This book's real title is the two-word slur repeated 20+ times.
In the small (population ~6,000) town of Kittilä in Finnish Lapland, home to the populaThis book's real title is the two-word slur repeated 20+ times.
In the small (population ~6,000) town of Kittilä in Finnish Lapland, home to the popular Levi ski resort, a beautiful young female Somali immigrant, a relatively famous minor film star name Sufia, is found murdered. Her body has been mutilated in ways suggestive of a sexually and racially motivated hate crime, including an ugly racist and sexist slur carved into her skin. Enter our hero, Inspector Kari Varaa, to sort it all out.
As the story proceeds, the author takes great pains to place the same racist/sexist slur that was carved in the victim's skin into the mouths of as many characters as he can place it — even that of our hero's wife, pregnant with twins and laid up with a broken leg. The characters who repeat the slur are mostly, of course, simply "repeating the facts of the case," and Vaara (in whose voice the novel is written) is reliably dutiful in condemning those who use the slur in ugly ways as being the distasteful scum that of course they must be.
And yet. The continual and gratuitous use of the slur in so many mouths left me feeling that the author was just as luridly a participant in the misogynistically-tinged racist rubbernecking as was his stereotypical creepy tabloid reporter character Jaako Pahkala. For the record, I did a count using the search function in my $11.99 Kindle ebook: the English version of the complete two-word slur appeared 20 times in the book, the Finnish version of the slur appears once. Variations on the n-word in English appear on their own another 12 times, and the misogynist slur "whore" another 7 times; the Finnish versions of these words appear a couple of times each. And these were not the only gratuitous uses of sexist and racist imagery in the novel. In the end, this imagery completely dominates the character of Sufia and erases her as a person. She, the victim of a vicious crime, becomes no more than those two words, endlessly repeated: one never really learns to care for her. She is only a prop for Vaara's drama.
It is the novel's greatest fault.
But there are others. For example, the uneven quality of Thompson's depiction of relationships between characters. I had a strong sense of the respect and friendship between Kari Vaara and his second-in-command, Valttari. Then Vaara would go home to his wife of one-and-a-half years — Kate, a ski-resort manager originally from Aspen, Colorado — and flat flat flat flat. They love each other? Sorry, can't see it. Kate serves some uses to the story, certainly: as an American who hasn't been in Finland all that long, she provides an excuse for Vaara to explain Finnish cultural characteristics to the largely American reading audience. But her relationship with Vaara is very cardboard; she herself is cardboard. In a notable speech near the end of the book, she gives her husband a complete rundown of the various (and mainly stupid and improbable) theories he has of the crimes that have so far occurred (of which there are a number by that time). But she has none of the emotion that a real woman would have in rendering such an account. Twice she uses that famous two-word slur without the least twinge or indication of discomfort past or present about using those words. Who is she, Sgt. Joe Friday? — "just reporting the facts, ma'am." A real person would at least use air quotes.
Kate is also problematic in her continual complaints about Finns in Finland insisting on speaking Finnish, instead of English, to her. Hello? Aside from her "Ugly American" whininess about this, do you really expect me to believe that she was hired to run a popular Finnish ski-resort without her employers first making sure she knew the language that most of her workers and customers would use? I am reliably informed by many native Finns that it's pretty tough for to get a job in Finland without knowing the language. Thompson, who has lived in Finland for many years and has a Finnish wife, should know better.
This is not even to go into Vaara's problems as an investigator and police officer, including actions he take that would almost certainly get him fired or even prosecuted — rather than promoted to the very top of the Finnish law enforcement hierarchy, as he apparently is in a later installment of this series. Nor have I gone into all the red herrings thrown willy-nilly into the plot like badly aimed paintballs. It would also be nice if he'd temper his stereotyping about endlessly drunk and depressed Finns by including a character or two based on some of the numerous real people in Finland — yes, I'm sure there are some even in Kittilä (which is, yes, a real town; as Levi is a real ski resort) who lead happy and functional lives, maybe even lives that don't involve sexual exploitation of others.
All this said, there were some good things about this story too — if there weren't, I wouldn't have gotten all the way through the book, and wouldn't have given it two stars instead of just one. Thompson is not without skill as a writer; in particular, he succeeded in providing a sense of place and atmosphere: Finnish Lapland above the Arctic Circle during kaamos, the sunless dark of the year. (We've got that in parts of Alaska, too.) As a Finnish-American who has not yet had opportunity to visit Finland, I really appreciated that. Mainly, though, I regarded this novel as very instructive on how one can be a relatively decent writer & still really screw the pooch.
I understand that Snow Angel is Thompson's first novel, as well as the first in the Inspector Vaara series. I hope he improved in the later ones, maybe even enough to deserve the Edgar nominations he's received. But I won't be plopping down 12 bucks to read any of them. If I get curious, I might consider using some of the credit at my local used book store.
