Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Light by M. John Harrison

This book was an unexpected present from the Rju, although not surprising. I'd had the book on my list for some time, so I jumped on it pretty quick.

Now, what to say about it?

I have no coherent thoughts about the book, because I'm not entirely sure what it is. Is it science fiction which has stepped into the land of literature? Or is it science fiction cleverly disguising itself as literature, when in fact it has pulled the wool over my eyes and is merely pretentious?

In trying to decide which of these the book was, I had to ask myself a further question: what do I know of science fiction OR literature? Answer: not as much as I should.

This in turn led me to ponder what being 'widely read' really involves.

I don't think, in the general sense, that I am widely read. I read a lot, but I don't often stray from the outer rim of the genre. I stick my nose in non-fiction semi-regularly, and enjoy it. I occasionally bump into other (by other I mean non-genre) books that have tickled my fancy, and I enjoy them too. But all of these books have one very important thing in common; I like them. Me. I don't feel the urge to dig up classics or what is considered high literature for the sake of being able to say I've read them. I've been too long in deciding to read only what I like, and I have no motivation to break that habit.

You could say, I've very widely and thoroughly read in the Sir Tessa Likes This genre.

But then, for those who are widely read, what does that mean? Does that mean skimming the surfaces of a whole lot of different pies without ever getting a good taste, without ever digging deep enough to find the genre books which defy the genre? Does being widely read just mean being able to say I've read one set group of authors whom the collective deem great?

I have no answers. I just read what I like.

And I did like Light. The writing was clean, crisp, and uncluttered. The three seperate streams were fascinating in their own ways, and I was particularly interested to see how they would entwine, given the centuries between them. Although I had no fondness of Kearney, his predicament kept me going, if only to find out exactly what the Schrander was. Seria Mau and the K-ship the White Cat was a strange entity to get a hold on, if only because physics kept getting in the way. I never took physics, and have no love of maths. While I was very interested in the ship, I was intimidated by the science behind it. Ed Chainese, well, I felt for him. Of all three plotlines, I was most interested in his. Perhaps because he was the most human of the three, he was just a guy with the world out to get him.

As for the over-arching message...beats me. I've yet to figure out exactly what it is that the Kefahuchi Tract represents, other than possibility. Mystery. That which drives us on. It is odd that those who were seen as fit to breach the Tract's mysterious were those who sought to escape life, who ran from everything, themselves, their past, their present. Seria and Ed spent most of their lives in tanks, dreaming.

I don't know that that is a good sign for the human race. Nor do I find any comfort in knowing the purpose of the human race.

Perhaps it is enough that the next step was taken, into the beginning.

Verdict: An interesting read, to say the least. Make up your own mind about it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Mental note: no matter how good a book is, and how cold you are, do not spend six hours on a hard as nuts wooden chair just because it is next to the heater. You'll pay for it, oh boy will you pay for it.

I first encountered Sunshine through Mabs, who said quite truthfully that it would leave me with a craving for cinnamon rolls, and that it was wuuuuuunderful. That's how he said it, "wUUUUUUUUNderful" packed with glee.

I popped out the end of the book and thought, "That was wUUUUUUUUUNderful, and NOW I WANT CAKE."

Alas, there was no cake.

Sunshine is a twenty-something year old baker, who works horrendous hours at her family coffee shop. Horrendous hours. It's a good thing she loves her job, the shop, and the people there, and it sounds like she does her job very well. I can't help but wonder exactly what Bitter Chocolate Death tastes like, or the Death of Marat for that matter.

As the story progresses, the layers of normality slowly peel back, and what I had originally thought was this world I sit in, turns out to contain large differences. Primarily the existence of the Others; vampires, weres, demons, angels and the like. That said, they're treated with normality, they're just a fact of life.

Until some vampires get their paws on Sunshine, and her life does what the lives of young and gifted heroines do in these sorts of stories. They get busy.

