Jo Walton is one of those writers that you can happily recommend to people who loveThis review was originally published at the Books and Pieces blog.
Jo Walton is one of those writers that you can happily recommend to people who love SFF and people who think they don't. Her novels are always something different (she's a genre blurring genius) , something special and something that will leave you with a lot of thinking to do.
If you've ever read any of Jostein Gaarder's philosophical novels (The Solitaire Mystery, The Christmas Mystery, Sophie's World) then this book will feel somewhat familiar. Obviously the gods and their divine intervention put this in the fantasy field but the real meat of the novel is in the philosophical exploration. It pulls apart Plato's ideas and examines the problems within it - How would you correct for people's preexisting ideas? How would the proportions of children to adults work? How do you deal with the necessity of work? How do you populate the city? It's full of intriguing questions and also explores, through the actions of the characters, things like equality of work, slavery, misogyny, rape, political power, and the importance of individual agency versus the importance of the state. That's some big things to cope with.
But it does so well. Jo Walton has this effortless-seeming light touch to her writing. You're just swept along, happily enjoying the story before suddenly realising that you've learned significant amounts about philosophy, engaged in socratic dialogues about the ethical basis for society, and had a thoroughly good time doing it. Her characters are, as ever, wonderful: witty, intriguing, flawed and wonderful. And I loved being able to see how the society both helped and held back our three protagonists with their very different viewpoints. And the robots. You're going to love the robots.
All I can say is that I'm glad there's more to come. The adventure continues with THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS in July 2015 and NECESSITY soon after that.
The perfect Christmas read and, as ever with Dickens, beautifully written. The descriptions and turns of phrase in this little story will make you lauThe perfect Christmas read and, as ever with Dickens, beautifully written. The descriptions and turns of phrase in this little story will make you laugh, shudder, and fill with joy. Yes, it's s bit twee and sweet but, damn it, it's Christmas. ...more
A thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories which follow a supernaturally-inclined dynasty from Ancient Rome, to 19th century Florence, to modeA thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories which follow a supernaturally-inclined dynasty from Ancient Rome, to 19th century Florence, to modern day Australia, and into the future. The fun tales were the perfect tonic to a couple of crappy days. They're lively and sweet but clearly filled with clever commentary, a deep knowledge of Roman history, and a wry humour that all combine into some really joyful reading. Read them to learn about why the Julia's were not to be messed with, see a very different side of Mary Shelley, and understand how your family will never be as cool as this one. ...more
I'm not sure how Gibson manages to carve out these visions of the future that just wriggle into your brain and convince you that they're just so veryI'm not sure how Gibson manages to carve out these visions of the future that just wriggle into your brain and convince you that they're just so very possible and true but he does it every. damn. time.
This tale told in two timelines takes place in futures that are human and horribly, wonderfully, grimly liveable. In one, phone games, 3d printed drugs, and technologically messed up soldiers paint a bleakly recognisable future. In the other, the apocalypse has happened and instead of Mad Max it's still celebrities and politics and pushchairs. It's fascinating and intriguing and provides an amazing backdrop for a tense story of political intrigue and human relationships across alternate continua.
But what really keeps this story alive is the characters who are so beautifully drawn, flawed and complex, that you are happy to follow their tale wherever it leads. My only disappointment was the epilogue which was a bit of an unnecessarily saccharine sweet Harry Potter ending to an otherwise excellent book. ...more
This beautiful novel is centred around a coming of age story - that of Jevick, son oThis review was originally published on the Books and Pieces blog.
This beautiful novel is centred around a coming of age story - that of Jevick, son of a rich spice grower on the remote islands of Tyom. Taught to read and write by a foreign tutor from the distant country of Olondria, Jevick becomes enraptured by books and by language, by the possibilities held in thoughts made corporeal, by the land and histories of Olondria that he reads about. The death of his father gives Jevick the opportunity to travel to Olondria to sell his pepper crop but when there he becomes haunted by ghost of a girl from his homeland that he met whilst travelling. This haunting is considered at once sacred and profane in the two opposing religions of Olondria and Jevick becomes an unwitting pawn in political and religious battles between the two sides.
