To call this an explosive finale to the season would be a gross understatement. Ian Tregillis is in particularly fine form for this episode and deliveTo call this an explosive finale to the season would be a gross understatement. Ian Tregillis is in particularly fine form for this episode and delivers a kaleidoscopic showdown, brief flashes of an ongoing action, small, colourful splinters that fall in place to form a bigger picture, while things are getting blown up left and right until a big explosion ends it all.
This was a very satisfying season finale, even though, just like last time, it left a lot of lose ends dangling about. But that's of course intentional - they want people to return for the third season, after all. And this much is certain: After this episode, things in Prague will never be the same again.
Season two of The Witch Who Came in from the Cold was even more fun the first one, mostly due to, now that exposition is out of the way, a tighter and more focused plotline. If I have one small niggle then it is that the Cold War was pushed quite far into the background this time b< the magical conflict. I cannot really complain about this, seeing how fun the results turned out to be, but I do hope they'll pay a bit more attention to that in the next season. Which I'll totally will be along again for....more
Just one more installment to go now.... Compared to the Season One finale, which was a comparatively relaxed affair, they've really racked up the tensJust one more installment to go now.... Compared to the Season One finale, which was a comparatively relaxed affair, they've really racked up the tension this time round - excitement is at a peak and I really want to know how all of this will turn out. And it doesn't help that this episode ends on a mean cliffhanger - why isn't next Wednesday yet?
Oh, and on a sidenote - while I can relate to a non-native speaker's urge to add an Umlaut at every possible opportunity, there really isn't one in "Zugzwang." Or is this some encrypted message I didn't get? Hmmm.......more
Pretty much every single review of Matthew De Abaitua’s debut novel The Red Men which I have glanced at has compared him to one or two or several othePretty much every single review of Matthew De Abaitua’s debut novel The Red Men which I have glanced at has compared him to one or two or several other authors and I am feeling that almost irresistible urge myself. Maybe comparison to others is unavoidable with this author – not because he is in any way derivative, but for precisely the opposite reason: His novel is so brilliant and original that it leaves readers bewildered and helpless, groping for the comparison straw just to have something familiar to hold on to.
This is emphasized by the curious fact that even as everyone throws names at this novel, no two readers seem to select the same authors whose work De Abaitua’s novel reminded them of. Finally giving in to temptation, my own associations were of a an equal mix between Philip K. Dick and J. G. Ballard, blended with a generous dose of Will Self and Iain Sinclair – and the diversity of those author’s works is yet another indication of just how hard it is to nail down The Red Men. The novel is as mind- and reality-bending as anything by Dick, as keen-sighted regarding the intersection of psyche and society in late capitalism as by Ballard, is as sharp and funny as Self’s satire and possesses Sinclair’s awareness of places. Those might be actual influences on De Abaitua’s writing (and he does mention Dick in his afterword and did apprently work for Will Self) or it might just be comparisons helpful only to this particular reader, but hopefully they will serve to show the immense scope of the author’s talent.
The Red Man is simultaneously a biting satire on company life and its jargon (“the new new thing”), a near future thriller about the dangers of rampant internet personas (the novel’s titular red men being basically an evolved form of today’s internet trolls) and a meditation on what having to cope with middle age and its responsibilities does to the dreams of one’s youth. All this is held together and tied into an exploration of power – how modern technology helps to increase and concentrate it, whether it is necessary, how it can be abused and just how far one should go to resist that abuse – and then delivered as a novel that is in turns funny and harrowing but always intelligent and generally an excellent read.
