Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - JK Rowling

What is there to say about this book that hasn't already been said? Nothing!

She still needs an editor, although this book is superior to the last. The dynamics between all the school kids are fantastic; she knows how to do teenagers in the middle of puberty, and do them right.

That sounds wrong.

The end was spoiled for me long ago, which turned out to be a good thing. No shock involved. I would have regretted throwing the book across the room. It's the nice cloth-bound hardcover.

The end was, I think, pretty much inevitable from the beginning.

And that's all.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Vampire Hunter D: volume 1 - Hideyuki Kikuchi, translated by
kevin Leahy

After ploughing through Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell the only thing I wanted my next book to be was small. Light. Not a physical strain to read. This was the smallest thing I had in reach. It isn't the most noble reason to choose a book, although it is quite nice to hold. It's a good shape, with nice heft, and flexible paper. I'm fond of the cover as well.

The first sentence made me cringe. 'stained', not 'was staining'! Blood and vermillion, you mean red? Long grass high enough to hide all to a man's ankles? That's not very high.

Quash the inner editor.

This isn't partictularly well written, however I'm not sure how much blame lies with the writer, and with the translator. I have no idea how much artist license a translator is allowed to exercise over a work, although it seems to me to be something that is entirely subjective and depends on writer and translator.

On a sentence level, I know the translator is responsible, and likes to show off what fancy words are in his vocabularly. He's particularly fond of 'vacillate', and uses it at every opportunity. No one in this book hesitates, deliberates, doubts, consideres, wavers, etc, they all vacillate. There are cliches everywhere, EVERYWHERE. But perhaps he was doing a very literal transaltion. I'll never know.

But, the writer is very, very guilty of all sorts of 'orrible things. Telling, for starters. Quite literally in most cases. He has a habit, in his fight scenes, of flashing through what happened, and then going back, and saying 'shall I tell you what happened?' (yes, that's in the book), and narrating, blow by blow, exactly how super fast and incredible and wow the fight was, and how brilliant and ingenious D was for defeating this enemy faster than the eye. This shat me more than anything else in the book, as all the thrill is stolen from any action sequence if you already know how it ends. (Sports playbacks have never interested me either.) It felt condescending. I was being told how I should react to these amazing astonishing feats, instead of actually being amazed and astonished.

Characterisation is poor. They're all cliches, and I'm pretty sure that D is a Mary Sue. I mean, everyone comments on how wonderfully beautifully gorgeous he is, everyone wants in his pants, he can't actually do anything wrong himself...(and he has no personality. He's too cool to have personality.)

The story itself was so-so.

And despite all this, I devoured it all, and I'll probably go and buy the second book soon. It's immature writing, it has so much potential that it squanders on cliches, yet that potential is still there. There are moments of raw wonder that I adored. The world he's imagined, a mix of gothic and cyberpunk, is so fresh and wide, I can forgive these things to take a stroll in it.

Sometimes, I think I forgive books such as these because I'm afraid that they're me. That I'm all imagination and no talent as well.

Verdict: It's a bit like popcorn. You won't be able to stop eating it, but you're not exactly drawing anything nutritional out of it either.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A story broke my heart, so I went outside and wrote my own story till it was whole again.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The other reason I make-like-jedi at automatic doors, is that for a significant percentage of the time, they don't detect me.
When I walk up to automatic doors, I wave my arm so that I look like I'm exercising my awesome jedi powers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

I wanted to like this book.

(I'm very tempted to stop and leave it at that, but that would be lazy.)

Set in London, in the early 1800s, with Napoleon skirting around the edges; a period and area I'm rather fond of. And magicians. This should have been my sort of book.


I do not believe that a book should be a test of endurance, either of my mental stamina or the strength of my wrists. 782 pages is a long time, for both of these things. It could just be that the book didn't gel with me, but before it even came into my possession I'd been told by multiple people whose opinions I trust that 'the first 500 pages are a bit slow but then it picks up'. 500 pages of slow is a lot of slow.

By the time I'd waded my way through that 500, I no longer cared, not about the characters or the outcome of the story. Not caring is probably the worst reaction I can have to a book. There are plenty of terrible books I've read that I've cared about, in a rabid frantic frustrated sort of way, which worlds more love than this received. I reached the end, and thought "hoo-bloody-rah".

Which isn't to say it had this affect all the way through. I was enjoying myself at the beginning. Clarke has good control over her voice, and it is consistent throughout the entire book. Norrell, despite being one of the most annoying characters I have ever come across, is incredibly well drawn, and has more depth than all the other characters combined. (I felt a particular empathy to his concerns about his books, and the fact that people might touch them. I'm also now more aware of how ridiculous such concern looks from the outside, not that this will change my attitudes.)

I was also fond of Strange's adventures in Spain, if only because he was protaging.

(I'd almost go as far to say that Clarke didn't write a book set in the 1800s, but wrote an 1800s book. But, not having read many books from that period, it's entirely possible that that statement is a load of horse shit.)

(Still, she did work hard at it, but I do wonder at the wisdom of it. It's quite an accomplishment to write a book from another century, but it is THIS century's audience which will read it. The mindset is...different now.)

Having had a couple of days distance from the book, I'm left wondering exactly what the point was. The ending didn't satisfy me. There were loose ends, large ones, messy ones. It didn't end, it just stopped. Was there a point? I'm not sure of the message. Given that a prophecy was involved, one that had some sort of purpose behind it...I still can't see what was actually achieved. This, more than anything else, makes me resent 782 pages.

Doors have been opened, however. I will read her again.

Verdict: Make up your own mind.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thud! - Terry Pratchett

This will be another short musing, as I generally feel with someone as popular as Pratchett, everyone knows already anyway. They already have and have read the book, and my opinion is worth bleargh.

For me, this book was largely miss. There were a few very lovely instances where he hit the spot, but overall, it was miss. This was surprising considering his last few books have, for me, been very hit. I felt that the themes didn't resonate, including weirdly enough, prejudice. It was there, it was clear, but I didn't feel it. The Summoning Dark didn't hit a nerve, and I wondered through the length of the book what it's actual purpose was.

Regardless, it's still a well written book, as Pratchett seems incapable of writing a bad book. I daresay I'll go back and read it at some stage, and wonder why it didn't work for me the first time around.

Verdict: It's Pratchett. You've already made up your mind.

And now, I am caught up on verdicts. Go me. (Which was why I chose to read Johnathon Strange & Mr Norrell as I knew it would take me a while to get through.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe - James M. Ward

I didn't intent to buy this book. In fact, before I saw it in a bookshop, I'd never even heard of it. There are hundreds of books I've been meaning to buy for a very long time, but when I saw this, and that it combined His Majesty's Royal Navy and dragons, I couldn't very well not buy it. One of those Sir Tessa's dream come true books.

