Rolling in the Deep, Mira Grant
Rolling in the Deep is a documentary/found footage type story with a fairly predictable ending. Scientists, performers and television personalities go on a ship to find evidence of mermaids, with the scientists mostly using the opportunity to get some real work done without needing to charter the ship themselves. Everyone starts out sceptical, and the whole affair is rather cynical. The performers include professional mermaids — people who don mermaid outfits and swim in the sea to make it look like they really have found mermaids… or have they? Etc.
Naturally, this is a Mira Grant story and so things go wrong. The experiments disturb something real in the deep, and in the usual way of humans meeting other races, they cause harm. Cue the horror movie ending, and the later rediscovery of the empty, drifting ship… with some footage of the attacks intact. And of course, people ask if it’s real or not…
It’s a fun format and the story works well; it gets off to a bit of a slow start, which might disappoint horror fans. There’s a few too many characters in the space to really get attached to any of them, though one or two show promise. Not my favourite of Grant’s novellas, but definitely a good read.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Read in one sitting”, and given that I am a fast reader, this is not too rare for me. So I’ll do my best to pick the cream of the crop…
- Vicious, by V.E. Schwab. I expected to read 50 pages and put it down to do something else. I did not.
- The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard. When I started it, my wife had just handed me my dinner and gone out to class. When I finished it, she was heading home from class and my dinner was cold.
- On Basilisk Station, by David Weber. Whatever faults this series may have, I sat in a cooling bath to read the whole of the first one in one go. And the books aren’t that short.
- Liar, by Justine Larbalestier. Man, it’s been ages since I read this, but I really didn’t stop when I was reading it. So satisfying.
- The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. If you feel like getting your heart ripped out, this isn’t a bad way to go.
- Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Or, more accurately, the first time I read it I tried to read it in one sitting, but I was 15 and my mother came and confiscated the book so I’d sleep.
- Among Others, by Jo Walton. And I never wanted it to end, either. I had the same experience with Farthing, but that felt less personal.
- Planetfall, by Emma Newman. I was even on my honeymoon at the time. Sorry, dear.
- The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s books are just funny and sweet and perfect when you’re in the right mood.
- The Winter Prince, by Elizabeth Wein. I don’t remember the plot of this very well, but I know I read all the books of the series in the space of two days. Not bad.
I can’t wait to see everyone else’s picks!
On Basilisk Station, David Weber
The first time I read On Basilisk Station, I actually gave it five stars despite the flaws — it just caught me up that much. And it’s proven to have the same grip on my sister, who has been ravenously tearing through the series, reading and rereading it for the sake of Honor and her treecat. This time, I wouldn’t go as far as giving it five stars, but it’s definitely still very enjoyable, for all that I was even more aware of the flaws.
First, the flaws: the didactic, digressive sections like the whole ten-page section which interrupted a high-speed space chase to explain the math and physics behind it. The fact that Honor can do basically no wrong. The wish fulfilment of the smart, empathic space cats. Etc.
But then there’s the fact that Honor just has a presence, somehow. She’s not depicted as a sexual object, but nor is she denigrated by anyone for not being so. She’s a capable, attractive, dedicated woman who loves her home, her service, her ship and her crew. She’s, well, honourable. And she leads by example, slowly gaining the confidence and love of her crew. You can understand her thought process and all her decisions, and it all makes sense. And the people around her make sense too: their grudges as much as their loyalty.
So, yep. Still flawed, still enthralling.
Temeraire, or His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik
I’ve read this before, quite a ways back, and always intended to visit it anew, and finish the series as well. Imyril’s reviews of the series (for example, this first one) had a big part in making someday now, and I’ve got to be grateful for that. Temeraire is a lot of fun, just as I remembered it to be. It’s the Napoleonic War… but with dragons! And with a whole alternate history around the dragon corps and their officers, along with an alternative culture. It works very well, and produces a rather epic adventure… which nonetheless has plenty of tender moments, as Laurence comes to understand and cherish the dragon who has changed his entire life.
Temeraire himself is just the best character: he likes to read, he’s very curious, he’s polite and protective and worries about all things Laurence — which results in rather funny scenes in which Laurence discovers his dragon has learnt about prostitutes, or things like that. The insatiable curiosity is both funny and, at times, touching.
