[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein.

Steerswoman cover

The Steerswoman plays with the reader's expectations, teasing them as to whether this story is "really" SF or if it's Fantasy. There's magic--or is there? Perhaps it's fakery. Or electricity. The reader must make up their own mind.

Steerswomen like Rowan (and a few men) are the keepers and disseminators of knowledge. They must answer any question they are asked or cease to follow their calling. In return, anyone who fails to answer their questions is blacklisted, unable ever to question a steerswoman again.

Rowan is intrigued by some gems or jewels that have turned up in various places, as if thrown across the land by a giant's hand. There's no obvious way they could have been made, or inserted themselves into trees. At the same time, they don't seem to have any particular value. Yet someone is determined to put an end to her investigation. For protection, Rowan links up with Outskirter Bel, and, despite the differences between them, they gradually become friends.

But as Rowan persists in investigating, the two friends are drawn further into danger.

I enjoyed this book. It sets up a believable and well-drawn society, and Rowan and Bel have strength, intelligence and endurance without being set up as superheroes. Their determination reminds me of Snake in Dreamsnake. My only difficulty was that Rowan's intellectual leap regarding the nature of the jewels struck me as coming out of the blue. I didn't feel enough groundwork had been laid for it to convince. A small blemish on an otherwise well-constructed book.

Where the narrative is strongest is in the interactions between Rowan and Bel. Both stick to their own principles while slowly coming to appreciate the other's point of view. As their friendship strengthens, so their characters gain depth. The young man whose help they obtain later in the story, William, is perhaps not quite so well characterised; in fact he's a bit annoying. Or maybe he's annoying because the author wants us to know, hey, this guy's annoying. But he means well.

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr.

Polar City Blues cover

Set on the planet Hagar, where life is mostly conducted after dark, due to the sun's intensity, Polar City Blues is a curious mixture of a detective story with a First Contact tale. It has an impressively diverse cast, including a furry and naturally mute telepath, and white people who are considered inferior to the dominant blacks.

Hagar, a Republic planet, is caught between the rival powers of the Confederation and the Alliance. When an alien carli from the Confederation Embassy is found murdered, Chief Bates must investigate while walking a tightrope of diplomacy. And when telepath Mulligan is swatted by an unknown power, and an unknown assassin targets any witnesses to the carli's assassination, ex-Naval officer Lacey must put her life on the line to identify the assassin.

Add to this a crashed pod, another murdered alien, his distraught soulmate and a spreading alien bacterium that makes people smell of vinegar (and itch. And ITCH.).

Despite the SFnal trappings, there's much here that's tediously familiar. Drugs and drug dealing. Prostitution. Crime bosses. Spies. Hate mobs. Some part of me wants something different from human life on a different world. A way of living that, if not better, is at least other. Yet even the presence of effective telepaths doesn't seem to affect the way people behave.

Then we have Buddy, the AI who's in love with Lacey, and also incredibly cutesy and annoying. At some point in his narrative arc, I wanted to put the book down and walk away. It is possible to go too far in AI/human love rivalry, I fear.

The book is readable, if a bit slow-paced, and there's plenty of intrigue for those who can wrap their heads around such machinations.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

Dreamsnake cover

Dreamsnake is unusual among post-apocalyptic science fiction in that new ways of living have been built, some of them technological, others closer to the land, and there's very little harking back to the past. The 'ancients' are mentioned and some of their buildings and their mistakes survive, but for the most part Dreamsnake's characters live in the present. As do we.

Snake is a healer who uses three snakes to diagnose and cure illness and disease. One is Grass, a dreamsnake, a species that originates with offworlders who are mentioned but never appear. Dreamsnakes are incredibly rare and the healers have had very little luck in trying to breed them. Yet at the same time they are essential to the healer's work--they bring comfort and ease to the dying.

