Winter Soldier: The Bitter March, Rick Remender, Roland Boschi
I haven’t heard good things about Rick Remender’s work, but I kind of like this run on Winter Soldier. It begins by following Fury and another SHIELD agent during the Cold War, as they begin to go up against the Winter Soldier. But slowly, Bucky’s memories surface in the Winter Soldier, changing the whole course of the story.
Ultimately, it doesn’t change anything about the Marvel universe — Bucky might as well never have resurfaced, really. In a way, that makes this a bit of a cheat: we see a little of Bucky’s struggles against the Soviets who control him, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t show us anything about Bucky we didn’t already know. It doesn’t pick up on where we left him in the last Winter Soldier comic, with the love of his life unable to remember who he is. With everything he’s come to care about destroyed.
There’s still a lot about The Crystal Cave that bothers me, but I think, on balance, I liked it better now than I did the first time I read it. As I’ve said, it’s Misogynistic Merlin, which is my least favourite flavour — you have some clear-headed, quick-thinking, powerful women, but then you have lines like this: “Duchess and slut alike, they need not even study to deceive.” And the whole bit about weak female magic and Merlin needing to be a virgin and blahblahblah. Could definitely have done without that.
Still, not having recently read Sword at Sunset, or anything else of Rosemary Sutcliff’s, this managed to have something of that flavour without the narration, and the characterisation of Ambrosius, being too much overshadowed by Sutcliff. I know for sure which one is the better book, and which one I enjoy more, but this doesn’t stand up so badly when it’s not right up against something by a master like Sutcliff. I got more into the relationships this time, though I wish Merlin didn’t leave such a trail of servant characters dead in his wake. I liked Cerdic, liked Cadal; their deaths because of their faith in Merlin were pretty hard to take. I know he does acknowledge a measure of that but still, gah. The relationship between Merlin and Ambrosius really does work, though, the slow realisation of what’s going on there, and their closeness. Also the fact that Merlin isn’t forced to be a warrior (though that makes the ending, where he is, doubly odd).
The mix of magic and science here is a little weird. The standing stones are raised using math, but the prophecy really is second sight; the dragons are just symbols, but the vision is real. It’s like a step between out-and-out fantasy and realism. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I tend to prefer things that go at it a bit more unequivocally! If Merlin can see the future, why is there no other magic in the world?
Anyway, I’m going on to the other books now, though I seem to recall from summaries there’s more flavours of misogynistic Merlin awaiting me.
Six Against the Yard, Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, Russell Thorndike
I got this book mostly for the Dorothy L. Sayers story, of course, but I was interested in the premise, too. Six master mystery writers, including Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers, took it upon themselves to write a short story each in which someone committed the perfect murder. And then, in response, an ex-Superintendent of the CID explained the ways he thought that perfect crime could be picked apart. Cornish didn’t seem to think any of the six would really ‘pass’, for various reasons, but it bothered me a little that it didn’t matter how many precautions the characters took to get rid of the evidence, Cornish was sure the police would find something. The police are not all-knowing or perfect; I guess the problem is that I approached the stories as literary, and Cornish tried to view them as reality, while still seeing himself having access to all the facts. Not quite fair!
Margery Allingham’s story is good; she sets up a great narrator, handling themes of domestic violence and so on pretty well. I did applaud Cornish’s understanding of psychology in his response, where he pointed out that the murderer presented themselves in the most sympathetic light possible, but there’s no reason to take their word as gospel truth, even in a confession. Overall, clever but obvious.
I was pretty ambivalent toward Father Ronald Knox’s story of a dictator murdered in his home. That all seemed fairly obvious. Cornish’s feeling that the crime is perfect through unfair play is right: like he says, the crime is unpunishable, but not untraceable.
Anthony Berkeley’s story is fun: another great narrator, fun set of characters. That aspect of it is better than the perfect murder stuff, and the whole story reminded me of Lynn O’Connacht’s beef with first person narrators: why, how, and when are you telling the story? Berkeley didn’t really explain why the two narrators would tell the story in the way they did.
Thorndike’s story was simply too theatrical and contrived. Rooooolling of eyes actually happened here.
