Ultimately disappointing novella (novelette?), in which the huge questions and issues that Kress tries to tackle crushes the slight format. Questions are left unanswered, and characters are left undeveloped, which is fair enough for a slim volume of under 200 pages -- but as the title (possibly the best thing about it) suggests, Kress could have gone for so much more.
There are two ways to review Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon." The first, as literature, would result in perhaps a 3-star rating: readable, but little in the way of verbal finesse or sophisticated character development. At least half-a-star of that would be for its accurate depiction of the attitudes (political, racial, gender) of a late 1950s small town in Florida.
The second way to approach "Alas, Babylon," and the one that results in my 5-star rating is as a faux-documentary, expertly designed to scare the Living Bejaysus out of you. Frank wasn't aiming for clever writing, or poetic imagery, or complicated narrative -- you could say that the text itself is a metaphor for his thesis, that in the aftermath of nuclear devastation of the kind he describes, the clever sophistications of life will mean nothing. Survival will depend, to a great extent, on luck -- the luck of your location, the luck of the community that surrounds you, and the luck of each individuals willingness to adapt, and let go of comfortable assumptions.
Supposedly, in the past year or so, the question has been asked, "If we have nuclear weapons why can't we use them?" I wish the person who asked that question would read this book, He won't, of course. Which is why Pat Frank's tightly written, almost journalistic vision of the aftermath resonates -- and should terrify us all -- as much as it did when he first wrote it.
I wanted to like this. I really did. I am familiar with CJA's work for io9 -- her columns on movies, fiction and the State of SF brightened many a morning. And, with the opening chapters of this book, I thought I was on to a winner -- a book like Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" which took the "child magician" phenomenon, looked at it coolly, and in the context of other pop culture phenomenons, did something interesting. I even liked the absurdities -- the unnaturally abusive parents, the "Dotheboys Hall" schools, the unrelenting attentions of the mean kids -- not fun, but very appropriate for a fairy tale, and who said fiction was always supposed to be fun, anyway?
But once Delphine (the apprentice magician who will save the world) and Laurence (the apprentice nerd who will save the world) have grown up, I found their further adventures dreary and very difficult to care about.
I was fully onboard with this interesting approach to popular history -- until the scene in which Anne apologies to her niece. That seemed like an abrupt shift from actions & dialogue supported by the evidence to a Tudor episode of Dr. Phil ...
I gave up on this book after about 70 pages. It wasn't the jargon that tried my patience, as with some negative reviewers -- a well-plotted novel can make the most esoteric jargon feel like wallpaper, something you make a note of and glide past as you get where the author is going.
No, what finally made me give up was the realization that Stross was mistaking world-building for plot. The narrator grumbles about how hard his job is. This is supposed to be cute because he does it with lots of jargon and pop culture references. See, you're smart, just like the narrator. He goes home and grumbles about how hard it is to live with roommates who are in his line of work. He goes into the office, and grumbles about how hard it is to do his job when his supervisors are such job's-worth jerks. Finally, around page 50, Our Hero is sent out into the field, and I thought we were getting to a PLOT -- but no. The assignment goes pear-shaped, Narrator returns to base in ignominy and ... we're back to the grumbling, the jargon, the cute pop references, and I'm outta here.
Awful, simply awful. After a couple of chapters (in which the author mistakes short, choppy chapters for building tension ...), I skipped to the end, just to find out what the "twist" was. What a load of codswallop.
Very interesting and enjoyable account of his life, by an interesting and very enjoyable performer. If you've even seen just one of Izzard's stand up performances, you'll know what I mean when I say that he writes like he performs -- and that's a good thing and a not so good thing. His mind leaps all over the map, footnotes, both serious and jokey, pepper every page, and if you're a big fan of well-organized and tightly edited prose ... welllll ....
