This was really disappointing - I'm a huge fan of her Dairy Queen trilogy, so I was expecting to enjoy this. Unfortunately it has tons of enormous gap...moreThis was really disappointing - I'm a huge fan of her Dairy Queen trilogy, so I was expecting to enjoy this. Unfortunately it has tons of enormous gaping plotholes, impossible characters, and a bad habit of showing something entirely different to what it tells. And the thing is - this was her third novel published (and, as far as I can tell, written), so she'd already done vastly superior work.
(view spoiler)[So - why is it set up as though the important thing is that his feelings are hurt because she embarrassed him in front of his troops when he was INVADING HER COUNTRY AT THE HEAD OF AN ARMY at the time? I mean, surely normal social rules of rudeness no longer apply! Why did Ben's parents apparently teach her nothing about ruling a country? She's fifteen, not five. Why are all Sophia's lessons directed at making her into a good courtier when they don't have a real court? Why the whiplash between WE ARE AT WAR WITH DRACHENSBETT and we must play nice with Drachensbett! Be polite! - particularly the mindboggling passage where it turns out that the important thing is that Ben embarrassed Florian in front of his troops, despite the fact that it happened during the course of what was ostensibly a secret military invasion of her country - so what, it's OK to INVADE and KILL PEOPLE but heaven help you if you are RUDE? WTactualF. Also, when did she fall in love with him? How? Why? It makes no sense in the context of the book, and it's virtually unsignalled.
The real shame is that there are the bones of a great story here. I love stories about lazy and unsatisfactory children turning themselves around, and this could have really done something with that. The secret magic room was great and could have had an interesting story of its own, but it pretty much gets dropped as soon as Ben escapes the castle. There's certainly the potential for a gripping novel about intrigue between the kingdoms and Ben having to negotiate the complex rules of social politeness with the Drachensbett party while simultaneously planning or fighting a secret war against them. Even the story of Ben vs Sophia could have worked in a bunch of different ways. But as it stands? No. (hide spoiler)]
She can do so much better than this that I can't understand why she let it be published. It's not even a flawed first novel - her first novel was good. Man, I dunno.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Boston is kind of amazing; I didn't read the Green Knowe books until I was in my late teens, and I always forget how good they are because they're not...moreBoston is kind of amazing; I didn't read the Green Knowe books until I was in my late teens, and I always forget how good they are because they're not part of my childhood. Her prose is astonishing and subtle, and her stories are sharply insightful. This one, in particular - it falls into a bunch of racist traps, but for something written in 1961 it's so aware of Ping as an individual, and of the issues of exile and entrapment that it deals with. It doesn't pull its punches; for all the strong sense of mythology, there's so little in the way of rounded-off corners and sanitised childhood. The ending, in particular, is powerful and unexpected. I really need to get all of these - I picked up this and another in a library book sale, and they really are so good.(less)
To Ride Pegasus, Damia, The Rowan, Pegasus in Flight, and Pegasus in Space, Anne McCaffrey - I was lending a couple of these to a friend, and was stru...moreTo Ride Pegasus, Damia, The Rowan, Pegasus in Flight, and Pegasus in Space, Anne McCaffrey - I was lending a couple of these to a friend, and was struck by the urge to re-read them first. They have, as I'd expected, been visited by the Suck Fairy, but not as badly as some of her others; I still quite enjoyed them, despite everything. The series was written over quite a period of time; To Ride Pegasus was published in 1973, which is some level of excuse for the massive gender essentialism, astonishing normative heterocentrism, weird racist tendencies, and ableism (among other things). Unfortunately it's less of an excuse twenty years on when she's still writing new stories; some things improve a little, but she's still accidentally (I think!) promoting eugenics, and her attitude to disability is often quite odd.
Her fetish for older man / much younger woman relationships is a bit of a squick for me. I just can't deal with women marrying men who changed their nappies for them, what can I say. I'm not keen on age-gap relationships anyway (though I do accept that they can work in the real world!), but a) it all feels terribly Electra complex on her side, and b) when he's known her all her life it ends up having almost paedophilic vibes. Especially the scene where Damia insists that Afra admire her naked fourteen-year-old body, particularly when combined with the fact that he is later described as having been in love with her since she was that age. I just - squick. McCaffrey also has a thing about babies, and women having babies, and large families; again, it's almost fetishistic at times. The standalone Nimisha's Ship is particularly bad, but that sensitised me to how much she uses it elsewhere. The stuff on Peter's "sexual awakening" is pretty terrible, too. I do get the impression that she has some... issues surrounding sex, and that's not even getting into her attitude towards homosexuality.