Sayers’ story was well written, but fell down in terms of being the perfect murder because it wasn’t a murder. She spent so much time tying up each loose end that Cornish could’ve used to untangle the thing that ultimately, while there was motive, means, and opportunity, there was no defining moment where the ‘murderer’ acted. He simply failed to act, and he wasn’t even sure if that would change anything. I did like the set-up and the psychological understanding, though.
Freeman Wills Crofts’ story has an interesting set-up, but I didn’t think it was even nearly a perfect murder — there were several holes in the logic, which Cornish quite rightly points out.
So as I said, entertaining little collection, nice idea; not overwhelmed by the result, but it’s fun enough.
The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick Received to review via Netgalley
This is a really quick read, though I confess I ended up skimming a bit. There’s a lot of sex scenes and a lot of drama: if it weren’t a popular early gay story it wouldn’t mean very much, I think. But it was one of the earliest novels to feature gay characters who struggle with their identity and have a happy ending, and I was surprised at how quickly it got to that, too. Our sympathies are unequivocally with Peter and his desire for commitment, his passionate love for Charlie; while Charlie’s struggles are treated with some understanding, it’s not as though the narrative treats him as “in the right” for wanting to hide the relationship. In that sense, it’s a celebration of queerness, of love (and yeah, sex) between two men, from a time when that was hard to find. No wonder it was popular.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of unpleasantness here — domestic violence, Charlie wanting to hurt various women and sometimes Peter, racism, homophobia from a few characters, internalised homophobia on Charlie’s part, etc. No matter how good it was for gay people to read a passionate love story for them at the time, there’s a lot that’s problematic and off-putting.
And, frankly, for me the writing wasn’t that good. Situations were contrived, there was a lot of repetition, and I didn’t really believe in the sudden intensity of feeling from Peter — Charlie’s more grudging love was a little easier to believe in, but even so, they went into it at an amazing pace.
Still, it’s kind of fun in a trashy way, and it is nice to have that happy end.
As warned by a friend, the ideas here are pretty fascinating — the book might be fifteen years behind in terms of science, but there’s nothing inherently ridiculous about the idea based on the scientific knowledge of the time — but the actual narrative is pretty deadly boring. Some of the writing is just… why would you let that slip past, editor? Hard SF isn’t just about the cool ideas: there has to be some element of execution there as well, or there’s no point in writing it as a novel — there’d be a non-fiction audience for speculation about the future too, undoubtedly.
It’s pretty unfortunate, since Bear did the work here in setting up the world, figuring out the details, making A lead to B without a gap in logic. Unfortunately, the prose is flat, most of the characters likewise, and isn’t there a song with lyrics that go I don’t care a lot? Because it’s in my head right now.
Definitely not my favourite of McKinley’s works — I thought I’d like it more than Beauty, and in one sense I do, in that something that bothers me about the ending of Beauty is addressed here and a different sort of ending written. I like the world, the sisters, the domestic stuff that (as usual) McKinley shines with. I liked the castle and Beauty’s work there, and the way other little bits of fairytale lore come in (like her experiential seven days spent in the Beast’s castle versus seven months for her sisters). It’s also notable that the way Beauty and the Beast relate to each other is very similar to in Beauty; the differences are more in a more complicated setup with slightly different inputs producing a slightly different trajectory.
My main complaint the first time I read this was that the greenwitch at the end has far too much explaining to do, in quite a short span of pages, and that remains problematic to me. Some things needed a bit more opening out, foreshadowing, something, to prevent a long stretch of infodump via dialogue.
Still enjoyable, though, and the writing is gorgeous, of course.
The Old Ways was, for me, a bit like reading Richard Fortey’s work. Non-fiction that I’m not necessarily very interested in, but which is beautifully written, lyrical, literate. It wasn’t boring at all — meditative, perhaps. Sometimes Macfarlane’s a little too airy and mystical for me, too caught up in his imagination, but sometimes he comes round to something like Fortey, like the book I read recently on meditation, like Francis Pryor’s book about Seahenge and the ritual landscape.