But this is Eddie Izzard, for heaven's sake! Like, a god of comedy!! (Eddie: note the small g -- I was paying attention!) It's all about the journey, and the journey -- his heartbreaking account of the loss of his mother when he was so very young, his dawning realization of his sexuality, his account of his career, and his creative processes -- are definitely worth wrangling some footnotes.
Out of the unpromising material of a headstone inscription and a few lines from a scrap of a letter, Helen Dunmore has created a beautifully written and constructed novel that tells the story of the most dramatic and heartbreaking months of a young woman's life. While the "great events" of the early days of the French Revolution unfold three hundred miles away, Lizzie Fawkes endures loss and makes discoveries that could destroy her. This novel is a fascinating reminder that each and every life is a drama: every one of us has a story to tell, that the "great" personalities and events of history have no monopoly on drama, terror and grief.
Like Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," Dunmore's sense of period and tone is impeccable: she hits exactly the right balance between characters who feel very real and relatable, while at the same time are obviously products of a different time. (For example, Lizzie's placid acceptance of her husband's controlling abuse: when she married him, she became his property, and she accepts that it's her obligation to adapt to his demands, whatever they are.)
Dunmore's Afterword provides a fascinating glimpse into her methods, and her theme: the way that fiction can save forgotten lives from being lost in the background noise of history.
If you are new to the story of Robert Falcon Scott, and his four companions, who were beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and died in their attempt to get back to home base, then this novel isn't the place to start. (One place to start: "The Worst Journey in the World," by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott's final expedition.) This novel consists of five first person stream of consciousness "reflections," which depend on some knowledge of the legend of the tragedy, and its key characters: the "noble" leader Scott; scientist Wilson; plucky, gung-ho team player "Birdie" Bowers; taciturn, self-sacrificing Oates; and the "gentle giant" (and only representative of the non-officer class) Petty Officer Evans.
Without knowing the cliches that these five men were turned into, in the "Boy's Own" fairytale that their disastrous mission became in the 100+ years since their death, I don't think it would be obvious just how cleverly Bainbridge puts flesh on bones that hero-worship had stripped of most of their humanity. While revisionist histories put the blame squarely on Scott, as a poor leader who made very bad choices, Bainbridge does a remarkable job of channeling the voices of the five, demonstrating how the weaknesses of each one (and even their strengths) contributed to the tragedy. And at the same time, she gives credit to the power of the legend, leaving the reader with a sense of profound sadness that such good intentions and --yes, let's be old fashioned for a moment -- nobility should have ended so badly. I'm greatly looking forward to Bainbridge's take on the Titanic ("Every Man for Himself") -- another tragedy that might have ended very differently if only one person in a position of authority had thought for a moment and said, "Hey, wait ...."
So if you're familiar with the story of Robert Falcon Scott, I highly recommend this novel for its canny insights into the characters involved, and how an expedition that was supposed to demonstrate an Empire's strength of technology and character went so badly wrong. And if you are new to the story of Robert Falcon Scott ... it's a great story. And this wonderful novel will be waiting for you.
Very readable, well-written, and the locale is very evocative of the wonderful setting of the Peak District in Derbyshire. But I'm hoping for better as this series gets into its stride.
Other reviewers have (quite rightly, I think) commented on how the author tries too hard to make the female half of the detecting pair "complicated" -- I don't mind unlikable, but DC Diane Fry's moodiness and sullen assumption of the worst in everyone says more "psychotic cow" than "complicated" ... The fact is, we eventually learn that the woman has very good reason to be defensive and depressed, and the authors "cute" drip-feed of her backstory belittles that. While, dare I say it, her reluctant partner, DC Ben Cooper's personal problems and personality quirks just make him seem more real and likable.
Another thing I found very worrying -- Possible SPOILER (but I think this becomes obvious from an early stage in the novel) -- is what I would describe as "victim blaming." The victim and her family are not nice people, and that's ok. But there's a relatively superficial attitude to the murder, and her family's grief that rings very false.
This review started at 4 stars, and I've talked myself down to 3. I think I'd better stop ...