When she is treating a boy called Stavin for a tumour, Snake misjudges the fear and hatred of his clan for snakes, resulting in Grass's death. Desolate and blaming herself, Snake resolves to return to the healers' hall where she was trained. But on the way she finds more people to help, and learns of a possible source of dreamsnakes. If she can bring dreamsnakes to her fellow healers, then maybe the loss of Grass will be forgiven.

The writing is spare and overall doesn't try to evoke emotion in the reader, which perhaps makes for a little distancing. But Snake is an interesting and compassionate character, who is also brave when trying to do the right thing. On her journey she introduces us to the different ways of living that have developed in the aftermath of what seems to have been a nuclear war. Tribespeople, desert people, horse breeders, recyclers, the closed and enigmatic city, all are glimpsed through Snake's eyes and so imperfectly understood.

The snake medicine is fascinating, being a mixture of breeding, training, and genetic manipulation. Snake can let the snakes free to hunt, drink or explore, knowing they will return to her when she taps the ground. But although she's immune to their venom, she's not impervious to being bitten. It's these small details that make the snakes realistic.

Overall, an intriguing and enjoyable read.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Book pile

There has been much reading since the last post, and these aren't even all of them--just the ones that happened to be sitting in a 'read' pile on the floor. They're not in reading order as that would require organisation and proper entry of data into libib. They're just books I've recently read.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Memory cover

Book 10 in the Miles Vorkosigan series, and perhaps an odd choice when I haven't read 1-9, yet it was selected for the Mistressworks list, so here we are. The copy available on Awesome Books was a hardback, which isn't my favourite, but when you're buying cheap books online you take what's there. A nice, clean copy, anyway.

Memory was an easy read, but not a very satisfying one. It starts with Miles waking up, then goes into detailed flashback, and nothing much happens for about the first half of the book. When it finally gets going, it's interesting enough, and succeeded in fooling me as to the identity of the villain. But it reads more like a book for fans--perhaps not unreasonable when it's the tenth in a series. During the denouement I just kept wishing it would end.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

H is for Hawk cover

This was a much-recommended book when it first came out, and certainly piqued my interest. When I saw the hardback on sale at 99p in a charity shop, I grabbed it.

Books that receive this much praise are often a disappointment, but I adored H is for Hawk. It's passionate, devastating, and, ultimately, hopeful. After her father's death, Helen Mcdonald is locked into a grieving process without apparent end. An experienced falconer, she branches out into goshawks, which have a bad reputation, and acquires a young bird she calls Mabel. The book follows Mabel's training, known as 'manning' as well as Mcdonald's slow emergence from her state of grief. At no point does Mcdonald hold back on the emotions of her grief, and of her repeated sense at failure in manning Mabel, even though she has a friend who assures her she's doing fine.

Interspersed with this narrative is a commentary on T.H. White (of The Sword in the Stone fame) and his trials and tribulations in failing to man a goshawk he called Gos. Mcdonald takes us through White's own book, The Goshawk, and alternatively weeps and rages over his failings and the bird's suffering.

Not for the faint-hearted, and to be treated carefully by those experiencing their own grief.

Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter.

Heroes and Villains cover

Heroes and Villains is a post-apocalyptic novel, of which women seem to have written far more examples than I realised before I began reading through the Mistressworks list. And yes, this is another Mistressworks book. It's also short, but makes up for that by being very dense with description and the evocation of the post-disaster landscape.

The book follows the story of Marianne, born and raised in a heavily-protected university environment, who longs for the freedom and wildness offered by the bike gangs who frequently raid the settlement. When she sees a young raider injured and gone into hiding, she sets out to rescue him. Her naive wish for adventure lands her in the middle of the gang's temporary base, and married to the young man she tried to save, and who has raped her.

Carter never shies away from stories other writers might hesitate to consider, and here we are obliged to see Marianne coping with her new husband, and enjoying sex with him despite an unpromising beginning. She's living in a dream where he is the only bulwark against the other raiders and their rough lifestyle and unhealthy environment. At the same time, she has to deal with another exile from the universities that dot the landscape--her husband's gay mentor, who keeps trying to kill him.

