[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I'm currently reading Hermetech by Storm Constantine and getting mildly annoyed by the New Age-y bullshit, the infodumps and the head-hopping. Also, it seems to be taking a long time for the story to get anywhere.

As for the whole 'plot device to stop young woman having sex' thing, this has popped up a lot recently and Me No Like. FFS. Don't think I've ever read a book where someone / something intervenes to stop a young man having sex, apart from his own agency. Bah.

There's a good story underneath, I think. Somewhere. Buried.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I've started reading Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt. It's been sitting on the bookshelf looking at me, night after night, along with The Victorian Internet.

Truth be told, I don't know enough about the Final Solution to get the most out of this book; I didn't even know what the Judenr├Ąte were, and had to look them up on the internet. So I'm very much coming to it from a state of ignorance. Primarily, my interest in it comes from a mention in Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority.

So far, the book is interesting, especially as an eye-witness account of Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem following his kidnap from Buenos Aires. Arendt reported on the trial for the New Yorker, and her (controversial) book is an edited version of the articles published in that magazine. She writes clearly and incisively but certainly has her own agenda.

Particularly interesting in the light of Milgram's work is this paraphrase of some of Eichmann's remarks:

"As for the base motives, he was perfectly sure that he was not an innerer Schweinehund, that is a dirty bastard in the depth of his heart; and as for his conscience, he remembered perfectly well that he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had been ordered to to (sic) -- to ship millions of men, women and children to their deaths...." (italics mine)

and this direct quote:

"I sensed I would have to live a leaderless and difficult individual life, I would receive no directives from anybody, no orders and commands would any longer be issued to me...."

Easy to conclude that if nobody had ever ordered Eichmann to arrange mass slaughter, he would have lived an entirely blameless life. This is probably Arendt's thesis, and the reason why her book was so controversial when it first came out: we'd like to see a monster sitting in the dock, but there's only a bureaucrat who wanted to belong.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Reading Zoe Fairbairn's Benefits, I have the vague feeling I've read it before. Aspects of it seem familiar, although almost any book that involves the women's movement seems to have the same factors: political lesbians, inability to agree any course of action, and women who drift in and out of involvement. It's possible it was one of my mother's books--I may yet find her copy, somewhere.

It's not a book that draws you in. It starts with a huge chunk of backstory before anything so mundane as a character appears. It also doesn't feel very SFnal. Or at all SFnal, to be frank. Perhaps it will venture into that territory eventually.

Not very impressed so far, although the young woman who insists 'there is no baby' is funny in a sad way.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood, the first in her Phryne Fisher series. For this I blame Lena.

It's short.

[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Now moved on to James Tiptree, Jr.'s Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home, which is a collection of short stories. Published in 1973, it predates the revelation that Tiptree was, in fact, Alice Sheldon, and not "a man who knew how to interest me, entertain me, and tell me something about the world and mankind's affairs all at the same time*" at all.

The stories are varied, in subject and approach as well as style, although there's a couple that feature the same characters using history to solve alien-related problems. So far, a collection worth picking up.

*Introduction, by Harry Harrison.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
James White's The Aliens Among Us. Starts with one of his hospital stories that I've always enjoyed and would like to see in a nice collection sitting on my shelf.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Currently reading Fated, by Benedict Jacka. Don't know whether I'll finish it though. It's first person of the sort I don't like (the generic sort of voice) and is slow to get going (all the back story needs to put in somewhere, you know). But I'll give it to the 1/3 point.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Am now reading Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller. I feel grateful that I've read her work before, otherwise I suspect I'd be entirely lost. At sea. Drowning. It's not an easy story. Although Joanna Russ is harder.

Seems funny that the day after starting Carmen Dog I should be reading about the idea of 'anti-sf', ie, presumably, sf that is entirely opposed to the way someone thinks sf must be done if it's to qualify for the name. I suspect Carmen Dog epitomises anti-sf, insofar as I understand what that's meant to be anyway.

It's not "rationally knowable" for women to turn into animals, and animals into women. No two ways about that.

It's sf as critique, sf as a way of making you think, sf that may not have an idea for a hero, but sf that is littered with ideas all the same. It's also plain weird.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Now I'm reading Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent by Veronica Roth. She takes no prisoners, this one. There's no recap at the beginning; Insurgent starts where Divergent leaves off, and tough luck if you can't remember immediately who's who.

It's a bit of a bewildering read so far, with the characters trying to find a refuge and flailing around with no fixed goals. Feels a bit repetitive at times. Lots of hidden agendas, too.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Having ploughed through Ancillary Justice--and it did feel a bit like a chore at times, due to the relentlessly unemotional narration--I'm now reading Tricia Sullivan's Dreaming in Smoke.

She do like to throw you in at the deep end, Ms Sullivan, she do. It's almost a disappointment when something's actually explained.

Brain needs a workout once in a while. *massages sore brain*
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Am currently reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. This has to be the most recent SF book I've read in years. It was only published in October 2013. Not even a year old! Heavens.

The book came to my attention when it was winning awards. That's not necessarily a reason why I'd buy something, but hey, sometimes I can make an exception. I'm enjoying it so far, especially the confusion the narrator experiences over identifying the sex of other characters. This keeps you off-balance, making it very difficult for you to assign gender roles to anyone. I'm not even sure of the narrator's sex. Leckie makes this work very well; I can see however how it could be simply annoying in other hands. Here, it enriches the experience of the POV of a narrator whose own humanity is at best questionable.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
After being harrowed by the SOE book, I decided on something a little lighter: The Ragged World by Judith Moffett, which is a fixup novel. Currently, one of the characters is entering a highly radioactive zone in order to end his life because he cannot deal with the death of his best friend. Lighter, indeed.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I am reading The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin now that the library has finally decided I can have it. I put it on hold and it was "In Transit" for weeks (stuck on a train?). So I cancelled that hold and redid, and the next day both copies were "In Transit". Then I went in the day after that to pick up something else and the book was waiting for me.

So I'm reading it. There are some signals it might not be a book that'll interest me but it's an easy read and I'm already up to page 31 after one bus trip. So I expect to finish it.

ETA Seems it one of those books that whispers "Read me. Just a page or two" when you are trying to do other things.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I'm about halfway through Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven, which tells the story of the disaster that overcomes an expedition of four young white men and Ada, an Inuit woman hired to sew for them, when they venture to colonise Wrangel Island in 'The Friendly Arctic'. They've been sadly misled by expedition founder Vilhjalmur Stefansson into believing life on Wrangel will be easy. You'd think at least the one member of the expedition who'd been to Wrangel before--and nearly died there of starvation--wouldn't be taken in. But Stefansson (born Stephenson) seems to have a charismatic hold over those he meets. Even when he knows perfectly well he hasn't got the money to send the relief ship on which the expedition is depending, he blithely reassures the families that all is well, and that their relatives are in no greater danger than they would be at home. Ahem.

This book is a fascinating read. Niven's obviously researched the story thoroughly, and she makes no attempt to gloss over the more reprehensible behaviour of the people involved, or to gift Ada with a hagiography. I do wonder if she's not sometimes tempted to label Stefansson a dangerous fantasist, but she never does. Perhaps she's content merely with allowing us to deduce this for ourselves.

There's a harrowing account of one expedition member's experiences with scurvy and of Ada's confrontations with the polar bears of which she's terrified. Even though I know things are not going to end well, I can't resist reading on. A compelling, well-researched story.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
My current read is Longbourn by Jo Baker. It's a fun book about the trials and vicissitudes of the servants to the Bennett household in Pride and Prejudice. It has nothing of Austen's delicacy of touch, where she writes something apparently innocent and you have to think for a moment before you realise she's just taken the most tremendous swipe at a character with a bear paw, claws extended. It does however read on occasion like it's the thoughts the author had while reading P&P, put into a servant's mouth.

But it's fun. And it doesn't just repeat the story of P&P--or add pointless zombies to it--but has a plot all of its own, interwoven with the original story but never impinging on it.

Good so far.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I trailed the moving finger down the non-fiction shelf by the bed and came up with All Sorts and Conditions of Men by Walter Besant. Except, as those of you are ahead of me may already know, it's fiction.


How I came think it wasn't a novel is beyond me, especially as it's in English, unlike my other faux pas in the fiction/non-fiction differentiation department, which was Une Histoire d'un Conscrit de 1813. I picked up a rather battered French-language edition sometime somewhere, under the misapprehension that it was a memoir. Nope, it's a roman, a novel, a fictional collaboration between two French writers from the Moselle region of France. Bah.