Intially, my inner editor had a screaming fit when I first started chewing on this book. I don't mind first person narratives, but this was so heavily entrenched in voice, in the speaking voice at that, that sentence structure was an optional extra. Oh, you can hear my hackles raise. On top of that, apparently commas are an endangered species, and we can't use them or we will run out. Forever. These two issues combined together meant that there was at least one sentence a paragraph that I had to read more than once, simply to figure out what was being said. As much as I grew quite fond of the individuality of Sunshine's voice, that isn't cool. I shouldn't get to a point in any book where I skim over any sentence that doesn't make immediate sence and hope it wasn't important. I reached that point pretty early on.

Something as basic as word arrangement is pretty hard to get by, so the story must have rockethed muchly for me to soldier on quite as fanatically as I did. There was a large amount of empathy with Sunshine. Although I'm hardly from an important family and have no amazing talents, I recognised her mindset as being very similar to where I am now. A strong sense of being terratorial.

The Other were fascinating, as all things mysteries tend to be. It was interesting to see the impact on society such beings had, and how predictable society's reactions are. The vampires, however, were somewhat lacking. Constantine was quite enthralling, a well drawn vampire as far as vampires go. I think he's what we wish all creatures of the dark were; scary, but essentially honourable good people deep down. Ahem. But the rest? It didn't feel as though anything new had been tried with them at all. The arch-antagonist, Bo, was one of the most Evil For Evil's Sake villains I've come across in a long time. What his motivations and intentions were, I have no idea. He wasn't a character at all, he was merely a decidedly uninteresting and thus unthreatening plot device. Unthreatening antagonists aren't good things to have.

The final confrontation left a lot to be desired. Unclear, blurry, no real idea exactly what was going on, or where for that matter. I hazard a guess that this is primarily to do with riding in Sunshine's head - she probably had as little idea as the rest of us - but it was very unsatisfying for me. It felt as though McKinley wanted to do horror, lots of dripping splashing splatting horror, and coudln't quite bring herself to. The violence was extreme, but only implied.

But mostly, I think what really glued me to the book was love. The book is packed to the gills with it. I don't mean romantic love, I mean people who look out for each other, take care of each other, give each other muffins fresh out of the oven. It's a wUNderful, warm and embracing book.

Bit like sunshine.


Verdict: a really nice read, with some fantastic URST and brilliant baking goods. Definitely worth hunting out, especially if your inner editor isn't as anal retentive as mine.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Random ZZZ Report

This morning I dreamed that my home (which while being this house in which I sit now, was also a burned out castle) was besieged. It was raining, most of the walls were shot through, and there was no ceiling.

It was getting desperate, and so we resorted to desperate methods. I folded up a teabag of English Breakfast into a pointed, fed it into my WW1 rifle, and fired. Yes, I shot someone with a teabag. It worked, too. I was very proud of myself.

I'm not even sure who the enemy was.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Batman Begins - moving picture

Well, it's a nice piece of fluff.

I can't claim to be any sort of expert on Batman. I've watched a few episodes, some of the other movies, and read Dark Knight Returns, and that's as far as my travels in the Batman universe have gone. But even with this very limited exposure, Batman Begins is not my Batman, not by a long shot.

Batman is a man whose power lies in all sorts of clever gadgets. He is not a man who learned ninjitsu in the far reaches of frozen Asia, from a secret society of city-destroying righteous fanatics.

Batman's villains are as overly theatrical as he is, and love/hate Gotham so that they'll never be able to leave it alone: they have enormous chips on their shoulders and something to prove, and above all, they are and stay local. Batman's villains are not international secret societies acting for the good of mankind.

It felt as though they'd sold out Batman's roots for the sake of going with popular trends.

And perhaps it is merely Dark Knight Returns speaking (one of the best collections out there), but there is so much that can be explored with Batman. He's anything but a black and white figure, so very complex and close to straying into the evil he's trying to fight. The movies I've seen haven't attemped to play with that. He's always the saviour of Gotham, no matter what his actions.

