I will admit that I am enough of a pathetic die-hard fan that I got this anthology off the back of its inclusion of an Alastair Reynolds story; others...more I will admit that I am enough of a pathetic die-hard fan that I got this anthology off the back of its inclusion of an Alastair Reynolds story; others in the contents page also grabbed my attention, of course, so it wasn't a completely ridiculous buy. Since saying farewell to Last Short Story I have got interested in reading anthologies again - well, actually, I was never very interested in anthologies before LSS introduced them to me, and then a few years of that burnt me out. Anyway, I was dead keen about giving this one a go.
Unsurprisingly, but unfortunately, it's quite a mixed bag. Let me go through the stories. (The short version: there are some good, and a couple of very good, stories; plus a whack of indifferent ones.)
Ian McDonald's "A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead" is a delightful take on how social media might interact with local culture in order to impact on the political arena. With the events of the last 18 months this isn't a radical notion at all, but McDonald here imagines a company offering virtual space for the dead - spirit-houses created by the bereaved for the recently departed. And what's a virtual space like that without forums, and interaction? It's really just the next step for the departed themselves to take part in those discussions, and to be commenting on contemporary affairs. I really enjoyed the style of this story as well as the content, although it was a bit confusing to begin with; it jumps from posts written by the dead, to interviews with the website's creator, to discussions between the relatives of the talking dead. And gradually a picture builds up of what is going on in this country (which I think is never named, but seems to neighbour Mali), and the impact of the dead speaking out. It's a really great opening to the anthology.
On a completely different wavelength is "The Incredible Exploding Man," by Dave Hutchinson. Rather than jumping around points of view, as with the McDonald, this story jumps around chronologically but centres on one main event: an accident at a Collider somewhere in the US, and its effects on the people in the room. There's no black hole as some of the more hysterical media suggested when the LHC was turned on at CERN, but a more subtle impact on the physiology and very existence of the people. It's fast-paced and features some nicely differentiated characters to bring out some of the ramifications of the event.
Paul di Filippo's contribution, "Sweet Spots," is similar to the McDonald in that it involves an individual having an impact on society, but different because it has nothing to do with social media: instead, here an adolescent boy discovers that he can see how to influence events by a word, a nudge, an appropriately directed foot... and of course, there are ramifications, some unforeseen. The story harks to some superhero ideas of great responsibility with great power, and it is interesting to watch Arp (the protagonist) come to certain conclusions himself. I can't say I particularly liked Arp; he was too genuine an adolescent for that! But again it's a well-paced story with a clever premise.
With Stephen Baxter's "Rock Day," the anthology goes rather melancholy, being about a boy and his dog and a world that is not quite right. Baxter draws out the boy's curiosity and confusion gently and sympathetically, and although the scenario of 'Rock Day' seems too farfetched (I know, crazy thing to say about a science fiction anthology), the consequences fit all too well into a science fictional universe. All of the stories to this point have been recognisably set on Earth. Stephen Palmer takes us away from that - if not spatially then certainly temporally. "Eluna" imagines a society with what at first looks like a radically different way of doing things, which on closer inspection may not be as different as readers might like. It's about individuality and curiosity, innovation and tradition and sacrifice. And machines.
Adam Roberts begins his story with a disaster, which might be seen as a bold move. But pretty much all of "Shall I Tell you the Problem with Time Travel?" is concerned with disasters of one sort or another, usually of the fairly significant variety, and it does indeed suggest a potential problem with time travel, which I can't possibly even allude to here without spoiling what is quite nicely revealed as it progresses. Going forwards and then backwards in time as the story unfolds, this is a very enjoyable if quite horrifying little story about one of science fiction's more beloved tropes. And taking as his inspiration the revolutionary Che Guevara, Lavie Tidhar imagines a world in which that soldier-cum-poet-cum-politician did not die when he did. There's only one science fictional element to "The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara," and although it's a crucial one the story could be read as a commentary on the politics of the last forty years or so just as much as science fiction. It ranges across numerous countries and contexts, using interviews and magazine excerpts to break up the plot, and is a quirky and entertaining piece.
