WWW Wednesday

Posted 5 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of The Rise and Fall of the DinosaursWhat are you currently reading?

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte. Nothing incredibly new to me so far, but it’s kind of soothing just to read about dinosaurs and not, you know, obsessively check the dimensions of the washing machine I’ve ordered to make sure it fits in the space, which is my other chief occupation at the moment.

(Fingers crossed. It’s arriving tomorrow.)

Cover of The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerWhat have you recently finished reading?

Ugh, you know, I don’t even know anymore. It might’ve been my reread of The Big Sleep; hideously racist and sexist (though not as bad on the racism front as the second book, ye gods) but so very well written. Chandler knew how to pick up a metaphor, show it a good time and leave it wanting more, for sure.

Cover of Provenance by Ann LeckieWhat will you be reading next?

Well, me and one of my buddies from Habitica are talking about rereading Ann Leckie’s Provenance, so there’s a good chance it’ll be that. Or I have a whole bunch of books from the library, including Conway Morris’ book on the Burgess Shale, for a change of pace.

What are you reading?

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Review – A History of Ancient Egypt (Vol. 2)

Posted 4 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A History of Ancient Egypt Volume 2 by John RomerA History of Ancient Egypt: From the Great Pyramid to the Fall of the Middle Kingdom, John Romer

Oh, yay, I have now discovered there’s going to be a third volume of these. Despite some reservations when I read the first volume, I find Romer’s writing pretty clear and engaging — though honestly, for me it would be difficult for someone discussing tombs and chapels and the statuary and pomp of the Egyptian courts to actually become boring. From the reading around I’ve done, Romer is accurate and thoughtful, working with the knowledge we actually have of the Middle Kingdom to discover as much as he can, without getting carried away and deciding everything is ritual, mysticism and slavery, as people are prone to do when considering Ancient Egypt.

The book has an extensive bibliography and notes, so it’s easy to look things up for more information. Personally, for all that I love the lavish description of tombs and the decoration of temples — and especially the importance of hieroglyphs — this book does feel very long (it kind of is very long, but it feels longer than it looks, if that makes sense). So it might not be for you if you’re more interested in a quick overview: it’s definitely detailed. I find it fascinating, though, even though a lot of the description washed right over me and won’t be socked away into long-term memory. It’s interesting just to read.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Farthing

Posted 3 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Farthing, by Jo WaltonFarthing, Jo Walton

I think this is the second time I’ve read Farthing, and it gets more chilling all the time. It’s an alternate history in which Britain compromised with Hitler, and documents the creeping anti-Semitism and losses of freedom. It’s about compromising with the devil — and in the case of one of the characters, knowing exactly what you’re doing, hating it, and knowing you’re not strong enough not to do it. I love Carmichael, but god, I hope I’m not like him (though I fear I am; one can only hope that when they get offered a choice like that, they have the brains to see it and the guts to say no).

It’s particularly painful for me to read because I do see it happening in Britain now; gradually, people are becoming more and more negative toward foreigners, and it’s all been legitimised by Brexit. I hate it, but I’ll be honest: I’ve started hesitating to admit that my wife is European, gauging the audience to make sure it’s going to be okay. I’ve been told I’m a race traitor for marrying a European; I’ve been told I’m an EU collaborator and a traitor to the UK — etc, etc, all that sickening crap that comes from a certain kind of Brexit supporter. (Not saying all Brexit supporters are doing that and saying things like that, but it’s happening and it’s shocking how little anyone cares apart from to assert it’s not them saying it!)

I imagine US folks would probably have much the same experience right now, and more so.

Despite that, it’s also a deeply entertaining book — Lucy’s narrative voice is great, and the Golden Age crime fic pastiche is great fun. This was the first of Jo’s books that I ever read, and it had me hooked — and it did again this time. She’s excellent with character, with mood, with description, with pace… Honestly, I can’t think of any complaints I have about Farthing, except perhaps that it’s far too on the nose right now.

Rating: 5/5

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Discussion: Buying a Series

Posted 3 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 3 Comments

As with a lot of my discussion posts, this is basically prompted by authors posting on Twitter. In this case, authors are often to be found urging you not to wait for a series to be over before buying their books. There’s solid reasons for that, of course — if people don’t buy the first book in a series, publishers are probably not going to bother taking the risk of publishing the second book — let alone commit to an extended series in hopes that in ten years or so, once it’s complete, people will finally flock to buy the thing.

