A number of reviews over on goodreads seem to have two things in common: the reviewer hasn't read the source material, and they didn't particularly enA number of reviews over on goodreads seem to have two things in common: the reviewer hasn't read the source material, and they didn't particularly enjoy this collection. I applaud someone for stepping out of their comfort zone, but I really don't understand bagging something when the fundamental context isn't understood. Because this really, really doesn't stand stand with knowledge of The Iliad and The Odyssey, and it doesn't pretend it even wants to.
I adored this collection, and I am fantastically thankful that I happened to pick it up a few years ago at the closing-down sale of my favourite bookshop (which has since reopened!). I'm not an author, but I would suggest that anyone who wants to write short fiction - and who has the background - should read this, because it does the short form in glorious, scintillating ways.
The Preface claims that this set of 44 stories translated from variations to the standard Homeric tale found in Oxyrhynchus. I'll admit that for the first couple of stories I actually half-wondered whether this might possibly be true - I'd never heard of such a find, but Oxyrhynchus has been an incredible literary treasure trove; it's not like I work consistently in the field so it's feasible I might have missed hearing about it. I fairly quickly decided that this wasn't the case, but it doesn't matter in the slightest. I feel that Mason has stayed true to the core of the mythology, and what more could you want?
Some of the stories presented here are vignettes, others are more substantial stories. Most of them take aspects of The Odyssey and... shift them. Sometimes subtly, sometimes extravagantly, but almost always with that kernel that means it feels basically plausible to an archaic Greek mythological milieu. There are a few that stray beyond those bounds, but even those are wonderfully well written, so I don't mind. They too help to build up sense of shifting possibilities, what-ifs and could-have-beens. There are a few stories that take aspects from other parts of Greek mythology and tie them, in convoluted but logical ways, to the Troy story; and just one or two that could feasibly be set outside of the 13th century BC, but not with any firm proof that they do so.
A review of all 44 stories would be tiresome and, in some cases, impossible without ruining the sheer pleasure of the reading act. Suffice it to say that Penelope gets some attention, Athene a bit more, and Calypso and Circe a lesser bit. Most of them involve travelling, which is naturally appropriate; some are in Troy and some on Ithaka. Sometimes Odysseus is triumphant, other times a coward, and occasionally seen through others' eyes - like Polyphemus (sorry, bad joke). Once, Paris is Death. Occasionally, the reality of a two-decade absence is hinted at. Tragically, Hektor does not feature in any meaningful way.
This collection is wonderful and glorious and I loved it very much....more
Kollontai has been on the verge of being a hero of mine for a while. She was a very active Bolshevik in the period leading up to the Russian RevolutioKollontai has been on the verge of being a hero of mine for a while. She was a very active Bolshevik in the period leading up to the Russian Revolution, and she appears to have lived her Marxism in remarkable ways - like pointing out that the domestic servitude of women in marriage can be seen as akin to the oppression of the proletariat and that the place of women ought to be as much a concern as the conditions of factory workers. And being sexually emancipated - not having to rely on marriage for either sexual fulfilment or protection - did bring her some condemnation at the time. But I like the way she discusses it here: she had liaisons but they kept getting in the way of her work!
Anyway, this is an autobiography, written in the late 1920s, when she had been sent out of the country by Stalin... to be ambassador to Norway. As, I think, the very first woman to be received with full diplomatic honours. Not a bad way to get rid of a political opponent. So clearly what she says has a political agenda, but the fact remains that as far as I can tell, she was the first woman to be appointed to a cabinet - Lenin made her Commissar for Social Welfare (I think that's the title; it's the stereotypical role you'd give a woman in the Cabinet, but still, she's THERE and she made use of it and she had long been agitating for the sort of reforms she attempted, so it seems she may have wanted it anyway).
It's a quick read and definitely worth it for people who are interested in the period and the manifestations of early feminism: I read it here: ....more
I haven't actually read Frankenstein, so I'm not in a position to comment on just how accurate Ackroyd has been in capturing the sentiment or atmospheI haven't actually read Frankenstein, so I'm not in a position to comment on just how accurate Ackroyd has been in capturing the sentiment or atmosphere of Shelley's original, nor on how many clever little asides he worked in. I did catch a few, but no doubt missed many.
Anyway, this situate Victor Frankenstein as a vibrant and intelligent young man, who goes to Oxford to follow his natural science love and while there befriends a certain Percy Bysshe Shelley. Through him he comes into contact with some other interesting fellows, interested in liberal government and atheism and scientific endeavours. Frankenstein develops a great interest in galvinism and the place of electricity in life and whether he can create life. Which he proceeds to do... although I think this aspect is one that departs from the original, based on my limited knowledge. He also interacts with a certain Mr Godwin, his daughter Mary, and of course Byron - who it must be said does not come off very well.
