The adventures of a man who returns from Hell to seek revenge on the people who sent him there is jam packed with good ideas but works best as a set uThe adventures of a man who returns from Hell to seek revenge on the people who sent him there is jam packed with good ideas but works best as a set up for the sequels (Kadrey has been contracted for five more books - two trilogies). It gets legitimately exciting towards the end, as it sets itself up for further adventures (the last character introduced is somewhat akin to a stroke of genius on Kadrey's part), but the story itself is rushed to the point that some characters on Stark's hit list are removed off camera to save on scenes. Still, this is set up masquerading as a novel, so it's forgivable to a degree.
Also the title is stupid and inexplicable, with the name "Sandman Slim" shoehorned into the text to justify it. Still a good read and I've been sitting on the sequel far too long. The last pages were legitimately grand....more
What if they threw a zombie outbreak and nobody cared? Sure, there are people dying in the streets, but they’re just humans. They don’t even know howWhat if they threw a zombie outbreak and nobody cared? Sure, there are people dying in the streets, but they’re just humans. They don’t even know how to do magic? Who gives a damn about them?
That seems to be the concept of Kill the Dead, a book almost wholly lacking in the human element. Every character is above the mass slaughter of the citizens of their surrounds, because they’ve got bigger problems elsewhere: Heaven and Hell are far more important than the concerns of 4 million people in danger of being eaten.
Kill the Dead kicks off six months after Sandman Slim, and our titular hero (real name James Stark) comes off a six month bender of depression so that he can be Lucifer’s bodyguard while the big man is making a biopic. The disappearance of members of influential magical families also bears investigations, and the deeper Stark gets the more ghoulish the case becomes.
Kill the Dead seems a natural evolution from Sandman Slim, and it cuts fewer corners. That simple tale of revenge is now replaced by a slightly more complex detective story, albeit one with a detective too hot headed and impulsive to effectively think his way through a case. Stark’s largest problem as a character in the first book was that he was practically indestructible and consequently took stupid risks. The six month time break has allowed some of his literal, physical humanity to be restored. That Stark has to be more careful is a relief to the reader sick of recklessness without consequence, and that he may be losing his demonic scars and all they entail are a cause of great worry to the character himself.
The detective aspect of the story works because Stark needs more external help than he realises, and his interactions with several key characters are entertaining. Kadrey has written Lucifer very well, and Stark is a good offsider for him. Lucifer doesn’t feature near as much as you would want or expect, but the man needs to maintain some of his mystique. Kadrey is probably going to be accused of being a Satanist or something, but the relatively balanced and sympathetic portrayal of the Prince of Darkness allows for much more nuance than one might otherwise have expected. In a thoroughly unrealistic portrayal of the movie making machine, Lucifer stands out as the most authentic element. It will be interesting to see if God Himself will show up when Stark makes his inevitable(?) ascent to Heaven, and this is one of the reasons I will continue to keep tickets on this series.
Stark’s own offsider, the talking severed head on a plate, Kasabian, brings the most warmth and normality to the book. When Stark and Kasabian are together, they - and Kadrey - fall into a comfortable routine that feels more real than anything else presented in the work. Keep in mind we’re talking about a head that gets about on mechanical legs like one of Sid’s inventions from Toy Story. He eats and drinks over a bucket, for something’s sake, but the dynamic Kadrey has written between the two is welcome amidst all of the misanthropy going on elsewhere. Their friendly bickering, planning and discussions of Hell’s politics make the book shine in ways that it does not even attempt elsewhere.
Other characters don’t fare quite so well: you need to have read Sandman Slim for this book to make much sense in the first place, and you have to have it fairly fresh in your mind for the characters of Kinski and Candy to be more than cardboard cut outs. They suffer from being “off camera” for the majority of the book, and so there is no weight to back up their eventual importance to the plot. Porn star and zombie hunter Brigitte Bardot (yeahhhh) is little more than a distraction and an excuse for Kadrey to attempt a sex scene, and Vidocq and Allegra are little more than ancillary characters this time around.
Outside of Slim’s friends, the more villainous characters are well represented. The overall plot is developed satisfactorily, if not in great depth, and motivation is not an issue. Some of the more surprising actions justified the entire enterprise, if only because they promise to pay off later.
The book is far from perfect: a zombie infestation is fairly worthless without humans. As a backdrop to the book’s biggest, most surprising and enjoyable reveal, they’re fine. Otherwise, the city of LA is just ants chasing other ants and consuming them. Nobody cares about ants unless they’re Dave Foley and/or Woody Allen. Kill the Dead will consequently never become an exemplifier of the zombie genre, but one of the few scenes where Stark actually has to deal with them in a meaningful fashion does great things to Kadrey’s writing. The presentation of the first person narrative changes and fights itself as Stark’s priorities rearrange themselves, almost against his will, and the inner turmoil revitalises a character in grave danger of stagnating under the weight of his own cool detachment; novelties hungover from the first book, such as constant car theft, the accompanying self-righteousness, and clothing destruction, get old quickly, after all.