And come on, if Temeraire weren’t a dragon, everyone would be calling his relationship with Laurence what it is: a bromance.
The reason this really works for me is that it doesn’t just add in dragons, and expect everything else to be more or less the same. Instead, the dragons have an effect on society and Novik worked out exactly where they, and their riders, would stand. And the other thing is, people don’t always get what they deserve, despite the temptation: there’s a horribly touching emotional arc involving one mistreated dragon, and it does not end the way you hope it will. Which makes it all feel more real, and like bad things can genuinely happen — a wise thing for a writer to establish when otherwise things might look just a bit too easy.
I’m looking forward to continuing the series, though I do recall I didn’t love the later books as much, however far I got with reading them.
Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City, Gwendolyn Leick
After reading David Damrosch’s The Buried Book, I was eager to read more about Mesopotamia — a place and culture which has influenced so much of humanity’s subsequent history, but about which we often know all too little. This book looked like the perfect way to get more information: it discussed the building of early cities, which includes so much of what’s relevant to humanity. Interaction, education, religion, etc, etc.
Unfortunately, it’s badly written. Or rather, it’s overwritten: sentences meander along to conclusions which don’t always make sense, or which could have been put much more cogently. Suppositions go unsupported, instead phrased in a kind of hopeful, artistic way.
For example, Leick mentions the lagoon beneath the first city, Eridu. She links this to vessels found in presumed temples throughout Mesopotamia, containing water. Okay, I can go with that; I’ll trust your link there. And then:
Perhaps the fountains and pools in Middle Eastern buildings of much later centuries retain a faint memry of the old lagoon in the very south of Mesopotamia.
What Middle Eastern buildings? What centuries? What are the links that would cause that memory to be retained? What’s the evidence? Why are you saying this, is it important? Or is all of this speculative, more poetry than history? Without being able to judge that, the whole thing falls apart somewhat. Combined with the overly abstruse sentences, and I found myself unconvinced it’d be worth my time. I didn’t finish the book.
The, ah, acquisitive mood of last week prevailed this week too — though I promise, some of these were ordered a while ago and were just waiting for me at my parents’ house. It’s quite the haul though!
Red Sister and The Vorrh are both review copies. I’m thinking Wintersong might be next up on the list to read…
Plus a whole bunch of New Scientist collections, which I won’t feature here right now. But there’s eight of them and I counted them all as books on my acquired list, so I’d better get reading!
Books read this week:
I fit in some good reading time this week, but it’s all non-fiction! Apparently I’m in an odd mood…
Sneak peek at ratings:
Four stars to… Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, The Human Brain, Gaia and Fairweather Eden.
Three stars to… How Long is Now and Mind-Expanding Ideas.
Reviews posted this week:
–Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor. These novellas are mostly proving not to be my thing, and it didn’t help that I felt like I needed to reread the first one. 2/5 stars
–Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. Some really amazing women and a well-told story of where they came from and how they got where they wanted to go. 4/5 stars
–The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman. Lots of fun, as with the whole series, but I’m glad there’s going to be more. This didn’t feel like an ending. 4/5 stars
–Blood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood. Lively and entertaining, as you’d expect with Phryne, though with a surprisingly dark patch near the end. 4/5 stars
–Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn. This fell somewhat flat for me — I didn’t really believe in the conflict. 2/5 stars
–I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong. Entertaining and informative, and perhaps a bit lighter and with more sense-of-wonder than some of the other books on microbes I’ve read. 4/5 stars
–Chalk, by Paul Cornell. Well-written, but not my thing at all. 2/5 stars
–Top Ten Tuesday: TBR. A selection of books that I’ll maybe, possibly, hopefully be reading soon.
–What are you reading Wednesday. An update on what I’ve been reading, and what I might read next. Or soon. Maybe.
How’s your week been?
