The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
I don’t really know about this book. I hoped to find it light but charming, but it’s not really light and only the premise is charming, and the rest of it just sort of gets too much. I mean, there’s a point where it just gets beyond magic realism and becomes absurd, for me. The idea of tasting emotions in food doesn’t seem so strange to me, but there’s a point where this story crosses the line.
Some of the writing worked okay for me, but the narration didn’t, quite: when is she narrating this? Why? To whom? The lack of speech marks and the sentence fragments didn’t bother me too much, it all seemed to be part of the voice Aimee Bender was trying to build up for her character, but… For a story that could be so rich and sensual, it ended up being “hollow in the middle”, like the flavour of sadness the protagonist tastes in her mother’s cooking and baking.
The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Maria Tatar
The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales is a pretty good discussion of, not the origins of the tales in the Grimms’ collection, but in how the Grimms treated them and why. It looks at some of the publication history and the issues surrounding different editions, the changes in audience, and it deals with some pretty common interpretations of some of the tales (e.g. why Bluebeard is considered a cautionary tale about the evils of curiosity instead of, you know, the evils of killing your wives and butchering their dead bodies and then marrying again) and how they came about.
I guess it’s probably a bit dry if you’re not particularly interested in the topic, but I found it perfectly readable. It does help that I recently reread selections from the Grimms’ work, and looked at some of them in my SF/F class — I notice myself falling into some of the traps of thinking about these stories which Tatar discusses and evades — so that the whole topic is fresh in my mind and relevant to what I’m thinking about lately.
If you’re looking for salacious details of the “real” Bluebeard, or the real Hansel and Gretel, seek elsewhere. Tatar doesn’t really go in for that kind of interpretation of fairytale/folklore origins.
The Antigone Poems, Marie Slaight, Terrence Tasker
I originally entered the LibraryThing Early Reviewers draw for this and didn’t get it, so when I spotted it on Netgalley I picked it up right away. Antigone is a figure who always fascinated me: her burning passion for her duty, her righteousness, her tragedy… but also the sense that this was a sort of teenage rebellion against authority; the worry that she was acting more for her own sake, to be a symbol, than for her brothers.
This collection of art and poetry was apparently originally created in the 70s. I’m no particular judge of art (but I know what I like, as people say), and the art didn’t really appeal to me. The poetry felt fragmentary, hard to connect with the figure of Antigone at times and then at other times perfectly clear. There are some bright, sharp images that I really liked; at other times I was ambivalent.
I’m trying to mostly keep my blog about books, since that was what I established it for, but sometimes I come across things I really want to share, and this is one of them. Depression Quest is a text-based game (with audio), based on living with depression. It isn’t an easy game to play, emotionally, though it’s very simple in style — basically choose your own adventure — but I think it’s an important one.
You play as an unnamed, ungendered person who has a girlfriend called Alex, and the world is peopled with a support network — Attic, an online friend; Sam, a co-worker; your mother; your brother Malcolm; a therapist who an old friend helps you find. All of these react in different ways if you turn to them for help with your depression, just like real people.
I played through on more or less the route I’ve been able to take in real life: seeing a counsellor, getting on medication, talking to my partner and family fairly openly about it. Even so, parts of the game made me cry. I don’t want to open it up again and play through a different route. It isn’t perfectly representative of all the possible problems you can have when you’re depressed, but it offers a little taste that does, to my mind, two important things. 1) It tells people with depression that they’re not alone, that that uselessness and darkness they feel is experienced by others, and 2) it can provide a way for them to demonstrate to other people both what it feels like and the obstacles that face you.
Depression Quest is a game, a story, and an important contribution to openly talking about depression. It really makes me wonder if I should offer to write a script for “Anxiety Quest”…
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
Another one read for my Coursera SF/F class. As usual when I’ve just finished a book, I have no idea what I’m going to write my essay about, but I have one day left to figure it out…
The thing that interests me most, I guess, is that Mars colonises the colonisers. In different ways in different vignettes, but it’s there — particularly in that last chapter/section. In a sense it feels like a recent book: the commentary on the spoiling of the world, and on colonisation; in others it feels so dated — the treatment of people of colour, women, the obsession with nuclear war (which is still an issue, but not the same kind of deep-seated fear, I think)…
The science itself (how long it might take to fly to Mars, being the obvious example) isn’t really important to the story/themes: it’s there as a backdrop, not at all used in the way H.G. Wells used science.