The biggest problem I have with the series, though, is her bad habit of having her heroes (and they usually are heroes) be self-righteous; they're always right, and the people who oppose them are stupid, evil, or both, but they tend to get very high-handed and aggressive about pushing their inevitably-correct agenda, and not very good at considering the sometimes-valid criticisms they face. They're right structurally, because the author says so, rather than necessarily because their arguments are convincing, and they have a bad habit of keeping secrets in order to score points off their opponents. There's a recurring argument, for instance, about the space station being "too noisy" for Talents, and the "heroes" don't mention until really late on that they're talking about psychic noise, and not physical noise, which puts a very different complexion on the discussion, and the arguments over whether Talents need different treatment from non-psychic workers. There's a ton of stuff like this; they won't give their opposition all the information, or proper explanations, or anything, and then they get all snotty when they reveal their obvious rightness, which is reliant on stuff that nobody else knew, because they wouldn't tell them... It doesn't make me sympathise with her poor beleaguered protagonists, it makes me think they're jerks.
Having said all of that, I did just read, like, five of them (in a very random order!). So obviously it didn't bother me all that much. I find a lot of her worldbuilding interesting; I still don't really get why the universe ends up revolving around what are essentially transportation centres, even if they are doing it with their minds, when some of the other Talents - especially Finding - seem so much more intriguing. But life in the Linears is kind of fun to read about (if, er, unintentionally racist) and I like the first-steps-into-space arc in the Pegasus books. Space colonisation is cool. Flawed but still basically entertaining.(less)
Not my favourite Le Guin, nor even close - I tried to re-read this a few months back and couldn't get into it at all. I picked it up again, though, an...moreNot my favourite Le Guin, nor even close - I tried to re-read this a few months back and couldn't get into it at all. I picked it up again, though, and enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. Nothing especially memorable, but... I do like Okzat-Ozkat, and Sutty's ambivalence around her own history, and the complexity of Dovsan society under the surface.(less)
I... think I actually like GMH less than when I started. His best is amazing, but this is a nearly-complete collection, including all the poems, and a...moreI... think I actually like GMH less than when I started. His best is amazing, but this is a nearly-complete collection, including all the poems, and a lot of them aren't all that great. Or at least they are too frilly and Victorian for me. I don't think it benefited in being read in parallel with Larkin, who is a seriously miserable jerk, but who writes amazingly clear and lucid poetry - his use of language, wow.
I still think God's Grandeur is amazing, but there aren't enough other poems that reach that level for me.(less)
A marvellously assembled collection of material tracing Oxford University through its thousand-year history. The title represents synecdoche in an alm...moreA marvellously assembled collection of material tracing Oxford University through its thousand-year history. The title represents synecdoche in an almost inexcusable yet thoroughly characteristic form - very little of the book is about the city of Oxford in any meaningful way, but given the history of conflict between Town and Gown, and the entirely unreasonable level of control the University had over the city for centuries, well. It seems somehow appropriate that the University should assume unto itself the name of the city without explanation or apology.
I don't know how this would read to someone who didn't love the place; it isn't blind to the faults, but the whole book is suffused by a deep affection for Oxford and for the project of Oxford, the pursuit of learning above all else. I felt intensely nostalgic, reading it, and grateful for my own experiences there, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to someone who didn't have fond memories of their own Oxford degree...(less)
New Temeraire! I really enjoyed this. It's slower than some of the earlier books, and I was less comfortable with the focus on how OHNOES WEIRD and ST...moreNew Temeraire! I really enjoyed this. It's slower than some of the earlier books, and I was less comfortable with the focus on how OHNOES WEIRD and STRANGE and ALIEN the Australian landscape was - it felt almost a little... fetishised? It was also a little odd that it was nearly a quarter of the way into the book before I saw any indication whatsoever that Australia wasn't an empty continent, though I really enjoyed the aboriginal characters (and the use of aboriginals in the book in general) once they did show up. IIRC some of my Australian acquaintance felt that she didn't handle the issue well, but I can't find any specific comments on the issue now; there wasn't anything specifically that pinged me wrong, given the context, but I'm no expert.