Rather like Sandman Slim, the best parts of Kill the Dead are those that set up for the next book in the series. This is unfortunate, because the legitimate energy and excitement generated by the passages promising cool things on the horizon should really have translated across to the main body of the text - something that only happens once (it is legitimately well worth it, though). Descriptions of the politicking and impending war in Hell, and the promise that one day we might get to see Heaven, keep me looking onward and upward, but one day Kadrey is going to have to deliver on his promises.
It is clear by the end of Kill the Dead that Earth is a necessary, if bland, evil. When Kadrey cuts loose and finally shows us the realms of the angels and the fallen, we’ll end up with something more than pulpy "noir" - something that has earned its place in the theologically inspired fiction canon.
(NB that this is more of a 3.5 than it is a 3 or 4, but, well, 3.5 isn't an option)...more
When you read a Discworld book, you read it on two levels: its worth in the overall Discworld canon and its worth as a single cohesive novel. When I sWhen you read a Discworld book, you read it on two levels: its worth in the overall Discworld canon and its worth as a single cohesive novel. When I started my undertaking of rereading the entire Discworld set a few years ago (I got caught up on The Last Hero for a while despite the fact that it is literally a less than two hour read), the only Discworld novel I hadn't read was Wintersmith. Since then, Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight have joined that shameful list. When I read Wintersmith, I felt great shame. That I had yet to read Unseen Academicals until today is not so much a cause for shame as one for sadness.
Ponder Stibbons discovers that, in order for Unseen University to maintain its food budget, they have to field a foot-the-ball team (or football). Coincidentally, the Patrician wants to make football less of a blood sport and something altogether more civilised. Caught up in the football ruckus are four entirely new characters working in the downstairs of UU: Glenda and Juliet, kitchen workers, and Trev and Nutt - candle dribblers, one of whom is rather goblin-like.
While the Tiffany Aching series has become a vital part of Discworld folkloric canon, Unseen Academicals returns us to the beating heart of the Disc, Ankh-Morpork. While the story shows the promise of becoming another examination of mania along the lines of Moving Pictures or Soul Music, Pratchett never amps it up to that level. Rather than covering a season of an exciting new (old) sport, Pratchett builds up for one big game. There are hints that there is some sort of religious force trying to make its place known as in the aforementioned titles, but nothing much ever comes of it - and what does is ill explained. What is Unseen Academicals but politics?
It's a character study, of the sort of characters that Pratchett doesn't often trot out. The most obvious stand out character is Nutt, the somewhat goblinesque candle dribbler who doesn’t speak to many people. His character growth through exposure to humans is admirable, as are the varied relationships that he develops with them. Pratchett has a sense of love for Nutt that translates well onto the page, but the styling of the character is such that he cannot be more than a one-shot. He can be alluded to, or cameo, but I don’t think that he could carry another book. His character arc is complete in a way that someone like Vimes’, Vetinari’s or Granny Weatherwax’s will never be. More abnormal is Trevor Likely, Nutt’s boss and best and only friend, and I felt something from this character that I don't often feel from Pratchett. Trevor seems human and natural, like Vimes would like to believe he is. “If you're not a cop [or a wizard or witch], you're little people". Rather than the simple Ankh-Morpork morass of the wandering audience, we are finally allowed into the mind of one of the "little people". There is nothing special about Trevor except that his father played football and was killed by it. This, in the context of Discworld, makes him special. This point of difference makes him a more interesting character than if there was something “unusual” about him. Trev is one of the most “real” feeling characters in recent Discworld history, and I’d happily read many more books about him than I would, say, Moist von Lipwig. The nature of the beast is that he can never really be more than ancillary after this, as I doubt that another Discworld book with football as its central tenet will ever be needed. Of course, we get a vision of the man on the street, but narratively this book does not exactly jive with the 36 books that came before it: we are presented with the idea that football has been a consistent love of Ankh-Morpork's lower classes for hundreds of years and that the Watch tends to turn a blind eye. Discounting entirely that the Ankh-Morpork presented in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic is wholly prototypical and bears no resemblance to the Ankh-Morpork of "today" (or roughly that of Equal Rites on), that people feel so strongly for their teams and have colour and locality rumbles is something that you might have expected to come up before now. The idea of Ankh-Morpork as a mob does not work so well when you have the idea that it's a mob divided by petty loyalties (albeit mobs that avoid the eyes of the Watch), and it's strange that it took so long to reach this point.
Still, continuity jostling aside, this is a satisfying book. It’s not about the story, which is a lot of manoeuvring towards nothing in particular and features a more than usually verbose Patrician and a go-nowhere "birth of a supermodel" subplot, but about two men (of sorts), a cook, the idea of a woman, and the pursuit of personal worth.