Steve Rasnic Tem, in "At Play in the Fields," offers one of the few stories involving non-human characters. He wonders what it would be like to wake up one day and discover that the world has not only been discovered by aliens, but that it's also a whole lot later - in years - than when you went to sleep. This is a story about a man and an alien, but also about a man coming to terms with these sorts of profound changes through the mundane objects around him. It's a quite tactile story, and one to make the reader wonder which of the objects around them might survive long into the future - and what this will say about us as individuals and as a culture. On the other hand, "Yestermorrow" by Richard Salter is concerned with time rather than objects; specifically, what it would be like to always wake up not knowing which part of your life today is, because you are living quite literally from day to day - one day waking up as a baby, the next at forty, but you don't take that knowledge with you. Which of course means you know when, calendrically speaking, you will die. Certainly presents some interesting problems for the police.
Jaine Fenn's story is one of exploration that initially seems like it could almost be straight out of Star Trek or StarGate SG1 - a gate to another world, can't get back through, whatever will we do?! However it is saved from falling into tired tropes thanks to engaging characters and a nicely intriguing twist that suggests some rather interesting things about those characters. In style, it mixes up transmission reports with conventional third-person narrative.
There's a suggestion of postcolonial ideas about "Eternity's Children," from Keith Brooke and Eric Brown. A world that is both a long-term killer of human visitors and the long-term ensurer of their longevity is visited by a representative of the company responsible for it; naturally things do not progress in a straightforward manner. It would have been possible for this story to follow the old idea of white-man-seduced-by-exotic-place, but I think it mostly avoids that by the awareness of the main character, Loftus, of what he is about, and his willingness to think beyond his task.
The penultimate story of the anthology is actually the one I read first and may or may not be the main reason I bought the anthology... "For the Ages," by Alastair Reynolds, is a wonderful far-future story about the big things - the entirety of cosmology and leaving a message for the ages - and the small things - messy human relationships and just how messy they can get. Th characters are finely drawn and utterly believable, the task preposterous and glorious and utterly fitting for the hubris of the human race. It's easily my favourite story of the entire set.
In "The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three," Ken Mcleod combines lack of interesting plot (editor searching for stories, French government launches a curious balloon) with lacklustre characters, resulting in a story that utterly fails to compel. The next story was also a disappointment, because although there is a potentially intriguing idea in "The One That Got Away" - ocean creatures are washing up onto the beach in vast quantities, and something might be found within their bodies - Tricia Sullivan does not provide enough political or historical background to explain what is being searched for or why. That could be forgiven if the characters were compelling enough that their quest was an end in itself, but sadly this is not the case.
Looking at a broken father-son relationship, Jack Skillingstead's "Steel Lake" has both Too Much and Too Little: too much sentimentality, and too much wrong with the father for him to be at all approachable or sympathetic; too little overall point, either in plot or characterisation. Being overly sentimental also characterises "Mooncakes," a collaboration between Mike Resnick and Laurie Tom. I like stories about spaceships heading out into the unknown and how people cope with the stress of leaving family, but this one left me cold. The 'all cultures are precious' line (which I agree with already) was hammered out without a care for subtlety - too much telling, not enough showing - and the family relationship depicted was boring and predictable.
Ian Watson's "How We Came Back from Mars (A Story that Cannot be Told)" is (maybe) an alien contact story, with a team of explorer (maybe) on Mars managing to get back to Earth a whole lot faster than expected, who then have to deal with the ramifications of people not believing their story, made particularly problematic by the place they arrive back at. It's an interesting enough premise, but the story tries too hard to be conspiratorial and suggestive without having the atmosphere or characters to pull it off. Sadly, Pat Cadigan's "You Never Know" also failed to grab me - sad because I usually love Cadigan's work, and because it means I disliked two out of the three works by women (the third, by Jaine Fenn, is discussed above). The atmosphere - a secondhand shop - and premise - the shop assistant and his experience with a new security system - are approachable and familiar-seeming. The denouement, however, left me confused and grasping for understanding, and not in a positive way.
Sadly, the last story of the anthology definitely falls into the 'indifferent' camp. When a writer writes about a writer, it's hard for me at least not to wonder about the level of congruency going on. For Peter Hamilton's sake, I hope there is no congruence between the writer in "Return of the Mutant Worms" and himself, because the thought of having an editor bring up an unpublished 21-year-old story and offer to publish it must be nightmarish to many successful authors. Anyway, this is ultimately a smug and unsatisfying little story that does little good for the memory of the anthology as a whole.