In general, though, I found it an excellent read. I'm liking Temeraire a lot as he gets older; Roland and Demane were both great, I really liked Kulingile (though I wanted to see more of backstory around the general reaction to his hatching - there's a lot more story there), Caesar was interesting!, and overall I felt that this was a step up from the last book, which I remember as having been a little disappointing. I am looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.
However, my whole reaction to the book ended up being tainted by a mention in the end note of "Sir Willoughby" AUGH NOVIK NOOOOOOOOO. Surely she cannot possibly be so clueless - when she generally does such a great job with period detail! - that she doesn't understand the usage of titles! Sir Surname is something I expect to see in bad Regency AU fanfics (and possibly bad Regency novels)! Not from people who I assumed to have read the Lord Peter Wimsey books! I want to go and shout at people until they internalise that it's Sir Firstname (or Sir Firstname Surname) and NEVER EVER EVER EVER SIR WILLOUGHBY IT'S SIR NESBIT WHY IS THIS SO HAAAAAAAARD.
I... may be a little unreasonable on this topic. Sorry.(less)
SFRG book, and one of the most roundly hated in a long time! I found it easy enough to read, but also incoherent and often boring. Female characters w...moreSFRG book, and one of the most roundly hated in a long time! I found it easy enough to read, but also incoherent and often boring. Female characters were handled poorly (hint: if you can add "sexy sexy" into the one-line description of every female character appearing on more than one page without changing them at all, you're doing something wrong), the plot leapt about from place to place and time to time, the protagonist was a bully, everything was about HONOUR and KEEPING ONE'S WORD except when suddenly we switched to yet another location and plotline for ten pages / eighteen months / five minutes, and nothing in the book resolved. I'm told this is not a good example of Wolfe's writing, which is a relief, but I'm puzzled as to why Neil Gaiman thought it was so amazing.(less)
Because my brother is awesome, he let me read his Christmas present before he did. Huzzah.
I thought this was better than the last couple I've read; no...moreBecause my brother is awesome, he let me read his Christmas present before he did. Huzzah.
I thought this was better than the last couple I've read; not unproblematic, but basically pretty good. The reliance on "henpecked husband" humour in the early part of the book was disappointing, though - I expect Pratchett to mess with stereotypes, not just rely on them unquestioningly. Someone else said that Vetinari and Willikins were both out-of-character verbose, and I would have to agree; there are a number of minor threads started then dropped; although he's trying hard with the race analogies, they're sometimes a bit faily.
On the other hand, I thought that structurally this book worked better than, say, Unseen Academicals - I feel as though that's been a weakness recently, and this was an improvement. It was nice to see more of Sybil, particularly near the end of the book where she really gets to use all her Sybilishness in the pursuit of awesome. The lady author wrote fun books, and turned out to have a really interesting and relevant reason for doing so - I hadn't seen that one coming, so I liked that. Wee Mad Arthur was great. I thought the riverboat sequence was a classic.
Ultimately, I read the whole thing in one evening, and enjoyed it while I did. Weaknesses it certainly has, but on balance it was still worth a read.(less)
Intriguing. I read the fanfic incarnation first; this has a lot more of the underground urban mythology thing going on, which I've always found fascin...moreIntriguing. I read the fanfic incarnation first; this has a lot more of the underground urban mythology thing going on, which I've always found fascinating, and I think the story is better balanced because of it. The magic system is deeply interesting to me - I could read a heck of a lot more about that. Not desperately deep, but worth reading.(less)
Larkin is an utterly miserable git - misanthropy, superadded misogyny, and general bitterness ooze from almost every poem. But, man, can he write. His...moreLarkin is an utterly miserable git - misanthropy, superadded misogyny, and general bitterness ooze from almost every poem. But, man, can he write. His poetry is just amazing - lucid and clear and such great use of words. It's a real shame that his personality shows through so clearly.(less)
This is excellent; easy to read without being superficial, clear about both its conclusions and the data on which it bases them, and enlightening abou...moreThis is excellent; easy to read without being superficial, clear about both its conclusions and the data on which it bases them, and enlightening about a rather under-studied topic. She occasionally falls into a logical trap even when identifying it ahead of time, but in general she does a good job of building on facts rather than occasionally waving them in the direction of her theory. I've read an awful lot worse pop-archaeology books!
Recommended for people who are interested in fibre-crafts, European / Mediterranean / Near Eastern archaeology, women's history, etc etc.(less)