I'd like to say it is well written, but it's hit and miss. The first page made me cringe significantly, and I wondered if I hadn't made a rather large mistake. It comes from trying, and not quite suceeding, to affect a narrating voice reflective of the time. Formal, full of 'quite' and 'splendid'. Sometimes, Ward succeeds with this, other times it wobbles quite drastically. Having attempted to write a story with a strong and unfamiliar vernacular myself, I fully understand how hard it is, and even more the importance of maintaining it consistantly throughout the book.

Aside from that, he is also guilty of sentences that are wrong. Just wrong. He and possibly his editor need a smake for basic sentence structure.

In terms of overall structure, the story is quite simple. It is Midshipwizard Fifth Class Halcyon's Blithe first assignment to a naval ship, none other than on of the great dragonships, the Sanguine. He arrives, makes friends, makes enemies, learns the ropes, and inevitably saves the entire ship from certain destruction, because he's special. Yes, he's from a family famous for its accomplishments in the royal navy, a family with demon blood, he's the seventh son of a seventh son, a rope speaker, a dragon speaker, knows the articles of war inside out, good with a sword, etc etc etc. Everything he does, he does brilliantly. Every now and then, it got a little sickening.

This isn't Ward's first book, as I'd assumed. He has previously written for TSR, which explains why his world building is pretty damn good. Although the enemy, a race of evil shapeshifters, were fairly generic, the dragonships were truly magnificent. A lot of though has gone into their creation and utility (and ultimate destruction, which is a red herring that never comes about), and I probably took more joy in reading about the ship than anything else. Ships have souls, this I do believe, and to see one personified as a dragon that looked after the crew as the crew looked after it was wonderful, and struck a very true note.

Yes, red herrings. There are a great many of those. All sorts of things are hinted at, not at all subtly, only to never, ever, be mentioned again, let alone actually happen. This I found entirely vexing, as I waited to be surprised, all anticipation, for things that never occurred. Instead, all my expectations (which weren't high) were filled. I'm never fond of books which, while refusing to state outright who the antagonist is, will make absolutely no effort to hide their identity. If it's so obvious to me, the reader, it should be obvious to the characters as well.

Despite all this, I had an absolutely brilliant time in the book. I know most writers have a hard time turning off the inner editor while reading, which isn't a problem I seem to have. This book is incredibly rough, but at its core it is something author had a great deal of fun writing, and that comes through. For a book that isn't trying to revolutionise the industry, giving the reader a good time is all you can ask for, and in this, Ward succeeded wonderfully. I hope he will continue to write stories about Halcyon Blithe and the world he lives in, because I will continue to read them.

Verdict: will grate on your inner editor, and delight your inner sailor. Yar. I know ships aren't everyone's cup of tea, but if you have the sea bug, it's well worth it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman

Is there anything to say about this book that hasn't already been said a thousand time before?

It's a good book. Well-written, and Gaiman does absurdist comedy quite well. I was very fond of the lime in particular. But I don't think he stretched his story-creating muscle much, and I didn't feel like I was reading anything new.

The 'special features' at the back startled me. As Peek said, it's not a DVD. With DVDs, just having the movie isn't enough, there needs to be extras as well. Books are there for the sake of having a story. From a writer's point of view, I quite enjoyed the cut scene, and the notebook, as it provided insight into Gaiman's writing process...but reader discussion questions? I dug my hooves in there. It's enough that I read the book and enjoyed it. I don't need to be told what I should be analysing about it, thank you very much.

And then, the dedication. I thought it was lovely. I also thought he asks for every shark-woman groupie he gets, from here on it.

Verdict: Yeah, I know. Short innit? But as I said, it's all been said before. It's a good book, well worth your time and money, but I don't know that it will open new doors in your mind.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I'd Forgotten That Colour

I had a moment of insecurity the other day. It came poncing up out of nowhere, sat down, made itself real comfortable, and didn't budge. Took me by surprise. Partly due to the extremely non-existent sleep I've been getting, partly due to the monthly rag time, and mostly completely uninvited.

Tiredness makes me crabby. This is generally inflicted upon other people.

Hormones make me glum. This is generally inflicted upon myself.

But insecurity? I can't remember when I last felt insecure. Hopeless, useless, apathetic and full of despair, but not insecure.

I'd forgotten quite how crippling it was. One of my main supports is that I know I'm a strong person, and the price of being strong is to be strong. My two feet are all I stand on and other such prideful sayings. To have that foundation up and disappear left me a bit shaken.

(But of course, the price of being strong is that I can never be weak, not to others nor myself, so I will not call friends at midnight for the sole purpose of reassuring myself that I'm not a waste of meat.)

It left quickly. It had no reason to stay. And it brought to my attention that I'm not an insecure person, not inside or out.

Chalk that up to one of the year's sucesses.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The ninjas have given up on bees, and they're resorting to summer instead.

The end is nigh. Doom is at hand. Etc.
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

Here is a case where marketing actually worked on me. An excerpt of the book was sent in the mail with a newsletter, and because it was there, I read it, and was completely suckered in. How could I not be, when it ends on such words "Vlad Tepes is still alive." The fact that it was beautifully written didn't hurt at all, as I've been known to pick up excerpts for the sole purpose of reading out the horrid bits to annoy mum.

This is not a vampire book. It contains vampires, just as some foods may contain nuts, but don't taste like nuts at all. The vampires are a subtle menace, thwarting the protagonists, but not poncing around as stories tend to make vampires do. They remain unreachable, a mystery, and as such work incredibly well.

The protagonists themselves aren't tough, macho vampire hunters, or heros of any description. They're scholars, all of them, and aside from a remarkable intelligence, they're ordinary people, and remain ordinary people. This is, I think, one of the key succeses of the book.

I'm very guilty of pitting my characters against monsters that are unlikely to afflict anyone walking this earth, and I'm also guilty of having those characters become heros. Of being able to cope with it all, not necessarily well, but being able to come out the end in one piece, on top. I'm guilty, in my head, of being a hero. Ordinary people aren't. Ordinary people don't have armies, swords, BFG's, etc at their disposal, and ordinary people don't wound, let alone kill. That Kostova pitted her characters against some of the greatest monsters of time, and had them remain ordinary people, is a marvellous feat. It gives the book a grounding and an air of validity that drew me in much deeper than I would have otherwise gone.

As well as not being a vampire story, it isn't really a family story either. It's more of a travel book than anything else. As various characters travel to various cities in Europe and the Middle-East, each destination is a marvellous treasure that the character falls in love with, and I had no choice but to do so as well. Everything was wonderful, beautiful, a perfect individual day that would never be replicated. Food was magnificent. People were blessed. Everything had a history I can't even begin to imagine. If you're given to itchy feet, as I am, be warned; this book will make them itchier. I rue the current situation of the Middle East, as I now have a strong desire to see Istanbul, among other things. Kostova is incredibly evocative, and all her settings become characters themselves.