It is also very skillfully told – it has two main protagonists, each with their own point of view chapters (each of them taking up most of the novel’s first two parts each), but they do not just stand side by side but one is embedded into the other which makes for interesting refraction and also allows De Abaitua to emphasize the ongoing mirroring between the two narrative threads – doubling being a major theme in The Red Men, as the narrator points out himself at one stage. There is a company named Monad which dominates the first part, and an entity named Dyad who comes increasingly into the foreground during the second, with the third part being mainly concerned with the confrontation between the two (which may, or may not, be the same thing). There is technology vs. biology,computers vs. drugs, economy vs. arts and a whole lot more dichotomies woven into the novel’s fabric, allowing for quite a bit of exegesis if one feels so inclined – for all its readability, The Red Men is very dense in ideas and concepts.
The novel is also very well written – although it is there where I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with it. The Red Men was first published in 2007, what I have been reading is the re-released edition from 2014 – which was heavily edited by the author. According to the author’s afterword he cut some 19,000 word of (his term) “literary flourishes” in order to make his prose more precise and (my term) streamlined for the Science Fiction reading public. Now, I’m all for precision, but I’m no fan of dumbing down language in the name of accessibility. I am well aware that most people these days consider a presumably “transparent” writing style the gold standard and cry purple prose the moment a sentence becomes even slightly more difficult to parse than a news headline. Personally, however, I think that this a sad state of affairs which impoverishes language and kills the capability for attentive, critical reading. Now, I have not read the early version of The Red Men and it is of course quite possible that the edited version is the better one, but De Abitua’s choice of words in describing the changes gives me some cause for concern and makes me wonder if he hasn’t caved in to the crowd clamouring for supposedly “clean” prose. For my part, I prefer my prose dirty and opaque – I will take an author who risks something with their language over one who plays it safe and “transparent” any day of the week.
But enough of me ranting – even in its edited form, The Red Men is seriously good stuff: Whether you’re interested in Science Fiction (or not) or in Literary Fiction (or not) – go and read it. And who knows – in ten, maybe twenty years, readers may turn the last page of a novel by a promising young author, blinking and scratching their heads, wondering what they just read… and think that, somehow, it had a distinctly De Abaitua-ish vibe to it....more
As one would expect with such a project, the quality of the writers varies a bit. There isn't a bad one in the bunch, but to my estimate it ranges froAs one would expect with such a project, the quality of the writers varies a bit. There isn't a bad one in the bunch, but to my estimate it ranges from competent to excellent. But the one writer who I think has been consistently great through both seasons is Ian Tregillis, who has delivered a brilliant piece full of great atmosphere, crips dialigue and fresh, striking imagery with each installment of his.
And Aftermath is no exception - while I usually burn through each episode, turning pages quickly to find out what is happening next, those by Ian Tregillis I force myself to read slowly, to savour his wonderful prose. Admittedly, that usually only lasts until about halfway point, then I get carried away by events and keep gulping down the rest, but even so... Tregillis is an outstanding writer who I really need to read more of....more
Classical Chinese literature obviously does not consist solely of the Six Great Novels, and I wanted my reading project to also include some shorter (Classical Chinese literature obviously does not consist solely of the Six Great Novels, and I wanted my reading project to also include some shorter (but not necessarily minor) books. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio was my first attempt at a canonized work which is not a several thousand pages long, and overall I enjoyed it, if not quite as much as the novels, which I strongly suspect is due to more getting lost in translation.
Pu Songling’s work is written in “classical” Chinese as opposed to the “vernacular” of the novels. Not knowing any Chinese at all, I have not the faintest clue what the implies, but according to the translator of the edition I have read, John Minford, the former is highly elliptical and allusive, while the latter is much more straightforward. The tales in this volume often rely heavily on references to other works, and are often oblique in their allusions – a Chinese gentleman reader of the 17th century would probably have caught them easily, but a modern day Western reader is quite lost and has to rely on annotations. John Minford thankfully supplies a generous amount of those (as well as a highly informative introduction), but it still is not quite the same – the whole situation is rather reminiscent of Plum in a Golden Vase – and in fact, Strange Tales shares another trait with that novel, namely that it is very frank about sexuality; the sex is not as explicit, but it occurs rather more often.
