'Tis the seasons for musing about the first World War, I suppose, and it's whys and wherefores. This books starts out like a less witty, less politica...more'Tis the seasons for musing about the first World War, I suppose, and it's whys and wherefores. This books starts out like a less witty, less political Flashman, and simply, it seems, can't sustain the levity for the life of it. It tried, I think. It really did. The Submarine Corps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are as rich a mine of absurdity and farce as anywhere, but for a book as meticulously historical as this one, spinning WW1 into a laugh from the perspective of an ordinary soldier is just more than it can apparently allow itself.
The first half or so has the least amount of plot i've ever encountered in a novel this well written in my life. As far as I can tell, the details of the setting are spot on, but there is - despite it being, you know, WW1 - absolutely no conflict. No incompetent superior to overcome, no mysterious women to woo, no challenge to whip the crew of misfits into shape, etc. Well, now and then they blow up an Italian ship or nearly drown or something, but it's all par the course.
Now and then a bit of spectacularly repressed emotional bleakness comes to the surface - all very by the by, all still in this wry, larky-historical-adventure tone. A man makes a note to mourn his mother's death and forgets. An illiterate grandfather is turned away at the door in bourgeoisie embarassment. But still, everyone is seemingly exactly where they want to be, doing exactly what they want to be doing, occasionally musing about it in very civilized, honorable ways.
That doesn't really change, per se, except gradually their entire world collapses around them, everything they ever knew disappears, a lot of people die and it all ends very bitterly...and there's still never a villain.(less)
Perhaps because I'm pretty much the choir here, there's nothing terribly interesting in explaining that neol...moreToo much economics, not enough geography.
Perhaps because I'm pretty much the choir here, there's nothing terribly interesting in explaining that neoliberalism is a thing which is and which is not nice. This we know. I was hoping for more of an exploration of the actual spaces created, not just the fact of their existence and the ideology behind it. How do these places function? What tools, designs, aesthetics do they use to maintain themselves, and why? What story are they telling the people inside them? The people outside them? What can they tell us about the logic and worldviews of the people who created them? Why are they so often so fucking ugly?
Some of the articles touch on this, but often quickly dodge away again. The best, in this sense, is probably the article on Managua, which discussed the exclusionary functions of that cities new roads. Most of the rest were largely descriptive, showing how capitalism created this or that gated community and what's wrong with it, but not really saying much beyond. The essays were often fun reading (and short,) since describing someone else's appalling taste with one's best acidic quips is a happy sort of thing to do, but still left me wanting a deeper, perhaps bolder, investigation of this issue, that would pay more attention to culture, aesthetics and space itself, and less to the predictable effects of IMF policy. (less)
This is not a terribly interesting book about what appears, actually, to have been not a terribly interesting event.
Bly and Bisland raced around the...moreThis is not a terribly interesting book about what appears, actually, to have been not a terribly interesting event.
Bly and Bisland raced around the world in 1889 essentially as publicity stunts for rival newspapers. They were effective publicity stunts. People in 1889 thought it was totally cool. That's about it. Both trips appear to have been almost completely uneventful, cushioned by money and someone else doing a lot of the logistics.
Maybe the interesting take-away is that it was possible, even in 1889, to go around the globe as westerner with only the most cursory and touristic contact with anyone except other white people, mostly by hopscotching with ships from one colonial British enclave to another.
Goodman makes some effort to sketch in historical background on things like the newspaper industry, the role of women in it, fairly extensive biographies of both women and any number of other people, and a little about the history of the ships and trains and things, but it doesn't add that much to the book. He also writes the actual race in a very novelistic style, which is not terribly good either, rife with cliched landscape descriptions and "she must have..." and "surely". The afterword claims all feelings, reflections, internal monologues and what-not are taken from sources, but those are never mentioned in the text itself, so it's a bit of a mystery what belongs to which imagination.
Not particularly recommended unless you have a real burning passion for late 19th c. woman reporters.
Enjoyable and original. Great mindfuck of a villain and interesting questions raised re. identity, history, loyalty, language, gender. Good characteri...moreEnjoyable and original. Great mindfuck of a villain and interesting questions raised re. identity, history, loyalty, language, gender. Good characterization. The ending felt a bit clunky, like pieces being moved into place for a sequel, but I want to see where it goes anyway. (less)
Swash you buckles! Ok, This book is just absurd, adventure fun, but heres the thing, adventure fun is hard to do. The shelves are littered with books...moreSwash you buckles! Ok, This book is just absurd, adventure fun, but heres the thing, adventure fun is hard to do. The shelves are littered with books that picked up a bit of history, a bit of fantasy, a bit of a Zombie and a bit romance, stirred them all together and were sure they had arrive at glorious adventure, but actually fell oh-so-short. ("Throne of the Crescent Moon", I am looking at you.) This one actually makes it!
I'm not sure if the plot makes any sense because it went by too fast and the characters all talk like Bond Villains with tragic pasts and hearts of gold, all the time.(This is perfect. "I must have my vengeance", "he shall pay with his life","You are sure to fall in love with me, I have a very fine collection of waistcoats".) Like with Riveted (i'm reading this series backwards) theres a current there of something slightly more serious, on the characterization level, but where in Riveted it fits in to the story well and adds a lot of depth, here it's just kind of makes one go 'huh', every now and then. Whatever. It's just so perfectly pulpy - without toppling over into stupid or offensive - that I can forgive it rushing by maybe being a better book for the achievement of definitely being a fun one. (less)
Good fun but feels a bit hollow. A romp through the Culture, which is always great, but not quite adding up to anything in particular. I never really...moreGood fun but feels a bit hollow. A romp through the Culture, which is always great, but not quite adding up to anything in particular. I never really formed much interest in the main plot, and it kind of didn't go anywhere surprising either. The characters were better, but not nearly enough time was spent with them to give them any kind of coherent arc or conflict. They just kind of ran around and fell off things a lot or acted weird. Though, there were lots and lots of ships, which was nice, but on the other hand, I never quite know how to read them as characters or not - it's hard to spot personalities, there, as such.