As with most of Bradbury’s work which I’ve come across so far, there are some gorgeous sections of prose here, and it’s all very well crafted and easy to read, as you’d expect.
White As Snow, Tanith Lee
There are some beautiful aspects of this book, and then there’s the fact that nearly every female character is raped, often multiple times. The beauty is mostly in some of the writing and descriptions, though some of the ideas are also pretty interesting in theory — Lee blends the story of Snow White with the Greco-Roman myth of Hades and Persephone.
This isn’t either story as you know it, though, and for me it ultimately didn’t work. The two stories didn’t blend very well, because I was spending so much time drawing parallels, and because some of the parallels seemed a little laboured. Some of it is very sensual writing, while during a lot of it the heroines act like pieces of cardboard: I understand that is the reaction of some rape victims, some of whom may never “snap out of it”, but it does unfortunately cut out a lot of the potential feeling of the story.
I did enjoy the introduction, which goes into the background of the story, and introduced me to a glorious poem by Delia Sherman, “Snow White to the Prince”, which ends:
Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair.
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.
The Incredible Hulk, Jason Aaron, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio
I haven’t read any Hulk comics before, and I haven’t even seen the MCU movie with Edward Norton. I’ve only seen him in the Avengers movie, and goodness, I love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Just the — the tortured look, and… Anyway.
This is an interesting view of Bruce Banner and Hulk, with Hulk as the calm one and Bruce being the one who is insane. I hope MCU canon doesn’t go this way, but it’s a very interesting look at the character. It does turn into a bit of a smash fest, because it’s the Hulk, and the character of Amanda von Doom is just… I don’t know if she’s elsewhere in the canon or what, but she didn’t work as a character for me. She seemed to be just there for sex appeal and witty one-liners.
It’s a bit of a weird one, really, and I feel very, very sorry for Bruce, but I’m interested to read more when/if the girlfriend picks ’em up.
Troika, Alastair Reynolds
I love the “Big Dumb Object” trope that Reynolds uses here. It just seems so… possible. That something we don’t understand is out there, waiting for us to find it. Some almost unfathomable relic of an alien civilisation. I think Reynolds uses that trope pretty well in Troika: it’s a neatly executed little novella, with a good twist at the end. It may not seem much to look at — it’s quite a slim volume — but Alastair Reynolds writes well, and the structure is well-executed (much as I usually dislike stories where you go back and forth between past and present).
I’m not sure why Reynolds chose the idea of a Second Soviet to frame the story, but it worked well for me. It was a bit of a shock to go from the vague idea that this was Soviet Russia — the first Soviet Russia — to realising that this is a later Russia, post-internet, post-freedom.
I didn’t get the strongly pro-space travel vibes from this that other reviewers seem to have done. To me, the situation in Russia overshadowed the possible touches of commentary on that. If anything, there was maybe a criticism of using space as a means to an end (political, to show superiority, etc) rather than as an end in itself.
A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Who did I see describing this as “old school, pulpy goodness”? I think that works pretty well. I’m not sure how I’m going to relate this to Herland in my SF/F essay, but I’m thinking on it… Obviously there’s a ton of colonial, North American stuff going on here, wherein a white man from Earth comes and suspiciously saves a red-skinned princess and reforms the Martian societies to good American values…
But it’s still sort of fun, and not a chore to read: the prose is straight-forward and not too crammed with infodumps, and I did get sort of fond of one or two characters, mostly Sola (perhaps because she was “civilised” and relateable before the Great White Man’s intervention).
No real surprises here, and I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to read other Barsoom books, but it’s enjoyable in its way.
Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Herland is… hm. Unfortunately bland, really. Charlotte Perkins Gilman seems to have set out to portray a utopian, perfect society of women that shows up all the faults and contradictions of the contemporary world. Unfortunately, that society seems so flat and lacking in individuality that I wouldn’t want to be there. It also makes motherhood the pinnacle of a woman’s being, something to long for.
I’m female-bodied and apparently possessed of the various bits you’d expect given that. I really, really don’t want children, and I’m not interested in motherhood in any way, let alone some sanctified, deified version of it.
It is, of course, very much of its time. For when she lived, Gilman was pretty liberal, with anti-racist views and so on. But her vision of what could be was limited by that and ends up seeming rather pathetic.