When I was starting with this, I was expecting a Chinese version of Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, but what I got instead was a Chinese version of Hebel’s Kalendergeschichten with added supernatural elements (and more sex). Which, as I hasten to add, is not a bad thing at all. The stories in this volume (104 in all, a selection from the original) are all short to very short (I don’t think there is a single one above twenty pages) and vary in nature, from didactic morality tales over ghost stories to reports of strange occurrences like you’d find them in the Miscellaneous section of your newspaper (if it was published in 17th century China, that is). And there is, of course, cannibalism – I guess no piece of Classical Chinese literature would be complete without it. Some tales I found delightful, some left me scratching my head, some were amazing, some plain bizarre, some I got, some left me baffled – in short, this collection is very much like the notorious box of chocolates, you never know what you will get.
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio is best read one or two tales at a time, so that each piece has space and time to unfold its own peculiar charm. Another trait this collection shares with chocolates is that too many ingested at once will spoil your stomach, and that while they are delicious, they are not particularly nourishing. Only maybe half a dozen stories felt like they’d make any lasting impact, the rest, while a pleasant diversion, also seemed somewhat shallow. Which may be because of the shortness of the tales, but I’m more inclined to blame it on them being translations. John Minford’s translation does appear to be a good one (as far as i can tell not knowing the original), but translations can only do so much; and if a work which depends as much on nuances and wordplay (not to mention the occasional double entendre) as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio appears to do, then it will unfailingly be bound in its original language and any translation, no matter how good, will only give a blurry, washed-out reproduction of the original’s splendour. Even so, just for the glimpse it grants us, it is well worth reading translations. And who knows, readers might find themselves motivated to actually learn the language of the original…...more
Jack Kerouac's first, at least semi-autobiographical novel, and the first one by him which I have read. Everyone mentions how much this owes to ThomasJack Kerouac's first, at least semi-autobiographical novel, and the first one by him which I have read. Everyone mentions how much this owes to Thomas Wolfe, and they are entirely correct, at least for the part that takes place in the town of the title, the fictive Galloway, Mass. The novel undegoes a distinct change of tone once it moves into the city, the emphatically not fictive New York and starts to take on what I assume is Kerouac's own voice as a writer.
Kerouac seems to be thinking that he has some wisdom to impart to his readers, which I at least rather doubt he has - if one wanted to be grumpy about it it is all fairly trite and commonplace, and even if one takes a more receptive stance the novel's ulterior message seems to vacillate indecisively between "Follow your dreams" and "Stick with your family". Even so, I found myself enjoying The Town and the City considerably more than I was expecting to, and this was almost entirely due to Kerouac's writing which I found immensely powerful, possessed of a strong forward drive that pulls readers along. Whether he is doing Wolfean pastiches or searching for his own voice, there always is a very strong sense of rhythm to his prose, a (I feel I have to apologise for this) steady, lively beat that pulses in this family tale and keeps it moving along even as not much is happening in terms of plot.
Kerouac's reputation appears to have dimmed somewhat in recent years, but going by this debut novel I wonder whether that is deserved. For my part, I'm quite eager to finally read On the Road....more
Almost halfway through the season, this is the guest author contribution. I've only known Fran Wilde as author of second-world Fantasy before, so thisAlmost halfway through the season, this is the guest author contribution. I've only known Fran Wilde as author of second-world Fantasy before, so this seemed a somewhat surprising choice, but it is obvious throughout the installment that the author was having lots of fun with this, and even appears to have some done research (or maybe just happens to know Prague well), going by the extensive name dropping of street and place names.
In short, another enjoyable episode, in a second season that so far I'm enjoying even more than the first: things come to a first crisis here as almost everyone of any relevance is converging at a boxing match, and complications are piled upon complications. Like in Season One, the plot is a mess but it seems a far more focused mess as the various intrigues actually are related to each other (even if most of the players are at this stage unaware of that). Utterly delightful....more