It's an uncomfortable and uncomforting book that refuses to conform to a mainstream view of women and their relationships with men. Suppose you did marry your rapist--and suppose you were attracted to him because of his potential for violence, because of his wild beauty, and because he's everything you're not supposed to want? These are the places we dare not look.

Such a book should probably be loaded with trigger warnings.

Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan.

Queen City Jazz cover

One of the best SF writers you've never heard of, Goonan, here creates an astonishingly dense hard SF novel that explores a future of nanotech and the use of DNA for information storage. It's difficult to believe this book was first published in 1994, as the science is bang up to date.

It's not exactly a post-apocalyptic novel, for the world--well, Ohio--hasn't been destroyed so much as radically changed. People live in isolated communities, fearful of the nano-plagues that drive the infected to build rafts and sail down to New Orleans, where the conditions are unknown and unknowable.

Verity lives in a tiny community that worships a cult figure and by which she was adopted after being certified plague-free. Yet she has two curious bumps on her head, purpose unknown, which worry both her family and her. Verity longs to explore beyond her small world and to remember what she learns from the library's immersive couches, but her opportunity comes at a price. When a member of her community kills both her best friend and her dog, she must travel to Cincinnati in search of a way to bring them back to life.

(There are definite similarities up to this point with Heroes and Villains, see above)

Verity's trip to Cincinnati is fraught with danger and strange encounters, but it's when she penetrates the heart of the city that the story really begins. For Cincinnati's residents are caught in a cycle of impersonating artists and acting out stories that begins when the giant Bees awake from hibernation and continues remorselessly until winter returns.

Further, Verity discovers that she (and many other Verities both past and future) has been created for the purpose of finding a way to end this cycle, and return control of their own lives to Cincinnati's people. But is she up to the task? And what will she become?

A long and intense read that requires effort on the part of the reader, Queen City Jazz is also chock-full of references, most of which I probably didn't get. It would definitely reward insiders more.

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler.

Sister Noon cover

My niece gifted me this book when she went home, stating clearly that she didn't recommend it. We'd both loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but this book wasn't nearly as loveable, for reasons that remain obscure.

On the face of it, it's a Fantasy version of a tale familiar to those who've read books about the travails of poor, middle-class women attempting to present a genteel face to the world. Lizzie Hayes raises funds for a home for abandoned and illegitimate children, and even though she's only the treasurer, she keeps being called upon to make important decisions concerning the admission of children and their welfare. This inevitably brings her into conflict with the matron, who seems to be the only other person active in the running of the home.

But Lizzie's problems multiply when she meets Mrs Pleasant (who appears in the novel in several different guises) and learns, through Mrs Pleasant's nominal employer, that her own father may have murdered a young woman.

It's hard to know what in this novel is true, and what is an identity woven out of mystery and dreams. That's fine, but it's also hard to know if it's Lizzie's story, or Mrs Pleasant's in any of her multiple identities, or that of Jenny, the small orphan girl Lizzie is drawn to without much liking her.

Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a book; it just doesn't work for me. That may be the case here.

The Universe Against Her by James H. Schmitz.

The Universe Against Her cover

Many, many years ago, I read this book--or part of it--and it's stuck with me ever since. Stuck with me in the sense that I could remember Tick-Tock (but not her name) and some of the story, but neither author nor title. Finally I decided to cast my query onto the waters of the internet, and see what the tide brought me, and SF guru David Langford identified the book immediately.

The parts I remember are as good as I remember, but, to be honest, the book isn't all that good. It especially went downhill for me after the departure from the story of Tick-Tock, the giant, alien, telepathic cat, from the story. But it was lovely to know what book it was, and to read it again.