One last thing to mention: I found the author notes preceding each story generally a bit tawdry. They seemed to be trying for a mix of bibliography + interesting factoid, and did not often hit the right note; there was too much effort at sounding quirky for it to be genuinely appealing.(less)
OK, so I skipped the Weimar and WW2 bits mostly - I skim-read and looked at the pictures. But I read the pre-WW2 stuff mostly, and the Cold War stuff...moreOK, so I skipped the Weimar and WW2 bits mostly - I skim-read and looked at the pictures. But I read the pre-WW2 stuff mostly, and the Cold War stuff too; I even underlined and wrote a few notes in the margin to remember things for next year! Interesting to see just how closely it sits to the TV programme, which is very. It's not that in-depth, but I think it's a good overview, and I really do like the comments and quotes from Ordinary People.
One thing, though - talking about colonised places and attitudes towards Europe - it says that the US had avoided being colonised. What - ?? I had to re-read that section a couple of times to check that it really was saying what I thought it was saying. Yes indeed, it said that the US had not been colonised, and then goes on to talk about treatment of Native Americans (in scant detail). My head is still reeling from that one.(less)
I read this for school, because I am teaching it to my Yr8 class this year. It's fun to be teaching an SF text!
The premise is that a longevity drug h...moreI read this for school, because I am teaching it to my Yr8 class this year. It's fun to be teaching an SF text!
The premise is that a longevity drug has been created, which is great... but of course if people live an indefinite amount of time and still have kids, there's going to be a serious resource problem pretty quickly. Hence the Declaration: if you take the drug, you don't have kids. Ever. There's the option to Opt Out of the longevity treatment, and therefore have the opportunity to have kids, but Malley imagines very few people being willing to do so. The protagonist of the book is Anna, and she's a Surplus: a child born to parents who signed the Declaration and then broke the rules. For that, they get sent to prison, and she gets taken to Grange Hall - effectively an orphanage where she gets trained to be Valuable. That is, to be useful to Legals by being their servant. And she's taught that her parents were evil for having her, and that she is an offence against Nature for taking resources that rightfully belong to Legal people. Partly this teaching is the system, and partly it's the matron of Grange Hall, Mrs Pincent, who is as twisted and bitter a headmistress as you could imagine.
This falls into the YA dystopia camp, I think, but in a very different way from Pure or The Hunger Games. In theory at least, everyone BUT the Surpluses should be having a delightful time, living forever. We only get a little glimpse into non-Surplus life, and... it seems much like today, even though it's 100+ years in the future. Not much happier, and not really much more advanced. To me that does make it something of a dystopia simply by virtue of being stagnant. There's also a hint that the government might be quite an interfering body, with some fairly sinister powers. The life of a Surplus, which the reader gets to know very well, is definitely dystopian; a Surplus may not own anything, has only one name, has no choice about where they end up, and are frankly lucky not to have been drowned at birth - a fate apparently meted out to their equivalents outside of Britain.
Anna is an enjoyable enough character. She got a little wearing after a while because of her passivity, although I totally bought this in the context of the story. Of course, there is a change, brought by a new arrival at Grange Hall, Peter, who stirs things up for Anna especially; and then I found that she changed too quickly, with little investigation into the reasoning behind her changed attitude.
Overall, this is a fast read, and generally an enjoyable one. In terms of teaching it provides all sorts of possibilities - longevity, the role of parents, what we value and why, how people affect us, etc etc. I think I'll be able to teach it for a few years without too much boredom, because the kids will keep having different reactions to it.(less)
Oh my goodness I loved this collection so much. I wanted to give it 4.5 because it's not *quite* a 5 - there were a couple of stories that didn't hit...moreOh my goodness I loved this collection so much. I wanted to give it 4.5 because it's not *quite* a 5 - there were a couple of stories that didn't hit the right note for me but overall it's just loooovely.