Does Unseen Academicals have worth? Yes, it does, but not in story so much as in character. ...more
Secretly written by John Le Carré's son, The Gone-Away World is a post-apocalyptic nightmare that is, to a degree, too cool for school. It's one of thSecretly written by John Le Carré's son, The Gone-Away World is a post-apocalyptic nightmare that is, to a degree, too cool for school. It's one of those books that starts in the post apocalypse, then reverts to the narrator's childhood, his university days and beyond. It's a good 300 pages before the apocalypse happens.
But Harkaway's novel is very deliberately crafted. The extensively realised world that the narrator describes pays off in spades at a later point in entirely unexpected ways. I am actually still reeling at some of the developments weeks later. What could have amounted to a shaggy dog story never insults the audience in that way, as Gibson's Spook Country ultimately did.
Every sentence in The Gone-Away World has weight behind it. Just sitting here remembering the intense returns of the ending is getting to me. True, Harkaway might be slightly too zeitgeisty in his application of ninjas to the mix, but everything happens for a reason. This book is imperfect but definitely more than worthwhile, and will be a hard act for Harkaway to follow....more
I know that an exclamation mark would be hyperbolic, but I think that, after an 18 year absence, "Michael Tolliver Lives!" is an appropriate title. AbI know that an exclamation mark would be hyperbolic, but I think that, after an 18 year absence, "Michael Tolliver Lives!" is an appropriate title. Abandoned by his author in 1989, Michael Tolliver has been up to a lot in his absence. This wasn't originally going to be a Tales of the city book, but Maupin realised that Michael Tolliver was the perfect vehicle for an ageing gay man.
This explains why it's written in the first person, and how everything seems to grow organically from that original concept. It can be dangerous resurrecting beloved characters after a long time away, but Maupin has let them all live and die natural lives in the interim.
The shift from third person to the first is not without its problems: unlike The Night Listener, where the narrator was addressing his hypothetical radio audience, there is no indication of whom Michael is speaking to. This is not normally a problem with other first person books, but it's clear that Michael is addressing someone, and I refuse to believe it's me. He reminds you of things a couple of times and he explains things that don't strictly need explanation.
Because we're presented the exclusive viewpoint of Michael, other characters - Brian in particular - get short shrift from Maupin. This isn't a failing as much as it is a necessary evil. Just because one wants an author to overstuff a book doesn't mean that they should. Maupin shows more restraint here than he has previously.
Of course, the other side of the double edged sword is that the exercise is rather more personal than any previous entry in the Tales canon. Rather like Maupin's prior effort, The Night Listener, I found myself tearing up or even outright crying at times in the last fifty pages.
I welcomed this book because I considered Sure of You a huge downer to end the series on. Maupin doesn't idolise his characters, and so they sometimes make horrible decisions and become people that you can easily fall out of love with - as I did with several. The character arcs from book to book actually made me worry about reading on for fear that the characters - not Maupin - would compromise themselves.
Michael Tolliver Lives is an invigorating experience. It sounds stupid, but it is "life-affirming". Maupin writes death and loss very well, having experienced it too often first hand (this series, after all, spans pre-AIDS society to "post"), but he also writes survival. His honesty is brutal, and I don't agree with every stance that Michael takes, but I don't have to. I'm touched in such a way that I don't have to internalise the whole experience. Ultimately, Michael Tolliver Lives, despite the way that it treats some characters (Mona!), feels like more of a gift from Maupin than anything else.
Mary Ann in Autumn, only recently published, promises to be a return to the original format of sprawling and unlikely storylines that intertwine in vague and strange ways. Mary Ann's return as a focal character might set everything that was wrong in Sure of You right once and for all....more
Michael Tolliver lives! … Again! A three year gap is significantly less than eighteen years. On top of that, this is the first Tales of the City bookMichael Tolliver lives! … Again! A three year gap is significantly less than eighteen years. On top of that, this is the first Tales of the City book that I have read contemporaneously. Do you have any idea how strange it is to shift from Maupin speaking to people who predate me to him speaking directly to me, the world in which I’m living? It’s a stretch.
I think that Tales of the City books work best as capsules of their time, which of course means, except for Sure of You, they improve with age. That Maupin now speaks of Twitter and Facebook with varying degrees of understanding feels strange to me. Did readers thirty years ago think that D’orothea and DeDe’s involvement with Jonestown was simply bizarre (well, it was by default, but … more bizarre?)? All this is not to say that Mary Ann in Autumn is a bad book or disappointing. For me, at least, it is essential for its service in returning Mary Ann to her figuratively ancestral home. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I tell you how badly betrayed I felt by her in Sure of You. Mary Ann is not absolved of her sins, but it seems she may well be redeemed.
