I did not manage to finish the book prior to this one, Gwyneth Jones' White Queen. I am slightly surprised that I finished this one, in that light, buI did not manage to finish the book prior to this one, Gwyneth Jones' White Queen. I am slightly surprised that I finished this one, in that light, but the structure of this novel is definitely easier to cope with, and I think the plot is slightly more straightforward too.
So in White Queen the aliens arrive and it turns out they've been living amongst for rather a long time. The world is a difficult place in which to live anyway - environmental stuff etc - and when the aliens finally decide to make contact there's a conference on women happening ... and for whatever reason, the aliens decide that that is the world government. Which means that all of a sudden (ok, I think it makes months or years) there is an actual real Sex War, at least partly because of the aliens. Stuff happens... etc.
North Wind is told from two main viewpoints. Sid is a human liaison to the Aleutians - the aliens. Bella, also known as Goodlooking, or the librarian, is an invalid Aleutian. Their experiences of the world are very different: because of their expectations of gender, because of their expectations of humanity, because of their expectations of family and other social interactions. Their interactions with each other are immensely complicated for all of these same reasons, and because of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
This novel could have been relatively straightforward. It's an attempt to figure out what is indeed a complex problem, but the actual events along the way are not that Byzantine.
Jones, however, was not interested in writing a relatively straightforward novel. And that's perfectly fine; just don't expect it to be one. Because Jones used this novel to explore concepts of gender, in particular, in detail and in complexity that you don't often get in novel form. Not from widely popular novels that get nominated for the Clarke Award (in 1995) necessarily, anyway. The Aleutians have a very different concept of gender from most of humanity, and the intersection between the two species' expectations and lived experiences highlight, in particular, humanity's limitations.
I found this a difficult book to read partly because of the switching of pronouns, which takes some getting used to; partly because Jones uses narrative ellipses to imply things and sometimes I wasn't fast enough on the uptake. Probably I missed some subtleties from not finishing White Queen (like the issue with Johnny, but that is eventually explained). It's a clever book, and it's an important book, and I want to say it's an ambitious book but so often that phrase gets used in a condescending tone and I really don't mean it like that. I really mean that Jones is doing ambitious and difficult and passionate things. But... I didn't love it. I think it was too difficult for me. I won't be rushing out for Phoenix Cafe, the third in the series. Which makes me a bit sad because I had intended to read all of Gwyneth Jones' work, but I don't have to like everything, I've decided.
Yet another book off the TBR shelf! Go me! ...more
I've had this book sitting on my shelf I think since AussieCon 4, in 2010. Oops. And I don't think I realised it was a set of short stories, otherwiseI've had this book sitting on my shelf I think since AussieCon 4, in 2010. Oops. And I don't think I realised it was a set of short stories, otherwise I probably would have read it earlier. Yup. Oops.
So. George Turner. I've never read anything by Turner before. I've heard his name a bit, from those who were active in Australian SF in the 1980s, but... that's not me. So now I get to actually have an opinion! And that opinion is... he's not bad. Not my new favourite author, and perhaps the shorts aren't his best work - hopefully someone will tell me? - but these are solidly intriguing, sometimes deeply engrossing, stories. The introduction has it right, too: many of his protagonists are quite aggressive, which gives the entire collection a certain pugnacious feel.
"A Pursuit of Miracles" is ostensibly about the experimental pursuit of telepathy. However this is really just am excuse to meditate on what might happen in and with a society that believes itself to be living in the Age of Miracles - that this might give scientists leeway to do what they like, such as experimenting on humans and calling them not humans. The discussion about how dreadful telepathy or telempathy would be is indeed insightful.
"Not in front of the children" is hilarious as a rumination on generational divide. The question about whether people would actually want to associate with previous generations if they were all alive at the same time is, again, insightful, and Turner is really very funny in suggesting how the generations would distinguish themselves. I can't help bit wonder if Turner had grandchildren when he wrote this.
"Feedback" is the story I am most indifferent towards. A discussion of solipsism is not my thing, and the use of the term "Abo woman" stung.
No wait, "Shut the door when you go out." This one I really didn't care for.
"On the Nursery Floor" is the most intriguing from the point of view of form - a series of interviews with occasional journalistic interventions. The idea is one of investigating the consequence of meddling with intelligence. This is a more severe version of Brian Caswell's Cage of Butterflies, and very clever.