I've had a hit and miss record with Valente over the last few years. The novel Palimpsest did absolutely nothing for me - I found it impossible to get into and the premise didn't interest me that much either. I could, though, appreciate the beauty of her language, which made it perhaps more frustrating not to enjoy it as a piece of writing. I've liked her short stories more, although again not all of them - there have been a few which frustrated me, a couple because I think they were trying too hard and a couple of others because I just didn't GET what she was trying to do.
And then there's this collection.
I signed up for the Omikuji Project recently, because I found out about it when Valente was considering shutting it down for having too few subscribers. The deal is, you pay a certain amount and you get a short story - written just for the subscribers - every month, on beautiful paper with an envelope sealed with wax (apparently; haven't got my first one yet). This collection is the first two years' worth of those stories, made available via Lulu, and I figured I would buy it to have nearly the full set.
Many of these stories are riffs on fairy stories, which can be a dangerous thing to approach, but I don't think Valente hits a bum note with any of them.
I would normally just talk about my favourites in a collection, but I feel like I want to mention every single one of them... so the TL; DR version is just: it's beautiful. Well worth getting from Lulu.
"The Glass Gear" is a delightful, wistful and bittersweet spin on Cinderella, while the three parts of "A Hole to China" are about a child who attempts to dig just that, and what she discovers at the centre of the earth (hint: not what you were expecting. Whatever you were expecting, not that). "The Kunstkammer of Dr Ampersand" is a travel guide explaining a curio cabinet and OH I WANT that novel! Love triangles, heart-of-darkness experiences... it would be poignant and beautiful, like the cabinet. "How to Build a Ladder to the Sun in Six Simple Steps" takes the idea of planetary spheres of influence in intriguing directions, while "The Pine Witch Counts her Knuckle Bones" takes the idea of natural witchcraft and makes it... greener. Valente gets vicious on Chaucer and Boccaccio with "The Legend of Good Women," and although I've not read all of either of the male-authored accounts I know exactly what she is stabbing at here, and she does it well. "Mullein" is one of the most poignant of the collection, a rather heart-breaking little story about the lengths someone might go to for love, and the reader is definitely left wondering whether it's worth it or not (although I don't think the characters are). "That Which lets the Light In" is probably my least favourite, perhaps because I am not as familiar with the Russian stories that she is playing with. A story, or set of stories, I am more familiar with feature in " A Postcard from the End of the World," which combines Norse and Greek myths into a homely little story about apples (kind of), and "How to raise a Minotaur" sees your Cretan labyrinth, picks it apart, and puts it back together again with added nuance, contemporaneity and a little bit more hope. "The Economy of Clouds" reverses the traditional perspective of Jack and the Beanstalk; "The Still" is a slightly creepy story about girls and plums. I adored "The Wedding" - the idea of the mismatched couple, or mismatched families, is a banal staple of romantic comedies but this - a human and a rime giant? Delightful. "Reading Borges in Buenos Aires" reminded me that I have been meaning to read more Borges - I've only read one collection, and that many years ago - and it also connected in a weird way to The Dervish House, because of its ideas of cities as books with social geography that can be read. "The Folklore of Sleep" didn't work particularly for me, although I appreciated what she was doing both with the idea of sleep as fundamental but more deeply with the idea of what makes individuals and how others react to that. I think the only clearly SF story in the collection is "Oh, the Snow-Bound Earth, the Golden Moon," and it would make a wonderful novel too: children and an abandoned lunar colony, where they're all given lunar names and don't understand the Earth. Two of the stories in the collection are actually first chapters of novels finished over this period, from Deathless and The Habitation of the Blessed. As a result of reading them here, I must read the former and will be avoiding the latter studiously (which I already guessed based on their blurbs). I only understood the title of "The Opposite of Mary" as I was looking back over it today, and that because last week at church the sermon was about Mary's response to the annunciation. In this story, there is no announcement of imminent divine arrival, but rather just a divine presence... in the shed, with the tools. And the human interaction is humanly motivated. It's quite an interesting take, for me, on the idea of such interactions. Valente apparently wrote "Blue with those Tears" almost as a challenge to herself because she loathes other stories of Atlanteans so much - and in typical Valente fashion she cannot leave the idea unproblematised. "The Consultant" was inspired by a friend suggesting the need for a fairy tale consultant, and showcases Valente's depth of knowledge about the subject. And finally, "Grandmother Euphrosyne" is a wonderful, slightly cranky story - just like a grandmother - that brings in Greek myth and family relationships in a beautiful, beautiful way.