Mary Ann comes to San Francisco seeking cancer treatment and escape from her (Republican) husband. She further reconnects with Michael, and … kind of ignores everyone else. Her estranged daughter Shawna becomes fascianted by a homeless woman, and nothing else specific happens but, in a return to classic Tales form, the threads of coincidence ridiculously intertwine into a somewhat cohesive whole.
Mary Ann in Autumn is deliberately more sprawling than Michael Tolliver Lives and consequently significantly less personal. It would perhaps be indulgent for Maupin to start producing first person novels for each of the major characters he has introduced along the way, but it would have been nice to get a feeling for Mary Ann’s inner self. In fact, I think that may have made an overall more satisfying work here, but it would also have meant sacrificing the plot threads.
Would they have been sorely missed? On reflection, definitely, but they are not without their own flaws.
Shawna frequently doesn’t quite seem like a real character, but rather more of a construct to represent what Maupin considers the “zeitgeist” (having subconsciously realised that he has written her into a corner as a “grrrl”, which must make him cringe deep in his heart of hearts). Her pursuit of Leia is little more than a whim used to power Maupin’s enormous six degrees machine, and she doesn’t come into her own until she’s following up on actual human relationships, both with her estranged mother and her clown boyfriend Otto. There is subtlety and nuance to Shawna, but Maupin wants to bury it underneath her cool facade. He acknowledges this much, and that sparkle of honesty towards the end carries a character that had come dangerously close to caricature over the line.
Jake Greenleaf’s own story, though less “common”, seems more topical and relevant in the scheme of the universe, if not the novel. Jake’s story is worthy and carries with it overtones of Mormonism and Proposition 8, which were probably more closely intertwined to the citizens of San Francisco than they were to anyone else. Away from the prism of Michael, Jake is given room to breathe. This isn’t really Michael’s story at all, although he does feature prominently. Giving Jake agency to do things outside the aegis of his boss was a smart move on Maupin’s part and is a valuable part of the novel, but at the same time Jake’s own story has no bearing on Mary Ann’s own through-line. Worthy in its own way, but discardable in the novel’s larger context.
So I guess that’s the problem with Maupin as he’s advanced his career: he’s given us knowledge of a different way to consume his work. The irony is that a scant two weeks ago I was complaining that the use of Michael’s voice in Michael Tolliver Lives was uneasy, a pedagogue in search of an audience that he never quite finds. In Mary Ann in Autumn, at least, we don’t have to worry about that. The matter of fact narration leaves no room for worry or questioning.
As to Mary Ann herself: it’s good to see her back, and human again. I felt that Maupin had stripped her of humanity twenty years ago and, at the time, I couldn’t forgive a fictional character for compromising herself so severely in pursuit of an ill-informed dream. She has felt her age differently to Michael, in part because she threw away almost twenty years of her life. For Mary Ann, a return to San Francisco is a return to a dreamlike state where only important things matter and nothing hurts.
This is different to the escapism that Maupin used to promote, but that was compromised understandably and irrevocably by the intrusion of AIDS into the characters’ milieu. Escapism seems that much more heavy when you have something that you need to escape, and she certainly does. It would be stupid to say that Mary Ann “finds” herself, but she definitely rediscovers what made her likeable in the first place. That Maupin has made me blur the lines between the way that the character is written and the way that the character is tells me that he has done an excellent job over the last 33 years (even if I only read all of the books last year). It’s just a pity that Mary Ann decides to expend so much of her energy on the blue glow of Facebook rather than showing slightly more of herself to the characters and, consequently, the reader. Mary Ann’s representation is definitely not shallow, but it could certainly be somewhat deeper than it has amounted to.
The other thing is that Armistead Maupin is now legitimately older himself, if not simply old. This reflects in his cluelessness as to the cluelessness of younger people. The older generation of characters express frequent frustration that the younger don’t understand their cultural points of reference anymore. In Michael Tolliver Lives, Ben didn’t know who Sally Bowles is, which must be some sort of crime, and in Mary Ann in Autumn Jake has no idea who Scarlett O’Hara is, which is definitely a felony. Everyone knows who Betty Page is, for some reason. Maupin writes the younger characters as if he believes that they belong to a new world, and doesn’t consider that they might simply be ignorant.
Still, Mary Ann in Autumn is welcome: the prodigal daughter has truly returned after too many years in the wilderness, and she has not been found wanting. ...more
This is a book that very distinctly was not written for me. Hip high school students try to figure out if they care for one another while a fat gay kiThis is a book that very distinctly was not written for me. Hip high school students try to figure out if they care for one another while a fat gay kid writes a musical about his life while also trying to date a boy who has the same name as his best friend.
By two authors writing alternate chapters, this is more than a generically bad book. Every second chapter is written entirely in lower case, and that character is so possessed by his self-loathing and misanthropy that there is nothing to recommend him. The style of writing detaches you from him so wholly that I wanted to jettison half of the book into the ocean.