As someone with little knowledge of the original, I still found this immensely enjoyable and readable; Ackroyd certainly knows how to craft a phrase. I would love to hear from someone who loves the original, to know what they thought of this re-imagining. ...more
Bored me, unfortunately. Especially coming after "Silently, and Very Fast" (the Valente novella also nominated for the Hugo), the prose in particularBored me, unfortunately. Especially coming after "Silently, and Very Fast" (the Valente novella also nominated for the Hugo), the prose in particular was boring. A very different, and more 'normal,' exploration of the meaning of AI, compared to the Valente... the police procedural side was ok, and there was a nice twist, but the characters did not grab me....more
This is a wonderful fabulous glorious novella and I loved it. Obviously.
Valente does a wonderful thing in combining mythological elements withOh. My.
This is a wonderful fabulous glorious novella and I loved it. Obviously.
Valente does a wonderful thing in combining mythological elements with science fiction elements, imagining how genuine AI might come about and how that might impact on the people around it. Also does the 'will AI want to be human-like' question with delightful complexity.
Very enjoyable, and a really interesting look at why/how a superhero like Oracle might choose to disappear - because friends are endangered. Some funVery enjoyable, and a really interesting look at why/how a superhero like Oracle might choose to disappear - because friends are endangered. Some fun characters, and character moments, here. The art was generally bearable and often even entertaining!...more
I picked this book up at The Moat, a bar/restaurant slightly underneath the Victorian State Library. It has a shelf of books that can be taken by custI picked this book up at The Moat, a bar/restaurant slightly underneath the Victorian State Library. It has a shelf of books that can be taken by customers on the proviso that at some stage, you put one in yourself - although a further proviso is "No Dan Brown" (seriously it says that on the sign). Anyway I'd heard of Dubosarsky and never read any of her stuff, and the cover was immediately entrancing - look at that purple! and the gold is luminous!
There's a little bit of Picnic at Hanging Rock around this book, which Dubosarsky herself acknowledges, as well as a lot of inspiration from art - especially that of Charles Blackman, whose paintings and drawings provide the chapter headings. It also, she says, draws on her own memories of being a Sydney schoolgirl.
Eleven little girls have a somewhat peculiar teacher, who takes them out of school down to the nearby gardens, to consider the world and attempt poetry and to listen to a gardener-cum-poet, Morgan. (It's fair to say that there were a lot of alarm bells for me as a teacher with this book! The 60s were truly a different world...) But something happens - something unexpected and terrible, but probably not what you're thinking: let me spoil this slightly and say nothing happens to the girls themselves, IT'S OK Tansy can read this if she hasn't already.
While the ongoing repercussions of the Serious Event colour the entire book, Dubosarsky works other issues in, in the same way that such issues would probably be experienced by your average kid. It opens on the day Ronald Ryan is hanged (the last such event in Australia); the Vietnam War is ongoing. Closer to home, things are not entirely well in the homes of at least one of the girls, although exactly what is going on is never fleshed out; the reader sees glimpses in the way that a casual schoolfriend sees glimpses, only when they're allowed or by accident.
It's a very short book - 150 pages of well-spaced type. It's a delightfully written book, with evocative descriptions of schoolrooms and gardens and slightly creepy creeks. Dubosarsky captures the innocence and bewilderment and childish cunning of children very nicely too; a student would have no trouble seeing themselves in this novel, in the attitudes and expectations of the schoolyard. It's also potentially a frustrating book. It begins in 1967, with the girls about 10 years old; it covers about a fortnight in their lives, mostly in the schoolroom with occasional forays outside. It then jumps to one afternoon in 1975, with four of the girls sitting their final HSC exam, and a final intriguing addendum to their experience eight years earlier. The story is left ajar - not quite open, not quite closed... I guess this is fitting since the girls themselves are on the cusp of adulthood, so their lives at this point are liminal, balancing between two aspects.
The Golden Day is intriguing, and luminous like its cover; I have no doubt this will stay with me into the future. Especially when considering excursions. ...more
I believe this is the sort of novel that people might be thinking of when they suggest science fiction is ideas heavy but character and/or plot light.I believe this is the sort of novel that people might be thinking of when they suggest science fiction is ideas heavy but character and/or plot light. I'd never really understood that accusation of modern SF... until now. (I would have given it 3.5 if I could.)