I’m not particularly a walker myself, not now. As a kid I walked quite a lot with my grandfather, who would never have been nearly as poetic about walking as Macfarlane. It’s walking in the mountains in Wales that speaks to me, the hot still space at a ford where you could turn down toward home or go on toward a blackberry field, flies swarming on the evidence that a horse had come through earlier that day. Not a trek across chalk or snow or fen land: not this quasi-mystical experience of the landscape-as-self, just a walk on a warm day with blackberries in the middle and a scolding for getting so dusty/muddy at the end. If we went further afield, a hand-drawn map with “Grandma fell here” or some such comment to immortalise the trip.
Still, I can appreciate the sentiment behind this, and the lyrical writing. It just gets a bit too caught up in itself for me.
I liked Shards of Honour more than I did the first time I read it, even though I’m sticking with my original three star rating. It’s fun, and this time I did get more wrapped up in it, in following the politics and in following Cordelia and Aral as they get to know each other. I still don’t quite get the enthusiasm over the whole series, but I’ve heard at least a dozen times that I’ll get along better with the Miles books.
Still, I got along pretty well with this one. The concept of honour is a thing that will usually get to me with a character — honour and loyalty in general. Juubei in GetBackers; Simon Tam in Firefly; Joscelin Verreuil in Kushiel’s Dart; Steve Rogers in Captain America — and if they can be tortured, make mistakes, and still be people you root for, that’s all the better. I know a lot of people love the mischievious tricksters with a heart that might just be gold after all, but I prefer the straight-forward ones, like Steve Rogers. And Aral is definitely one of those. Realising that helped me warm to him, even when he starts off not terribly sympathetic — and you realise that he did kind of have a point, too: he suggests to Cordelia that they should end the suffering of a man who will never walk or possibly even think coherently ever again. Now, it sounds barbaric to her in the moment, but it occurs to her later (and to me almost immediately), that maybe the guy wouldn’t have wanted to stay alive in the dependent existence that was his only chance. Certainly, I wouldn’t — and I’ve taken some pains to make sure my loved ones know it.
So I think the characterisation was more subtle here than I remembered, and I have grown sympathetic to Aral — and to Cordelia, and what she goes through to get back to him. I remember liking Barrayar much less than this, but we’ll see. And even if I still don’t like it, I’ll go on to read the Miles books, because I trust my partner’s judgement there!
I think I needed more of Journey into Mystery and general Thor comics to really understand what’s going on here, but it’s a fun ride anyway. It continues the kid!Loki storyline — except he’s all grown up now, thanks to Billy Kaplan of the Young Avengers. So we get to see Loki living in Midgard, with a fancy apartment and an unfortunate resemblance to Harry Styles. We get to see a bit more of the “new” Loki interacting with Thor, and the continuing saga of many Lokis that is the whole plot with Loki dying and then kid!Loki but it’s not really kid!Loki and —
Yeah, it’s confusing. But Loki’s capers are fun, and no doubt it’s going somewhere brain-twisty and fun. I like young!Loki a lot, and along with all the Hiddleston fangirls, just want to see that he’s been misunderstood and twisted into his role. And more than that, I hope Loki’s still playing with my head. I don’t really think we ever can or should get some kind of solid answer about where Loki stands on the moral continuum. He’s wildfire, unpredictable; the comics do take that aspect of the trickster Loki from Norse myth and play with it most excellently.
Oh, and the scenes with the Avengers in the tower are perfect.
Galapagos is a fun read, playful; for a book about the end of the world, it’s certainly more humorous and light-hearted than most, except perhaps Good Omens. The narration is fun — the narrator is pretty much a character, but also pretty much omniscient, so you get to know everything that’s going, but with opinions into the bargain.
When I think about it, though, I can’t find much substance in this. It’s very repetitive, and if there’s one single point that comes out of it strongly, it’s that humans have big brains and we cause our own problems, and maybe it would be better if we evolved to have smaller brains and less able to cause trouble. Which… sure, fine, but ~250 pages of story all focused around that begins to lose its charm.
Still, that’s what saves it — the charm, and the fact that the narrative reveals facts haphazardly, so you have to hang on to almost the last page to piece together exactly what happened throughout the book. It is charming, like I said, and very readable, but… Shrug?