The other half? Will Grayson (who writes with caps! Imagine that!) is a guy, I guess ... he's a guy with a stupid policy of not getting involved, which means we've got a novel in which all of the characters are stagnating.
Would this book be meaningful to high school students? I've no idea. Its portrayal of gay high school life seems entirely unrealistic to me (they let one character stage a goddamn musical of his life), and if something doesn't ring true it doesn't matter how much truth is actually in it. On top of this, both Will Graysons decide to have Tiny Cooper as their focal point.
Tiny Cooper, among the worst fictional characters I read in 2010, is narcissistic to the point of intolerability. Worse still is that all of the characters are expected to accommodate him. He pisses off both Will Graysons but they have to make it up to him! Forget their feelings, this is Tiny's show!
Speaking of Tiny's show, it is terrible. We are shown his musical and told that it's a surprisingly good masterpiece. No. It is onanism only backed up by one of the most ridiculous, unrealistic and frankly stupid conclusions in my reading career.
Young Adults deserve fiction that speaks to them. If Will Grayson speaks to anyone, I want to meet that person and kick them into the real world. When Dan Savage said "it gets better", he meant "life isn't as shit as the collaboration between John Green and David Levithan". ...more
Hahaha, have you got any idea how bad this book is? It is pretty goddamn bad. I've only read two Palahniuk books, and this one is better than Diary, aHahaha, have you got any idea how bad this book is? It is pretty goddamn bad. I've only read two Palahniuk books, and this one is better than Diary, at least. But that's not saying much.
Written in pidgin English, Pygmy is the definition of a hard slog up hill. All of the characters are awful, but few moreso than Pygmy himself, whose acts are unconscionable. One of his earliest forays into terrorism is later paid off incredibly offensively, and most of the book has some sort of scatological or visceral disgustingness about it. Pygmy's foray into an unconscious woman's vagina is the very least of it.
Yet I can't give Pygmy one star because, despite the all around badness, I eventually got into the rhythm of the book. I never liked it, but I did want to know what was going to happen next. I have to give that to Palahniuk, but also I have to give him this: I don't want to read any more of your books, Chuck! Not even Fight Club!...more
I’ve finally done it. I’ve run out of unread Discworld books. No more Discworlds until the next one. This used to be the case with me all the time froI’ve finally done it. I’ve run out of unread Discworld books. No more Discworlds until the next one. This used to be the case with me all the time from 1998 to 2006, but the flavour of “no more Discworld for now” is different in 2011.
I Shall Wear Midnight is not the final Discworld book, and nor should it be read as such. It is possibly not even the final Tiffany Aching book, but it certainly brings this part of her story to a close.
A lot of people don’t like Pratchett’s “Discworld books for Younger Readers”, because they don’t consider themselves “younger readers”. As it is a long established fact that the only people who read Discworld books are eleven year olds named Kevin (“I am an eleven year old named Kevin and so is my wife”), these people need to stop cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
Something primal has awakened in the people of the Disc, and they have turned against witches. Tiffany Aching, now on the cusp of sixteen, must stand up to the ancient Cunning Man while also battling the prejudices and fear bubbling in the common man.
Wee Free Men is not among my favourite Discworld books, but its three follow ups are. The thing is that without nine year old Tiffany Aching, every other incarnation of Tiffany Aching simply could not exist. A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight are as much “witches” books as anything explicitly starring Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. They are on the whole more didactic than the earlier books, true, but this doesn’t stop them from being valuable works - and legitimate entries in the canon of the witches. If you want an understanding of the way witches of the Disc work, and to attain new perspectives on Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, skipping these books is not an option.
The Nac Mac Feegles are where they belong, which is on the periphery. These books are not about the Wee Free Men, they’re about a young girl discovering her place in the world and finding that being pedantic is not the same thing as knowing everything. As the series has progressed, Tiffany has learned more about human nature and has grown into her role as a young, responsible and respectable witch. More than a practical young girl with a frying pan - the stuff of stories - she is now her own person, and one who could carry any other book at that. Tiffany Aching has grown into one of Pratchett’s most nuanced and real characters, less of an archetype and more of an unprecedented literary heroine. She is possibly his most empathetic creation, and definitely much more compelling than the likes of Moist von Lipwig (which is, of course, another matter entirely).
Where we do get the Nac Mac Feegles, though, it’s clear that Pratchett has significantly tweaked their usage since The Wee Free Men, where they were the slightest bit annoying (as I said, it’s not my favourite Discworld novel; I didn’t much like it at all until about the third or fourth go around). Rob Anybody, as head of the clan and married to the Kelda, now has more to fight for than he ever had before. Rather than being little figurines, Pratchett has invested in each of the major Feegle a definite sense of purpose. They are now a joy to read rather than a burden to endure, and this is likely almost the same way that Tiffany has grown to think of them. That Jeannie, the clan’s matriarch, has become more than a simple jealous wife but rather Tiffany’s equal-or-better, is cause for celebration.