But...she gets a bit carried away with the story. To begin with, I don't know that she can cope with anything but first person. There are multiple POVs within, from the daughter, to the father, to the professor, to her mother, to monks who died in centuries ago - and they're all written in first person. This wouldn't be so bad if there were distinct voices between them, but for the most part, there aren't. The same measured, educated and refined voice dominates all, and so for a book that contains several POV characters, it reads as only one character. There were several times when I forgot exactly whose eyes I was reading through, and what year it was.

Then, her supposedly intelligent characters make assumptions that appear to be there for the sole purpose of the writer being able to pull back the curtain and shock them later. I'm not fond of situations in which the reader has information that the character needs, as it makes me impatient with the character and the story, as there's nothing left to reveal. That the characters don't possess this information for no very good reason at all makes it worse.

Ah, and then we come to the miraculous coincidences. There's nothing else to call the meeting of Turgut and James but out of the blue 'oh what luck!' to get the story moving along. Once I can handle, twice is far too often and smacks of laziness.

The reason for Helen's disappearance, and her continued disappearance, didn't work for me at all. At all.

Finally, the book is too long for the story. I don't usually say that, but with 100 pages to go, I was heartily sick and tired of them digging up one supposedly pointless clue after another, jumping from one dusty library to another, which is what they were doing for the majority of the book. It was interesting for the first part, then it got repetative, then boring. I just wanted them to hurry up and find Vlad's tomb, and get it over and done with. I shouldn't come to the end of the book with relief that it is finally over, I should approach it quickly, to know what happens, and sadly, knowing that I'll never be able to read it for the first time ever again.

It is still, however, a beautifully written book, and refreshingly different. It's full of love and mystery, with just the right amount of menace.

Verdict: Well worth the time, just remember about the last few pages.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dead in the West - Joe R. Lansdale

I'd almost caught up on verdicts. Then I went and read three books in as many days.

After reading something that had as much impact as City of Saints & Madmen, any book that follows has its work cut out for it. So, I deliberately chose something that wasn't trying to be genius (not that I wanted a repeat of The Phantom Menace experience) and this one had 'pulp' written all over it. As well as 'zombie western'. Really, I couldn't go wrong.

It always takes me a couple of pages to adjust my gears for a book that is shooting for pulp. The initial metaphors and similies make my inner editor cringe, until said inner editor realises that they're totaly deliberate and unshamefully so, and shuts up. Didn't take long to do that, in this case, as I spent a while staring at the cover.

Big bosomed young lady clings screaming to big muscled hero who is fending hordes of zombies off with a shotgun. (Although he's not actually using the shotgun the traditional way, he's swinging it around like a club, which I can't imagine is nearly as effective.) Brilliant!

The small town of Mud Creek is cursed, oh woe, and they asked for that curse, what they did to the medicine man and his woman. And only one man can save the town! Reverend Jebediah Mercer! Who's currently having a severe crisis of faith! And drinks! And kills! And oooooooooh! His troubled soul! God has sent him to this forsaken town to test him, in several different ways if his reaction to Abby, the Doctor's daughter is anything to go by.

I had a lot of fun with this book. Lansdale is consistent with his pulp and cheesy, and mixes it in with horror quite well. Zombies don't frighten me. It's hard to work up fear about some that shambles, that even I can easily out run. But damn, these ones grossed me out. Bits hanging out, bits of goop and ick everywhere. Ick. Ick ick ick.

The end did surprise me, because I'd forgotten exactly how zombie stories worked. It's okay, I remember now.

Verdict: Much fun, although not for everyone. I know I have a very high tolerance for cheese (I enjoyed Van Helsing after all), and this is cheese very well done.

Friday, October 28, 2005

In the morning, ninjas try to garotte me.

They have, dare I say, an unholy alliance formed with the spiders of suburbia. In the night, the spiders drift down across the foot path, casting a line of thread which resides perfectly at throat height for someone of my stature. No one else walks these footpaths until I do, on my way to work. I feel the threads break on my throat. They're trying to lure me into false sense of security. It won't work. I'm onto them. In winter, I wear a scarf, and now summer is coming, the sun is at just the right angle to reveal those infernal lines.

In the evening, ninjas try to cripple me with caltraps.

They have, dare I say, a blasphemous alliance formed with the snails of suburbia. They creep out after dark, crossing from one side of the footpath to the other, just like the metaphorical chicken. It is dark. There are few street lights. The walk home is crunch, crunch, crunchy. I rue that these snails sacrifice themselves for so useless a cause, for my guard will never be lowered.

In the afternoon, the ninjas get fed up and try to kill me with a swarm of bees.

I don't know why they decided a swarm of bees hanging around a street light at the end of the road was an efficiant way to do me in, because it wasn't. Bee swarms are pretty easy to see, and thus, easy to avoid. But ninjas must know they've failed, so I walked through the swarm. Bees don't really fuss me. They were just buzzing around, doing their thing, which had nothing to do with me.
Which I think has lulled me into a false sense of security, because when I walked home that night, I passed the lamp post and they were all there. All of them. Huddled in a tight clump. Still. All of them, watching me. It turned my heart, in that instance I caught it out of the corner of my eye. They've been there for a few days now.

My time is coming. Doom is at hand.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

While ZZZ Hunting

I dreamed that terrorists blew up the World Trade Centre in Melbourne. This was a bit of a drag, considering I actually work in the WTC. Thankfully, I wasn't there at the time. I'd swapped my 9-5 shift for a 3-11.

Instead, I was in a shopping centre, deadling with an idiot. Not a terrorist, just an idiot opportunist with a gun, who wanted everyone's money, as they do. But hey, I'm a hero. I ran around the shops grabbing their big canvas sale banners, threw them on him, tackled him, and had a mad wrestle for the gun, which I won. No one else helped though, of course not.

Then the alarm went off.

And I went back to sleep, and dreamed that I had to spend the night in a haunted church. Naturally, this freaked me right out, until I saw the ghost. Who happened to be a four inch tall blue-glowing dancing baby.

Still, it upset the dogs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

While ZZZ Hunting

I went to Mars in my dream this morning. Although I've never been to Mexico, Mars reminded me of it. Red dirt. Dirty shopping strips. Put-put-bang cars. It was always night there, always a sky full of stars.

I can't quite remember why I was there. I think I was part a space shuttle mission, testing out a new-old spaceship. We arrived. My parents weren't at the base to pick me up, so I had to get a lift with one of the other astronaughts. It turned into a school camp of sorts, full of people I have no real desire to see again. Even in my dreams, my High School people happen around me, not to me.

But I couldn't stay long. I had to get home, to earth. For some reason, instead of taking a space ship, I was expected to accomplish this with a cream coloured toyoto corolla as old as I am, which didn't actually start.

Mars, quite clearly, is a hole.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

City of Saints & Madmen - Jeff Vandermeer

I just found seven words of interest on the spine. Now I'm tempted to forgo this verdict and spend my time putting these words where they need to go, but perhaps not. Wouldn't want to end the world. This is the price I pay for buying hardcovers and then putting the dust jackets aside so they don't get damaged. There's an entire story on this dust jacket, and only now have I read it.