UPDATE: On second thought, the inherent racism & sexual degradation of black women in this book leaves no excuse: downgraded to 1 star. In fact, the descriptions of the dutifully-described-as-creepy bad guys' sexual relationships with the victim of this story leave me wondering if the southern-U.S.-born white male author of this novel typed every part of the manuscript with both hands....more
I read this book 3 or 4 years ago: one of the earliest entries in my now-expanding library on space elevators & related technologies. This was theI read this book 3 or 4 years ago: one of the earliest entries in my now-expanding library on space elevators & related technologies. This was the book clued me in that space elevators (see the Wikipedia article) are (or will be) really just a special case of tethers: really really long "ropes" of carbon nanotubes with one end anchored to the Earth, & the other end swinging out there in outer space with a space station or somesuch attached to it, like a great damn huge tetherball making its high speed rounds. And little climbers (not elevator cars) going up & down it like insects. Big insects, carrying big payloads.
Well, and then there are all the other things you can do with tethers. It's one way, for example, to create artificial gravity: just attach your spaceship to some huge rock and swing around it, & ya-hey, there you are stuck to your seat. Tethers can also be used as skyhooks to pick objects out of low orbits and swing them into higher ones (or vice versa), or even to send them on to the Moon or Mars or even deeper into space. Check out the Wikipedia article on space tethers, check out the company Tethers Unlimited (based in Seattle): the applications of tethers in space are extraordinarily diverse & immensely useful. They're going to make space exploration a helluva lot cheaper too, once we really learn how to use them.
We're in early stages of learning to use them, but our knowledge is expanding rapidly. This book did a great job of introducing me to the possibilities, & it would be worth my while to read it again. I recommend this to anyone interested in the possibilities of less expensive space travel, & to any writer who, like me, is creating a science fiction world that has to contend with the realities of gravity & celestial mechanics....more
I've known of this book for aeons, but had never read it until one night last month, surfing the On Demand movies for something to watch, I came acrosI've known of this book for aeons, but had never read it until one night last month, surfing the On Demand movies for something to watch, I came across the 2011 film starring Gary Oldman --
...(About whom I'll say: my kid, who's usually impressive at recognizing actors, could place the actor playing George Smiley in the Harry Potter movies, but failed at identifying which character he played. Such is the excellence of an actor who can so faultlessly inhabit two such very different roles as George Smiley and Sirius Black.)...
-- & enjoyed the heck out of it. Which, naturally, led me to the book. Actually, the books plural -- I bought them in a Kindle edition from Penguin dubbed "The Karla Trilogy" (after the codename of Smiley's Soviet adversary), but I haven't yet read The Honourable Schoolboy or Smiley's People. I picked this particular edition of Tinker Tailor for it's cover, in tribute to the film & actor that got me to read the book.
John le Carré is not Ian Fleming, and George Smiley is not James Bond. So this is not a book I'd recommend to those who insist on fast and continuous and improbable (if enjoyable) action: they'll get bored. But if you're interested in the psychology and intricacy and, well, intelligence of secret intelligence: hey, here's your man. This is not broad brushstroke stuff, but careful, patient, and nuanced investigation in a well-realized world that bears a much closer relationship to what the real world of espionage is like than James Bond or Jason Bourne. Don't get me wrong: the recent Bond & Bourne movies are a blast. But, wow, here's some great writing.
Truly a pleasure. I look forward to reading the rest of the Karla trilogy. ...more
Same problems with this book as I had with the 2nd of the trilogy (Catching Fire): thinly imagined story world beyond the immediate circumstances of tSame problems with this book as I had with the 2nd of the trilogy (Catching Fire): thinly imagined story world beyond the immediate circumstances of the Hunger Games and the reality-TV entertainment hoopla surrounding them. There is some painting in of District 13, and some advancement of the trilogy's themes of children lost in war, fighting oppression, and love and loyalty, but ... well, I didn't find it very imaginatively imagined... not up to the level of the first book.
Sorry. I became pretty badly bored about a quarter of the way through (especially by the love triangle stuff — boring adolescent/young adult heterosexual love triangles are not my genre of choice, just one reason I will never read or see the movies of the Twilight series). The war was pretty confusingly dreary & depressing too — wars are depressing & dreary anyway, but if one's got to be fought, hey, have the organization & strategy of them at least make some sense, please.
I had to force myself to read it all the way through. It read as though Suzanne Collins was as bored writing it, as I was reading it. Glad for both of us that we can go on to other things now....more
Catching Fire continues to explore themes central to its predecessor The Hunger Games, but not much new is added, nothing really compelling, no new diCatching Fire continues to explore themes central to its predecessor The Hunger Games, but not much new is added, nothing really compelling, no new discoveries. It was readable. That's about it.