Still a pleasant enough read, with lots of cool stuff and stuff blowing up and weirdness and things, and at least it doesn't have that self conscious, navel gazing, hyper self aware quality about it's politics with gender and religeon and whatever, unlike seemingly every other Space Opera i've read this year. Kind of a relief, that way. It just is, doing what it does. (less)
Yeah, i'm never going to finish this. Ponderous, dull, plotless, amazingly pleased with it's conceit but unable to do anything with it that isn't eyer...moreYeah, i'm never going to finish this. Ponderous, dull, plotless, amazingly pleased with it's conceit but unable to do anything with it that isn't eyerollingly trite and pointed out, remarkably self congratulatory, again and again. Blah. (less)
Trains aren't nice. I'm not sure the book gets that.
In the pre-finial epilogue of chapter 84: you can drive, & if you wish, go elsewhere on the wa...moreTrains aren't nice. I'm not sure the book gets that.
In the pre-finial epilogue of chapter 84: you can drive, & if you wish, go elsewhere on the way.
But this is to miss, to my mind, the point of the train. Ships (and cars) are images of freedom, of potential, adventure and exploration. But on a train you cannot go elsewhere. A train goes from here to there and only to there. Trains are about things left behind and people gone or taken away, choices irrevocably made.
The geography of rails is about separation and isolation. The landscape between the stations can be seen, but not touched. It's a superimposed alternate universe, a closed off space, physically and temporally constrained. Historically, trains are means of imperialist control over the landscape, from the Trans-Siberian to the Congo, and over people, from the gulag to the holocaust. Trains are cramped, stiff, artificial. They even, typically, have classes.
But in Railsea, trains are nice. Trains are varied, punky, exuberant, lively, piratical, dashing and exciting. Worst of all, they may go where they like. Meiville always seems to write stories about things being more. Trains are ships, ships are cities, trains are cities, cities are other cities. Me, I like best of all stories about things being less. The way things are when stuff is reduced, constrained, narrowed. I'm always interested in focus and obsession.
But this book is exactly about the dismissal of obsession. Obsession features again and again and receives short shrift. It is not merely that it is not admired - obsession is usually ultimately tragic. Thats ok. - it's that it's dismissed, derided, made charlataneous.
In Moby Dick, on the whole wide sea, Ahab wants only one thing. This is the curious, powerful juxtaposition of the thing. However, it is in the nature of the train to want only one thing, and yet Meiville seemingly attempts to reclaim and rehabilitate it in the service of joyous adventure, explicitly makes of it a prelude to the sea. That's just wrong - the railway is the natural and obvious vehicle of self destructive obsession.
This book is a crime against trainhood.
Oh, there's plot and characters and stuff. They're ok I guess. (less)
Goodbye, book. I don't quite know what I don't like about this book - it had interesting worldbuilding, an un-cliched narrative, decent characterizati...moreGoodbye, book. I don't quite know what I don't like about this book - it had interesting worldbuilding, an un-cliched narrative, decent characterization...and stupefyingly boring. Just mind numbing. Excellent mileage as an insomnia cure, here, but that's it. Maybe i'll try it again in a few years - I want to like it, I just don't. (less)
Jolly good and a return to form after the somewhat dreary sixths book. Yes, it's a travelogue, but it's a fast paced, exciting, occasionaly joyfully g...moreJolly good and a return to form after the somewhat dreary sixths book. Yes, it's a travelogue, but it's a fast paced, exciting, occasionaly joyfully gruesome travelogue, replete with catastrophes, calamities and crocodiles. Plots, schemes, desert islands, things on fire, battles and mutinies come fast and furious, and theres a few surprisingly touching moments as Novik rather brutalizes the minor cast.
A minor theme picks up issues of family, parenthood and the passage of time and grounds all the colourful running about with a sense loss and tiredness for these characters, which helps give the book some substance and raises it above a fluffy adventure story. I also particularly continue to enjoy the folding out of the alternative history, with the return of the African Empire of Tswana and the introduction of the Incas as significant political forces. There was one narrow escape that seemed a bit too convenient at one point, but otherwise a good read. Recommended for people who gave up on the series. (less)
A confuding tangle rife wih unanswerable questions. Telescoping out from the temporally challenged but straightforward central romance, a kaleidescope...moreA confuding tangle rife wih unanswerable questions. Telescoping out from the temporally challenged but straightforward central romance, a kaleidescope of characters traipse across the stage, so many of them more or less at odds with the way it seems they should be. Everyone is lost, everyone is compromising, everyone is lonely and unsure. The characters and their situations were vastly more interesting than the plot though. (less)
re-read - yup, even better. Only complaint is that it should have been longer. It's actually amazingly economical - things I remember as bein...moreNot bad.
re-read - yup, even better. Only complaint is that it should have been longer. It's actually amazingly economical - things I remember as being these enormous, detailed stories - Tyrion on the river, Daeneryn in Meereen, Asha in the snow, Theon in Winterfell, Bran under the hill, Arya, Cercei, Griff - are actually only one or two chapters, in most cases. Only Jon on the Wall really gets enough room to breathe. (less)