"In a Petrie Dish Upstairs" is, of the stories that seem at least vaguely plausible (I exclude "Feedback" and "Shut the door"), the least sensible. The idea that three generations - fewer, in fact - would be enough to change a society separated by distance if not entirely psychologically is unlikely. Obviously it's a thought experiment to some degree, but that timing aspect got to me. The other bits, though - how women might be considered, the politics, the concept of Ethics, the change in language - were clever enough to make it worth reading.
"Generation Gap" is silly.
The final story uses a few different narrators - including an astonishing but, on reflection, entirely believable reversal - to tell a story that, in close up, is about the destruction of a family and one boy's bid not to slide into ignominy. On a larger scale, this is a terrifying view of the implications of climate change on society, and it's very, very ugly. A fine conclusion to the collection....more
I needed something fluffy, and this - loaned ages back by my sister - was exactly that. A couple of moments of depth: snark at those who insist on popI needed something fluffy, and this - loaned ages back by my sister - was exactly that. A couple of moments of depth: snark at those who insist on popular vs literary books, and romance writers pushing unrealistic expectations, for instance. But on the whole, fluff.
I don't regret reading it but I won't be seeking out the sequel. ...more
Reading this was like eating M&Ms. Stopping was very hard. I began it one evening at 8pm. I finally forced myself to go to bed at 10pm. I had readReading this was like eating M&Ms. Stopping was very hard. I began it one evening at 8pm. I finally forced myself to go to bed at 10pm. I had read about 200 pages. The prose is just that easy to read.
This secondary world of Cashore's isn't a place where magic happens. It is, though, a place where some people are born Graced: they have a skill, or a thing, that they are superbly, unbeatably, good at. You might be a Graced chef, or a Graced archer; be Graced with mind-reading, some sort of prescience, or being able to eat rocks. I was about to write that I would like to be Graced with memory, but then I remembered the books I've read where characters never forget anything and I realise that would be appalling. Perhaps I would like to be Graced with pastry-making. Or with patience. Perhaps pattern recognition.
Anyway, you can tell someone is Graced before they act because they have eyes of different colours. Sometimes this happens as soon as the baby is born; sometimes it takes months, even years, for the eye-colour to settle in. In most parts of the Seven Kingdoms, those who are Graced are automatically feared, and become the property of the King. When you are already the king's niece and your Grace is fighting... well, Katsa was screwed from the moment she threw her first punch as an under-ten. She's been fighting for, and being a one-person bully gang in aid of, her uncle for a long time now. But she's starting to try working around and under the king - helping out people where she can - and this has to come to a head at some point.
The story is a quest for knowledge and for self-identity. Katsa's age is unclear - she's certainly late teens if not 20s - and it's not quite a coming-of-age; she's cynical and knows about the world already. But while embarking on a quest to help a friend discover the truth about a family member, she definitely learns more about herself and how to be in the world. This search for identity is a current through the whole story, but it's not overwhelmingly dominant; there are some reflective moments, but there are a lot of moments of action too, for readers like me who usually prefer that sort of story. And the actual quest means that Cashore gets to introduce us to bits of the Seven Kingdoms, which is always fun. I enjoyed the developing friendship between Katsa and Po, I liked the secondary characters, I liked that there were a few plot twists and that while it's not a light and breezy story, it's also not grim and gloomy (I have no problem with either, I just like that this one was at the lighter end).
There are a few failings. The ten-year-old is unbelievable enough that I thought she was going to end up being Graced with something that made her wiser than her years. Some of the secondary characters, especially Katsa's cousin, could have withstood a bit more character development. Over on Goodreads I briefly saw two complaints. One is that it's an enjoyable book except for the "raging feminist agenda." I am bewildered by this. Is it a raging feminist agenda to have a supremely competent female lead, to suggest a woman can be a monarch, to not have a female character desperate to get married, to allow characters sex before marriage, to have female characters who don't care that much about clothes? If so, AWESOME I WANT MORE. Me, I just see that as, y'know, reflecting the real world. The other complaint is about the romance - spoiler! There is one! (If you didn't know that, you could read the cover quote which claims it has "a knee-weakening romance that easily rivals that of Twilight" ... Thanks, LA Times. I have nothing to say.) That reviewer, I think, has an interesting point to make which is that (view spoiler)[ Katsa's refusal to consider marrying Po means that what they have isn't really love, because love is meant to be sacrificial. She is NOT saying they ought to just get married - at least as far as I understand it (read it yourself - it's the one written by Miss Clark). However, while I see her point, I think I disagree. I think Katsa is willing to be with Po forever, and that especially at this point it's not not-love for her to be keeping her options open, and being wary. Or maybe I'm just too dewy-eyed. (hide spoiler)]
There are two other books in the not-quite-series, but I don't think I will hurry to get either. While I loved this book, it's the writing and the characters that I adored. I'm not so fussed about other people in the world and their carryings-on.
