Tag: SF/F


Review – The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted 13 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le GuinThe Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin

Reread this for my SF/F class on Coursera. I loved it more, this time: read it slowly, appreciated the details, just as the professor suggested. Partially because, of course, I knew it would be rewarding with Ursula Le Guin. I don’t think I was ready for this book when I read it before: the fierce joy and love in some parts of it, the devastation, the making-strange of familiar things and the making familiar of strange things.

Some parts were… maybe less subtle than I thought Le Guin would be. All the stuff about Orgoreyn seemed fairly obviously a commentary on the relations between the US and Russia; the portrayal of Karhide was more subtle, but the Voluntary Farm seems a fairly naked commentary on the gulags. I expected more subtlety, really.

I do love the world Le Guin builds. I was impatient with it last time, but having experienced more of her work, all the detail and background is part of the picture, part of the creativity, not ancillary to the plot.

Don’t read this if you’re not ready to be shaken up about gender, but really, that isn’t the important thing about it. The real importance of it is not the way Le Guin plays with and reflects on gender (Tehanu would be equally important for that, I think), but the way she thinks about dualism/wholeness, the imagery of Yin and Yang which her whole story invokes.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Alphabet of Thorn

Posted 12 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia A. McKillip, art by Kinuko CraftAlphabet of Thorn, Patricia A. McKillip

Firstly, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but oh I love the cover art so much. It’s done by Kinuko Craft, who has also illustrated at least some of Juliet Marillier’s covers, so that explains why it seemed familiar.

Alphabet of Thorn is beautifully written. It’s one of those books where it’s less about making things happen, and more about watching them happen — there is some degree of “stopping things happening”, but mostly people fall in love, and do magic, and learn things about themselves, and work in the slow silent world of manuscripts and translation, and… It’s not really about the plot, I think, but more about the characters and the world; less about things happening than about people in a situation. I don’t know if I can describe it — but all the same, I hope it’s clear that I loved it.

The mythical parts of the story, the floating school of magic, all of it felt — not real, but true, to me. It all worked seamlessly as a world, as a story. It also felt in some ways like something Ursula Le Guin could write (which is a very high compliment in my world): the Floating School is a cousin to the school on Roke.

If you’re not a fan of McKillip’s style and plotting, I don’t think this one could change your mind. But I do think it’s gorgeous.

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 12 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The ARC of Adam Christopher’s Hang Wire. Much fun, looking forward to going back to his previously published books. Also, in that case: superheroes! In this case, circuses and gods (including a trickster god!), a bit of a mystery, and maybe more than a touch of the thriller.

What are you currently reading?
Well, many things, as you can tell from this post. But most actively, Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia McKillip. And I am eager to get my hands on all her books, especially the ones with the gorgeous covers like the one for Alphabet of Thorn — though not just because of the gorgeous covers. I remember not getting along that well with Winter Rose, but I loved The Changeling Sea and I love Alphabet of Thorn too: I love the writing style, the lyricism in it, I love the world of kings and intrigue and magic — and libraries. I love the slow, contemplative pace, too.

But hey, who does the paintings for the covers?!

Oh, and thanks to Olga Godim, I started Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I’m barely started on it, but I’m intrigued so far: Olga suggested it as a better alternative to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, with emotions, magic realism and food. So far, I am enjoying it more. Particularly as it’s less conscious of being quirky than Lemon Cake felt. This one won’t count for my bet/incentive/thing with Mum, though, so really I should put it on a backburner…

What do you think you’ll read next?
One of the books from my currently reading list previously linked! Probably A Red Herring Without Mustard, since I find Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books really fast and easy to read, and I have an ARC of the latest to get to. I’m quite near to finishing Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin, too.

Books acquired:
I bought Chuck Wendig’s Irregular Creatures (because it’s available for 75p!), and I’ve been given access to the ARC of Rachel Naumeier’s Black Dog on Netgalley — with this in the summary, how could I not? “Think of it as Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE but with werewolves instead of vampires.”

Okay!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Review – Hang Wire

Posted 10 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Hang Wire, by Adam ChristopherHang Wire, Adam Christopher

I’ve wanted to read this since I was given the summary to have a go at coming up with a blurb, back when I visited Angry Robot for a day (especially with seeing the cover art, which to me seems perfect in its relative simplicity). So I gleefully pounced on the email offering ARCs, crossed my fingers, and waited. When I got back from Belgium, I had a whole package of books from Angry Robot, including Hang Wire, which I cracked open as soon as I could.

I have Adam Christopher’s other books with Angry Robot, except The Age Atomic, but I hadn’t got round to them yet. So this was my first book by Adam Christopher, which works fine, as it’s a standalone. It’s urban fantasy, with a touch of the thriller and a bit of fake Celtic magic, and real gods of various stripes, and real people affected by them. It took me a while to get together what was happening, partially because I never pay attention to dates at the beginning of chapters even when authors are so helpful as to give them, and partially because I have a cold. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

It’s an absorbing read, even if you aren’t quite hanging on and catching all the hints and implications, and it might take you some places you aren’t expecting. The pacing is really good: there was never a point where I could put it down and not wonder what was coming up next. The writing works well for me: I could picture things clearly, but it wasn’t fussy, either. There were some bits I still haven’t quite sorted out in my mind, but the plot carried me along fairly smoothly; I’d have to reread it to tell you if that was just me being dense (having a cold) or not.