The last thing to say about this collection is that aside from the glorious prose, there are pictures to go with every story - which I believe are largely from the community of Omikuji recipients (can't wait to join them!), and also the beginning of the letters that Valente sends with each story, which contribute to the larger meta-narrative. This is a really special set of stories. (less)
Way back when I was doing my undergrad degree, I did a subject called Popular Fiction. I was excited to be reading popular fiction and calling it work...moreWay back when I was doing my undergrad degree, I did a subject called Popular Fiction. I was excited to be reading popular fiction and calling it work for uni! I was less excited when I got to the first tutorial to discover that, of about 20 of us, I think only 2 or 3 admitted to actually reading popular fiction regularly… everyone else said they were doing the subject "to know what other people read" (I paraphrase).* This made me a bit bullheaded. So did the lecturer insisting on differentiating between the reading/appreciating of literature, versus the consumption of popular fiction. This one still makes me angry, although I do wonder now how much the younger me missed nuances here; the lecturer was definitely cluey enough to understand Austen and Shakespeare as originating in the popular sphere. So perhaps I overreacted and/or misunderstood some aspect.
Anyway, over time I have come to terms with the fact that yes, actually, I am a consumer of popular culture, and that is OK. It does not make that culture bad, it does not mean that I am no appreciating it properly, etc etc. Basically I have grown up, and grown into my skin. So I am quite happy to say that hell yes I consume Terry Pratchett books. I devour them: I read them quickly, in concentrated blocks of time; they don't require me to stop and worry over words or sentences that don't make sense. That said, I tend to treat Literature (when I have to read it) in much the same way. At the very same time, though, as Anita Sarkeesian rightly insists, just because you enjoy a product of popular culture doesn't mean it shouldn't be critically analysed (again, I paraphrase).
This is the long way round to saying "I read Snuff! It was awesome!"
… and dealt with some big issues in clever ways, as you would expect.
Pratchett has dealt with racism, via speciesism, before: human reactions to werewolves, vampires, dwarves, trolls, zombies, etc etc - these have all been coded as racial. And, from memory, generally done well (I could be wrong there; it's been a while). In Snuff Pratchett makes this the central issue, because the main problem revolves around goblins and whether they ought to be treated as sentient, sapient, creatures. For a long time they have been regarded as vermin, and many people have treated them in ways matching that perception. But now Sam Vimes and family are off for a Holiday, and there are Hints that all is not well in the bucolic surrounds he finds himself in. Not least the difficulty of understanding crockett, and having to confront horses.
I've had to think carefully about the way Pratchett portrays the goblins. (view spoiler)[One of the crescendo moments is a goblin, Tears of the Mushroom, playing the harp for a huge crowd in Ankh-Morpok. That is, a member of a subjected race, wearing 'civilised' clothes, goes to the heart of civilisation and plays an instrument that is coded as approaching the zenith of musical accomplishment, and there impresses the (civilised) bigwigs. This could all be seen as uncomfortably close to recreating the classic idea of the western civilising mission.
… Except. Except that the goblins have already been shown, very clearly, to have their own culture and don't need 'civilising'. They have a rich language, evidenced clearly by their names (Tears of the Mushroom!); they make art (some of which is so precious that humans who regard the goblins as little better than animals will steal it); they care for one another and about justice. They are wretches in that they are wretched - through no fault of their own. And Tears of the Mushroom plays her own composition, and is in no way dismayed by the audience before her. By the time Tears of the Mushroom plays, the reader should be so convinced about the sentience and sapience of the goblins that any of the characters doubting it should cause serious eye-rolling. Many of the human characters are also convinced early on, which is also intended to convince the audience, just in case you missed all of the other very obvious signs. (hide spoiler)]
Thus what Pratchett is doing is showing, to some extent, an example of the old westernising/civilising mission - there's no doubt that's what Miss Beadle is doing, whatever her intentions - and then… not entirely sending it up, but certainly undermining it, and definitely showing that is is quite unnecessary for the sake of the goblins themselves. Although maybe it's necessary for the acknowledged-as-civilised, to make them realise what they are doing to this race.