Interesting also is the representation of Tiffany’s parents. It’s likely that they haven’t changed much as people since Wee Free Men, but rather that Tiffany’s perception of them and reception by them has. As she’s grown older, Tiffany has come to see how everyone fits into the chalk, and this includes her parents’ place in the society. More than unfair figures who never paid her enough attention, they have become actual people. They’re not just her mother and father: they’re a man and a woman. The subtle gradations that have brought them to this point have culminated in a particularly satisfactory if easy to miss arc.
Taken as a set of four books, one can also trace the arc of Roland from stupid and spoiled to reluctant nobleman. Pratchett defies expectations with his treatment of most of the noble characters, particularly the Baron himself. A shadowy figure defined only by his ability to be put in place by Granny Aching in Wee Free Men and scarcely considered save for illness in Wintersmith, he becomes a catalyst and sentimentalist here. From very early in the book, Pratchett strikes precisely the right emotional chord and caught me entirely off guard. It would be foolish to list all of the delights in this book and why they’re delightful, because I would be basically reproducing the entire text here and would get in trouble with Doubleday. Some may take issue with the character of Preston, who may well seem too convenient and good to be true, but if you look at him as: a) the diametric opposite of Sean Ogg; and b) a character who has no reason not to exist Then there is no reason not to accept him. The way that he plays out is natural and unhurried, and Discworld characters have been forged from weaker foundations. I’m naturally biased but I think that most issues taken with I Shall Wear Midnight are generally too petty to bother with.
The culture of fear that the Cunning Man represents seems particularly apt for the ridiculous society that we now find ourselves in, and Tiffany Aching is eminently relatable to anyone, regardless of their own personal experiences of being a teenaged girl. Themes of belonging in society, boffo and - joy of joys - time travel make this a strong narrative in addition to an excellent character study. Pratchett is in top form; where Making Money and Going Postal teetered on the edge of broad farce, I Shall Wear Midnight comes down firmly on the side of incredibly humanistic storytelling - and is legitimately one of his best novels to date as a result.
One complaint I’ve seen levelled against this book is that Pratchett has written it as if it were his last (no, he hasn’t), and that there are therefore too many cameos from series favourites. This is resolutely untrue, as every character in the book serves a purpose. You can’t complain about the Watch showing up on the streets of Ankh-Morpork when there are Feegles afoot. If they had arrived in the big city with absolutely no repercussions, that would be more unrealistic than Carrot showing up to deal with them. That this leads to thematic expansions and obvious if unexpected character development means that Pratchett has actually served the book rather than made it take a pointless detour. If you complain about the interconnectedness of Discworld characters, the blurring of lines between one internal series and another, you’re plainly reading them the wrong way. There is nothing gratuitous about I Shall Wear Midnight …
… Except for one thing, and it’s totally worth it. Pratchett answers a question that has been hanging for 23 years, and the thing is that it makes a fairly logical sense and it deals with one of my favourite aspects of science fiction and fantasy. This particular point has been mentioned in passing by a lot of people - one of the first things that they mention about the book. I kind of wished that I hadn’t known in advance, but at the same time what I was presented was totally different to what I had expected. In one of his farthest reaching callbacks, Pratchett has managed to retrospectively strengthen and reinforce a book that he wrote more than two decades ago. This is all the proof that I need of his mastery of his material.
I’ve long held that Pratchett really knows how to write an ending, and this is no exception. You get two endings for the price of one, with the “normal” conclusion and the epilogue. Both are heartwarming and, because I’m a horribly soft touch, I had to read the last few pages between my tears. I doubt that everyone will have the same emotional response to I Shall Wear Midnight as I did - after all, I’ve been reading these books more than half of my life - but it should make them feel something.
I guess the best thing about running out of Discworld is that you can start all over again. A new project commencing in 2012, I suspect. (With a detour for Snuff in October!)...more
A mixed collection of short stories, The Book of Right and Wrong fares best when it's not trying dark twists in its tales or being excessively mean-spA mixed collection of short stories, The Book of Right and Wrong fares best when it's not trying dark twists in its tales or being excessively mean-spirited. Strange jabs at Back to the Future and stranger jabs at teenaged homosexuality in the eighties are only a couple of the things that prevented me from giving this book four stars, because Debenham is clearly a man who can go for power and profundity in the creation of a moment; it's perhaps not his fault that he more than occasionally falls into the traps all too common in the short story form....more
First in the series bled with the second in my memory. Not much happens and if you've read up to the modern day you know exactly what the fall out ofFirst in the series bled with the second in my memory. Not much happens and if you've read up to the modern day you know exactly what the fall out of Mary-Ann's storyline was. A warm introduction to characters that Maupin would go to love and denigrate over the years....more
It's hard to tell what Amy Chua was thinking when she wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Is she seeking approval for her parenting methods, whichIt's hard to tell what Amy Chua was thinking when she wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Is she seeking approval for her parenting methods, which she unwittingly but directly claims has successfully raised approximately 1.3 billion of her fellow “countrymen”? The fact that Chua was born in America and that her parents explicitly and repeatedly condemn multiple aspects of her parenting style as too harsh and unthinking kind of undermines this theory. Chua tries to help us out from the start with her intro (also featured on the cover!):
This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.