The concepts of language, writing, and stories are at the core of this book. It's about how language and stories shape us and how they affect the world around us. Jevick learns to love stories but he learns it through another country's language. His adoration of Olondria sets him apart from his home land, makes him question his own beliefs. But it's when he's seen Olondria and lived its stories that he learns to better appreciate and understand his own language and culture and begins his attempts to translate them into a written form.
It's also about how we words and stories to enforce, persuade, negate, and celebrate different ways of thinking. The priests of the various religions consistently tell Jevick stories to justify their actions, the tales of the islanders and the Olondrians shape how they react to different occurrences. And, we're not just hearing Jevick's story but all of those that interweave with it; we learn the lives of the people he meets, the poems, the mythology of the two countries, their histories, and their religions.
It's so densely written and packed with tales that you forget what it is you're reading - I was two seconds from fact-checking wikipedia at a couple of points before remembering that the entire world was fictional. It wasn't easy going sometimes, at points I was waiting for some plot point to happen and then a character would state the terrible lines: "do you know the story of...". Noooooooooooooo. But actually that all played into the creation of this thoroughly realistic world. I know this history of Olondria, the religions of the island of Tyom, the life of Jissavet. I know them like I know my own name. They're that real.
I feel like I should state that I almost gave up on this book a couple of times but that failure was totally on me. This isn't a book where you can just wizz through and enjoy the plot. It needs to be savoured and appreciated for it's beautiful and complex self and once I got in the zone I was good. ...more
3.5 stars really but I can't bump it up. I do enjoy the Peter Grant series and this was another interesting installment. We're out of London and into3.5 stars really but I can't bump it up. I do enjoy the Peter Grant series and this was another interesting installment. We're out of London and into the countryside but still finding beauty and fascinating facts in the life and history of the surroundings. I adore how this series is essentially a police procedural where, to the frustration of just about everyone, magical things just keep happening. And I so appreciate a fantasy book that doesn't feel the need to come up with some overly elaborate pseudo-scientific explanation for their magical system. There's magic, it happens, we don't really know why but that doesn't make it happen any less frequently. Additionally, the main story this time about two small girls who go missing in a potentially supernatural kidnapping case is great but Aaronovitch really falls down with his endings. Don't get me wrong, I don't need every loose end tied up but if you don't explain certain presences then they become awkward deus ex machina loitering on the sidelines of the action. Honestly, it felt like he ran out of time and someone took the typewriter away about two chapters too soon. But still good, still fun, still read-worthy. ...more
I honestly don't know what to say about this book. It's at once hilarious and ridiculous but clever and full of interesting things to critique. And leI honestly don't know what to say about this book. It's at once hilarious and ridiculous but clever and full of interesting things to critique. And lesbian vampires. Never doubt the Victorian ability to bring innuendo to every situation. ...more
A combination of literary fiction's intelligence, high fantasy's epic plots, and pop culture's sly humour and insouciance this book perfectly finishesA combination of literary fiction's intelligence, high fantasy's epic plots, and pop culture's sly humour and insouciance this book perfectly finishes off what has been, for me, one of the most satisfying and clever series of recent years. It's taken a far more realistic look at the likely outcomes of people being gifted with ridiculous magical powers, of what that horrible moment when you finish university and are suddenly expected to be a fully functioning member of society would be like if you had unlimited resources, and how adventures like those portrayed in the Narnia books would truly, and completely, fuck you the hell up.
In this final volume the messed up characters from the first two novels are a little more grown up, it's a true coming age of novel and one that resonates much with my own life. In fact, I think this book may well have helped me heal a little bit of the pure burning hatred and rage that I have for The Last Battle (of the Narnia series). And that is an impressive feat because I have been raging over that book for almost twenty years.
One of the great joys of this series, and this book in particular, is how it's a real book-lover's book. If you were that kid who escaped off to another world through the pages of a novel you'll hear what this book is saying. In the world of the Magician's those other worlds happen to be real but I don't think Grossman considers the worlds of Harry Potter or Narnia to be any less real or have any less of an affect on our lives as Fillory has on those of the characters in these books. There's a moment where Elliot and Janet are journeying across Fillory and they stand for a while on a hill looking out over the landscape before going on 'to Barien' and I was suddenly struck by how much these books are like the Keats poem - On First Looking In To Chapman's Homer.
MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne: Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Kids, it doesn't get better than a book that can make you quote Keats, where the magical characters can quote Harry Potter, where fantasy is at once ripped apart and yet glorified. Lev Grossman I salute you. ...more
I started writing this review a bunch of times and it kept turning into a big heap of superlatives and exaggerated descriptives because OH MYStunning.