That said, he did engage in some rather random and wanton destruction in this movie. I'm fairly certain Batman isn't about wanton destruction, especially not against the police, but that's what he did. No way the cops deserved all that. Or the people living in those buildings. As if no one died, pah.

(But the bat mobile was pretty cool. I'll take one for Christmas, thanks.)

It is a pity that no one movie/book/game/anything can be viewed on its own now. Intertextuality plays such an enormous role in life, alas, in Liam Neeson I saw Qui-Gon Jin lecturing Bruce Wayne, especially when he started talking about fear and anger, and not giving in to them.

There was a lot of monologing about fear and anger. It seems every film now must be packed full of seemingly meaningful dialects on some form of philosophy, and it seems that most films that do so fail to have a single clear messege they're trying to present. Rju and I wandered out afterwards and had no idea whether or not fear and anger were good or bad, or allowed one to kill, or not to kill, or...yeah. A rant about the film that I read somewhere said there was no actual dialogue in the film, just speeches, and I'll second that.

And finally, one of those Hollywood 'make it so' wand-waving deals; if a microwave emitter is powerful enough to vapourise all the water around it, then believe me, it's powerful enough to do the same to the water in all the humans near by, too. Don't tell me you can set that thing off, stand next to it, and not feel a thing. Biggest no brainer I've seen.

It's not a bad film, if you don't have any expectations. It's not a film that will stay with you, either.

Verdict: Brain candy is necessary at times. Treat it as such. (Christian Bale needs a better haircut.)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

(Yes, I really have been eating books this fast.)

What to say about Palahniuk? I love his books. I adore them. They're a wonderfully refreshing and gross mindfuck, and never fail to leave me thinking "Now that's just borked up."

But I don't think he can write a female narrator.

It was half-visible in Diary, a not-quite-lack of connection with the female protagonist. Invisible Monsters is an earlier book, and the not-quite-lack is very much a not-at-all connection with the protag.

It isn't simple that I know he is a male writer. I've digested plenty of books where male writers have written female leads and female writers writing male leads, and I've believed it. But not this time. Taking away the dongle and putting boobs on a person does not make them a woman.

That said, I honestly can't pinpoint exactly what it is he is doing wrong. The voice, the thoughts, the reactions, they all feel distinctly male, yet I can't say why they're not female. This vexes me.

Perhaps it is because there aren't an women in the book at all. Realising that, I couldn't help but wonder about Palahniuk's attitude towards women. Are we all men on the inside? I know that I tend to avoid being any sort of girly girl, but I am hardly masculine, something I also try to avoid being.

To me, this is the weakest of his books, and not just for the above reason. There's a philosophy in each story he tells, some breath-taking ideal that is so wrong its impossible not to find appealing. I don't think he knew entirely what that philosophy was in this case, because I'm not entirely sure what he was trying to say, with the postcards especially. Not as many lines reached out and slapped my mind.

Regardless...wow, this is still a wonderfully fucked up book. So many lives twine together in a terrible knot, with terrible revelations popping up in every chapter, and just when a gobsmacking climax seems inevitable, it goes all wobbly.

Even at his worst, I love me some Palahniuk. If I could concieve a story even half as fucked up, I'd be a happy little munchkin.

Verdict: Do not use this as your introduction to Palahniuk. Rather, wait till you've read at least three others, and know whether or not you'll worship him for life. Then acquire this to fill out your collection. Remember, every author has a worst book.
1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert

I received this last Monday, an unexpected gift from Mabs, who knows he was naughty, and who also knows my taste in books very well. For instance, he knows I go a great big wobbly over hardcovers, and this is a very nice hardcover. Faux leather, gold embossing, and lovely lovely lovely glossy pages. Seksay book.

(I also know how much it cost. Augh!)

