well-conceived that it makes this book a classic in both literature and science fiction in spite of any flaws one could list.(less)
I read this book because I loved the previous China Mieville books I had read, especially Perdido Street Station. While this was also a good book, it'...moreI read this book because I loved the previous China Mieville books I had read, especially Perdido Street Station. While this was also a good book, it's drastically different from the Bas-Lag books, which both speaks to Mieville's flexibility as an author and is something to make fans of his a bit wary.
The City and the City is in part a tribute to classic detective novels like those of Raymond Chandler. Instead of the sprawling garden of wonders that is Bas-Lag we get a drabber world told through a tight first-person narrative. Of course, this is not simply a nostalgic tribute. It's also a great piece of urban fantasy, centred on the strange dual city that gives the novel its title. The division between Beszel and Ul Qoma is the only real fantastic conceit here, and it's usually not even clear whether this is a supernatural divide or just bizarre groupthink. This allows this idea and all its consequences to be explored in full.
First and foremost The City and the City is simply entertaining. The plot moves around quickly and becomes increasingly unpredictable. It was even able to surprise a genre-savvy reader like me. The setting of Beszel and Ul Qoma are characterized with Mieville's usual skill for settings and the two cities almost seem to be the main characters. The actual characters are sketched rather broadly and not what you would call developed, but this is both part of the classic detective novel aspect and mostly unnoticeable. Flat characters are a technical flaw, but i was usually distracted by the twists in the plot or strange ideas.
While not really a masterpiece, The City and The City is a great read and recommended for any fantasy or mystery fans.(less)
(10/10) The miracle of The Left Hand of Darkness is that it turns out to be the opposite of the dry, didactic feminist-SF novel you think it's going t...more(10/10) The miracle of The Left Hand of Darkness is that it turns out to be the opposite of the dry, didactic feminist-SF novel you think it's going to be. The genderless society LeGuin imagines, far from being a utopia, is a world of complicated power relations and suffering like any other, with one less axis of oppression but no less oppression in total. It's a nuanced and imaginative setting that manages to be politically progressive but also believable, something LeGuin excels at. But mostly the novel is just a joy to read. The highlight has to be the harrowing long journey across ice that makes up the book's third act, a soul-rending experience conveyed perfectly, but the political maneuvering of earlier parts is equally well done. This is a canonical SF text for a reason, and something everyone should read, genre fan or no.
2011 re-read: Yep, this is still awesome. This time around I tried to get more of a reading on Genly, but like many of LeGuin's protagonists, he's a slippery devil: always caught between two sides, in a place but not of it, vanishing while always remaining in centre stage. In some ways he's a picaresque hero, wandering around places just to take a look at them, but when you take a farther perspective he's far from a neutral observer -- his imposition of male pronouns on the genderless Gethenians is only the most prominent example. And yet he's not a domineering colonist twisting the facts either. LeGuin's characters don't run up and tweak your nose with their coolness or alleged complexity, they just show it quietly, going about their lives like ordinary people.
I'm still not quite sure how to write about this book. In some ways it escapes me, and I suspect it always will. Despite everything that's in The Left Hand of Darkness, it's hard to hold it down and extract a capital-m Meaning from it, and that's frankly its brilliance.(less)
Simon R. Green is one of those authors who has come up with some pretty cool ideas and wants to make absolutely sure that every one of his readers kno...moreSimon R. Green is one of those authors who has come up with some pretty cool ideas and wants to make absolutely sure that every one of his readers knows how cool they are. So you end up with a book where every third sentence is a generality about how strange and dangerous the Nightside is, and characters are introduced with a host of legends and catchphrases. It gets tiring very quickly.
The plot, as such, is that a case of a missing child drags John Taylor, a P.I., back to his home of the Nightside, a bizarre world that exists as the dark shadow of London. (There seem to be a lot of those lately). This plot is mostly an excuse for a brief tour around Green's clearly treasured Nightside setting, which never seems quite as interesting in practice as it's described as.