It's a good sized book. Just the right amount of heft, with a loose spine that isn't too stiff, and cover art that is just gorgeous.

And it has pictures.

I'm not so old that I don't get excited over a novel with pictures. Not even pictures, do some fancy formatting, get carried away with borders, use footnotes: break the monotonous block of text, and I'll adore it for no reason. The King Squid plates are fantastic, and the Disney mushroom dwellers hold a special place in my heart.

City isn't a novel, but it's not quite a collection of short stories. It could be the dossier of a man gone mad, a hallucination, it could be an anthropological study of a city on no map of ours. Whatever you chose it to be, it is brilliant.

(Oh no, she's going to gush.)

Dradin, In Love
It's a false beginning to the book. It is, perhaps, the only adhering-to-the-standard-definition-of short story. The reader is Dradin, who has just stumbled into Ambergris from the jungles, and as we are new to the city, so is he. Not a walking tour, but a shamble, a stagger, and a run for your life. Dradin is a sad man, and instead of wanting to shake his naivety from him, I just want to pat him sadly on the shoulder. It's a rich story, so very textured, and Ambergris completely overwhelms all else. It isn't a setting, it's a character, and we quickly learn so much from it. Full of life, of wonder, of mess, and full of death. The Festival of the Freshwater Squid unsettles me, whenever it is mentioned. This is the only good look you'll get of that Festival, and I didn't want to look any further. O thought this story was wonderful, beautifully written, and yet, so quickly overshadowed.

The Hoegbottom Guide to the Early History of Ambergris
Suddenly, from literature to comedy. Should I have found this so amusing? It's non-fiction, a historical account of the city, dotted in highly opinionated and subjective footnotes from a snooty history who has, I think, a severe chip on his shoulder. I do love pieces of history, and I swallowed this whole. It was wonderful. I sat on Flinders Street Station at 11.30pm, not used to catching trains after dark and more than a little threatened by the vagrants that wandered the platforms, and this story made me forget all that. No, it isn't a story. The mushroom dwellers fascinate me, as all things that are mysteries must. The Silence chilled me, left me raw and horrified, especially that little gesture, what they did leave behind. I thought this was the best in the book. I was afraid everything would be left standing in its shadow.

The Transformation of Martin Lake
It's good to be wrong.
I'm hopeless at writing about that which I truly love. Things that get me into a tizzy, things that make me giddy with delight and incoherant with joy; I'm left gobsmacked. This story gobsmacked me. I use the word brilliant too much, but it is, it's an amazingly brilliant story. It narrates one of the greatest events in the life of Martin Lake, a soon to be famous painter, broken up with pieces artistic criticism and history. One stream of what really happened, and another stream of what others guess might have possibly happened. The chasm between truth and speculation is enormous, but usually they're on the opposite sides. No one could have guess what truly happened, it seems wild, crazy, more like rumour that the speculation does.
But most of all, what won me over was the paintings.
This story doesn't have pictures, but in the art historian steam, there are descriptions of Lake's work, after the event. They were beautiful. I came out of that story feeling heavy, that I would never be able to see the paintings described. I want to, oh I want to.

It is the footnotes, the art history, that makes Ambergris not a story, but a city. It lives.

The Strange Case of X
This controls the rest of the book. Alas, the twist at the end came as no surprise for me, for it was what I'd assumed from the first page. I thought that was all that story was, until it hit me. Vandermeer was doing something I'd never seen before, doing something I can only think of as brilliant, brilliant, and entirely unapologetically.

The chapbook on King Squid had me in stitches, at work no less. "Remove your tentacle from my birthing canal immediately!" and my favourite:
Their annual celebration, held at roughly the same time as the modern day Festival, culminated with the choosing of one man to hunt the scuttlefish. Given that the average Mothean Scuttlefish, flattened against the riverbed, forms a circle roughly six feet across and that their primary defense consists of stuffing as much of their invertebrate bodies as possible down their attacker's mouth and other available orifices- at which point I choked and died, and had to explain to my supervisor exactly why I was dead. Not one of my finest moments.

I was quite entranced by The Cage. It was a strange story, but Vandermeer knows how to work mystery, how to drop the right revelation that is not a revelation at the right time. An air of quiet menace fills the entire story, as mushrooms can only ever be quiet, soft, and still.

He merged the writer with the world, the world with the writer.

This book left me tizzy. I didn't enjoy it, it enjoyed me, and blew me away. Tizzy, giddy, terribly excited by all that had been done, and all the possibilities that could follow. I enjoy so many books (except The Phantom Menace), but there are only a very few, a mere handful of books that shake the foundations of my mind, break down the walls, and give me the opportunity to build something new. This is one of those very rare, very special books. There is no writer out there who should not read this, there's so much too learn from simple good writing on a sentence level, to genius.

But genius can't be learned.

Verdict: Please, do yourself a favour, and read this. Please. I beg you. The tizziness must be spread.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - Terry Brooks

I'm not even linking to this one. Stop looking at me like that. I found it for $5 in a remaindered pile, and I had a SW hankering. Don't worry, I suffered the full consequences of my folly.

Never read any of Brooks's novels, and have no desire to change that. The only piece of writing I've read of his was a short story in Legends II, which completely failed to impress me. It was far too simple, too easy, and reminded me of stories I'd written when I was in high school. (They weren't very good stories.)

Admittedly, Brooks was given a crap story to begin with here. The movie of EpI is just sloppy, and I'm being nice there. I'd come to this book assuming that he had fixed it up a bit. Made it more palatable.


The first page should have warned me, but I'm an idiot. Either he, or his editor, in fact both of them, need to be taught about commas, and shifting perspectives within a sentence. I'm not fond of the latter, not at all, but it is possible if you use commas wisely. Unfortunately, he doesn't use commas. At all.

Okay, so it isn't well written, I can deal with that, I said, and promptly ignored everything that happened on a sentence level, which left me with the characters and story itself, which really wasn't much better.

Oh, Anakin.

We hates him, we does.

You thought he was bad in the film, he's seriously bloody ugly here. He's perfect. He's a golden haired angel, with such a big heart, and everyone loves him, and he loves everyone, and he helps out little old ladies, and total strangers and is soooooo good it made me want to vomit and smack him around. Children aren't like that. Sometimes they are, but not ALL THE TIME. They're children. In fact, NO BODY is like that. Not all the time, and not in the depths of their hearts, but noooo, Anakin is peeeeeeerfect.

Surprisingly, I didn't mind Jar-Jar Binks. Perhaps because I had to concentrate to figure out what it was he was saying. I have picked up the unfortunate habit of saying "Okie-day!"

And then, about half way through, I just stopped. It wasn't worth my time. I even knew how it ended, fancy that.

Verdict: Don't. Just don't. Jedis can't save this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & - Anna Tambour

(What's this, you cry, a verdict?)

