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Showing posts from August, 2005

Blogger Went a-Rantin'

The stultifying experience that was Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian (a book that answers the question 'What happens when you take the horrifying and the supernatural out of supernatural horror?') left me none too eager to dive into another brick-sized fantasy set in Eastern Europe, but the praise for Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania has, for the last few weeks, been wearing me down. By the time Cheryl Morgan got around to giving the book a rave review in Emerald City a few days ago, I was ready to put it on my wish list. And then I noticed this little comment:
About the only thing wrong with this novel is that it is yet another one of those books that Tor has chosen to cut in half and publish in two installments. We’ll have to wait for The Tourmaline, due out sometime next year, to read the end of the tale.Which pretty much means that I'm not reading Park's book on general principle. Call me old-fashioned, but when I buy a book, I expect it to have a beginni…

1,800 Words on the Subject of Brevity

At the news of the latest doorstopper to hit the book market (Hunger's Brides by Paul Anderson, 1,360 pages), Ed Champion and Mark Sarvas have both been considering the merits and weaknesses of a gargantuan page-count, and whether it should count for or against the author (we could also mention Matthew Cheney's recent discussion of 'self-indulgence'. I know I always translate the term to mean that the author could have cut at least a hundred pages from the book without losing anything). Up until a few years ago, I was firmly pro long books. I still remember the joy of reading Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, and how much I enjoyed knowing that this remarkable experience would last a long time. As the mega-novel has become more and more common, however, it seems that less authors are actually justifying their decision to write longer and longer novels. Most of the long books I've read recently have either been good books smothered by an excessive page count…

Daniel Deronda's Cabin

Reading George Eliot's Daniel Deronda as an Israeli Jew must be a unique experience. It certainly was for me: I was on a train, watching the Jewish national home fly past me when I first cracked open this novel, written by a 19th century cleric's daughter, and encountered a frank and searching portrait of English anti-semitism, sympathetic depictions of Jews, and an acknowledgment of the fledgling Zionist movement and the rightness of its cause.

And then the man sitting next to me exclaimed in horror. Such a long book! And in English! Was I sure I didn't want to read something shorter or easier? Which, in itself, was a pretty powerful metaphor for how Jews are seen and how Israelis can sometimes be. I didn't point this out to my seatmate; I just kept reading, with less and less enthusiasm as the initial thrill wore off.

Because the fact is that Daniel Deronda doesn't work. As a novel, it is an amalgamation of near-perfect parts into a deeply flawed whole.

The book'…

But that is called cannibalism, my dear children, and is in fact frowned upon in most societies.

It probably says something about me that I started the day planning to write something about George Eliot, and ended up writing about Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Remember Edward Scissorhands? Remember the cookie-making scene? Not just how beautiful and exciting and funny the machine was, but how it seemed to encapsulate the childish conviction that a machine that makes something as delightful as cookies must be delightful in itself? How is it possible that the man who envisioned that scene--really just a throwaway, there for the fun of it--is also responsible for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's opening credits? I like the idea of seeing the golden tickets placed in the chocolate bars and sent all over the world, but the production line Burton gives us is dull, sterile, and textureless.

Apart from that, the film was really quite delightful and a very faithful adaptation. I especially appreciated Burton's understanding that it's the first part of th…

Myst V Demo, Reevaluated

A brief review of Myst forums reveals that I was wrong about a lot of things in my previous review of the demo. The Slate is used during the demo. Details that I had assumed were extraneous, such as the D'ni numbers and the symbols they correlated to, turn out to be vitally important. In fact, as it turns out I failed to make all but the most basic connections when I played the demo.

And yet, I managed to solve the puzzle and get to the demo's end, simply by using a brute force approach. There are four revolving pedestals with eight symbols on each one, each affecting a different door. It's not a combination lock, so it takes less than 32 attempts to find the right symbols. Which right there forces me to reevaluate the entire puzzle. You're not supposed to be able to crack a Myst puzzle by trying all the possible combinations, and one of the most important things a puzzle designer has to keep in mind is that as long as the number of combinations isn't prohibitive (a…

"This has always been a fave ladder of mine, for its sexiness"

A brilliant perversion of Amazon Listmania, or just a smutty joke? Either way, it's hilarious . Probably work-safe, but not for the easily offended.

Myst V: End of Ages Demo

(Available from Macgamefiles.com. The demo weighs in at 457 MB and is available only for Macintosh. The game's official site also contains a trailer and screenshots.)