There are other issues under examination here too. The place of landed gentry and inherited titles (written after all by Sir Pratchett), with a lovely sneaky homage to Jane Austen; and how a copper manages to love both his work and his family. Pratchett has delved into Sam Vimes' head a few times in the recent books and I think his ideas about policing etc are utterly intriguing. I especially loved here the abstracted notion of the Street as something that stays with people like Vimes, and helps him to be who he is. I love the Discworld. I think the books are, as a whole, getting better. I wish I thought there were many more to come.
*I was also less excited about having a Jackie Collins novel on the booklist. In three years of English at uni, this is one of the few books I just did not read.** ** One of the others was Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle.*** *** I also didn't finish James Joyce's Ulysses. Peh; bad taste in the mouth. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I've been a big fan of Richard Morgan's science fiction for a while now. When I heard about this (new in 2008), I was interested... and then I stopped...moreI've been a big fan of Richard Morgan's science fiction for a while now. When I heard about this (new in 2008), I was interested... and then I stopped being interested. It sounded too much like stock-standard fantasy: the down-and-out swordsman, the half-breed magician, and some barbarian. Really didn't grab me.
I ought to have known better. I ought to have trusted Morgan's sensibilities. I ought to have remembered what this man did with Takeshi Kovacs over the space of three novels, and realised that no way was this going to be some boring sword-n-sorcery weak-ass adventure.
I got the sequel, The Cold Commands, to review, and I figured if I was going to do it justice I should read the first book. So I sent my trusty sidekick to the library for it, and I opened it... and, of course, I fell right into this crazy world of ambiguous history and complicated characters.
There are three points of view presented turn-about, chapter by chapter, right up to the end where things finally come together. The down-and-out swordsman is Ringil, scion of an impressive family who are mortified by his homosexuality, while they ought to be bursting with pride because of his role in the recently-ended world-consuming war. The half-breed is Archeth, half-human and half-Kiriath, a race who have recently abandoned this world and taken most of their pretty technological toys with them; she too is homosexual, which adds (in the eyes of those around her) to her exotic, possibly dangerous nature and their disapproval. And finally there's Egar, once mercenary for the sprawling and decadent Yhelteth Empire, now back home herding buffalo and sleeping with buxom young women of the tribe.
That paragraph highlights just some of the wonderful complexity and narrative twists Morgan places before the reader. It feels like one of those ten-years-later sequels, with its references to the war against the Scaled Folk (dragons, people, dragons; and Egar is known as Dragonbane) in which humanity was aided by the non-human Kiriath, with their technological mastery; now the Kiriath have left the human world, the alliance of disparate human empires and city-states is falling apart, and - of course - the veterans of that war are having to cope with a world that doesn't necessarily appreciate their sacrifice or understand how they have changed. But it's not - unless there have been short stories set in this world that I don't know about, which is possible, this is a reader's first introduction to it. It's nice to be brought into a world that's a complicated, messy place with seriously complicated history. It doesn't always make sense, especially the somewhat complicated political situation, but Morgan writes with such finesse that I was quite confident it would all come together in the end. And it does... except for the bits that clearly pave the way for a sequel. And I can forgive that. Mostly.
So: the characters. Ringil is making ends meet in a village near his glorious last stand in the war against the dragons, getting pennies for telling stories, until his mother turns up to beg a favour in the form of tracking down a cousin who has been sold into slavery. This, naturally, turns out to be much harder than it sounds; in the first place it means going home and facing his father. And next, it brings him face to face (um... so to speak...) with something out of mythology. Archeth's life is at the whim of the Yhelteth Emperor, Jhiral, being the left-behind Kiriath half-breed that she is. She goes where he wills if she knows what is good for her, which sees her in this case going to a harbour town where there has been a seriously weird sort-of invasion: sort of because someone/thing clearly came ashore and destroyed much of the city, but then... they went away. Archeth is very suspicious. The third protagonist, Egar, is on the face of it far less complicated than the other two. How complicated can herding buffalo be? ... and then he insults the tribe's shaman, and things go from bearable to fairly bad. With some supernatural prompting. (Seeing a pattern here?)
