Tag: SF/F


Review – The Hobbit

Posted 24 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Yesterday — or, by the time this goes live on my blog, the day before yesterday, the 22nd — was Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, so naturally that constituted the final bit of excuse I needed to reread Lord of the Rings. And it never quite feels right without starting with The Hobbit. It doesn’t have quite the same cleverness that I enjoy with Lord of the Rings — Tolkien hadn’t come up with, or didn’t see the need to explain, his complicated text provenances, for example — but I still enjoy the narration, the sense of being told a story, and the fact that he expects you, dares you, to be on the ball. As a kid, I didn’t notice some of the flaws in Bilbo’s plans at all, but Tolkien’s narration gives you the benefit of the doubt there. Self-deprecating, almost.

I think the reason I dislike the Hobbit films so much is because they are adapting the book I love to blend with the films they’ve made already. I can see why they’re doing that, and why people enjoy it, but I don’t feel the desperate need to rationalise the difference between the tones of the two books. I like my dwarves goofy, the hero’s journey a little less blatant; I like that Bilbo makes his way through all the adventures because he’s a hobbit, with hobbit-sensibilities, not just a hero in hobbit form. I love that hobbits are basically Tolkien taking aspects of himself and letting them run around in this fantasy world without the illusion that of course he’d be the heroic type. It’s still wish fulfilment, but it’s a kind of wish fulfilment where the hero probably would be better off as a grocer or something else quiet, and manages despite that.

I mean, I bet a very small percentage of self-insert fanfics have the sense to admit that in reality, they’re more like the hobbits than the typical heroes. I really enjoy that Tolkien quite blatantly did that with his layers of authorship and the characteristics of hobbits as a race, and didn’t give in to the urge to over-romanticise it — while still making hobbits endearing, funny, brave, worth reading about, still pulling out aspects of character from even the most countrified bumpkin that could make them a hero.

And, let’s be honest, I just don’t understand people who don’t see the skill in Tolkien’s writing, in the way he builds up the world. Even here, where it isn’t taking the main character very seriously, he still takes the world seriously, shadowing it with the threat of the Necromancer, the Ring, the great alliances of the orcs — hinting at twisted dwarves and the complicated history of the elves, deftly bringing in little bits of lore so that they’re natural when we come to them in The Lord of the Rings. Not because he was planning it, but because he knew his world and knew how to show it to the reader.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Book of Skulls

Posted 14 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Book of Skulls by Robert SilverbergBook of Skulls, Robert Silverberg

I liked the idea behind this, and I even liked the way Silverberg set up the four characters, stereotypes that over the course of the novel are pried open and exposed for the often hypocritical things they are. The writing, too, is pretty good, lyrical and intense. The psychological building up and tearing down of the characters works really well, and it’s not easy to predict who will commit the murder, who will be the sacrifice, etc. The only real problem for me was that I kept having to check the chapter headings to see who exactly was talking: despite the four very different character backgrounds, they didn’t sound different at all.

But. The stereotypes manage to be so offensive — like, the portrayal of the gay male character/s is kind of horrifying, the whole portrayal of what gay people are like as a community. I know this isn’t exactly a new book, and doubtless Silverberg knew he was using stereotypes and that real gay people come from all over the spectrum, but it’s still pretty ghastly to read.

I can see why people enjoy it, I think, but euch, not for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Magic Burns

Posted 9 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns, Ilona Andrews

I continue to really like this series. Sure, the writing isn’t sparkling deathless prose, but it’s functional and brings across the voice of the narrator — very no-nonsense, down to earth, tough-talking woman. What continues to intrigue and please me is the characterisation of Kate: stubborn, pig-headed, yes, but also willing to admit when she’s wrong, picking her battles, not afraid to admit when she needs help… Not afraid, even, to admit that she’s vulnerable, alone, that she’s not entirely happy to be without a partner. At the same time, she isn’t overly sentimental about it — though nor is she rushing into the bed of every guy who smiles at her.