Telzey Amerbdon travels to the planet Jontarou to visit her aunt with her pet, Tick-Tock, who she found as a kitten and who appears to have a telepathic link with her. Unfortunately, the visit is a plot by the spiteful aunt to separate Telzey from her pet, who is apparently the last in a species of cats that once inhabited Jontarou. As those cats are now extinct, Tick-Tock must be impounded in the hope she can be used to repopulate the species.

But, as Telzey discovers, the cats are far from extinct--and they're very angry.

(end of part one)
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Gently at a Gallop, by Alan Hunter
From Doon With Death, by Ruth Rendell

I'm putting them together as they're similar books. Short police procedural/crime novels that were published in 1971 & 1964. They both rely for their resolution on something that, was at the time, somewhat unthinkable, and therefore works as a twist. When it is thinkable, after all I've encountered it before, the endings become predictable and even a little dull as you watch the investigators went their way to the "obvious" solution, while still hoping there might be another twist. The Gently book in particular was particularly slow in this respect, also there were a lot of things that... I'll call them lumps in the plot. Things that suggested something was not as it should be but were not followed up on. Not so much red herrings as a feeling the author wasn't sure where the story was going, or changed the end, and didn't go back to smooth out the loose threads.

I'm not sure about reading these books. They're the literary equivalent of an episode of a police drama TV series. Someone dies, the regular characters investigate with little/no side plots, the problem is resolved and everyone goes back to whatever they were doing; and they do that well but I tend to think if I'm reading a book I want something other than what I can get on TV.

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, by Ruth Rendell.

This is more of a... actually not sure what to call it. I'd say psychological suspense but that is something different. Someone dies and as a result, lives are change. However, it's obvious from the start who will die and by whom, and the murder occurs about half way through. The book looks at the lives of various characters who were affected by the (soon to be) dead guy and what happened to them. Even though I didn't really care for the characters much, a shortcoming on the part of the reader I suspect, I was happy when they came to a happy end and sad when they didn't. I wanted to like the book, but nothing happened and slowly. Although, I think overall, I did enjoy reading it.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I haven't been updating here on what I'm reading because I've been alternating between Terry Pratchett's City Watch sub-series and Lindsey Davies' Falco series (PI in Ancient Rome).

While I finished the last of the Pratchett book's last year, the next-mn line Falco book was a little... slow. It took me a couple of months to finish it. Really. While I like the books in this series set in Rome, the ones where they go travelling are actually quite boring. A lesson in how not to handle info dumps. Fortunately, the next one awaiting me is a Rome one.

Anyway, didn't seem a lot of point to updating a reading project in progress, although half of it is done now. So some general comments on the Pratchett books, actually one. They got better as they went one, which is interesting because they also got more... serious. Darker. However, the writing also improved. Technically, and also in depth. The depth of the writing, the characters, the emotions. And still able to make me laugh out loud.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com

Now this is lovely. This is what Science Fiction should be. Taking a concept that is odd and so different to the real world, and making it believable, acceptable, exploring its limits, showing how it effects the every day of its residents and through that making it believable.

Not that is generally considered SF. It's part detective noir/police procedural, part contemporary fantasy, science fantasy, weird fantasy, weird fiction, whatever. But it's what SF should be.

Also, I like the cover.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell.

Another random selection from the shelves. This reads like a TV show. It would probably make a good TV show, but as a book it was rather shallow and dull. Lots of characters who are little more than names. Jumping between two apparently unrelated storylines in such a way that is seemed like the supposed main story was forgotten. And I didn't care about either. Also, a serious shortage of speech tags.

Possibly if I'd read earlier books in the series it'd be like "Oh good here are these famiiar characters again having more adventures. Yay." Instead of "Don't care & why should I?"
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Chatham School Affair by Thomas Cook

This was a random pick from the pile of books in front of the shelves. I was after something light and easy to read on the bus. This is not that.

I have no idea where it came from. Possibly the library book fair, although it has no price sticker on it. Possibly the year when I went there in the last hour when they were selling books by the bag and I grabbed some things to fill the bag.