I started writing this review a bunch of times and it kept turning into a big heap of superlatives and exaggerated descriptives because OH MY GOD THIS BOOK IS THAT AMAZING. It’s quick little novella but has already put Sriduangkaew straight to the top of my ’wait impatiently for them to write the next thing’ list and will be, without doubt, amongst my nominees for a Hugo Award.
The story shifts between mortal Hong Kong and the strange immortal realms of demons and gods and whilst our protagonist Julienne is human she is watched over by two divine aunties. This unfortunately makes her a rather attractive prospect for a demon in trouble and soon Julienne is immersed in a beautiful but terrifying world of celestial intrigue.
That description makes it sounds kind of silly but it really, really isn’t. More than the plot what is so wondrous about the book is the writing and the characters. Carefully drawn, these gods and demons are at once achingly human and enticingly alien. I loved the relationships between the characters as well - it was so utterly refreshing to have a book full of women supporting and loving each other: the protective aunts, the sensual lover, the devoted couple, the loyal friend. And the writing, dear universe, the writing! It’s so very good that at one point I had to stop reading to phone my mother to read her some of the sentences because I was going so loopy with joy over them. Yes, they are that good.
I find it hard to describe this book, even now with several day’s distance. It is haunting and quiet but creeps in under you skin until you are filled with the glow of its snake-green radiance. ...more
A compelling tale of Mark Watney an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after he is presumed dead. We follow his fight for survival through his log entrA compelling tale of Mark Watney an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after he is presumed dead. We follow his fight for survival through his log entries and the occasional switch to the perspective of those in NASA desperate, but largely unable, to help. Mark is a funny and likeable character. His log entries mix technical realism with pop-culture jokes and an irreverance for his situation to great effect - how else do you stay sane when you're alone on a planet that's trying to kill you?
My only criticisms were for the style of writing when we switched to third-person narration on the Hermes shuttle (poor, overuse of 'said') and the interludes for narration about inanimate objects - the tearing hab-canvas, the dune sands. I found them jarring and, after the first one, they definitely ruined any sense of shock at the following disasters. Rather than building tension they just made me feel like I knew what was coming.
That said I thoroughly enjoyed this book - a tear-through it, desperate to know what happens, romp of a novel. ...more
Four very different stories that manage to be very different and yet each showcase Lanagan's almost poetic use of language to evoke eery and captivatiFour very different stories that manage to be very different and yet each showcase Lanagan's almost poetic use of language to evoke eery and captivating tales. All four evoke a sense of layers of emotion - you are at once joyous and worried, haunted and hopeful, angry and filled with a sense of foreboding. Wonderful stuff. ...more
A thoroughly interesting and unique fantasy. It's the first time in a while that I've felt like a fantasy book has taken me into an entirely new worldA thoroughly interesting and unique fantasy. It's the first time in a while that I've felt like a fantasy book has taken me into an entirely new world and just blown me away with a new perspective. This is that book. Magic, walking trees, warring states, dog-horses, parallel worlds (yes, in a fantasy book) and more political intrigue than you can shake several sticks at, this book has ALL THE THINGS. In fact the only real downside is that there were so very many things (and people, and worlds, and ideas) all happening at once that it took me until almost the end of the book to really get them untangled in my mind as to who was in which world, doing what, and then the book ended. And damn it for ending!
It's not a perfect book and I can see the validity in some other criticisms I've read but this isn't your standard epic fantasy bildungsroman rejigged and polished over by every writer since Tolkein. This is new and weird and challenging and that may not be comfortable but damn me it's exciting. ...more
A beautiful tale of woman who sells her memories and what this means for her personality, her relationships, and her sense of self.
My thoughts aboutA beautiful tale of woman who sells her memories and what this means for her personality, her relationships, and her sense of self.
My thoughts about this story feels like floating on the sea. It rocks gently you between hauntingly weird retellings of her memories and small pieces of action as she moves around the world. The concept of gaining fleeting moments of an event stored in a 'coin' intertwines itself into your sense of gaining these experiences through reading and add layers of complexity and immersion to the story.
Cleverly conceived and beautifully written my only issue with this book was with some uncaught spelling and grammar errors in the kindle version.