Some in the family have speculated on my ability to read a book in French, so here's my translation of the first paragraph:

'Those who didn't see the glory of Emperor Napoleon during the years 1810, 1811 and 1812, will never know the heights of power to which a man can climb.'

That's perfectly good English, anyway!


To return to Besant, I have to say it's not a very good book. The dialogue is unconvincing, and the plot contrived. Not sure why I'm still reading. Perhaps it will go on to draw the poorer parts of London with sympathy and accuracy. We can hope.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Lately I've been reading Pat Murphy's The Falling Woman, which was one of the books I bagged on a recent visit to Waterstones. It's told from two different first-person POVs. The first is archaeologist Elizabeth Butler, who's currently working on a dig at a Mayan site, and has the ability to see into the past at twilight. The second POV is Elizabeth's estranged daughter, Diane, who's come in the hope of establishing a relationship with the mother who gave her up to her father's care years before.

So far, this is a very interesting book that focus on the relationship between mother and daughter and their different relationships with the past. Diane wants to understand their own past but Elizabeth is interested in the Mayans she sees living their lives around her, and even more so in the Falling Woman of the title, Zuhuy-kak, a Mayan woman who was sacrificed in a cenote but survived to bring the messages of the gods back to her people. Never before has one of Elizabeth's ghosts interacted with her.

At the same time, it appears possible that Diane has inherited her mother's ability to catch glimpses of the distant past.

There were some points at the beginning of this book--always a tricky time--where I was disappointed. For example, when Elizabeth first meets Zuhuy-kak, there seems to be too much luck in Elizabeth's ability to answer the tests Zuhuy-kak sets her. One lucky guess I could tolerate, but two in succession felt forced. Yet that's such a small complaint. Beginnings are hard; it's often there that the reader's willingness to suspend disbelief is tested.

Am looking forward to finding out what happens next.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The book du jour is Nicola Griffith's Slow River, recently re-released in a smart Gollancz Masterworks edition. After being kidnapped and publicly humiliated, courtesy of the internet, Lore begins a new life with the mysterious Spanner. In a parallel narrative, Lore begins a new new life without Spanner, working at a water treatment plant where she becomes increasingly concerned about the short-handedness and the lack of attention to safety procedures. The reader is also given little 'dips' into Lore's childhood as the youngest child of a rich family of business people.

The narrative switches not only between time and place but also between POV and tense; sometimes it's first person and past tense, sometimes it's third person and present tense. It's an elegant conceit that serves to underline the idea that Lore is different people at different times, to emphasise her frequent changes of identity, but it also serves to make the narrative choppy, to make it harder for at least this reader to sustain continuous engagement with the story. Swings and roundabouts.

Definitely enjoying the book, but now we've hit an infodump where Lore is explaining to a new treatment plant employee exactly how everything works, and it's slowed down accordingly. Daresay it's just a minor bump in an otherwise entertaining journey.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I'm reading Death and the Running Patterer still. It's a murder mystery set in Sydney in 1828, and the poor thing has drowned in detail. Every time a new character appears, there's a few paragraphs on his background. Every time a new building appears, there's a few paragraphs on its background. Every time a new term or situation or anything bloody thing appears, there's background about it. There is far too much of it. And it doesn't help when it's followed by "thought that Patterer" (that being the MC's occupation, which is often used by the narrator in place of his name) or inserted into a discussion between the two characters. This just seems contrived and fake.

However, I am still reading it because it's all I have to read on the bus at the moment & I have some hope that might actually be an interesting story hiding in there, it is certainly easy to read, but also I noticed something, well two things, that possibly need some further examination.

Firstly, with that much detail, the things that matter get lost. Little things like why a character has appeared in the story or what their occupation is. And there are probably details that advance the plot and develop character and all that stuff in there somewhere too.

But more important, for all this information about the setting, there is no sense that the author actually knows what he is talking about. Overcompensating? Or be because he's throwing in everything possibly relevant there's bits that don't fit together properly. Or even the occasional feeling that something isn't right (e.g. I'm fairly sure "bugger off" is an expression of more recent origin, and the New Partridge Book of Slang agrees, it says UK 1922). Like emptying three boxes of jigsaw pieces onto a table at the same time, and then throwing in a loose pieces found around the house.

When it comes to historical & world building details, more isn't always better. But it's sort of interesting to look at what (doesn't) work.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The Gender Delusion by Cordelia Fine. Witty, incisive, and empowering. Yum.


The Little Dog Laughed

January 2019

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