However it came, it's been hanging around the house waiting to be read so I read it, and it's very slow. Very slow and looking like it's trying to be literary or lyrical, and falling flat. So I looked on Goodreads and found people either loved it or hated it. GR people don't seem to like non-linear plots. So I kept going.

The narrator, now an old man, is recounting events that happened when he was a teenager but, especially at the beginning, the story is set in his present with flashbacks to the past. By flashbacks I mean just that. Bit and pieces, scenes, a few lines, from the past, until near the need most of it is in the past. So you put these bits and pieces together to try and work out what happened, and eventually the whole story is revealed. Not whodunnit but the actual story. The who isn't really important. It's a suspense novel really.

I am fond of the story, whether book or TV, where you're led think one thing is going on but it's actually another. When it's done well. When it is obvious after the fact that this is what was being shown. (Not so good when it's obvious this is going on or when there's a supposed twist that is predictable or a POV withholding information that they should be thinking about or...) So I liked the way this played out (although a little disappointed that the narrator's role wasn't as I thought) (except oh I was right. Ha!) It is slow, but it has to be, I think, because it's about characters and how they changed, and bits of the story need time to be revealed.

Mostly though, I liked that I didn't have to worry about shutting up the inner editor, because after the first chapters, it was sitting there stunned, trying to work out how to do this :)
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry

This is the second William Monk book and it's the same as the first but with less of the interesting parts and more of the moralising, I mean educational lectures on Victorian life which is odd seeing it still feels it could take place any time. It takes place in a world populated by bored people. The men are bored because they're reliant on their family for money and therefore have nothing to do. The women are bored because they're women and therefore have nothing to do. The servants are bored because they're servants and therefore have no prospects of anything interesting happening. The poor are aren't bored because they're too busy dying and/or robbing each other.

Annoying books because if the educational lectures and constant repeating of what every one knows was cuts, and the main characters given that space to develop in, they'd be good reading. I don't think I'll bother with the next one, which is apparently the same but worse than the first two.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

No idea why I picked this book to read. I was looking online for something to read, and went from a book I found on a list, to another book by that author, to a book by another author, to another book by that author and so on, and at some point I must have put this one on hold at the library for it was waiting for me last week. Or the library just put a random book on hold for me.

However it came to me, it has to go back to the library tomorrow so I finished reading it today. This book/series, by a husband and wife writing team, is credited with establishing the police procedural genre. Which I don't usually read. I prefer to watch them on TV. Which is probably why it didn't grab me as it apparently does everyone else who has ever read it. It is also a slow paced story, because days/weeks/months go by and nothing happens, because that's how the real world works. Yet the book itself isn't slow paced. It jumps from events to events yet there is still that sense of frustration at nothing happening. It's a good balance. With lots of details to bring the setting to life. And just overall well written.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Face of a Stranger by Anne Perry

I liked the idea behind this. The MC wakes up in hospital and has no idea who he is, and he has to work out who he is while investigating the crime that is the central story of the book (that being the brutal death of the youngest son of a wealthy family who everyone adores because).

While in hospital he is told the date is the 31st July 1856, which is good because if I hadn't been told that I'd have thought it was 1956. It might as well be, except for the constants mentions of the Crimean War but that could have been changed to something else. Despite that, there isn't that feeling that the author doesn't know what she's talking about. Those things where she goes into detail (i.e. the Crimean War) there is the feeling she does know what she's on about and there's no extra stuff shoved in to show how clever her research was!