Definitely an enjoyable one, and worth picking up when it comes out — and I’m veeerryyy interested in hurrying up and getting to read Adam Christopher’s other work.

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Posted 9 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of William Shakespeare's Star Wars, by Ian DoescherWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Ian Doescher

This is amusing as a quick read; I’m contemplating who might enjoy it as a quirky Christmas gift. It’d have to be someone who can appreciate the ridiculous literary touches (like R2D2 beeping in iambic pentameter), and who is a pretty big fan of both Star Wars and Shakespeare, I think. I’m not really enough of a fan of either to truly appreciate this.

I can also imagine that you could be too much of a fan of Shakespeare (or Star Wars) to appreciate this. It’s best taken lightly.

Definitely a gift for a geek, anyway. As someone approaching it casually, I could appreciate the ideas and the way some of the lines were rendered, but then the joke wore thin.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Martian Chronicles

Posted 2 December, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 13 Comments

Cover of The Martian Chronicles, by Ray BradburyThe 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.

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Troika

Posted 25 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Troika, by Alastair ReynoldsTroika, 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.

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Announcing Vintage Science Fiction Month!

Posted 23 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I’m definitely up for this! And I’ve offered to do a guest post, too, on Isaac Asimov. Probably on my favourite of his works, The Positronic Man. I read it when I was ten — I had to get that out of the library on my mother’s account, because they wouldn’t believe I was old enough to read it. I kept it so long she had the most epic library fine I can remember accruing ever.

Tags: ,

Divider

Review – The Second Mango

Posted 10 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of The Second Mango, by Shira GlassmanThe Second Mango, Shira Glassman

The Second Mango is sweet and quite silly. It doesn’t take itself or its characters too seriously at all, and the story is sweeter for it — the image of a wizard turning himself into a lizard to cling to his lady love’s door and woo her at night where no one can see just tickles me, and because it’s knowingly absurd, endears the story to me. I love that the possibly obvious plot does not happen: nobody switches sexuality by magic and the main characters don’t have a big drama between them about it. It’s a world where same-sex partnerships don’t seem to be common, but for the most part it isn’t a major drama either, which is quite refreshing.

I also really like the fact that one of the main characters has food intolerances. That’s not a “disability” (for lack of a better term, meaning here that it’s not magical in origin or anything, but a physical limitation) I’ve seen much in fiction, if at all. The mix of cultural backgrounds was interesting, too: it’s not entirely clear where all of the religious background is drawn from, but the biggest influence is Judaism. Again, not something I see much!

It’s not some epic deep novel, but it’s light and fun, and it made me smile.

Review on Goodreads.

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Imposter syndrome and an essay on Frankenstein

Posted 7 November, 2013 by Nikki in Academic / 4 Comments

I have a tragic lack of confidence in my own academic abilities. I know, intellectually, that I have two good degrees in English Literature from a reputable university. But I don’t really believe that. I worry that I was given my degrees out of pity, or favoritism, or due to a sheer mistake. I pretty much embody the idea of imposter syndrome.

My online courses, though they fill me with joy in one sense, are just making that worse. In my literature classes, I am getting bad marks. Literature classes! My ego is bruised and sullen, my imposter syndrome thinks it’s justified, and I’m feeling the urge to quietly withdraw from the course and possibly the entire internet in mortification at my own stupidity.

Because that’s a bloody stupid idea, here is my mini-essay on Frankenstein written for the SF/F class on Coursera, with bonus reference to Beowulf. I’m not going to pretend it’s utter genius, and it’s very short (all essays for this class are 320 words long or less), but it’s an idea I would like to develop and think about some more, and it’s an analysis based on literary context, not completely pulled out of thin air.


The Mark of Cain

There are many Biblical references in Frankenstein, particularly revolving around Genesis and the creation of Adam (“I ought to be thy Adam”, chapter ten). Biblical imagery offers a powerful way to read the novel, and one Biblical story closely connected with that of Adam, though not mentioned in Frankenstein, is the story of Cain and Abel.

The murder of Abel by Cain has its echoes in the murder of Victor’s brother by the monster. Though it is the monster which kills William, Victor is complicit in that death because of his neglect of the creature he made. Both Victor and the monster are set apart from humankind, as Cain is: “a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be” (Genesis 4:12), God says to Cain, and that is equally true for Frankenstein’s monster. But it is also true of Frankenstein himself: “I saw an insurmountable barrier placed between me and my fellow men; this barrier was sealed with the blood of William and Justine” (chapter 19).

The monster’s exile is not solely due to his crimes, but also to his appearance, which suggests a link with the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15). Another link worth noting is that monsters are sometimes described as being descended from Cain: Grendel, in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, is identified as kin to Cain. He is a “wretched creature”, as Frankenstein’s monster is so often described, “siþðan him scyppend      forscrifen hæfde / in Caines cynne” (“since the Creator had condemned him with the kin of Cain”, ll. 106-107).

Though this connection is not made explicit by Mary Shelley in the text, the similarities are there; Frankenstein’s monster acts out the first chapters of Genesis in a compressed form, going from creation (as Adam) to acquiring knowledge (i.e. comparing the interlude where he observes Felix and his family with the Fall) to the first murder of the human race (that of Abel).

 

Works cited:
Anonymous, Beowulf (Published online, 2012: http://www.heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html), quoted translation is my own
Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein (Project Gutenberg, 2008: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm)
Various, The King James Bible (Accessed online: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-4/)

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider