Even if you're not that history books, but you are a keen observer of the world and how it works, this is a book I can highly recommend.
There were tiEven if you're not that history books, but you are a keen observer of the world and how it works, this is a book I can highly recommend.
There were times (heh) when reading this that I wasn't quite sure what book Simon Garfield was trying to write. Some of the things that he writes about didn't immediately appear to connect to the idea of time. But when I considered the blurb, I decided that Garfield did indeed know exactly what he was doing. This is a book that considers the idea of time from a multitude of angles: "our attempts to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it, re-invent it, and make it meaningful."
I really, really enjoyed this book. Garfield writes in lovely, sometimes whimsical ways - not that his ideas are less than scientific when required, but that he has a lovely turn of phrase to make some difficult concepts approachable. And I really did enjoy the different ways that he approached time. I already knew about trains and train timetables essentially necessitating the development of time zones, but I didn't have a problem with it being reiterated; I adore that he included discussion of the French Republican calendar and its attempt to decimalise, rationalise, time. Including questions of the metronome and how to play Beethoven's Ninth and why a CD fits as much as it used to is just marvellous, and the question of just how many times someone can be shown, in film, hanging from a clock is one I had never considered. Also, the idea of a film that goes for 24 hours and is comprised of snippets from other films that together make 24 hours, each shown at the appropriate time of the day? Madness and genius have rarely been so close together. And that's barely scratching the surface of the ideas that Garfield explores: how to make a watch, the four-minute mile, the modern drive for efficiency... yeh. This is a varied, delightfully jumbled, exploration of a topic that consumes a lot of modern Westerners.
Garfield is not suggesting he's written the definitive book on time; far from it. There's a wonderful Further Reading section that I'm afraid to look at because this is a rabbit hole I could very easily fall into. But it is a good introduction to pointing out that time is a lot more subjective, and invented, and dependent than we sometimes think.
This is the sequel to the brilliant Illuminae. Intriguingly, though, it could definitely be read as a stand-alone book. There's an entirely new set ofThis is the sequel to the brilliant Illuminae. Intriguingly, though, it could definitely be read as a stand-alone book. There's an entirely new set of main characters, and while the events do flow on from the initial ones they're taking place in a completely different part of space. What little background knowledge might be useful is provided as part of the briefing documents.
Note: if you didn't enjoy Illuminae (and I understand the style isn't for everyone), don't come to this one.
Like Illuminae, the novel is composed of 'found' documents, here presented as part of trial. Those documents are things like IM-chat transcripts; descriptions of video surveillance, complete with occasional snarky comments from the tech doing the description; logs of emails, and other communications; and a few other bits and pieces. It means that the narrative isn't entirely linear, and this works really nicely - the story of what has happened, and what the characters are like, comes out slowly and... I guess organically. There's a few bits where people are described in reports or get talked about, but in general we learn about them through their words and actions.
The setting for the main narrative is a space station, guarding a worm hole that has gates to several different systems. Something terrible happens, and things must be done by unlikely heroes. Exactly the depth of the Terrible Things and how they might be resolved are the focus of the story. There's crawling through air vents and unlikely alliances, hacking both computer and physical, general death and destruction and mayhem, betrayals and banter. And it all happens over a really short space of time so that it feels quite desperate and breathless; when I had to put it down 50 pages from the end to go out for dinner (I'd read the rest of it that day), I was horrified at leaving everyone hanging.
This is an immensely fun book. I can imagine it working on reluctant readers - or those who think they only like graphic novels - once they got over the thickness of it, that is, since it's a very graphic piece of work: each page is designed to look like what it's meant to be, whether that's a chat transcript or legal documents. Or excerpts from an adolescent girl's diary. Each 'chapter' feels short and punchy because none of the documents are very long. It's a clever pacing trick.
A very entertaining and enjoyable book. I am excited for the next instalment. ...more
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It's out in July 2017.
The Laundry, which has several novels about it now, is a secretThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It's out in July 2017.