The descriptions are odd in places. (The MC's boss is described as "He had a bony face, long nose and wide mouth, a good brow, but deep-set eyes too small the color of easily; a pleasant enough countenance, and intelligent, but showing small signs of temper between the brows and about the lips." Maybe that works for some people but it just makes me go "Eh?"). For investigation moves along, well it doesn't, the MC and his sidekick wander about asking people questions until somewhere near the end he has a revelation, remembers something he'd seen before and all is solve. And in the middle we are shunted off to spend some time with another character all together who goes to stay with the dead guy's family and spends her time thinking about the Crimean War, talking with the family, talking about the Crimean War, thinking about the family until she gets sick of it all and comes home. Quite a few pages after I got sick of it all. Then it's back to the MC who is still wandering about with no idea talking to people, with the occasional visits to the London slums which are wretched hives of scum and villiany inhabited by dying children and bug-ugly bad guys. (How's about a story set in the London slums where they're not shows as hives of scum etc. I mean, people live in these places, their view of them isn't the same as the usual outsider's view.)

Anyway, 'tis easy enough reading and the MC still hasn't worked himself out at the end of the book. But reading reviews for the second book it seems to have the same unmoving plot and moralising. Those who like it/them seem to be keen on the richly textured descriptions of Victorian London the author presents. Maybe they read a different book? I'm thinking I might pass on more, but then again the characters aren't uninteresting, weird descriptions aside.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Gently Floating by Alan Hunter

Written during the Great Comma Shortage of 1963, this is apparently the 11th book in the Inspector George Gently series. I get this from it being the 11th title listed in the front of the book. It is pretty much what you'd expect from the 11th book in a series. A fairly straight forward consideration of all evidence/suspects until the not entirely unpredictable murderer is revealed, then everyone goes home. Easy read, even with the comma shortage.

The Bridesmaid by Ruth Rendell

This is a miserable, boring book about miserable boring people. I kept reading it because I did want to know what happened but I couldn't bring myself to pick it up and read it. I accidentally skipped 120 pages and it didn't improve. Also the end was one of those where you have to work out the next bit for yourself, which I hate so I'm glad I did accidentally 120 pages.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

This is ridiculous, sad, brilliant, funny book. I wish I hadn't read it. And I want to read it again. Actually, I want to write something like it, but I don't because I don't like that sort of book. Also, I laughed, a lot. Out loud. I don't laugh when I'm reading books, mostly because I don't find them funny. Amusing or entertaining, but rarely funny, and when they are, I'll smile or laugh to myself. Not out loud, especially not on a bus or in a cafe eating lunch.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Georgette Heyer's books are undeniably problematical, but they are also usually light, enjoyable reads. The Unknown Ajax however I found something of a plod. I didn't click with the love interest and the heroine didn't appear to much advantage. One of the greatest aspects of Heyer is the sparkling repartee but here Anthea was constantly bested by the Ajax of the title. There was also a lot of boring intrigue around a minor character who wasn't particularly appealing to me. This intrigue led to gross hypocrisy on the part of the love interest that made it impossible to like him, even if his being described as bovine hadn't achieved that already.

While I will happily reread Cotillion and Sylvester, this isn't a book I'd be excited about picking up again.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Continuing my read-through of Claire Tomalin's oeuvre, we come to Mrs Jordan's Profession, a biography of actress and royal mistress Dora Jordan.

Biographies aren't my favourite read, and Dora Jordan hadn't previously crossed my radar, but Tomalin is so readable, and so intensely interested in and compassionate for her subjects, that her books are irresistible. I've read her Dickens biography and have The Invisible Woman and the Jane Austen biography lined up for future reads. I suspect I'll find the Austen the more interesting of the two, being something of a fan*.

Dora Jordan was a celebrated actress who supported her mother and siblings, her many children, and a profligate Royal prince who went on to become King William IV. Despite her years of dedication to both her profession and her family, she died alone and in poverty, having been swindled by one of her sons-in-law and deserted by the prince who later commissioned a grand statue to her memory.

Tomalin notes that in a two-volume biography of the prince, published in the Victorian era, Dora, who lived with him for twenty years and bore him ten children, is dismissed in a single sentence. Only a woman, and not even a 'proper' woman.