In particular: I said in my review of The Hunger Games that the world-building a little thin in some areas. That thinness became a lot more apparent in this book. The fictional nation of Panem — somehow, in a way never very well explained, a surviving remnant of North America (presumably the U.S.) — is made up of the Capitol and its 12 outlying (and subject) districts, plus a 13th district that was supposedly destroyed during a rebellion about 75 years ago. But they all could have just been little beads on a string for all the sense of place or geography or realness that I got from them; and that also left the characters, who came out of those places, without any strong sense of a place, a life, a history from which they came.
A richly imagined story comes out of a richly imagined world. I was disappointed in both here, especially after the promise of the first book. ...more
I finally saw the movie with my kid a month or so ago, and bought the trilogy via Kindle. The movie proved to have been quite faithful to the book, anI finally saw the movie with my kid a month or so ago, and bought the trilogy via Kindle. The movie proved to have been quite faithful to the book, and I found both of them to be exiting, involving, and fresh.
That's within the understanding that The Hunger Games is essentially young adult science fantasy (which is what I call "science fiction" that plays the science loosely). I have some different expectations of young adult fiction than of "adult" fiction — I'm not going to analyze the differences in this brief review (especially since I'm having trouble verbalizing them).
But one expectation goes for ANY fiction for ANY age level: make it a good story. And this story meets that. Katniss is also an interesting protagonist: intelligent, resourceful, and caring — she volunteers for the Hunger Games in place of her 12-year-old sister, fully expecting to die in her place — but far, yes very far, from perfect or simplistically heroic. And not immune to the late adolescent wrestlings with questions of love, which not surprisingly are deeply complicated by the oppressive and violent situation in which she finds herself.
I wouldn't recommend The Hunger Games for the delicate of heart: there's a fair bit of violence and gore, which one would expect from a novel about 24 kids from 12 districts being chosen as sacrificial "tributes" who are essentially updated gladiators in an arena from which only one can emerge alive -- all in the name of (1) paying for a long-ago rebellion against the capital city and (2) entertainment. The chipper "reality TV" entertainment trappings surrounding the brutal life-or-death arena battle provides a major fascination — as a writer, I really appreciate the imagination that went into that, and in Collins' portrayal of how the Hunger Games and even the mind-frakking contradiction between "entertainment" and "death" are used to oppress not only the populations of the 12 districts, but of the Capitol as well. Examine that, how about: and then take a look at how the same factors play in the world we live in now.
(Though in some other ways I found the worldbuilding a little thin.)
I went on to read the other two books in the trilogy too. Didn't like them as well, but this one I might re-read one day. ...more
A ghostwriter takes over the job of ghosting the memoirs of former British prime minister Adam Lang after Lang's former ghostwriter suddenly dies — anA ghostwriter takes over the job of ghosting the memoirs of former British prime minister Adam Lang after Lang's former ghostwriter suddenly dies — and just as the Lang is charged with war crimes. Lang looks a lot like Tony Blair, & some of the issues attending Blair attend Lang, too: Lang has been a lapdog to U.S. interests in the "War on Terror." The question at the heart of this novel: Why?
The book is written in first person from the ghostwriter's POV, and it's as a writer that this ghostwriter tells his story. For some people, Adam Lang is a political or a historical problem, but for the ghost, Adam Lang is a writer's problem: Political memoirs are dull, he tells us, but it's his object to make Lang's life come alive to the reader, even to invest it with meaning that Lang himself is blind to:
"I not only extract from people their life stories, I impart a shape to those lives that was often invisible; sometimes I give them lives they never even realized they had. If that isn't art, what is?"
And so he approaches the mysteries surrounding Lang also AS A WRITER, just as any writer approaches their characters and the stories they inhabit. It's this aspect of the tale that I especially enjoyed about the book. Aside from that, it's also beautifully written in terms of language, description, sense of place. A nice guide to wintertime Martha's Vineyard, I'm thinking. I was a little disappointed in the ending, which had a hurried feel to it, as if Harris had a deadline to meet and didn't have time to finish it as well as he would have liked — and for that I dock a star.
I downloaded this book to Kindle after seeing the Roman Polanski movie based on it — "The Ghostwriter" (2010) with Ewan McGregor as the ghost, Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang, and Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang, the ex-PM's wife. Impeccable casting. I discovered on reading that the movie had followed the book fairly closely in some areas, but diverged in others for typical adaptation-to-screen reasons. In some cases the film's choices led to occasions of "huh? I don't think so!" (That plane ride between Cape Cod & Martha's Vineyard sure took a long time!) And the film also lacked the strong sense of "writer solving a writer's problems" that the book carried. But movies are always different from the books they adapt anyway — I enjoyed it as much as the book....more