The Laundry, which has several novels about it now, is a secret government agency that's a bit like the Men in Black but more high-tech because the Scary Things in the Night are often accessed via maths and/or technology. Computers may well summon extra dimensional beasties. Bob Howard started as a tech guy who fell into the Laundry accidentally and now he's a fairly significant player in the organisation, although still a bit hapless sometimes. In this novel, someone from Outside (of the world) is trying to take over via minions and the very 21st century method of privatising government operations.
There's unlikely alliances, dastardly deeds, unfortunate deaths, spy craft, domestic difficulties, desperate last-minute decisions, and some rather silly jokes. There's also exasperation at the short-sightedness of governments and some deeply unpleasant actions on the part of the villains.
I've read a couple of the Laundry Files books and short stories in the past. When I first read them, I didn't realise that they're kinda Lovecraftian... because I am no connoisseur of Lovecraft. So that's the first thing to know: if you like Lovcraftian stuff (with humour) and you haven't read this series, you probably want to check it out.
If you loathe Lovecraft and all his derivatives, just stop reading now; it's fine. This isn't for you.
Not sure? Well that's where I fit too. I wouldn't deliberately read a Lovecraft homage, but - obviously - I read this. In terms of horror, it's not so horrible. I mean bad things happen but the levels of violence aren't any different from a lot of science fiction or fantasy. And there's no creeping horror here - that is, I didn't ever get tense and worried about what was around the corner, which is what puts me off a lot of horror. (I don't enjoy being scared.) And you definitely don't have to know anything about Lovecraft to read the book, since I have a passing knowledge of some names from his books and that is it.
Prior knowledge of the Laundry Files is useful for reading this, but not completely necessary; there are a few 'as you know, Bob' bits that basically fill in details of how the agency works. It does flow directly on from the previous book, which I haven't read, but I managed to be going on with it.
It definitely kept me entertained, occasionally grossed me out, and half made me wonder if I shouldn't go back and read more of the earlier ones... ...more
This novel was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It's out in March (RRP $15.99 paperback/ $11.99 ebook).
The following contains SPOIThis novel was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It's out in March (RRP $15.99 paperback/ $11.99 ebook).
The following contains SPOILERS for Because You'll Never Meet Me - which you should totally just go read if you're into slightly angsty YA epistolary novels.
At the end of Because Ollie mother has died and he and his doctor are setting out on a road trip to meet other 'freaks'... while Ollie wears what is basically a hazmat suit, where he is the hazard. Moritz has confronted his anger and the damage he did to Lenz and is trying to figure out how to deal with Owen.
By necessity, Nowhere Near You is quite different from the first book. Ollie is meeting people, so there's that aspect - new people to talk to, and about, and new experiences - and of course he's also interacting with electricity, which is a whole thing in and of itself. His sheer joy at experiencing a city and all the things that ordinary humans take for granted is a crazy delight to read. While Moritz is still at home, he's interacting with new people too as he goes to a new school and meets... some good people, and some very dodgy ones. Again, of necessity, these new experiences change the two boys, and not always for the better. Both of them have incredibly awful experiences that reinforce their tendencies towards self-blame and depression, although again they both work hard to encourage the other. As they change they also have to confront aspects of each other that don't always fit their view of the friendship, and I deeply appreciated Thomas' care for her characters and desire for honesty in the way their friendship develops and overcomes those problems.
Once again the locations are deeply important, as both Ollie and Moritz interact with their places and try to understand their literal and figurative places within society. Other people become more important as they reject their hermit ways; again, parents of various sorts - biological, adoptive, foster - and various levels of emotional connection. It's the other kids who are most interesting, though. Ollie meets some of the other experimental kids, and although you could probably read their various 'disabilities' as metaphorical I liked Thomas' deadpan way of dealing with them: here's who they are, what they can/not do, and they are real in this world and deserving of respect. Moritz mostly meets people who are 'normal' (caveats etc) and what I realise, on reflection, is that all of these people - experimented on and not - are as equally likely to be messed up, frustrating to know, or a complete joy, as each other. They're individuals. I liked that a lot.
Also once again, there's a lot of secrets that rear their less than pleasant heads over the course of Ollie and Moritz's communication. And once again they both have their anger and both eventually deal with it. I really like how Thomas shows that being angry with someone doesn't have to mean the end of a friendship. I think that's about the most powerful aspect of the whole thing. Oh and also that being different doesn't have to be the worst thing ever.
This was a delightful diptych and I look forward to seeing what else Thomas produces over the next few years. ...more
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It was published in 2015 and they have sent it to me now because the sequel has jusThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It was published in 2015 and they have sent it to me now because the sequel has just been published, and they were sending that to me as well. NICE MOVE BLOOMSBURY VERY CLEVER.
I had forgotten just how much I like an epistolary novel. I mean, I adore Freedom and Necessity possibly beyond reason, but that's a pretty special case. Turns out it works nicely here, too.
Ollie and Moritz start sending letters - yes, actual letters, because Reasons - when Ollie is given Moritz's address by his doctor. Ollie is a hermit for medical reasons and Moritz has a number of issues of his own such that while he's not quite a hermit he's definitely anti-social. Over the letters, the two develop a tight bond that's mostly based on honesty, although their trust is tested at several points. They both keep secrets for a number of reasons - some good, some dubious. They take it in turns to be utterly depressed, often with good reason, and attempt to encourage one another. With varying degrees of success.
Look, yes, this book presumes that 14 and 16 year old boys are capable of and willing to write letters to strangers. It also presumes that said boys are willing to occasionally be emotionally open. These things can indeed be true. These things are not the least probable aspects of the book.
Ollie and Moritz's letters are neatly separated by different fonts, which is a technique I have to admit to loving, as well as by tone. There is little fear of mistaking one for the other: Ollie is exuberant (usually) while Moritz is more formal. Their personalities are very different, due to their childhoods and their homes and their experiences. They make a lovely contrast. There are other characters: parents - biological and adoptive, loving and uncaring (those two sets do not always match); love interests; visitors; casual bystanders. The locations form a key part of the stories, as Ollie and Moritz (literally) navigate their worlds. But really it all comes back to the two boys.
This was an excellent novel. It's YA... and I guess it has other genre elements but explaining those would be spoilers, so... just find out for yourself. ...more
This book was sent to me by the Australian publisher, Text Publishing, at no cost. It's out on 20 March 2017; RRP $29.99 (C-format paperback).
This isThis book was sent to me by the Australian publisher, Text Publishing, at no cost. It's out on 20 March 2017; RRP $29.99 (C-format paperback).
This is a tale about Medea, which makes me happy she is definitely one of the more intriguing of ancient mythical women. Kerry Greenwood wrote a take on her ages ago, which I remember enjoying, and she featured in Robert Holdstock's remarkable Merlin-and-Jason series (hmm... did I ever finish that? Must check). For the modern writer there must be a challenge in trying to understand what could compel this woman to leave her homeland, kill her brother, and eventually kill her children, and a tension is deciding whether to stay true to the "original" (HA) story, or to put a different spin on it - keep the children alive, for instance. Do you play Jason as a helpless fool or an arrogant one, Medea as loving and betrayed or as cunning herself, and perhaps still betrayed - or the witch that she's sometimes regarded as? Lots of interesting possibilities.
... and I guess those are some spoilers if you don't know the Medea story.
Vann chooses to set his version properly far back in time, the 1300s BC; there is reference to Hittites, and Ilium, and Egypt. There are no Greeks; Jason and his Argonauts are the Mynae. Intriguingly, his descriptions of the voyage of the Argo back to Iolcus - which is more than a third of the book - is based on Vann's own experience of traveling on a recreated ship of Hatshepsut's time, with archaeologist Cheryl Ward, for a French documentary Building Pharaoh's Ship.