I began chewing this book whilst stuck at Heidelberg Railway Station. The next train wasn't due for ten minutes, and wasn't going to my stop anyway, so as I slouched against a street light waiting for my brother to pick me up, I started on the first story, Klokwerk's Heart. In it, I found a flavour that would suffuse through all of Tambour's other stories: delight. It is, I think, her greatest strength, that she has mastered that incredibly hard atmosphere that is joy, happiness, and love, without the added bedbugs of trite, cliche, and sloppiness. They're warm stories, friendly stories, stories that want to be your friend and hold your hand for a while. And yet, even as they're wooing you, some of those stories are down right nasty. Here, I'm thinking of The Eel and Crumpled Sheets and Death-Fluffies.

Travels with Robert Louis Stevenson in the CĂ©vennes left me in stitches. Told through the eyes of the donkey that is Stevenson's sole companion, it was full of practical, no-nonsense observations from said beast, and a brilliant insight into exactly why donkeys are unwilling to go where ever they're asked to go. The last line, however, was the crown.

Valley of the Sugars of Salt is a beast of a story, but a gentle beast. It is perhaps the story that contains the most love in it, a peculiar sort of love that comes from the orchid and its special trees to its tender. Tim, a man with too much money, has taken it to his head to revive a virtually extinct species of fruit tree; the medlars. Medlars are a peculiar fruit that is best eaten when near putrescent, close to being rotten through, and looking just the same. (No, it doesn't sound all that appealing, does it?) His scheme to set the gourmet world afire with them falls through, for aesthetic reasons, but he choses not to give up the orchid, having found a peace there he has never known. The trees themselves have the most personality in the story, rascals the lot of them, telling stories and jokes night in and night out, to the delight of the spiders, birds and beasts around them. It was such a warm story, I felt the strong urge to go out and hug a tree once I'd finished.

The Ocean in Kansas was a lovely, whimsical piece, and I think the world would be a better place if more people gave into such flights of fancy.

And then there was Monterra's Deliciosa, the true beast of the book. A giant rambling story that wandered about the place, looking over here, investigating over there, taking its time to get to where it was going. The journey was worthy of the end. Food, something that Tambour paints vividly in all her stories, was rife throughout, as a country boy moved up and out in the world of high class chefs and restaurants. (What they did to the pigs!) But I couldn't have predicted where it was going, and didn't. I won't reveal it here, as it is something best discovered yourself, but it left me shocked, and slightly nauseated. Still, good writing is good writing, and it was very good.

These are but a few of Tambour's works contained in the collection. It is my preference to read collections all the way through; I do not break them up with other stories, I treat them as any other book. As such, it was wonderful to witness little nods and smiles that went from one story to another. The medlars snuck in a couple of times to say hello, her fascination with lips and food spread about. Although none of the stories are related, it lent them a feel of connectivity. They were all part of the great mind of Anna Tambour.

Verdict: Different, always unexpected, brilliant.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hawksmoor - Peter Ackroyd

(Ha! Bet you never thought you'd see one of these again!)

This book doesn't belong to me. Matthew Farrer clobbered me with it, and I've never been one to say no. It was given to him by Dan Abnett, in return for a David Malouf book. I've only read one Malouf, but I think Matthew got the better deal.

He intrigued me initally by outlining it as being about the churchs of London, and the incredible symbology that went into their construction. That perked my ears. My favourite chapter in From Hell involves Sir Gull and his driver seemingly randomly trotting around London, viewing churches while Gull delivers something of a lecture on their history. It was fascinating, and sinister.

But perhaps I didn't time my reading of this as best I could. I started reading this book the same time I started work. Instead of being able to give it the hours of attention that I like to languish on books, it was read in bursts and fits; on train stations, in lunch breaks, with a suddenly shifted sleeping pattern that killed my ability to concentrate, until everything spiralled together, and I became as adrift as the characters in the book itself.

Ackroyd is a remarkably talented writer. He exerted a control over his voice that I learned a lot from. The book slips back and forth between two timelines; that of Nicholas Dyer, the architecth who designed and built the churches, full of a purpose I'm sure their majesties would not approve of, and Hawksmoor, in our present day, investigating strange murders occurring in the churches.

It began with Dyer, and at first I was taken aback. His voice, the writing, was heavily 'olde worlde'. I'm not sure that's the best way to put it, but it stemmed from a time when spelling differed from sentence to sentence, and captials went where ever they wished. It was thick, full of colour, and took some effort to read. It put me in mind of my story 'Bitter Elsie Mae' which was written in a thick dialect that tripped a lot of people up as well. One trick I was told was to lay it on in the beginning, and then back off slowly. People will remember the dialect, and hear it even if it isn't there. Either I became used to Dyer's voice, or Ackroyd pulled the same trick.

Then came Hawksmoor, and Ackroyd did something interesting with him. Although Hawksmoor's line could have been written in our current and familiar dialogue, it wasn't. There was no dialect as Dyer had, but turns of phrase, the voice, and mannerisms were such that I never lost contact with the century that Dyer lived in. I wasn't shaken out by modern devices or slang, and occasionally, as the story lines seemed to refect and tangle themselves across time, I lost track of what time I was in, and wondered when I was in the story. (Perhaps that was exhaustion.) Given that one of the themes of the book was the spanning and compressing of time, it felt right. Appropriate. A very complex spell.

But while I understood Dyer, I don't think I ever truly got a handle on Hawksmoor. (Did he have a handle on himself?) He seemed a creature entirely of the present. I knew nothing of his origins, where he had come from, what path his life had trod - he existed only for the duration of the book, with no sense of history or future to his being. As he unpeeled the murders and progressed towards some inevitable conclusion, he was a stranger, as he was to the people in his life. When at last (SPOILER) he entered the church, and found the tramp, and all infinity spun around him, I can't say I had the slightest idea what was going on. From Dyer's perspective, I understood he was successful. From Hawksmoor's...

Perhaps the problems stems from the simple fact that I don't know why Hawksmoor. Perhaps it was something I missed, but I don't know why Hawksmoor had this fate, and not another.

I felt I learned a lot from this book, and although I was unable to give it the full concentration I think it required, I enjoyed it. One of those books that sits slightly sideways of everything else, one that challenged me and still sits in my head, daring me to sort it out.

Verdict: Well worth the time. But yes, have something of a concentration span when you begin. Writers will learn a lot. And I apolosise for mistakes/typos. (Matthew, need your postal address.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

11:44 Hurstbridge

I caught the train home last night. Previously, Hamish had been picking me up at the end of all my afternoon shifts. I didn't expect him to keep doing so, and told him. The cricket was on anyway.

This is why I hate being a short, little, female.

The city was full of drunk people, swearing people, aggressive people, people asking for money and staring at my rack. There were normal people mixed in there, just enough for me not to feel entirely threatened. I'm not, and have never been comfortable around drunk people. They upset me in a deep in the stomach way.