This book is thoughtful, comprehensive, and does not shrink from the sadder, darker truths of Dora's life. She seems to have been a charismatic actress, a loving mother, and certainly did not deserve to be cast into outer darkness at the end of her life. Her children had mixed fortunes--two committed suicide in later life, another became a much-loved member of the clergy.

Well worth a read even if actresses and royal mistresses aren't your thing; Tomalin makes her subjects as fascinating to us as they evidently are to her. That said, this book did take me some time to read, as, although I was enjoying it, I could put it down.

*Modesty forbids.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Some time ago, there was a discussion on Facebook regarding whether or not Farnham's Freehold is racist, a discussion in which I took no part because I hadn't read the book. The title was however familiar; I was sure it had come up in a different context earlier in the year, although I hadn't heard of it before then. When I saw the book on the secondhand sff stall I've recently discovered, I thought, what the heck. For less than £1, this woolly bleeding-heart white liberal could get a copy of the book and see what she thought.

What I thought almost immediately was, wow, this is badly written. It was hard to believe this was by the author of The Door Into Summer--and almost impossible to believe this book was written some years after Summer. It's bad. It's really bad.

And Farnham, the central white character whom you're obviously meant to like and even admire, is a shit. Worse than him is Barbara, the worshipper at his feet who falls into his arms (in the middle of a nuclear war, no less) despite seeing his blatant contempt for his wife. Almost worse than either is the equally-adoring cipher of a daughter, and the dissenting son, who is presented as weak, racist, and unreasonably opposed to his god-like sire.

Farnham stands for the belief that nobody can make you do or be something and therefore you're not responsible for anyone's actions but your own. Yet, after the attack, he forces his son at gunpoint and under threat of being sent out into the fallout, to submit to obeying his orders without question. So how exactly does that square with his professed creed? Clearly he does believe he can make someone do something; he establishes without a shadow of a doubt that, in fact, he can make his son do exactly as he likes. Who then is responsible for the son's actions in obedience to his orders? Farnham? The son? Both? It's also pretty evident throughout the book that Farnham doesn't care about his son. He humiliates him, ignores him, and, finally, abandons him. True, he protests when his son is castrated (or 'tempered' as the book has it) but the impression given is that he sees this act as a threat to his authority, not as an atrocity against his child. But that's okay--he and Barbara will have children and bring them up more appropriately. This son is disposable.

Farnham's daughter gets slightly better treatment--she doesn't have to be forced into obedience, for one thing, but even after she dies in childbirth, her child dying soon after, Farnham wouldn't change a thing. Why? Because he has Barbara, his perfect acolyte.

During the nuclear attack, which Farnham has of course foreseen and provided for, the family home is shifted to what they first think must be another planet, with no sign of human habitation. After a while, they realise they're still in the same place, and, when the other humans finally appear, it becomes apparent that they've travelled forward in time. Now there's a huge park where their town once stood, and their country is ruled by black people. Whites have the status of slaves.

Farnham now undergoes a complete character change. From the arrogant, domineering, my way or the highway guy, he becomes a meek and efficient slave. In seconds. *blink*

Is the book racist? Not, I think, in intention. But intention, I am told, is not magical. When the Farnham's black houseboy, Joe, is elevated to the ruling class, he accepts his good luck but doesn't abuse it. He's still willing to interact with Farnham, and even help him to an extent. In some respects, the white slaves are treated no differently from black slaves on white American plantations. The black overlords are confident they are benevolent and protective masters. They're human, not presented as particularly evil. I cringed more for the book's treatment of Grace Farnham, Farnham's despised wife, who goes from being feeble for no readily apparent reason (beyond justifying Farnham turning to Barbara) to revelling in being a favourite of Ponse, now the family's owner. Throughout the book, she is depicted with contempt. Joe gets better treatment, imo.

Ultimately, though, a white woolly liberal isn't the best judge of racism. There may well be problematic aspects of the book that didn't leap out and slap me in the face. Wish I could find that discussion on FB again.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead is the children's book for the Great Genre Challenge. Minor spoilers, sort of, but not really.