Overall, it’s a good balance, to my mind. There’s also interesting world building — the circumstances of the magic waves in Atlanta, the history behind Kate that we don’t really get to know yet, the words of power, the different groups of supernaturals… And it’s pretty well paced: there were a couple of points where it seemed to stick a bit, but I pretty much read it in one go.

I keep coming to this expecting total bubblegum, but I come away happier than I expected because they dodge so many of my pet peeves and annoyances.

Rating: 4/5; review of the first book

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Review – Black Unicorn

Posted 7 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Black Unicorn by Tanith LeeBlack Unicorn, Tanith Lee

This is my first book by Tanith Lee, I’m pretty sure, which surprised me. I’ve always known the name, always known that people thought I’d be interested, and I’m sure I have actually bought some Tanith Lee books before, but I’m pretty sure that this is the first I’ve read. I was interested, but not really absorbed — Tanaquil is okay, but the relationship with her mother, even the stranding in the desert, felt fairly average. There’s not much explanation of the world — which in some ways, I prefer: at least Tanith Lee didn’t give me a massive spiel about the world, cramming it too full with information. It’s a slim book, reads fast, but it wasn’t tipping above ‘okay’ for me.

What changed my mind and earned it four stars was the ending — not so much anything Tanaquil did, or the major events of the plot, but the fact that in the perfect world, Tanaquil and the peeve corrupt everything. And not just that on its own, but the way that Tanaquil reacts: the betrayed feeling, the anger. Some writers might have made her grateful just to have witnessed it or whatever, but Lee imagines what it would be like to be denied that, and I like the way Tanaquil deals with it.

Plot-wise, it wasn’t that special, and I’m not sure I want to read the other books in the series. But those scenes, those moments, did speak to me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sorcerer's House

Posted 5 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sorcerer's House by Gene WolfeThe Sorcerer’s House,Gene Wolfe

I picked this up to read a couple of chapters, and ended up staying up to finish it. It’s deceptively simple to read, to just race through: epistolary novel, check; unreliable narrator, check; creepy twins and doors to Faerie, check. It’s Gene Wolfe, though, so you can bet it’s not as simple as that, and reading other reviews — particularly Neil Gaiman’s, to whom the book is dedicated — showed me I missed a few tricks. Which is fine: I like books with rereadability, even if I’m not really inclined to reread this one in particular. If you can craft a book so it reveals more of itself over time, that’s good going, in my books.

Obviously, everything I said about the narration is true. It is an epistolary novel, with a central character who has a very distinct character-set. He can turn his life story around so that you pity him or hate him, cast him as the villain or pity him as one who has been cast in that role, and I think that’s entirely intentional. It’s not that he’s unintentionally creepy. I actually found the character to be more so than the supernatural events around him — a certain lack of affect, the feeling that something’s come loose inside this guy.

I’m not overwhelmed with the treatment of women in this book — every woman wants to sleep with Our Hero, for example, and quickly opens up to him, and I don’t see why. He’s not charming, he’s unsettling. But maybe that’s because we see him through his own report of himself to his brother… I don’t know. I’m not a fan, anyway. Even if it works for the character, I could have done with a female character who really stood out.

I do think the narration is very clever, the way Wolfe makes the epistolary novel work for him, and works around situations where there might be some difficulty with the form in a way that… well, it seems contrived, but it also fits the world and characters.

Worth a try, I think, though I probably agree with other reviewers that it’s not Gene Wolfe’s best.

Rating: 3/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 28 August, 2014 by in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
The Selfish Genius (Fern Elsdon-Baker). It critiques Richard Dawkins from the point of view of another scientist who is also an atheist, which makes it quite interesting — the title is meant to be just a glib reference rather than a particularly accusation. I need to write a review of this, but I’m going to mull it over a bit longer first.

What are you currently reading?
As usual, way too much. I most recently picked up We Are Here, a thriller by Michael Marshall; I’ve read some of his SF before, but not his thrillers. So far, I’m enjoying the writing style, but I don’t know how much I’m going to like the thing as a whole.