(Just an additional aside: Diane Fry is NOT Ben Cooper's "sidekick"!! I think it's to the author's credit that he really is trying to depict a partnership of equals -- two detectives whose personalities and talents balance each other out, and even causes friction.)
Once again, a report from the In-House Mystery & Thriller Expert: we both read a couple of Carol O'Connell Mallory novels back in the 90s, and lost patience with the super-human Mallory (brilliant, beautiful psychopath who is always two steps ahead of everyone else. Just as brilliant, beautiful psychopaths always are ...) I recently picked this up at the library for the IHM&TE, thinking that the author's name sounded familiar. He dutifully plowed through it, but he says that, in this the 12th Mallory novel, she has, if anything, become even more smug, annoying and ... psychopathic ...
The story of how one lost little boy has his soul saved by his quest through the tropes of a dark, dismal fairyland landscape. A reworking of some of the most famous fairytales, deeper, darker versions that sweep away the prettified, Disneyfications that we think we know so well, and restore the danger, power (and violence) of the originals. Like the wonderful Broadway musical and movie "In the Woods," the power of the tales are enhanced by the mash-up of characters (Rumpelstiltskin, meet Sleeping Beauty!), and a return to their violent roots (this Sleeping Beauty has sharp teeth ...)
This grew on me as I read on: I found the opening chapters, in which David loses his mother and has to adapt as his father remarries and presents him with an unwanted half-brother, a bit resistible. David seems like a very young twelve-year-old. (The ghost of myself at 12 -- who considered herself quite a grown up woman of the world -- bitterly resents babyish depictions.) Some elements of his grief at his mother's death feel like the way a pious adult would think a child should feel.
It got much better SPOILER when David passed over to the blighted fairyland, set to work saving himself, solving the mystery of the blight that had befallen the kingdom, and finding his way home. There was some humor, some lightness of touch, SOME recognition of the absurdity of it all. The ending was genuinely touching and, like all the best fairytales, the "happily ever after" was relieved by a good dose of reality.
A little gem, if you are open to melancholia with a helping of dark wit. I particularly liked the fact that the protagonist, Florence, isn't a heroine for the ages. Her plan to open a bookstore seems a little arbitrary and unfocused, based purely on her memories of a happy interlude when she started work at a London bookstore, as a 16-year-old. She doesn't even seem to be a big reader -- perhaps what the bookstore represents to her is a time before the disappointments in her life -- a husband, dead, before their marriage has been properly begun; no children or other family; no real ambitions --have clouded over whatever spirit she has. When Florence does show some backbone in dealing with the nay-sayers who are trying to crush her modest dream (and believe me, I cheered!), it tends to backfire.
This could be one for fans of the wonderful Mapp and Lucia books, by E. F. Benson -- for an insight into how awful it would be, in reality, to live in a world dominated by Queen Bees and Guardians of Tradition like Mapp and Lucia!
Not quite as good as the previous two volumes in the series, but still better than many police procedurals, and MacBride, even when slightly not in top form, could still serve any writer, in any genre, as a masterclass in narrative, pacing, characterisation and sense of place.
At almost 500 pages, MacBride may be over-stretching his detective Logan McRae's investigation into three seemingly unconnected violent crimes, two of which have clear sadistic sexual motivations. In order to keep the mystery going, it seems to me, McRae misses connections and solutions that I spotted whole chapters earlier; which, sadly, just makes the detective seem a little dumb.
But all redeemed by MacBride's signature flashes of dark humour. There's a scene in which McRae's boss, the cranky candy-addict DSI Insch, who is directing a local rep company production of "The Mikado," commiserates with a porn movie director about the talentless amateurs they are forced to work with. And I am delighted to say that MacBride seems to have surrendered to the rich comic potential of chain-smoker and everyone's favorite slob, DSI Steele (Her motto: "We are not at home to Mr. F**k Up!")