Another book in the read-everything-I-own campaign.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's the exacting details in this book that means it has dated so dreadfully that for all it's an interesting enough story, I just can't imagine anyonIt's the exacting details in this book that means it has dated so dreadfully that for all it's an interesting enough story, I just can't imagine anyone born after about 1980 enjoying it. Except possibly for its historical value.
There are two plots entwined here: a ghost story, and a technology story. And they're packaged with a family drama, just to give the main character another headache.
The ghost story aspect holds up, as one would expect, in that it's not context-reliant; you could have the same story set in 1850 or 2050. Syb's new house is always cold, and the new housekeeper Hille starts talking spooky things as soon as she moves in. Hille wears an amethyst and claims to see ghosts, or spirits, all over the place. Syb is dubious, but...
The technology aspect, though - oh, I giggled. This was published in 1997. Syb is really lucky because she has an email address and can dial up the internet with her modem any time she likes. She wins a competition and gets an internet camera. People are able to get hold of each other's email addresses quite easily, there's only a few websites to search for on any one topic, and hacking is a breeze. I have no doubt that Sussex was going for close-to-bleeding-edge experience with this story, and going for serious verisimilitude with the intricate details. But all of that means that it really hasn't travelled well. Which is a shame, because Sussex does write well and engagingly.
The inside cover calls it a Children's Book; it's what I would consider the younger end of YA. Syb's parents are going through a rough patch, and this is dealt with brusquely but (and?) sensibly. It's a "this is not the end of the world" attitude, but not "this doesn't matter." Intriguingly given how many such novels get rid of the parents completely, Sussex does it a bit differently: the mum goes away but stays in contact via email; the dad is always a bit absent in his attitude but is always present and still relevant. Also, the romance interests are just barely present but more usually as an irritant than anything else.
This book was read as part of my read-all-the-books-I-own-but-haven't-read effort, and conveniently also contributes to the Australian Women Writers challenge for 2014....more
I have never, in my life, read a book two times in a row. Until I read Hav. This was possible because Hav is not a novel in the ordinary sense. It's aI have never, in my life, read a book two times in a row. Until I read Hav. This was possible because Hav is not a novel in the ordinary sense. It's a travel memoir to a fictional place that could easily exist; it's a meditation on East meeting West, on history and culture and modernity; it's about being a stranger in somewhere simultaneously familiar and alien. And it has some of the most wonderful prose I've come across.
This section from Hav illuminates many of the aspects that make the book so wonderful.
[The boats] often use their sails, and when one comes into the harbour on a southern wind, canvas bulging, flag streaming, keeling gloriously with a slap-slap of waves on its prow and its bare brown-torsoed Greeks exuberantly laughing and shouting to each other, it is as though young navigators have found their way to Hav out of the bright heroic past. (p66)
This. It's beautiful, for a start. It suggests that conjunction of somewhere existing both in the present and, somehow, in the past that makes Hav so intriguing. And it's quoted back at its author in the second part of the book, as an indication of her own understanding of Hav.
(We're all about the meta.)
Two thirds of the book was written and published in the 1980s. According to Ursula le Guin, who wrote the introduction, it led to people going to their travel agents looking to book a ticket to Hav because it was so convincing. Now, it really is convincing, but at the same time there are aspects that make it quite clear that Hav is a fiction. Like the fact that you've never seen it on a map, maybe? I was confused by that until I look Jan Morris up, and discovered that she has written many actual travel books (under that name and as James Morris). So I concede that perhaps if you knew her earlier work, you could be forgiven for some confusion if not quite that much. Anyway, the last third was written in the early 21st century, and sees Jan going back to Hav after the Intervention - which was just starting as she left last time. And this allows Morris to explore a whole other aspect of culture and development.
"Last Letters from Hav" are entries written between March and August, with Morris arriving in Hav at the start and being bustled out as trouble brews at the end. In between, she does what any travel writer does: she stays in interesting places, she visits the important and not-so-important places in the city, she talks to people, she reminisces about what other people have said about the place. I've been having a great deal of difficulty writing this review because the books is absolutely busting at the scenes with themes, with commentary, with historical (a)musings. There's multiculturalism and colonialism and identity - the losing and finding and historical nature of and doubt around. There's appropriation on a massive scale - see previous note - and getting on with the business of life. There's ordinary mystery and profound mystery, religion and politics and architecture and this book had me in RAPTURES. Can you tell?