The first thing you always say about a Myst game is that the graphics are lovely, which, of course, they are. When it released the demo for Myst IV: Revelation, Ubisoft sacrificed image resolution in order to keep the file under a certain size, to the horror and concern of fans. It's good to see that they've learned their lesson, even if the result is a gigantic file that not everyone will be able to download.

Beautiful as the game world is, however, I'm not certain about its Myst-ishness. Myst worlds are painstakingly detailed: whether it's indoors, where every surface is covered with books, scraps of paper that have been doodled on, pens, scientific implements, oddly shaped rocks, bits of string, pictures of loved ones, and even desk toys, or outdoors, where every bush, rock and blade of grass see…

Book'em

It's easy to complain about the Booker award. We could talk about Ian McEwan--awarded for the muddled and aimless Amsterdam but ignored for genuine masterpieces like Enduring Love or Atonement. Or, we might mention Life of Pi--memo to Booker judges: a YA boys' adventure with a neat and thought-provoking twist at its end is still a YA boys' adventure, and, however well-written, not deserving of a major award. Or The Blind Assassin. Or The Handmaid's Tale.

In other words, when I turned the first page of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, last year's winner, I was perfectly prepared, eager even, to despise it. Last year's Booker race was famously considered to be over as soon as the longlist was announced. Pundits and bookmakers alike were handing the award to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. As it was and still is one of the finest, best-written, and most thought-provoking books I had ever read, I was overjoyed to see it recognized by an establishment…

I'm Also Fairly Certain that "One-Dimensional Storyline" is a Malapropism

From Amazon.co.uk's review of Rachel Cusk's In the Fold (longlisted for this year's Booker award, to the surprise and consternation of Jessa Crispin and Chris Loxley), by Carey Green:
While Cusk will never appeal to those looking for one dimensional storylines with cardboard characters, this beautifully, sparingly written gem is sure to delight the discerning reader.Alright, show of hands. How many of you, when selecting your next read, actually think "Hmm, I'd really like something with cardboard characters. The less believable, the better. And it would be so cool if this book had a one-dimensional storyline--I'm so tired of complex, interesting plots"?

Clearly, Green was trying to find a polite way of saying that In the Fold is light on plot, but overshot the mark and ended up with something that, at first glance, seems simply funny, and at a second rather insulting. If you like your books with a bit of plot, the review seems to say, you're clearl…

In Her Last Communication Before She Was Crushed by a Pile of Unread Books...

Image
Yes, that is my to-be-read stack. I always try to identify titles when I look at pictures like this, so for the sake of your eyes, here's a list:
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan LethemThe Iliad by Homer (W.H.D. Rouse verse translation, which I'm a little uncertain about)The Purgatorio by Dante (John Ciardi translation)Dracula by Bram StokerA Case of Conscience by James BlishAusterlitz by W.G. SebaldPale Fire by Vladimir NabokovYamama by Kobi Kamin (an Israeli book. Thanks to Dotan for identifying the author)Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick IIIMcSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 13, edited by Chris WareThe Stories of John Cheever by John CheeverThe House on the Strand by Daphne du MaurierThe Water Babies by Charles KingsleyBeloved by Toni MorrisonThe Winter Queen by Boris AkuninKings of Albion by Julian RathboneFingersmith by Sarah WatersThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (not pictured) Right now I'm reading Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. I&…

I had not thought Death Eaters had undone so many

Madame Trelawney, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Hogwarts,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Hogwarts Headmaster,
(Those are bezoars that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Fleur, the Lady of the Wands,
The lady of embarassing situations.
Here is the woman with pink hair, and here the Owl,
And here is the one-eyed auror, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries in his flask,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Dark Lord. Fear death by fanfic.
I see crowds of people, walking round in the Floo.
Thank you. If you see dear Minister Fudge,
Tell him I bring the prophecy myself:
One must be so careful these days.
(Via Making Light)

You Keep Using That Word...

Looking for other aggrieved reactions to Brian Hennigan's screed (check out Dana Huff and David Schwartz) led me into a discussion on escapism, as in "The Harry Potter books are merely escapist pap." Calling some books 'escapist' and others not has been a pet peeve of mine for a while, and what is a blog for, after all, if not airing long-held opinions for which there has never previously been an appropriate forum?

It's a tricky term, escapism, in that it's never been clear to me what exactly is meant by it. What part of the reading experience constitutes the escape? If it's the act of immersing oneself in the lives of nonexistent people, developing emotional reactions to situations that never occurred, then all fiction is an escape. Anna Karenina is no more real than Harry Potter, and becoming emotionally involved with either one is, to take a strict and joyless approach, a waste of mental energy.