First, let me mention the language. The copy describes it as 'poetic prose', which is apt. Bluntly it means there are lots of incomplete sentences and a few extended ones, and lots of adjectives and time spent on description. The gorgeous reality, of course, is not captured in that summation. For example:
Her father a golden face in darkness. Appearing in torchlight over the water and vanishing again. Face of the sun, descendant of the sun. Betrayal and rage. (p1) and
The sail not a god itself but only the tracing of a god, a more responsive form of temple. Like fire to reveal Hekate. How can we know when we're worshipping a god and when we're worshipping only the sign of a god? Wind itself a sign of something else, and even fire, and white hides behind them? (115). I'm not accustomed to reading quite such flowery language (which I mean positively), so it did take me longer than expected to read the book. It is wonderfully evocative and enjoyable, don't get me wrong. And the other thing that I appreciated you can see in that last quote - Hekate. Korinth. Kreon. It's also Iolcus and Colchis so I'm not sure if that's annoying inconsistency; some Green scholar will have to let me know.
There are lots of threads that Vann is tracing through Bright Air Black (words from a translation of Euripides - the gods "turn the bright air black" in frustrating mortals). One is the role of gods, or lack thereof. Medea frequently calls on Hekate, who sometimes appears to answer in the form of fortuitous weather; but at other times Medea despairs of her goddess and appears to be at best agnostic. There is no magic here (probably); there is luck and poison and human trickery and the use of power. There's some commentary on the role of those things in developing human society and how men (as a rule) keep power.
This being Medea there is also commentary on the nature of feminine power. Medea has always been a weird girl, going off into the forest and not being afraid of the night; she plays on that and develops her reputation for fearlessness through her familiarity with the unfamiliar and inhuman - forests, the sea, the night. And then she leaves her family for a foreigner. Medea herself ruminates on the power of women versus the power of men; this includes thinking about her own family, and the complicated genealogy whereby it's unclear exactly who her mother and grandmother are - are they the same person? No one much cares; it's the men that matter.
This is a pretty straight retelling of Medea's story - if you know Medea, you know what's going to happen. Vann has added motive and explanation, an investigation and justification of some events and a whole lot of description. It's a great addition to the oeuvre of Greek mythological retellings. ...more
I had read that this was Butler's vampire-cum-courtroom drama, and had also been given a hint that the opening section might make the reader be all WHI had read that this was Butler's vampire-cum-courtroom drama, and had also been given a hint that the opening section might make the reader be all WHOA WTH NOOOO. And it would have, so I'm glad I had a bit of context, which I'll give below as a wee spoiler that might help some readers. This is, though, a Butler book, and in no way is this JUST a vampire or courtroom drama - not that either of those would have been bad. But the book also deals with racism, justice, and family in intriguing and sometimes uncomfortable ways. Also, unsurprisingly given Butler's interest in anthropology, with vampire myth and 'logical' ways for vampires to actually exist.
So here's the spoiler: (view spoiler)[at the start, the focus character can't remember anything and is eventually found walking along a road by a young man, in his early 20s. There's immediately a sexual connection... and then we find out that our character is young. Like, looks ten or eleven. (hide spoiler)] And it's squicky even with the anticipation, and I can't help but wonder what was in Butler's head: did she want to use this to challenge assumptions about appearance, or about black sexuality (because our character, Renee/Shori, is black), or... ? I don't know. And it's intriguing because it's Butler and I trust her, BUT.
Anyway. There's are similarities here between the Xenogenesis and Patternist novels. They deal with miscegenation and the ramifications of that - for the individual who is 'mixed' and for the society around them, seeing the benefits and drawbacks. They all deal with the Outsider in our midst, and that the notion of the Outsider takes on a multitude of forms within each of those books - sex, race, species, ability. And they also all present different ways of compromising, different motivations for compromise, and different consequences of it too. Butler isn't interested in making life easy for her characters or for her readers. She wants us to THINK. She probably wants us to be horrified, too, and forced to think through that horror.
This won't be my favourite Butler; I don't think it's quite as well written as some of her other work. Goodness the ideas and challenges are magnificent, though, and with so little published work from her I'm pretty happy to read whatever I can get my hands on. ...more