The train worried me, until I stepped on it. It was mostly tired students and workers, all with earphones in. No longer any inhibitations of listening to my iPod. I parked myself next to a huge japanese samurai guy (probably a student) and stared at the floor.

Strange, worrying people don't confine themselves to one carriage. They walk up and down the train, continuously.

There was a domestic at Alphington. Yelling. I couldn't see, but as the doors closed and the train pulled away I could see a woman picking herself up off the ground, and I realised that I had just sat there and done nothing. Disgust. Shame.

Kids. A large mob of them. Thinking they were real tough hot shit. Only one word in their vocabularly, and it began with F. They worried me. A lot. Aggressive. Up and down the train, up and down the train. Yelling at each other. Forcing the doors. I didn't relax until they got off at Watsonia.

Stepped off the train, and it was raining. Just a light rain, enough to give the air that hot wet smell that only summer storms bring. Lightning was frantic in the sky, but thunder only intermittant, and in lazy grumbles. I walked through the storm, and I felt clean again.

There's no other way to say it; humanity makes me feel dirty. Under my skin.

(The rain brought the snails out. The walk home was a bit crunchy.)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Science of the Discworld III: Darwin's Watch by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen

The Sciences are books that I don't read for Pratchett's contributions, in fact in this one and the second I've found the fiction chapters to be lacklustre at best. The wizards amuse me, but the wizards always amuse me.

No, what I enjoy is having the comparison between a fictional world, and our own. Narrativium is an element I understand, and the resulting contrast means that the science served up I find easier to swallow.

Most of the time.

The theme of this Science was evolution, although for reasons I never quite grasped, several chapters were spent dwelling on time travel. At first, I was interested (who isn't?), and although physics normally makes me shriek and run away, I stuck with it. It was interesting to learn about all these theories on how time travel could theoretically possible, usually involving cutting black holes and white holes in half and sticking them together, or folding space into a tube, but I had to wonder how anyone arrived at these theories. The practicality of all of them was non-existent. Perhaps because I am a physics pleb, but rolling space into a tube doesn't seem like a possible or even practial thing to do.

Then, however, it moved on to string theory.

Sweet mercy, given me quantum, please! Whilst I think I may have grasped a hazy idea of what they thought they were talking about, that's all it is. String theory seems even less practical than cutting black holes in half. I remember branes, and I remember Goldilocks, and that's all. Mostly, I found it a bit disappointing that I just didn't get it, but I don't think String Theory exists for bum-wannabe-writers to get.

Once free of string theory, it was smooth sailing. The chapters detailing Darwin's life were fascinating (barnacles! ha!), and especially the notion of 'steam engine time'. It was something I noticed before the concept actually appeared in the book; regardless of Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species, it looked as though the concept of evolution was stirring the water, and would have found an outlet in any other of a number of people if Darwin hadn't trod the path he did. Time, progress, science create the conditions that make some inventions/discoveries/ideas just about inevitable. Like steam engine time (so many people were making steam engines, it was only because Watt had the money to make lots of them that he gets the credit).

But, I don't feel I came out of the book haven't had the boundaries of my mind reset. Sure, string theory made a mess in my head, but in regards to the rest, I don't look at the world any differently. It was an interesting read, and I picked up many useless/useful facts, but I wasn't blown away.

Except possibly about the barnacles. That still makes me laugh.

Verdict: interesting, amusing, easy to read. 'cept for the string theory.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Risen Empire & The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld

Having emerged from The Time Traveler's Wife I wanted something entirely different to read. Preferably something with guns and explosions. I ended up nibbling on Scott's books, as when he signed the first he wrote, 'within these pages you'll find all the action scenes you'll ever need'. (For his week at Clarion South, I wrote an unbalanced action piece that broke my brain.) With a promise like that, I couldn't go wrong.

(I feel I should apologise for any typos. I'm making a lot more than I normally do. Tired.)

I don't know that I've read much space opera previously. Maxine McArthur's books and those Star Wars ones, and that's pretty much the sum total. I think, all things considering, I could get really obsessive about space opera. One of the reasons I haven't read much science fiction is the vague menace of hard science - I don't have a scientifically wired mind, and I hate the idea of not getting the central conceit of a book. That, and I have a quite loathing of physics. Space opera isn't so much science, as stories in a science fiction setting. I hope that makes sense. My own brain isn't making sense. Regardless, these books didn't intimidate me, which is just what I wanted.

The Risen Empire was founded around 5000 years ago, and for its duration has only had the one immortal Emperor, he who defeated the Old Enemy, Death. Those deemed worth, those of influential families, those who died in combat are given the symbiant which returns them to life, and grants them immortality. The social implications of having previous generations hang around and retain the balance of power and wealth are amazing, and as much as I liked the guns and explosions, exploring the fallout of such a civilisation was fascinating. It stagnates as the living bow beneath the dead. New ideas can't take hold, progress stops because those who cling to the old ideas are those in power, are those who will not die and thus step aside. It's horrifyingly stifling.

However, mostly I find the idea of living forever horrible, and not something I will even wish for. Ugh.

The kick off sees the Child Empress, the Emperor's sister, hostage in her own palace. Warriors from the Rix cult are holding her to ransom, threatening to kill her if imperial forces attempt to interfer with the seeding of a compound mind in the planet's infrastructure. An AI the size of a planet wakes up. Captain Zai has the impossible task of rescuing the Child Empress from the bridge of the Lynx high above the planet, and it all spirals out of control from there.

There have been very few scenes in books that have started my heart thumping and got the adrenaline going. In fact, I think the scene with the rail gun is the only time I've ever reached the end of a chapter in a book, looked up, and said "Holy cow. That was cool." And that is impressive.

Most of all, from reading these books I learned how to balance action in writing, something I wasn't aware of with my week six story. In real time, action does go indefinitely, but the reader doesn't. The reader needs regular breaks to step back and take a breath. This doesn't necessarily mean that the character in the thick of it gets to (oh no, that would be easy). In this case, Scott used flash backs exceptionally well. I quite liked the House Mind, and was waiting for it to single-handedly taken on and thwart the Compund Mind.

That said, I got to the end, and something very large was missing. Tying up of ends? What happened to Alexander? I mean, it's kind of big and creepy...I guess I'll live not knowing the answer.

I know this vedict doesn't really say anything, but the wiring in my brain is kind of faulty right now.

Verdict: All the action scenes you'll ever want, and some damn cool shit to boot.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The first night of reading this book, I put in my bookmark, turned off the light, and lay in the dark with a little smile on my face.

It takes a fair amount of clobber for a book to drive someone to tears. It takes a whole lot more to stuff them full of joy peas and happy beans. Have I ever known a book to fill me with giddy delight before? Not because it was funny, or clever, but because it was lovely.