Hav is a city-state in a world that really doesn't have them any more. It's got an uneasy relationship with Turkey, its only (?) land neighbour, but a seemingly thriving one with certain Arab nations and perhaps the Chinese. It's basically meant to be somewhere like the Dardanelles - although the geography isn't quite right - because it's a big deal that this was where Achilles and his Myrmidons came ashore. And the Spartans too, apparently. And, later, Arab merchants, and Venetian merchants, and it's one of very few venerable Chinese merchant settlements outside of Asia. See how Morris twists history and makes it just believable? There really were moments where I could believe this was real. Because her discussion of history is modern, too: the Brits wanted to colonise it; Hav was shared by France, Italy and Germany under a League of Nations mandate; Hitler might have visited, and Hemingway did. Morris talks to people who are flotsam from this era; and also to a man claiming to be the 125th Caliph. Also a casino manager, members of the 'troglodyte' race who live in the nearby mountains, the local philosophers, and some bureaucrats. She visits odd monuments, the Conveyor Bridge (I admit I had to ask someone whether that was actually possible, because I was teetering on the edge of What Do I Believe?), and the Electric Ferry. I don't believe that this book could have been written by anyone other than an established travel writer, because her eye and ear for (even imaginary) detail is breathtaking.
The second section is much shorter and deals with only a week or so, some two decades later when Morris is invited back to Hav after the Intervention. "Hav of the Myrmidons" does all of the same things as "Last Letters," with additional meditation on the nature of change and tourism and the impossibility of an outsider ever really understanding the internal workings of a foreign city. There's also the inevitable nature of change, and the sinister side of globalisation with imported labour and native populations made to relocate - which, intriguingly, is given a possibly positive spin. Morris' books is either revered or believed to be banned in Hav, depending on who she speaks to (it's one of the bureaucrats who reveres it that quotes the passage above at her, as part of the reason for why she was asked back). But things have changed. Most of the glorious many-centuries-in-one-place nature of former Hav is gone, replaced with new and forbidding and disorienting architecture. Like the massive Myrmidon tower, surmounted by an M - but no one really knows who or what the Myrmidons are, or meant to be, in this context. Some things of old Hav have been retained, but sanitised, bent to a new understanding of the world. Tourists are allowed, but only in a defined space - which leads to another bit I wanted to quote, because I think it's an indication of a travel writer's despair:
"The thing is... one feels so safe here. The security's really marvellous, it's all so clean and friendly, and, well, everything we're used to really. We've met several old friends here, and just feel comfortable in this environment. We shall certainly be coming again, won't we darling?" "Oh, a hundred percent. I think it's bloody marvellous what they've achieved, when you remember what happened here." (p196)
Thus spake an older English couple with no intention of leaving the resort.
Hav puts me in mind of China Mieville's The City and the City, and Christopher Priest's The Islanders, both of which do a similar thing with inventing places that ring so amazingly true. The Priest is clearly fictional but written as a travel book; the Mieville is a fiction but set in a city that purports to be real. I guess Hav conflates the two.
This review gets nowhere near what I really want to say about Hav. I am so glad that it exists, and that I have read it. And now I will force it into the hands of anybody I possibly can... although I admit to some trepidation that maybe other people won't like it as much as I do. (I haven't been able to look at any Goodreads reviews for that reason.) I may have used the word intriguing too many times, and I may have given in to hyperbole, but I don't care. I love this book and want to hold it to my heart FOREVER. ...more
Some spoilers for the Abhorsen trilogy; spoilers for this book hidden.
Clariel is another wonderful addition to the world of the Old Kingdom, with magiSome spoilers for the Abhorsen trilogy; spoilers for this book hidden.
Clariel is another wonderful addition to the world of the Old Kingdom, with magic (good and bad), Abhorsens dealing with the dead, and a complex and compelling young woman growing up in a difficult world with a difficult family. There's adventure and misadventure, a few friends, unwanted romance, moving to a new place and being forced to do what you don't want to do. A lot of people - I'm going to assume, anyway - will be able to identify with Clariel being forced to go somewhere and consider a future that are neither of her own choosing; I could absolutely identify with her desire to just be left alone. The first is something that young adults are often dealing with in novels; the second is rarer, and it was really nice to see, rather than always having it suggested that gregariousness and being in groups is automatically a good thing and to be desired.