Chalk, Paul Cornell
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 21st March 2017
I don’t quite know how to rate this, because it’s not much my thing. It’s a bit too close to horror, it’s so grim, and the teenage boy fixation with sex was, well, rather beyond my experience or anything I’m interested in. Bullying I know well, and Cornell captures it wonderfully — but I can’t say beautifully, because who could call that beautiful? The magic is weird and wondrous and I do enjoy the way it’s tied in with history and the landscape.
I was less interested or convinced by Angie’s pop music magic; it felt very thin indeed, almost just a way to give her more of a role in the story without it feeling organic. But the main character’s ambivalence to her, the people around him, the great big revenge that’s happened because he wanted it — that feels real.
I can’t say I enjoyed this, and I can’t say I’d read it again, but nor would I urge someone not to read it. It’s definitely powerful, and I had to read to the end, even though I found aspects of it distasteful (I suspect I was intended to).
I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong
If you’ve already read books like Martin Blaser’s Missing Microbes, a lot of this info won’t be new to you. However, Ed Yong’s enthusiasm and wider range — dipping into the microbes of other animals and even insects — is a joy. He also provides a counterpoint to some of Blaser’s more hysterical ideas about the loss of microbes. He agrees that microbes are important, and that our relationships with them are complex. But he doesn’t accept that we’re totally doomed. There’s tons of research into repopulating our guts with beneficial microbes, prebiotics and probiotics. No doubt things are in the pipeline which will make a difference.
Yong is significantly less hopeful about the potential of procedures like faecal transplants — though the results have been encouraging in cases of C. difficile infections, the potential for treating inflammatory bowel disease seems more limited. It’s not impossible that a refined version of faecal transplants can help to rebalance the irritated and inflamed gut systems of people who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases… but so far, the data isn’t there.
With his enthusiasm and interest, Yong makes me want to hurry the heck up, get my biology degree, and get stuck into researching on exactly these topics. One thing is for sure: our microbiome is incredibly important, and we need more research. Our gut microbes can affect our overall health in so many ways — mental health included — that I foresee a lot more time being spent on this in labs in the near future. And I hope I’ll be one of the people working in one of those labs.
If you don’t know much about microbes, fear not: Yong’s writing is clear and accessible, with no technobabble. I think this book would be totally accessible to anyone with an interest.
What have you recently finished reading?
The last two were a New Scientist collection about the human brain, which was good, and Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham. Lots of science at the moment. Catching Fire is pretty good; there’s one chapter about gender roles I want to go over again, because I was getting kind of sleepy when I read it. But overall, it was evidence-based and convincing, I think.
What are you currently reading?
I just started reading James Lovelock’s Gaia. It’s a classic, and the Gaia theory is something I’ve been vaguely aware of for a long time, so I thought I’d plunge in. Plus it’s part of OUP’s Landmark Science series, which I really want to dig into. I have a few others.
What are you planning to read next?
I’m not sure. I just got a big pile of books which ideally I need to kind of… dissipate before I go back to Belgium, so I don’t have to drag them all in my suitcase. I think I’ll finally focus on finishing Emma Newman’s Planetfall, and then I might read S. Jae Jones’ Wintersong.
Martians Abroad, Carrie Vaughn
Received to review via Netgalley; published 17th January 2017
I had pretty high hopes for this, since I enjoy Carrie Vaughn’s work. And it’s not a bad book; it just never took off for me. The set-up, the conflict, the conclusion — all of it felt a little flat to me. I didn’t quite believe in it, I definitely didn’t believe in the stakes, and I don’t think I really believed in the characters either. On the face of it, I should really enjoy Polly’s character: her presence of mind, her refusal to think inside the box, her quickness to act and her willingness to protect others. I don’t even really know why I didn’t. I suppose because I didn’t feel her emotions coming through. She was dumped by her boyfriend and my reaction was ‘oh, well’ — partly because of her reaction, though admittedly also because that relationship isn’t built up at all.
If the phrase “dumped by her boyfriend” makes you feel like this might be a little juvenile, you’re right there, too. It feels like a YA novel, not just because of the age of the characters but because of the relatively low stakes. I mean, the stakes are allegedly life and death, and yet it always felt like a game. You got the sense that things would be okay. I almost hoped they wouldn’t be, at one particular point near the end, because that would’ve surprised me.
Bit of a miss for me, alas.