When Clare first met Henry, she was six and he was thirty-six. When they married, she was twenty-two and he was thirty. Henry suffers from a disorder that makes him chronologically unstable; at times of high stress, when started, when doing nothing at all, he is flung about in time. Thus, Clare has known Henry all her life, yet when finally they meet in the present, she is a total stranger to him. From childhood, she knows that he's the love of her life, her future husband - he told her. It's inevitable. And while there's a wonderful, glorious, warm, tizzy, funny-in-the-tummy excitement as the time comes when they meet in the present and start their life together properly, there's also a creeping despair, as the forces that drove them together must tear them apart, as it has done, over, and over, again. There lives are so intricately intwined that imagining them apart, unreachable, the mind shies away.

For me, I fell in love with their relationship, particularly from Clare's perspective. To know someone so long, so intimiately is incredibly alluring, and holds all sorts of promises of comfort and trust, especially trust when one's partner has a habit of vanishing for unknown times to unknown times (to, as it turns out, your past, to watch over you as you are growing up, and going through those growing pains).

What extraordinary and yet normal lives they lead.

I can see why this book isn't in the speculative fiction section of any book stores (none that I've seen). Although genetically triggered time travel is an incredible science fiction, it isn't the heart of the book. Clare and Henry's beautiful and bizarre relationship fills every nook and cranny, and the time travel is incidental, a strange circumstance that while central, is almost an after thought when set next to the couple. It dominates their lives, but they're normal people. Henry vanishes just as partner's leave for work. It happens.

It's a wonderful look at relationships, all sorts of relationships. It occured to me, around the half-way point, that if I stopped writing protagonists who were hermits in extreme isolation, I could have this effect as well, all these dynamics, all these moments.

I think I rather like love stories.

Yet, I wasn't satisfied with the end. Did she live, or did she wait? No hint is given. Perhaps I am meant to decide, and after knowing them for a whole book, I'm inclined to think she waited, and waited, and waited. When married to a time traveler, who knows when he'll appear. But that outcome irks me to no end. Her entire life, all of it. When I flipped the last page, my first thought was that Niffenegger was rushed, or afraid, or just couldn't bear to go any further in that territory. It felt like a betrayal of sorts, given how all Clare's horrible and beautiful days had been laid bare before hand.

Alas, such a story can only be followed by mourning. It's already too late for me to meet my own time traveler.

Verdict: this story got under my skin, into my blood, and moved me. It's a beautiful thing, and you do yourself a disservice by not having it in your life.

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 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., 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.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Splinter of the Mind's Eye - Alan Dean Foster

...I was about to put a spoiler warning here, but given this is set in the Star Wars universe, you all know how it turns out anyway.

Being something of a squealy fangirl, seeing Revenge of the Sith pushed all the fangirl buttons and sent me on another little Star Wars tizzy. I say 'little' because I'm not exactly swimming in Star Wars paraphenalia. Have the videos of the first remake of the original three (Han shot first!), Knights of the Old Republic on Xbox, and two books. I couldn't read Sean William's book, because it's the first of three. That left me with this one.


The crapitude factor contained within this book is astronomically high, and what makes it all the more worse is that it's that special sort of crap that I just couldn't put down.

Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (you know for years I thought it was The Emperor's Striped Back) it follows Luke and Leia as they crash on a supposedly uninhabited planet, only to find it crawling with Imperial guards (surprise). An absolutely cookie-cutter plot device character called Halla finds them out, and pulls them off to find the Kaiburr crystal, which has special Force properties.

This was before the entirety of the Skywalker family tree was revealed, and so Luke spends a ridiculous amount of time lusting after Leia. At the most ridiculous moments. For instance, they've just been chased by a 'wandrella' the size of a train, and have jumped down a bottomless well to escape it. They're standing on a narrow ledge and the beastie has its head stuck down the well, sniffing around.

Luke felt the warmth of the body next to him and lowered his gaze. Framed in the faint light from above, the Princess looked more radient, more beautiful than ever. "Leia," he began, "I..."

And then you have moments like this:

Now Luke rolled clear and came to a panting stopon her chest. For a long moment they lay like that, suspended in time. Then their eyes met with a gaze that could have penetrated light-years.

Like a missile launcher sighting on its prey, his eyes contacted hers. There was a brief, silent explosion before she looked hurriedly away.

I wasn't expecting the most wonderous prose in the world, but I laughed out loud a lot more than I should have, and at all the wrong moments.

The characterisation for Leia was entirely off. She went from a strong leader to a petulant, brattish, whining little, well, princess. Somewhere, she learned how to do fly kicks, and despite feeling so strongly about the Rebellion, about the evil of the Empire and how Vader needs to be STOPPED, she says "Oh, darn," when she fails to snipe the Dark Lord himself.

Ah yes, Darth Vader. I think this book might have been salvagable if he hadn't shown up. It isn't fair to judge this one story within the entire context of the Star Wars universe, but I am. Luke and Darth's first meeting should have been on Cloud City, and only Cloud City. Having them meet, dual, and Luke actually win, on Mimban, is not good story telling. I mean, hell, if Luke beat him once, he can do it again, right? He even chopped Vader's arm off! By doing so, Darth Vader loses all his credibility. He's no longer the unstoppable force of evil, the great villian that he needs to be.

Ludicrously amusing metaphors, jumping point of view, total lack of any depth to the one original character, a whole lot of random encounters with ugly beasties, and Darth Vader gets his buttocks kicked. It's horrible, and yet so very good.

Verdict: You should all go and read this book. Now. Go on, it'll make you laugh.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Hey, Tess.
Whatcha doin'?
No idea.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - movie

Yessss...I saw it last night, and I'm still undecided about it.

I think the majority of my conflict boils down to the fact that I am somewhat of a purist. The original radio play I have almost memorized (it's been a long while since last hearing it, due to the tapes wearing through), the books I've read many times, and I own the TV series.

Perhaps if there hadn't been a TV series that stayed loyal to the dated british feel of the radio play, that hadn't provided me with all my visual images already, the movie would have faired better.

I already knew I had image conflict from the trailer. The man cast as Arthur Dent looked exactly like Ford Prefect to me, Marvin looked like he was designed by Sony, so did the Heart of Gold for that matter, a Zaphod barely had his extra head and arm feature. But these were fairly easy to shrug off.

For me, the movie swung between clinging slavishly to the original, and diving off in a totally different direction, two polar opposites that kept jerking me around for the duration of the movie. Again, this is probably the purist in me speaking. Having the play memorized means I expect the lines delivered in a certain way from a certain voice.

I did appreciate some of the changes to the story they made. Giving Arthur Dent character developement, and an arc of his own, tied the movie up quite nicely. I was worried about how they were going to do that, seeing as radio plays operate on not having any sort of tie up at all. (SPOILER: and the fangirl in my cheered when he and Trillian had a smooch.)