There’s also Black Unicorn (Tanith Lee), which is, shockingly, my first Tanith Lee read. I’m intrigued so far. It’s quite short, so no doubt I’ll finish it soon.

What will you read next?
Well, I got a book on photosynthesis and its importance for/impact on our world today — Eating the Sun (Oliver Morton) — which, along with my books on genetics, prompted my dad to suggest I must be planning to create Groot and Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. So just for that, I think that might be up next.

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Review – Behold the Man

Posted 27 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Behold the Man by Michael MoorcockBehold the Man, Michael Moorcock

Moorcock’s Behold the Man is entirely different to his Elric books, or Gloriana, or anything else of his I’ve come across so far. Certain people might find it offensive because it undermines the sanctity of Jesus Christ, and tangles that story up in a lot of sexual and mental health hangups. Worse, the figure who becomes Jesus is not altruistic, but self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Still, I think it’s a very interesting way of looking at the story, even if I don’t like the way it portrays Christianity. In a way, it suggests the power of the Christian message: the pure message survives even through a human being’s selfishness and fallibility. The time travel aspect isn’t very prominent, and I don’t think it was really written as science fiction — speculative fiction, yes, but I wouldn’t call it sci-fi. Really, it toys with ideas of identity, predestination, time loops, etc. Technology is not a prominent aspect.

It’s an easy read, actually: I read it in about an hour. If you don’t mind Moorcock playing with basics of Christianity, then you might well find it interesting.

Rating: 3/5

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On the Hugos, redux

Posted 17 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Very short reaction: lol.

Longer reaction: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

But really: fuck yeah, Kameron Hurley, and I just have to say… the results this year clearly show where SF is going, and where people want it to go. For all those claims that SF readers want “real” SF and don’t want “pink SF”, look at those winners.

And Vox Day rated below no award.

It’s beautiful.

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Review – Elysian Fields

Posted 15 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonElysian Fields, Suzanne Johnson

Received to review from Bookbridgr! Although I would normally hate jumping into a series in the middle, this doesn’t seem to be a bad point to do so. There’s a fair amount of exposition to get you settled in the world and up to date with the events of DJ’s life. It slides along pretty fast, and got me hooked because I really, really wanted to know what happened regarding a certain event in the first few chapters.

What drove me slightly nuts was working out who DJ was will-they-won’t-they romancing with, and which of them had the best chance. I was quite cringy at the early scene with Jake, the loup garou, because of the whole creepy (though admittedly so) “I can sense your fear and I like it” thing. That might’ve come off better with a bit of character history, but perhaps not.

Overall, this is pretty fun, and New Orleans makes a good setting for it. I’m not wildly in love, though, and I won’t be picking up the other books unless they appear on the library shelves and beckon (which is always possible).

Rating 2/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise by Steve Jones, which I still need to review. Interesting, and a better read than his update of The Origin of Species. Before that, Sarah Canary (Karen Joy Fowler), about which I still feel pretty ambivalent.

What are you currently reading?
I’m working hardest on my stack of books from the library, before I go away for a few weeks, so I’m nearly finished with Y: The Descent of Men (Steve Jones), which is definitely more entertaining than either of the other books of his I’ve already mentioned. I’ve also got This Is the Way The World Ends (James Morrow) on the go, because it fits both my finish-library-books bet and my SF Masterworks challenge; I’m really enjoying it, actually, although I thought from reading the back that it might be too absurd for me. I’ve juuuust started Windhaven (George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle), which is interesting but not blowing me away so far.

ARC-wise, I’ve got the longer books I’ve mentioned before in hand, plus Gutenberg’s Apprentice (Alix Christie), since I now have one of the limited edition Bookbridgr copies.

What will you read next?
I’ll go back on the attack with Elantris (Brandon Sanderson) and Monster of God (David Quammen), I think. They’re both library books. After that, probably Steve Jones’ Darwin’s Island, which is actually not about Galapagos but about the UK.

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