Normally, I don't find the superhero lines particularly interesting. I don't have anything against them, and the collections I have read I've often got quite a kick out of. It is simply that on a base level they don't have that natural appeal to me. But apparently, shifting superheroes back several centuries makes them interesting, and having Neil Gaiman at the helm makes them irresitible.

For that's what 1602 does. Well-known characters from the Marvel universe have been planted in the seventeeth century, playing similar roles to their usual, and responding to the politics of the time as such. Although I can't claim any familiarity with the Marvel universe, it was fun picking out all the known characters and cameos, and snorting at the name alterations.

Although it the story has its roots in London, with Queen Lizzie looking spectacularly bad in her old age, it is, as said in the introduction, a story about the New World. The world is in danger (when is it NOT in danger?), and all confliction factions must eventually come together to save it, and come together on the shores of America. "On the surface 1602 is about Britain in the 17th century. In reality, 1602 is a remarkable work about America, and it is about now." True words, but the bitter Southern Hemispherian in me cried "There's more to the world thank Britain and America! When the ice comes and the Northern Hemisphere is nothing but white, Australia will rule the world and then you'll know about it!" Quite the tangent, but it does get under my skin how little attention or respect the rest of the world is given. (But then, the entire population of Australia is that of Los Angeles. Tangent over.)

While it was quite a satisfying read, I didn't feel much when it came to the relationships between characters. It is blatantly shoved down our throats that Angel likes Grey, and Scotius is a jealous prig, but I never felt any sort of bond between Grey and Scotius, or Angel and Grey for that matter. Fury and Peter shared the same panels because that is what the story dictated, but their parting and future betrayal twanged no heart strings. That said, I did enjoy the interactions between Virginia and her noble savage body guard.

The art was very nice, although it felt still. There didn't seem to be any movement to the images. The colouring was beautiful, and I appreciated that a pattern of two by three panels per page was followed. Design is all very well, but I've come across too many comics that were damn obscure to read.

Sadly, the writing was not invisible. Perhaps it was that Gaiman hasn't written comics for so long, perhaps I am that much more prose-sensitive since Clarion, but there were plenty of instances where I sighed, and thought to myself, "Exposition." Perhaps it is the medium; comics are more inclined that way, but I don't believe it. That said, I doubt many others would bat an eyelid at the same bumps. The story holds together well, and when it came time to close the book, I was content. (If only to see Peter finally bitten. Yes!)

That said...what are the dinosaurs abouts?

Verdict: Very pretty, good solid story, fun game of pick the cameo. A worthwhile addition to anyone's collection.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

My goodness, the melodrama!

Lucifer Box is, by day, a painter, and by night, a secret agent for His Majesty King Edward. Breaking and entering, theft, assassination, and saving the world are all part of the job. He's a glorified dandy in imaculately tailored suits, stunningly snobbish, and delightfully decadent. One of the most brilliantly designed characters I've come across.

The Vesuvius Club sees him investigating the death and disappearance of a foriegn diplomant and several prominent geoloigical scientists, taking him to the lovely city of Naples and the slopes of Vesuvius itself. It unfolds that a lot more than relic smuggling is going on, and possibly the entirety of Italy is at stake.

Along the way he encounters such fully-fleshed characters as Joshua Reynolds, the dwarf who runs the secret service and conducts his business meetings in a super secret lavatory; Cretaceous Unmann, a total wet hen; and the Duce, whose tragic history is the stuff of fairy tales. There are carriage chases, femme fatales, secret societies, debauchery, such debauchery, poisonous centipedes, frankenstein-like monsters, mad scientists, and infernal devices in ruined cities.

Yes, all the characters have such fantastic names.

The story harks back to the days of pulp, and is gorgeously written. Lucifer's voice is strong throughout, and ridiculously tongue-in-cheek. It's an irreverance that will seduce you. James Bond wishes he had Lucifer Box's style. Over the top, outrageous, and full of a contagious glee that I was more than happy to dive into. For once, I was content to merely follow the story as it unravelled, and made no attempt to decipher the end myself. It was far more entertainly leaving Lucifer at the wheel. Never a dull moment, despite the many long hot baths he seems to lavish upon himself.