As a reader, though, I find authorial reproach on this topic… ugh, irritating isn’t the word, because it sounds unfair. But to me, it’s also unfair to expect readers to make an investment in a series right out of the gate, without it even being clear when the next books will come out, how long it’s going to take, how long the series might be, whether things are planned in advance… I would never bother to read the first book of a fantasy trilogy when it’s just the debut novel, for certain: I don’t want to be stuck in Scott Lynch-esque limbo. (I’m with Neil Gaiman — [author name] is not your bitch — but it’s been disappointing as a fan. And in that case, it wasn’t even after the debut novel that things slowed down. There were two books out in reasonably quick succession; it looked like a good bet!)

And of course, I don’t want to buy a book that I’m not going to read until I know when the next one is out. I have a backlog of over a thousand books; if nothing else, I don’t want to purchase something in order to have it sit there for five years inflating my counts and clogging my shelves.

Putting up a discussion post might imply I have an answer, but I really don’t. I don’t have a solid policy: I’ll buy a debut novel if it looks interesting, and I might even read it and risk spending five years waiting for the next book. But it’s something I really would like to balance out somehow: authors’ need for an audience, my desire to feel that I’m not gambling on the next book ever existing…

So hey, what do you guys do? Buy the first book and not read it? Buy the first book and read it and hope to goodness the next comes soon? Stubbornly hold out for the series’ end?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 1 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a quiet week here for the most part, unless you count the bunnies learning that they can make a big noise by dropping their hay ball down the stairs in their hutch when they want me to refill it. New home goes on apace, new car likewise, but I’ve gotta anti-recommend Virgin Media as an internet provider.

(But so many hearts in my eyes for Bulb, who do green energy and a completely hassle-free set up, as well as good rates. If you switch and use that link, you get £50 credit and so do I, just as full disclosure. For me that’s most of a month’s electricity and gas, so it’s a big deal!)

Books received to review:

Cover of Legion by Brandon Sanderson Cover of Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble

Tor actually sent me the hardback of Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds — I’ve only ever read the first novella, so I’m pretty excited.

Books read this week:

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate Cover of Farthing, by Jo Walton

Reviews posted this week:

Ancestral Journies, by Jean Manco. A fascinating topic — the migrations and colonisations of Europe, as far as they can be traced. There are some slightly more tedious bits, but for the most part it pulls together a lot of evidence and is very worth the read if the topic is interesting to you. 4/5 stars
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. A reread, and I possibly loved this even more the second time. 5/5 stars
The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman. I liked this more on a reread, I think because I really placed it in the context of the other books properly. Before, it felt like an ending, but a weak one; I think that was just me focusing too much on Alberich’s arc. 4/5 stars
Murder of a Lady, by Anthony Wynne. Atmospheric as heck, though perhaps leaning too hard on some tropes I dislike. 3/5 stars
Death of a Busybody, by George Bellairs. Very typical Golden Age stuff, but there’s something about it that makes it a really fun casual read. 3/5 stars
Moral Tribes, by Joshua Greene. A surprisingly (to me) good case for utilitarianism! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: A Fast Read. Discussing whether a book being a quick read is a good thing or, as some authors on Twitter think, an insult.
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading (and what I’m thinking about it!).

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘STEVE in the sky. Ever seen the northern lights? This post is about a little-understood phenomenon that is a little bit similar in appearance, but so far only superficially understood.

So that’s that for this week! By next week, I’ll have turned my dissertation in and finished everything I can do for my degree. Which means I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on those comments I’m running behind on…

How’re you guys?

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Review – Moral Tribes

Posted 30 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Moral Tribes by Joshua GreeneMoral Tribes, Joshua Greene

Essentially, this book is about getting past partisan divides and trying to find some kind of objective overarching morality that everyone can apply and understand, a “metamorality”. For Greene, the answer is very clearly utilitarianism, and he makes a spirited defence of that point, countering many of the standard objections to utilitarianism and clearing away the misconceptions. He starts by defining the problem, of course: discussing how we make moral decisions, using trolley problems (“trolleyology”) as the “fruit fly” of morality experiments.

He talks about ideas you’ve probably read elsewhere, sounding very much like Jonathan Haidt’s “rational tail wagging the emotional dog”, and talks about the basis of this in the human brain. There’s a lot of unpicking of why we have two levels of response to moral situations, and when each one comes into play, which is fascinating in itself, but not new to me. The defence of utilitarianism was, for me, the important part of the book. I’ve always had a bit of a kneejerk reaction against it, and Greene does a good job of dissecting why that happens, and countering that perception.

He also has some very good discussion of how to balance the ultimate aims of utilitarianism with being a fallible human being with emotional wants that feel like needs (even in cases where they’re not).