The plot barrels along at a brisk clip, moving neatly between characters and places, and the characters are captivating from the opening pages. Aside from those two aspects, the really intriguing part for me was the hint that perhaps this isn't a straight-forward fantasy world at all. There are definite science fictional overtones, starting with the Kiriath and their obvious technological superiority, which is only regarded as sorcery by the clearly backward and superstitious; Archeth and others who fought with them are well aware that it is technology, created by creatures with superior ability, but not magic. Then there are the hints and allusions from various apparently-supernatural characters about other worlds, and travelling between worlds, and what that actually means. Consequently, I'm pretty wild to read the sequel, to see what Morgan does next.
Dear self: trust Richard Morgan. He knows what he's doing. (less)
I'm not giving this book a rating for a couple of reasons: I didn't read the whole lot, and it wasn't what I was hoping for.
I was hoping for a book to...moreI'm not giving this book a rating for a couple of reasons: I didn't read the whole lot, and it wasn't what I was hoping for.
I was hoping for a book to give me a good overview of the bits of the 20th century I need to teach my yr11 course. It didn't do that; not that much on WW1, and little on the early part of the Cold War, although some interesting and useful comments on both. It said nothing about the suffragette movement, which was disappointing, although I guess it didn't fit into his theme of extremes and catastrophes; also didn't have that much about the American/Vietnam War. So I only read a couple of chapters.
I quite liked his style - a bit rambly, and some interesting and challenging ways of looking at events and the long view of history. I'd like to say that this is the sort of book I would go back to, some time... and it would be, if only my TBR pile weren't quite so in danger of toppling and killing someone. (less)
I was given this by my History: Revolutions class as a parting gift - how appropriate is that?? I'd never heard of it before and already I am in loooo...moreI was given this by my History: Revolutions class as a parting gift - how appropriate is that?? I'd never heard of it before and already I am in looooove. It is so lovely. (less)
This is not what I expected! I don't honestly know WHAT I expected, but it wasn't this. For a start, it is way older than I had thought - 1884! And fo...moreThis is not what I expected! I don't honestly know WHAT I expected, but it wasn't this. For a start, it is way older than I had thought - 1884! And for another, there is almost no plot. It's sort of a memoir, sort of a philosophical treatise, about Flatland: a land that exists in only two dimensions. Our interlocutor is a Square - in Flatland's hierarchy, solidly middle class (Isosceles Triangles are working class, the most-sided Polygons the highest class. Women are Straight Lines). The first chunk is Square explaining how life and society can function in just two dimensions, with a great discussion about how you can tell the difference between triangles and polygons either thanks to their voices (a method only for the lower classes), feeling (slightly more respectable) or sigh (only for the upper classes because it takes years to perfect). After all of that he comes to the point (heh), which is experience of meeting a Solid - a Sphere - who informs him that there is another dimension, and proceeds to prove it. Sadly, this is heresy in Flatland...
This little book - 82 pages! - operates on many levels. On one, it's an amusing intellectual conceit, to consider how life would be different in two dimensions (there's also brief discussion of Lineland and Points). Thanks to this, it's also an intellectual challenge, because as Square himself says to Sphere: if you're telling me there's another dimension that I can't perceive but need to accept basically on faith, is there then a fourth...? Quite apart from the mathematical side, this is a biting satire of Victorian society and manner, in the way that undesirable elements amongst the lower (Isosceles) triangles are described and in how manners and attitudes of exalted Polygons are portrayed.
The question of the women is one I haven't quite worked out for myself. If I can accept that Abbott is being satirical about the lower classes then I am hoping that he is being satirical about the women, too, because they really don't come off very well. They are Straight Lines, therefore no angles, therefore... no brains? They're certainly treated as emotional not rational, to the point of there being basically two languages - how men speak to themselves and how they speak to their wives. I suspect he may indeed be ironic, because in the introduction to the 1884 edition (reprinted here) "Square" responds to some alleged criticism from Spaceland, about being a woman-hater, in which he admits that he is similar to our Historians, to whom until recently "the destinies of Women and of the masses of mankind have seldom been deemed worthy of mention and never of careful consideration."