What does this mean, precisely? It means that you have to read about 90% of terrible decisions and harping before Lulu, Chua's younger daughter, snaps and tells Chua that she's doing everything wrong, and that her overbearing nature has meant that she has taken the fun out of everything that was once loved. Chua responds to this by giving Lulu a small degree of choice, which she herself manipulates from the shadows. It takes her more than sixteen years of parenting to accept even the smallest change, and even then the thought of Lulu doing her own thing without parental intervention “pains [her] every day”.
Chua has a good daughter, Sophia, willing and pliable, and a bad one, Lulu, who doesn’t take well to hours upon hours of drudgery and abuse disguised as motivation.
I love being able to count on Sophia. She has wells of inner strength. Even more than me, she can take anything: exclusion, excoriation, humiliation, loneliness.
Chua doesn’t realise that Sophia and Lulu are so good at taking these things in the outside world because they are regularly taking them from their mother at home. For the most part, she seems remarkably self unaware. Several times, teachers make her leave the room while her children are performing, and she does not notice that it is her absence that makes them perform better. Chua is told by her husband to stop insulting her children (after she calls Lulu a “pathetic, self-indulgent coward”) and she writes “which I wasn’t even doing, I was motivating her”. She hilariously speaks out against human rights on multiple occasions, asserting that children should not have them. She stays awake worrying about the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, as if to wonder how she can prevent the children of today from finding out that they exist. She’s not here to be her childrens’ friend, she’s here to prepare them for the future. If that means preventing them from eating or using the toilet until such time as they have perfected a piano piece, then so be it. If it means fighting with your children every day, then why not parent them this way? If you repeatedly pull your daughter out of school to make her practise violin because you personally do not think the lessons she is missing are important even though she openly states that she hates you doing this, why, you’re mother of the year!
One jarring thing that many Chinese people do is openly compare their children. I never thought this was so bad when I was growing up, because I always came off well in the comparison.
I felt that [my mother-in-law] was generating sibling rivalry by looking for it. There are all kinds of psychological disorders in the West that don't exist in Asia.
Yes, Asian cultures aren’t troubled by pesky “human nature”, nor do the people who live in them suffer from such things as individuality or personalities. Everyone in this “Asia” of which Chua speaks is the perfect automaton, each another brick in the wall of the perfect society. Why can’t Sophia and Lulu be like this? Why can’t they take endless hours of drills? Why can’t they follow five hours of violin practice with another three and a half when they get back to their hotel room? Chua only wants what is best for her perfect little angels, which is to quash their enjoyment of everything so that they can achieve true perfection, ultimate musicality and the abandonment of the self.
Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.
How Chua can write something like this and continue to claim to have friends is beyond me. Chinese people are uniformly happy and successful in all aspects of life. Western people live in a pit of disappointment, and have never achieved anything. This is the literal extrapolation of everything Chua has written. That her husband was raised by Western parents (Jews[!], as she never stops pointing out - and her sister married a Jew, too!), that he considered his childhood idyllic and that he ended up successful and respected appears to escape her at every turn. There’s only one way for Chua, and to consider anything else is to lose the battle that is having a “Chinese” mentality in the decadent and permissive liberal dystopia that is the United States.
”You can’t do what Daddy and I did,” my mother replied. “Things are different now. Lulu’s not you-and she’s not Sophia. She has a different personality, and you can’t force her.”
Naturally, Chua accuses her mother of being “brainwashed” by her Western friends. If Chua had framed this book in any way other than saying “Chinese parents are literally the best. Suck it, Westerners”, there wouldn’t be so much of an issue. Yes, she would be a fiercely terrible mother, but she’s speaking for a monoculture that doesn’t exist. Has China produced 1.3 billion people who are top of the class? No. It is physically impossible for everyone to be number one. I’m sure that not all 1.3 billion Chinese people are tying for first, either (“tying for first” is another form of shame altogether). There are variations in people, and there are variations in parenting styles.
It is offensive for Chua to paint all Chinese people as vile cretins of her ilk. There is literally nothing to back up her parenting model as being “Chinese”, especially as her own mother disagrees with it. The fact that she gives some indication of her own upbringing, which directly contradicts some of the stuff she does herself, makes me wonder where the hell she got any of her practices from. Her parents were strict with her but never to the point of insanity - or at least this is what the book suggests. I’m inclined to believe Chua on this count because her parents never had the amount of disposable income that Chua has access to in order to make her childrens’ lives a living Hell. Chua was also given some space to make mistakes once she graduated from high school, but there is a distinct impression this won’t be the same for her own children when the time comes.