It even came with illustrations, oh joy of joys! I never stopped loving picture books.

It's a book I had immense fun reading, and that should be enough to sell it to any of you. "A Bit of Fluff" subtitles it, and I can't claim it changed my life. But oh, if only there were more stories detailing Lucifer's adventures (just in case Mr Gatiss passes by, hint hint).

Verdict: Ridiculously and fun. Lovely old-fashioned feel to it. Herr Barrow, of all, would enjoy it most.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Jack the Ripper: The Facts by Paul Begg

I grabbed this book with some of my Christmas money, having thumbed it through and found the concept of a book that presents the facts, as opposed to theories, quite appealing.

The book is divided into chapters dealing with each of the murder victims, the people behind the investigation, prominent developements, suspects, and the state London was in at the time. This made it quite easy to dip in and out, and skip the parts that didn't hold my interest. Sections devoted to detailing the lives of suspects who appear to have no motivation or inclination to commit the murders, for instance. I do not believe a petty thief who never even assaulted the officers arresting him had much to do with the Whitechapel murders.

Begg has an easy writing style, although on occasions I dearly wanted to take a red pen to the book and fix up all his instances of information repetition, especially those occuring within a single paragraph. He also has a tendency to get bogged down in the tiny nitty gritty details, which most of the time involved a difference in information between two newspapers. As I do not believe the papers were privy to most of the details in the case, and were often in the habit of making stories up, I found such attention to be more than I was willing to invest.

There are several pages of old black and white photographs, from the victims to the 'Dear Boss' letter, all of which are fascinating and some of which are unsettling. Most of the victims are photographed post-mortem, and the pictures of the scene of Mary Kelly's death are graphic, to say the least. I didn't dwell on them long.

Although I find Jack the Ripper morbidly fascinating, I have no urge to read widely on the subject. Having read this book, written by someone who was not trying to solve the mystery, I've reached the conclusion that no one was at all close to discovering the murderer's identity.

Which is how I wish it to stay.

Jack the Ripper isn't just a murderer anymore; he's become a cultural figure. Even as the murders were being committed, the media stopped treating him as a human, and painted him as a monster, calling him 'ghoulish', 'fiend' and 'demon'. He's moved into the realm of legends, at to attempt to solve the case would be to steal away all the mystery. It no longer matters who did it, only that he changed the world.

Verdict: a good informative read. Worth digging up if you want to learn more on the subject.
Star Wars (A New Hope) by George Lucas (supposedly)

This book is worse than Splinter of the Mind's Eye. That was like a train wreck: horrible, but I just couldn't stop reading. This was just plain bad, and I had to make an effort to see it through to the end. For a slim book, it felt a lot longer than it was.

It was instructive, however. For some fine examples of over-writing you can't go past this book. "A lung-searing miasma of carbonized component filled the air, obscuring everything." You mean, smoke?

To be honest, there's not a lot to say about the book. It's badly written, and adds nothing to the story that the movie hasn't already shown. It is interesting to see how the history of the universe has shifted since the first film came out. The small backstory given in this book reveals that while Palpatine did name himself Emperor, he then became a recluse, and it is the barons and officials around him who are tearing the galaxy apart and giving the Empire a bad name.

The biggest shift appears to be regarding Anakin's life. In the new movies, he spends hardly any time at all on Tatooine, yet in the books everything appears to indicate he spent a significant portion of his life there, not to mention that everyone was very chummy with him. It's a very different feel.

Other than that, this book really isn't worth your time.

Verdict: Maybe read a few chapters if you want some bad writing. Otherwise there are much better things you could be doing with your life.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Cake-Eating Day

Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday you ugly bag of water,
Happy birthday to me.

Why was she born so staggeringly rude and narky,
Why was she born at all,
Because she had no say in it,
She had no say at all.