It took me more than a fortnight to finish reading this. For fewer than 550 pages, that's... well, for me that's positively an age. I did consider giving up on it, several times in fact. But the ideas kept me coming back and made me determined to see it through, to see what Brin did with this sprawling, messy saga. And I think I'm glad that I did. Not absolutely positive, but probably.
Anyway, let me first talk about the positives. There are some really, really awesome ideas here. The basic premise that drives the plot is a first-contact one, but done in a fairly unusual way: a crystal snatched from orbit, activated by human touch and sunlight, that appears to contain alien life of some sort. The unfolding drama of the knowledge revealed - and how it changes, or at least develops, over time - and how humanity deals with it is a genuinely fascinating take on Fermi and all the other variations on "where are the aliens, what will they do when they get here, and how will we respond?" That's the plot, boiled down to its essentials; and it was fairly intriguing.
Also intriguing was the world Brin set this alien contact against. If there's a clear explanation of when this is occurring I missed it, but it seems to start only a few decades from now. Complete climate collapse has not occurred but is still very much on the cards; technology has continued to advance in leaps and bounds, towards smart-specs and similar toys imagined by cyberpunk so many decades ago but which still seem elusive in 2012; AI appears to have been achieved, along with other technological wizardry. I liked that there appeared to be variety in this world, in how people dealt with technology at least. I did not especially like the world itself, though - although this is not in itself one of the novel's negatives. The world is not quite dysfunctional enough to be a dystopia - although that would perversely probably have been easier to read. Instead this is a world apparently divided into ten Estates not just determined by wealth but by allegiance to such abstracts as Science and The Media; a world where inequality is as, if not more, entrenched than today, with apparently few people acting against it, and added fears of technology on the one hand and the 'Autism Plague' on the other; frankly, a world that I hope does not come to pass. From an objective point of view, this is a fairly well-described world, although I am unconvinced of its realism.
The novel's structure is linear chronologically and inconsistent in perspective. Numerous characters act as the focus over the 550 pages: the most prominent are a novelist, a journalist, a society lady, an astronaut, and a peasant. There are also excerpts of such non-plot devices as books and talk shows thrown in, which generally works. These different perspectives serve to give just that, of course - different perspectives on the world and on the events unfolding. Over the course of the novel, there was only one character that I particularly liked, and who did manage to get a word in for the entire length of the novel: the journalist, Tor. She had a fun role to play as the inquisitive, poking-nose-in type, despite various problems hampering her abilities.
This brings me to one of the problems in this novel - two, actually. One is the characters. Most of them weren't necessarily unlikeable so much as they were unapproachable or uninteresting. Additionally there were a few characters who promised to be or do quite interesting things who just... disappeared. Their narrative stopped popping up, occasionally with little or no resolution to their particular quandary or arc. This was intensely frustrating. This is definitely not a novel for those who prefer their story to be character driven.
The second problem was the structure itself. It was often unclear, at the opening of a new section, exactly who was speaking or where the events were happening. Sometimes that was cleared up, and at other times it was left opaque and mysterious. And sometimes these mysteries resolved with later revelations, but there are still some bits that don't seem to fit in at all, and really that just seems like a waste of words and my time.
Thirdly, there's the world itself. I felt like Frank Poole, the dead astronaut who wakes up at the start of 3001: The Final Odyssey to find it's a millennium later, and suffers a fair amount of culture shock. Now I love cyberpunk and far future stuff, so culture shock isn't necessarily an unpleasant experience for me. But here, it just made me tired, and irritable. A new piece of technology? Cue eye-rolling and mutters of 'really? more?' - because it seems to be set in the near future (as someone one said, near future is within the reviewer's lifetime), and therefore improbable. The technology may not have been so overwhelming, though, if it wasn't for the language. Brin has messed with a lot of language to indicate how heavily reliant this version of the future is on computers, frequently turning 'a's into 'ai': aissistant, for example; or adding 'v', as in virtisement; or even combining both in vraiffiti. Add in a whole bunch of gobbledy acronyms (tsoosu=to see ourselves as other see us=viewing yourself through one of the innumerable cams in place in this world; hello, panopticon Big Brother), and I simply found it overwhelming.
Overall, then, this is a big-ideas novel that is let down by two-dimensional characterisation and what occasionally feels like deliberately obfuscating language. ...more
Some really interesting points, and some insights into American politicians in particular that I hadn't considered. Very anti-USSR and almost annoyingSome really interesting points, and some insights into American politicians in particular that I hadn't considered. Very anti-USSR and almost annoyingly pro-American at points, which of course makes me doubt his analysis of the reasons for some of the events. As an overview of the period, quite useful I think. Also interesting is the parallels that appear between this period, of America vs the evil USSR (in his/their terms), and the rhetoric today of America vs the evils of terrorism - some of the words/ideas are almost identical. Which is kinda scary, but also gives a certain intriguing insight into the thought processes of some American politicians. ...more
This is the third book in Williams' series about Dagmar Shaw (the others are This is Not a Game and Deep State). I guess therefore this review may conThis is the third book in Williams' series about Dagmar Shaw (the others are This is Not a Game and Deep State). I guess therefore this review may contain spoilers for those two books, like the fact that she survives.