The 'escapist' label, however, is usually attac…

Another Day, Another Jackass

Joining the likes of A.S. Byatt, Jack Markowitz, and Robert McCrum is The Scotsman's Brian Hennigan. Hennigan, an anthropologist whose field of expertise is pop-culture, sums up his exhaustive study, in which he interviewed hundreds of adult Harry Potter fans, and concludes...

No, wait, I'm sorry. Hennigan gets pissed off at being asked stupid questions when he reveals that he's from Scotland (specifically, does he know J.K. Rowling)*, and launches into a diatribe against adult HP fans, who are, he concludes, losers. He goes on to say
"There was not anything of entertainment value [in the HP book Hennigan read] for a fully-developed adult mind. I am sure that one or two adults read Harry Potter books in the same distracted way that soap operas are observed or crisps are munched - in a manner entirely consistent with the obliteration of whatever dreary day they have just got through and in search of some temporary relief from the trauma of an unjust world.

MAYBE they h…

No. Just No.

Joe Wright, director of the Keira Knightly Pride and Prejudice adaptation (see my, um, reservations, here), will next turn his talents to directing an adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement.

I mean, it's not as if I ever thought they'd be able to make a good movie out of this book, but why handicap it coming out the gate?

(Via Maud Newton)

Just When I Thought Battlestar Galactica Couldn't Get Any Cooler

I didn't love the original Battlestart Galactica when I saw it as a kid, but I remember liking the episodes that introduced Pegasus, the second surviving battlestar, and its bigger-than-life Commander Cain. So I was pleased to hear that the new BSG would be introducing its own Pegasus.

Of course, this is Ron Moore we're talking about, and naturally there's a twist--not only is Cain a woman, but she's an admiral, and therefore outranks Adama!

And if that's not enough for you, according to The CIC, the actress playing Cain is none other than Michelle Forbes, known to genre fans as Star Trek: The Next Generation's Ro Laren, and also the best and only reason to watch 24's second season.

I couldn't love this news any more if it were made of chocolate.

Also BSG-related: Battlestar Galactica Accidentally Cancelled

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Give Angela Carter credit--she didn't brag without justification. Her writing, as it turns out, really does "cut like a steel blade at the base of a man's penis" (admittedly, I don't have any personal experience with which to make a comparison). I'd like to quote a passage from Wise Children to illustrate just what a fantastic writer she was, but I'm spoiled for choice. Open the book at any random page and you're almost guaranteed to find something quotable. Here, try this from the opening chapter:
"You can see for miles, out of this window. You can see straight across the river. There's Westminster Abbey, see? Flying the St. George's cross, today. St. Paul's, the single breast. Big Ben, winking its golden eye. Not much else familiar, these days. This is about the time that comes in every century when they reach out for all that they can grab of dear old London, and pull it down. Then they build it up again, like London Bridge in the n…

The Television Novel: Thoughts and Musings

I

Once upon a not-so-distant time, there was a television show.

It was a bit of an odd duck. It combined a genre premise--aliens, supernatural occurrences, government conspiracies--with a decidedly mainstream setting. To the great surprise and bewilderment of almost everyone involved with it, it became a major success. Critics adored it for its clever writing and the superb performances of its two stars. Before long, it had so thoroughly penetrated the mainstream that everything about it, from the main characters' names to the distinctive six-note opening of its theme song, was instantly recognizable even to non-viewers. It spawned spin-offs and imitations, and even a feature film. For a while, genre and semi-genre television was the hottest thing around.

By the time all this had happened, however, the seeds of the show's destruction had already been sown. The show's creator, tired with self-contained, weekly stories, started telling a bigger story about a vast conspiracy and…

Good Thing I Didn't Have Any Money Riding on This

Cheryl Morgan is blogging the Hugo results in real time, and it seems that I'm 0 for 2 in the short story and novelette categories. Kelly Link took the novelette Hugo for "The Faerie Handbag". As I said, I don't think any of the novelette nominees were undeserving, but it does seem a bit sad that this should be the story for which Link is finally acknowledged by the SFF 'establishment'. Handbag was written for a teen audience, and reading it, you can feel Link's preference for the surreal and the grotesque straining at her self-imposed restrictions, as she tries to write a kid-friendly story. It's a wonderful piece, but not nearly as brave as Link's other work, and it's a shame that she's being rewarded for reigning in her prodigious imagination.

As baffled as I was by Mike Resnick's twin nominations, I'm flabbergasted by the fact that his "Travels With My Cats" actually won a Hugo. If I had been handed this story by …