Overall, worth the read, and I do think he has a good solution here for a system of metamorality that isn’t perfect (he doesn’t seem to think a perfect metamorality exists or is possible), but can be applied and understood by everyone, and which serves our needs for 99.999% of our problems in the real world.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death of a Busybody

Posted 29 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death of a Busybody by George BellairsDeath of a Busybody, George Bellairs

This is exactly the sort of story you expect from the British Library Crime Classics reissues: a smallish village, a murder, Scotland Yard gets called in… it’s not astoundingly original or surprising, with an alibi that falls apart the second you realise that a certain fact doesn’t necessarily constitute an alibi at all — but it’s comfortable and it rolls along at a reasonable pace. Okay, there’s a madwoman (sigh) who commits violence, but even that’s pretty much par for the course and not something I consider a complete turn-off with classic crime fiction. There’s even a little funny vicar who does his best for his flock and is rather anxious and unhappy about testifying against a parishioner, etc, etc.

The writing isn’t the sort of level where you particularly take note, but it works… apart from maybe the phonetic accents. I could do without those. I wonder how comprehensible they even are to people who haven’t heard the actual accent.

So yeah, fun and worth the read if you’re interested in picking up something cosy-ish (I mean, sure, there’s crime, but nobody likes the victim, so that’s almost okay in these books). I’ll definitely happily read more of Bellairs’ work.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 29 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of Gods, Graves and Scholars by C.W. CeramWhat are you currently reading?

Too much at once, as ever, but most actively I’m reading Gods, Graves and Scholars, by C.W. Ceram. It’s out of date now — definitely in terms of Egyptology, at least — but there’s still a fascination and grandeur about the finds Ceram describes and the broad history of archaeology mapped out here. And knowing some of the more recent material, it’s doubly fascinating to see what we used to think. I’m glad I picked this up, even though I had doubts because of the age of it.

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond PostgateWhat have you recently finished?

I just finished Verdict of Twelve, by Raymond Postgate. It’s one of the British Library Crime Classics, and it’s definitely an interesting one. I had the weirdest sense of deja vu reading the ending, even though I know I haven’t read the book before, and don’t remember peeking at the end! It’s a sort of character study in many ways of the court and how a jury works. It’s less about the actual mystery and more about how people interact..

Cover of Blackout by Mira GrantWhat will you be reading next? 

No idea. Me being me, it could be anything. I’m strongly tempted to pick up Provenance by Ann Leckie again already and give it a reread — I just seem to be in the mood for Leckie’s writing. Or I might settle down to reading some more of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books, and finishing up Blackout

Who knows. The ways of the Nikki are strange.

What are you reading?

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Review – Murder of a Lady

Posted 28 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder of a Lady by Anthony WynneMurder of a Lady, Anthony Wynne

This British Library Crime Classics reissue goes to one of the most iconically brooding, romantic and mysterious staple settings of all: the Scottish highlands, in the castle of a laird. It’s a murder mystery, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s filled with some rather unpleasant people — and I don’t love that it leans rather on the themes of madness and manias leading to violence to untangle the whole plot. It’s one of those where you can’t really regret the murder victim, and though the psychology of it all is well-observed, the family struggles weren’t all that appealing to me.

Still, it does the mystery well and evokes a good sense of atmosphere, and it was a pretty entertaining read even if I didn’t exactly root for the characters — and I finished it in just about no time. No real complaints! I don’t know if I’d try another by the same author, but all the same, it filled the time pleasantly enough. Not a stand-out for good or ill, really.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Burning Page

Posted 27 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanThe Burning Page, Genevieve Cogman

Coming back to this one for a reread was a good idea, definitely; reading it knowing a little about the fourth book and having had time to digest it, so to speak, worked out for me. The ending still feels a little inconclusive, like it surely can’t be that easy — it still feels like too much of an easy return to the status quo. But with the fourth book ready to go straight away, that felt less weird.

The series remains a romp through space and, sort of, through time as well. Although there are definitely romantic feelings flying around, it never becomes a show-stopping thing where everything grinds to the halt for some drama and everyone to figure out how they feel. Irene, Vale, Kai — they all get on with it, and the plot keeps on ticking over the whole time. Which I think is part of what actually makes me so invested in those three. Above all, they stick together, whatever their feelings are. I hope that’s something these books don’t lose.

Overall, this series just… goes down easy. It’s a lot of fun and it has so much scope for more hijinks, even after a fairly apocalyptic ending to this book.

Rating: 4/5

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