That said, the rest of the story wobbled and teetered around all over the place. The randomly introduced villian, Humma Kavula, appeared, made threats and bargins and...was never spoken of again. Never saw him again. Not entirely sure what the point was with that one (SPOILER: other than the removal of Zaphod's second head, which I think the script writers thought was too much hassle). The Vogons made much better antagonists, although their bureaucracy swayed between insanely slow and insanely fast. I didn't grasp Zaphod's motivation to get to Magrathea, or why any of the others went along, or exactly why the Magratheans were going ahead with Earth Mark II, given the mice weren't interested in it.

That said, the movie did look good. Jim Henson's studio did a wonderful job on the Vogons, and although they don't look anything like I imagine them, and are ridiculous more than terrifying, they're brilliant. The mass chanting of 'resistance is useless!' made me all sorts of happy. Their ships (whilst not being yellow) were lovely ugly clunky things, and featured the jewel-encrusted crabs and dewy-eyed gazelle-like creatures of their home world. Dead and crushed. I'm not sure that waving a towel at them will have as much effect as it did, but it was amusing to watch.

The factory floor of Magrathea took my breath away. Just gorgeous.

I'm not sure that the most popular selling book in the galaxy would function soley on flash animation. I'm fairly certain they could afford something better.

Fan girl moments included that first twang from the banjo, the whale (Bill Bailey!), and a cameo from the original Marvin the Paranoid Android.

I the end...and I dread to say this, as it is more condeming than saying the film was bad...I think...for me...the film was forgettable. It had its moments, but overall I neither loved it nor hated it, either of which would have left a deeper impression. That won't stop me acquiring the DVD, or seeing the sequel (as if there isn't going to be a sequel) when it comes out, but I think I'll stick to the radio play for now.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Sleeping Beauty Novels - Anne Rice

(I know, lots of overly long posts today. This is the last, promise.)

I would just like to state, for the record, so everyone knows, I did not buy these books. I did not request these books either. If memory serves, they were offloaded onto Mabs and I by his friend, who was to embarrassed to own them after reading them. I'm inclined to follow suit.

The trilogy follows the path of Sleeping Beauty, who is woken not just with a kiss, but with a kiss that came midfuck. That raised all sorts of "that's just wrong" flags, and those flags never went away, but for other reasons. The Prince claims her as his own personal love slave, and takes her back to his mother's queendom, where the training of pleasure slaves is pretty much all they do.

It is branded as erotica.

It isn't.

I learned an awful lot about how to write erotica from reading these books. To begin with, if something is there all the time, all the freakin' time, it fails to be noteworthy, and becomes very mundane. For instance, if the main character of the story is naked for the entire story, I kid you not, and if all the other multitude of slaves around her are also naked, then nakedness means very little. They're not going to be ashamed of their nakedness for particularly long, because they'll get used to it. They, and their masters, are not going to get turned on by nakedness, because they'll get used to it. And what's more, if you have female slaves running vigorously every morning, naked, then their breasts sure as hell aren't going to stay 'high and pert'.

Every problem in the story stems from this one thing; it never stops. The nakedness never goes away, so never becomes special. The spanking (bloody hell) never goes away, so fails to inspire any sort of fear or horniness. Eat breakfast, have a spank, whoopdidoo.

Perhaps I was reading it wrong. Perhaps I wasn't supposed to read it as a story, but read one chapter at a time, as turnedonedness was required. Bullshit.

I've come to the conclusion that the most important thing you have to do in erotica is take a break. Write the biggest, most mindblowing fuck scene in all the universe, but for fuck's sake go write about something else afterwards. Erotic tension is not about throwing boobies in the reader's face, page after page, chapter after chapter. It is about taking it all away, and letting it build up again, from scratch. Having it always there makes it pretty damn boring, and sadly I'm not exaggerating when I say it really was there page after page.

The reader should also care about the characters that're getting booty time. It's very hard to get interested in fooling around if the character's doing the fooling are wet hens. It makes a nice change from the spanking (bloody hell) but I still didn't actually care. Give them some redeeming feature, please. Or better yet, make them interesting.

There are, possibly, three chapters in the entire three books in which I was interested. These chapters didn't involve spanking (bloody hell) or booty time, but character developement. A pity there weren't more.

Lastly, and most importantly...learn to write consistantly. Pick a tense and stick to it. Stop starting every third sentence with 'and'. I know these books were originally slated as first person from the number of 'I' instead of 'she' typos made.

Verdict: read these books if you are a writer feeling down about yourself, because they will make you feel better. I feel great. (Having finally finished the damn books might have something to do with that.)
Otherwise, seriously, there's better erotica out there on the internet. For free.
Asterix Conquers America

"Ah yes, I remember. The cure for amnesia is 30 pounds of pork taken orally."

There isn't any nice way to say it: this move sucks balls. Not in a good way.

It is very loosely based off Asterix and the Great Crossing, which in itself is not one of the better comics, if only because of the total lack of any conflict. Asterix and Obelix go fishing, a storm washes them up on the shores of the North American continent, they make friends with the natives, go home, the end.

The movie spruces it up a little bit, by having them chasing after a roman ship that has kidnapped their druid Getafix, with the intention of catapaulting him off the edge of the world. Good thing the world is round.

This was just embarrassing to watch.

It began as soon as the voices kicked in. The gauls, despite living in France, had pommy cockney accents, and while I don't mind the romans being ridiculously over the top italian, it was a bit painful to watch. Obelix did not sound like a big man - it goes on, and on.

They run into trouble with the natives when they inadvertently piss off the tribe's Medicine Man. He has his revenge by offering them the peace pipe. The dangerous music SWELLS most THREATENINGLY as they're chuffing away, and I don't think I've been preached at so badly in a long time.

And then, my god, the songs. Yes, there was singing, preaching singing about oooooooooohwaaaaaaoooh, we are one people, and we like you, we are one tribe. I shit you not. Both Hamish and I hid our faces with this number came up.

This isn't to say the film doesn't have its moments, but they are such brief moments, flashes which are quickly forgotten in whatever embarassing thing happens next.

Gaul: Halt! Who goes there?
Julius Caesar: A barrel, you fool!

I'll keep it, and I daresay, when I have another Asterix binge, I'll watch it again, but ugh. Stick to the other movies. Please.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


I heard the fucking thing, and it did sound like a monster. Sounded like something was trying (unsuccessfully) to crunch bones. The sound had size behind it. (My rational half is sure it's just a possum or cat, but can't figure out what the sound actually was.)

It's unfortunate that I only ever hear these night noises whilst on the potty. Small enclosed space and all. Freak out. I'll investigate the backyard tomorrow morning, specifically seeking traces of corrosive slime and whatnot.


The last half hour I've sat and stared at the wall. Had the overwhelming urge to...something. That's exactly it. 'something'. No idea what. Just a very strong urge to do it.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm in the right place, if somehow, in the course of my life, I've gone shooting off in the wrong direction and am miles away from where I'm supposed to be. Just floundering around.

Monsters Redux

Just jumped Hamish on his journey out of the potty. He heard nothing.

The dogs believe me, at least.