And MacBride does have a wonderful way with words: describing air quotes as "quote bunnies" is my new favorite thing, and worth the cost of the book.
I love archaeology. And I don't mind non-fiction books in which the author's opinions and personality are given a place in the narrative. Done properly, treating the research as the author's journey can lighten up the dry facts and science. However ... Did I say "done properly"?
I had to give up about half-way through when I realized that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that Dr. Hassett won't footnote. Jokey asides about pop culture? Shout outs to friends, colleagues, rivals? Paleographic in-jokes (usually of the not-very-funny "you had to be there" kind)? What she ate, what she wore, how she slept on any number of digs she has participated in? Yes, yes, yes and YES.
Or should I say, no, no, no and NO! The lady is obviously very knowledgeable, but a misunderstanding about how much we want to know about her subject, and how much we what to know about her, constantly get in the way. What could have been an interesting study of the impact of our distant ancestors' somewhat questionable decision to take up agriculture and cluster together in villages and cities became an impossible read.
I discovered James Patrick Kelly when I read his amazing novella "Mr. Boy." In "Burn" (which I think I would describe as novelette), Kelly demonstrates all of his usual flair in worldbuilding -- creating a future, an alien planet, and a social system that is both familiar and satisfyingly strange. The world of Morobe's Pea, the Transcendent State, the character of Spur and his fellow strivers for "simplicity," the sort-of alien L'ung, and their leader, the High Gregory, are absolutely fascinating. Where I felt that "Burn" was less than satisfying was the plot: in spite of a lot happening (forest fires, terrorism, treachery and the tantalizing possibility of romance with what seemed like a sexy spider lady!), it felt thin, and the big "reveal," (trying to avoid spoilers here) could be seen coming AND (more important, in my opinion), left more interesting questions unanswered. But I think leaving you wanting more is deserving of 4 stars ...
The USA is governed by a hard-line right-wing administration, which exploits all of its supporters' worst fears and fantasies. The country is engaged in an interminable war, against enemies old and new, and one-time friends. The President has just decided that "tactical" nuclear weapons might just give him the "hitting power" that he and his supporters yearn for.
And this was written in 1968.
Thomas M. Disch -- poet, critic and SF.Fantasy novelist extraordinaire -- makes no efforts to ingratiate himself in this bleak, yet (SPOILER!?) ultimately hopeful account of an alternative 1970s (that, as I point out above, sounds awfully familiar). His central character and narrator Louis Sacchetti is (let me see if I can cover everything) obnoxious, smug, racist, homophobic and completely complacent in his own superiority. I only wish I were smarter, so I could be certain that Louie's philosopical and "high-intellectual" ramblings are as silly and misinformed as his execrable poetry. (Remember that Disch, as I said, was a well-regarded poet. It takes real talent to write drivel as bad as the early example of Louie's poetry we are given ...) Reviewers who complain that Louis is Not a Nice Person are, I am positive, missing the point -- that is exactly the reaction that Disch wants of his reader, so that Louie's journey, and narrative arc, can be all the more startling.
Having been sent to prison for five years, for refusing military service in the Government's endless wars-- an uncharacteristically selfless gesture that he is deeply regretting -- Louie finds himself enlisted as an observer to a grim medical experiment that uses a mutant strain of syphilis to exponentially increase intelligence and creative thought. The catch -- and oh, yes, there is a catch -- it kills you, messily and painfully, in less than a year. And then, Louie makes a really startling discovery ...
Can I just say, in as non-spoilerish a way as I possibly can, that if you find offputting Louie's obnoxious character, and the high-blown flights of (possibly bogus) intellectualising that Disch allows him to indulge, and find this short novel a bit of hard work at the start, please do soldier on. The trip is worth it. This is "Flowers for Algernon" for grownups -- and the ending is a real trip ...
My In-House Thriller Expert describes this as not a light or easy read, but one that gives some fascinating insights into the way drug cartels operate in Mexico, and the horrors they unleash on the ordinary, non-criminal population.