There was one thing that frustrated me enormously, and it has nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with my desire to see sentences constructed well: there were far, far too many comma splices. They prevent sentence flow and sometimes they actively interfere with meaning making. And now I can't find any examples but THEY ARE THERE.
For those of us who know and love the 'original' Abhorsen trilogy, Clariel (set 600 years before Sabriel) is a little bit unbearable. While those books take place in an Old Kingdom bereft of a king, at least the Abhorsen is doing his job - and I submit that the Abhorsen making sure that the dead stay dead, and that necromancers aren't being evil, is of more immediate import than a king making laws. Yes the lawlessness helps the necromancers, but at least the Charter Magic is strong and there is someone to combat the problems.... I found this excruciating.
And... (view spoiler)[When I first heard about this I thought it was a sequel, and I was kinda hoping for a continuation of Lirael. Then someone told me it was a prequel, and I immediately wondered if it was the story of Chlorr of the Mask given it's suggested she was an Abhorsen and OMG I WAS RIGHT. I was SUPER excited to realise that Clariel would indeed eventually become Chlorr, and I loved how Nix made this more and more obvious but actually only confirms it right at the very end - in fact not in the story proper. Of course it's pretty obvious when she puts on the mask. And I really love that this book absolutely stands alone... and actually now it occurs to me that I kinda wish Nix hadn't confirmed her as Chlorr, because that's a spoiler for people who come to this fresh. Sigh. Anyway, this is probably the darkest of the Abhorsen books so far, but perhaps only for those of us with knowledge of the future: it looks like Clariel could possibly avoid Free Magic, although of course that conniving Mogget certainly is going out of his way to make that not be the case. MOGGET. That treacherous beast. Imagine coming to Sabriel etc knowing what Mogget is actually capable of! That's going to really influence your reading. I was intrigued that there was no connection with the non-magic world, given how wide-ranging it is otherwise, and the suggestion that the Old Kingdom and magical territory apparently extend quite a lot further than might be guessed from the original books. And how on EARTH does the Abhorsen family fall so far?!? (hide spoiler)]
I'm excited that Nix is writing another in the Old Kingdom, too - this time following on from the original set! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I think - in all my vast understanding of the world - that one of the things that really sets Greg Egan apart is his willingness to drive real physicsI think - in all my vast understanding of the world - that one of the things that really sets Greg Egan apart is his willingness to drive real physics to its ruthless end.
This is not to say anything against his plots or his characters. On the contrary, I think Egan does utterly absorbing plots and some remarkable characters. But so do other SF writers. There are few others, though, who combine this with a determination to take real-world physics and drive them a long, long way.
Quarantine is a case in point. Take the idea that quantum mechanics suggests, that of collapsing probabilities as a wave function and the role of the observer in doing so. (Dear scientists, if I have just or am about to claim the equivalent of the Dark Ages being a real thing, please let me know and forgive me at the same time.) This leads to the many-worlds theory, whereby every action spawns alternate worlds where that action was done differently.
Now extrapolate to its ruthless conclusion.
Now add a detective thriller plot.
Now add a world in which there are no stars - they went out some decades ago.
Add the ability to mod your brain (turn off boredom, modulate emotions, change memories and attachments).
Add a world where Arnhem Land has become an autonomous nation and offered part of its land to become New Hong Kong.
... and you begin to get an idea of what Quarantine is like. Seriously, just a few of those things could make for a great novel. But they're all there. Some are just part of the world-building, some are fundamental to the plot, all work cohesively together to produce a book that I read in a day (it's only 250 pages, ok? And there are no formulae in this one, unlike the Orthogonal books).
I am never bored by Greg Egan, I am never impatient with Greg Egan, I am consistently surprised by Greg Egan. This is another good one. ...more
It's hard to say more about this than Ian Mond already has in his (spoilery) review here on Goodreads, which you should all definitely go and read. UnIt's hard to say more about this than Ian Mond already has in his (spoilery) review here on Goodreads, which you should all definitely go and read. Unlike Ian, though, this was not my first Priest; I had read and loved The Islanders, and enjoyed Dream Archipelago as well. This made it only slightly easier to read - there's a section towards the end that was surprising but at least recognisable, for me.
I was intrigued by the shifting perspectives, and by the different contexts for the characters. It took me a while to figure out what IRGB stood for, and it's the context that was both most interesting and least convincing, for me. Not the possibility of it - this is an SF novel after all, I have no problem with the concept at all - but the interactions between the male and female characters were less convincing, given that exact context.
Overall, not my favourite Priest, and I'm glad it wasn't first one of his I read; but still a really good book. ...more