This one is not like the others because Dagmar is not the main protagonist. Instead, she moves onto the sidelines, becoming a somewhat shadowy, sometimes even fearsome, mover and shaker. I was a bit surprised by this change because Dagmar had worked so very well in the others; she's a character I developed a great rapport with. To see her from the perspective of someone else - someone to whom she is a stranger, and quite strange - was disconcerting. It does mean that someone could very easily read this without having read the other two; having read the first two it meant that I had a greater trust than Sean, the narrator, could have in her. Which distanced me slightly from Sean, and meant that I kept expecting great things from Dagmar.
Sean is twenty-something and, as the novel opens, a contestant on Celebrity Pitfighter, which is exactly what you're thinking it is, with the added bonus that every round, there's a surprise handicap. When Sean enters the ring to face Jimmy Blogjoy (!), he steps into a ring covered in cottage cheese. Our Sean qualifies for this edifying programme because he was a child star on a show called Family Tree... a rather long time ago. Since then, he's done bits and pieces, but the reality is that 'washed up' is a kind description. He is hampered partly by a condition called pedomorphosis, which he describes as meaning that "while the rest of [his] body has aged normally, [his] head has retained the features of an infant" (p34). Cute in a kid, decidedly odd in an adult. This is, however, not a problem for the part that Dagmar Shaw wants him to audition for.
In the first two novels, Dagmar was running Alternate Reality games: games that interacted with reality once you'd signed up for it, that worked on a mass level and created huge flashmobs, and which occasionally had real-world implications. With this novel, she has moved to Hollywood and is looking to make her first feature film, although not quite in the way that Sean and his agent expect. The plot therefore revolves around the making of the film, which has two parts: first, the outrageous plans Dagmar has for making the film and changing the very experience of film-watching; second, the dramas on and off set between cast and crew - both of which suggest Williams has some experience of Hollywood and its weirdness.
If this were all the novel offered, it would still be very entertaining. But twisted throughout the novel is a rather curious reflection on the realities of life for Sean, has-been child star. One of the awesome techniques Williams used in previous novels is forum threads between people interacting in Shaw's AR games. There's not quite as much scope for that here, but it's replaced by entries from Sean's blog - because really, what's a has-been celebrity going to do but blog about his has-been-ness? They come complete with comments, from trolls to supporters to spam. In these entries, Sean reflects on how he got to where he is, and particularly about how he was screwed over by his parents. It's a neat way to get into Sean's head a little bit more.
There's also the fact that someone appears to be trying to kill Sean, which becomes quite the mystery for him to unravel. Williams doesn't overplay this aspect, but weaves it too throughout the main narrative.
As mentioned above, I thought I was getting another Dagmar novel, so there was a level of disappointment when she didn't turn out to be as present as I'd hoped. Sean is not as likeable as Dagmar; he's close to being alcoholic, and while he's not quite the ruthless Hollywood shark that some of his friends are, he is well aware of how to play the game, and is generally willing to do just that. I found his cynicism and pessimism somewhat disheartening, if realistic. Happily, though, he's not completely repellant. He's a good friend - usually - and his devotion to acting as a craft, as a lifelong passion, is a joy. Most of the characters do not get particularly fleshed out. Sean's agent is a sleaze and a huckster; many of the showbiz types on the periphery of Sean's world are not quite caricatures - they're individual enough to miss that - but neither do they have much impact. Even Dagmar is shadowy, occasionally looming large and at other times disappearing into the background.
Finally, it's important to discuss the SFnal nature of the book. It's very much what I think of as 'tomorrow fiction': the technology is only just out of reach (probably), and the world as a whole is intensely, sometimes miserably, recognisable. The main technological advance is in the Alternate Reality goggles and other such 'ware, which allows the user to see and interact with content that has been posted not just on the net, but in the 'real' world'. Sadly, most of the time AR seems to be used for ads and porn (see? recognisable and miserable). It's the sort of SF which doesn't always feel like SF, but then a character uses technology or mentions a recent event that sounds plausible, but definitely hasn't happened (...yet...).
It's a fast read, it's a well-structured and pacey read, and it's a lot of fun. ...more