Chua is a woman largely of her own construction, desperately grasping for cultural excuses for her more vicious excesses. Anyone reading this book and thinking that Chua is representative of anything but herself needs to re-evaluate their position on the world. There are almost certainly variants of Chua in the wild, but she is more unique than she gives herself credit for - and thank God for that. There is a vague narrative drive to this book but it’s mainly a series of vignettes and anecdotes. How we’re supposed to take the book is a mystery: Amazon lists it under “Memoirs” and “Asian American Studies”. It is therefore not a parenting manual. I’ve read it, though, and wonder why anyone would. It needs the “Chinese” gimmick to sell, because otherwise people would quickly grow bored by the frankly offensive observations made within. Particular lowlights are the time that she forces her children to express their grief over their paternal grandmother’s death in a way she considers aesthetically pleasing, and her hijacking of her (observant) daughter’s Bat Mitzvah into being a violin performance piece.
In literature, Chua is the kind of mother who looms over the protagonist daughter, who comes out of it on top despite her tyrannical mother - or the mother and daughter reach some sort of understanding and we see what sort of environment produced such a monstrous parent. Chua comes from nowhere. Sadly, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not fiction. I cannot impose my fictive expectations on it. However, Chua is a woman who wants the word to bend to her will and her preconceived notions. She claims to speak on behalf of Chinese women the world over, and I refuse to accept that she is the sole representative of at least 650 million people.
Like every Asian American woman in her late twenties, I had the idea of writing an epic novel about mother-daughter relationships spanning several generations, based loosely on my own family’s story. … Unfortunately, I had no talent for novel writing …
Chua’s prose is very much in the style of Amy Tan without the warmth or talent - and I'm talking proto-Tan here, The Joy Luck Club era, when she was just starting out. That Chua's writing is a faint echo of a good writer’s work proves nothing except that maybe she has read Amy Tan (who indeed gets name-checked in the above quoted section). This seems doubtful, as Chua does not give a hint of being a cultured soul - especially as excerpts from one of Sophia’s essays are included and are more affecting than anything Chua has to offer.
Chua listens to classical music, yes, but does she understand it? Apparently she does have a fairly technical ear despite no apparent playing ability of her own. What is best about her love for classical music is that she dismisses the gamelan out of hand as a mindless “fetishising [of] the exotic” on the part of Debussy. This somehow turns into a denunciation of “Yellow Fever”, and the disclaimer that her (white, Jewish) husband “did not date any Asian women before me”.
The point is that she has fetishised classical music to the exclusion of every other form of artistic expression. If you can’t do it on a piano or a violin, it’s not worth listening to. If your daughter wants to play tennis instead of the violin, what the hell does she know? Nothing is worth doing unless you can get a medal for it. Nothing is worth earning a medal for unless it receives Chua’s approval (when she finally does allow Lulu to play tennis, Lulu loses games and simply doesn’t care - all the proof you need that she is anything but a simple clone of her mother).
The book is full of pointless digressions, arguments not actually expanded on, and each page instills in the reader an inability to feel any empathy for Chua. Parents might think “yes, daughters are difficult”. Even if this is the case, and it likely is, most of the difficulties described arise from specific decisions that Chua has made. She argues that children are extensions of the self - so why won’t these phantom limbs do her bidding?
I am not a parent; perhaps I shall never be. But I have a vague idea of humanity and how to treat other people, and the way that Chua treats her children is not humane. Amy Chua loves her dogs unconditionally, but her expectations of Lulu and Sophia are infinitely more performative. The level of disgrace and shame that she tells her daughters that they have inflicted on her on a regular basis suggest that they will never truly be good enough. The “Western” ideal that we have to some extent accept and love our children for who they are is a fallacy based in weakness, or so she would believe. I cannot be so presumptuous as to say that Amy Chua does not love her children, or that her children do not love her. I can say that she has created a home that is depicted as much less harmonious than it could have been simply if she had been someone else entirely. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother shows that Chua has the capacity for love, but singularly lacks the ability to meaningfully express it. Any criticism levelled at Chua or her book is ultimately irrelevant: despite all evidence to the contrary, Chua is likely to go to her grave believing that she has always been right. Do her a favour and don’t read her book. If you somehow end up passing your eyes over these scant 256 pages, I hope you haven’t paid Chua for the privilege and the honour of being exposed to her “Chinese” (Lulu would say, and has said, “diseased”) mind.
(But you probably have, it’s freaking number nine in the Amazon bestsellers ranking. Which isn’t Number One! Not good enough, Ms. Chua!)...more