This book is obviously the first in a series, and in that respect succeeds, setting up some interesting recurring characters and an overarching storyline about a predestined apocalypse. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit intruiged as to what happened next. But as a novel of it's own [i:]Something from the Nightside[/i:] leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is unfocused and resorts to a lot of deus ex machinae, and for all of the punchy statements I never really got a good idea of the Nightside as a setting.
It's really too bad -- Green has come up with a setting and characters that would be interesting in the right hands. I read this directly after The Wars, a well-written but uninspired book, and it makes me wonder if we don't need more collaborations -- one writer coming up with the ideas, and one actually writing the thing. It would certainly help books like this.
But as it stands, [i:]Something from the Nightside[/i:] is a quick read but not a really worthwhile one.(less)
(6/10) Dracula is not really, as one might think, a Gothic horror novel (apart from the opening chapters set in Dracula's castle) but more of Law &...more(6/10) Dracula is not really, as one might think, a Gothic horror novel (apart from the opening chapters set in Dracula's castle) but more of Law & Order: Supernatural Victims Unit, in which a superteam of doctors and lawyers comes together to figure out a scientific way to defeat a supernatural sexual predator. Given that, a big part of the novel is devoted to the group of heroes hashing out plans and wringing their hands about the horror, which joins the epistolary form in making this a late example of the Victorian "shilling shocker". It's also worth noting that Stoker invents most of the vampire mythos here, to the extent that he should probably be given a citation in the Monster Manual.
As an actual book, Dracula is only middling, even judged as genre fiction. It has moments of greatness and psychosexual fright, but it can't really be sustained over the long run. If you're reading it now, though, you're doing it to look at the origins of a mythology that's entranced our society ever since -- and in the predatory fangs of Dracula lies the root of today's Dracula craze. From a more historic perspective, it's an absolutely vital document, and one that every horror fan needs to read.(less)
My second crack at Sherlock Holmes, after a bunch of Mormons ambushed me halfway through A Study in Scarlet. Although calling this a Holmes novel is a...moreMy second crack at Sherlock Holmes, after a bunch of Mormons ambushed me halfway through A Study in Scarlet. Although calling this a Holmes novel is a bit off, as half of it is Watson wandering through a Gothic storyline and being thoroughly perplexed. That's the main thematic concern here: the rationalist Holmes coming up against a seemingly supernatural occurence, with the two worldviews butting heads. I don't think I need to tell you which side wins.
It's definitely easy to see why these books were so influential in their day, but I'm not sure how well they hold up to a modern reader. There's a lot of turgid prose and after a while Sherlock Holmes explaining how he knows tiny details about someone he's just met gets pretty dull. (Apparently his detection powers can't realize that he would save a lot of time not constantly being a smart-ass.) There are wonderful moments, sudden revelations and great plot twists, but it's a bit of a slog to get through, and I'm not entirely sure if it's worth it.(less)
Deathbird Stories is a short story cycle surrounding the idea of gods new and old interacting with everyday America. Yeah, it wasn't Neil Gaiman's ide...moreDeathbird Stories is a short story cycle surrounding the idea of gods new and old interacting with everyday America. Yeah, it wasn't Neil Gaiman's idea. Throughout all of the stories Ellison maintains a consistent dark energy in his narrative voice that grips the reader and drives the story forward. This beautiful and agressive style manages to keep even the less successful stories enjoyable.
Like any story collection, the quality varies, but Ellison (or his publishing company) is smart enough to bookend it with the fantastic "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" and "The Deathbird". It's also interesting to see some formal experiments and what could even be called postmodernism creep into Ellison's work ("Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes"). On the other hand, some stories just can't tie together their disparate elements ("Delusion for a Dragon Slayer") and Ellison uses the ironic reversal ending too much. And I have to mention the occasional weird racism and misogyny that butts its way in: did there really need to be three stories about beautiful women who lead men to their doom? We get it, Harlan.
But like I said, Ellison is a brilliant writer who may be the best I've read at channeling visceral emotions into his work, and this shines through in even the shakiest stories. This collection is easily worth the read.(less)