A few pages in, I thought I'd read this story before. Different names, different setting, different details, but the same story. Having finished it, I know I've read the story before. Kid's life is disrupted by Major Event and he has to deal with this along all the usual kid stuff like school, bullies, making/losing friends, but in the end everything ends happily, with bonus Cool Parents.

So I wonder, if this the sort of story adult writers think kids want to read (or should be reading?) because they can Relate To It. Or it's safe and reassuring and confirms the status quo?

Adds a note: I was not impressed by the large extract from another book at the end. Fortunately, I'd looked forward to see how much longer I had to read and realised the chapter headings at the end were a different font so most of the last bit was a different story. If publishers have to do this, can they at least mark the edges of the pages as being different?
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
I finally finished Fated. Mostly I found I didn't care. I didn't care about the MC or his friends, or if he was killed/made to work for either/both bad guys, or if he won or lost, or his explanations or direct comments to the reader. It was quite readable, and if I'd picked it up years ago I might have actually enjoyed it.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Last night, I finished reading Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. It was something of a trudge through the epilogue and the postscript, as I was really wanting to be done with the book. It's fascinating, but deeply disturbing, even though it never goes into explicit details. The sheer numbers of people driven out, transported, murdered are staggering. It's impossible to get your head around the statistics.

I would unhesitatingly recommend this book, which is well-argued, honest, and does a good job of placing Eichmann in context. Arendt responds to the criticism that she did not cover resistance movements within Germany, such as the White Rose Movement, but her response is not entirely convincing. However, she does draw interesting contrasts with the behaviour of the SS in countries like Denmark where public opinion was not on the side of the Final Solution. The concept of Germany as a criminal state is compelling--as much a reversal of 'the natural order' as when the inmates take over the asylum. Unusual problems demand unusual solutions.

Still, I'm not convinced that it was legal or proper for Israel to kidnap Eichmann in order to put him on trial. It might have been cleaner, and more honest, to shoot him in the back of the head, Russian-style. This from a pacifist.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Cocaine Blues, by Kerry Greenwood.

Once the story actually starts it improves, and I guess if you read it fast enough, you don't notice the inconsistencies/continuity errors. If you want women with agency in your books, it shoved full of them, and it's amusing in places. But I don't care much for MCs who are perfect and wonderful and good at everything they do. Mark it as a "not for me" book.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt

This is an odd little book. Actually, it's a standard sized paperback, but it was the smallest book on that shelf at the library, squeezed in between hardcovers and trade paperbacks so I had trouble finding it.

The story is simple: the two brothers, Charlie & Eli Sisters, are heading to California to kill a man for their boss. It has all the elements you'd expect to find in a Western (not that I've read any, only watched them) with small towns & saloons & lots of people getting shot. What it also has is a weird humour running through it and a POV character, the younger brother Eli, who is a little too sensitive for the role he's been give in in life. He wants to be loved, worries about his weight, is endlessly fascinated by his newly acquired toothbrush and minty tooth powder (which also comes in other flavours, but he doesn't care for them) and is too attached to his useless, one-eyed horse. I saw it described somewhere as an antiWestern and that seems appropriate. Genre-bending.

It is very funny in places (I actually laughed, this is rare with books) although there are other places where you think it's trying to be funny but it's not, or it just doesn't work, but this happen with comedy. It's also a little sad in places. It's also a quick read, which I didn't expect when I started it, as the font is small so it's got a lot of words for its size, and yet it took me less than two days to finish it. The voice is strong, and it gets into your head so you have to keep going back to read a couple more pages.

An odd little book, but a good read.

[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Finished Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin, being book #4. I have decided the problem with the books is the endings don't wrap things up enough so you're left feeling unsatisfied. So you need to read the next one. This might be all right for weekly or even monthly serials, not for novels.

Anyway, not reading the next one until September.


The Little Dog Laughed

January 2019

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