bookzombie: (chris)
(Below be spoilers)

You know sometimes that you are out of tune with lots of other readers? This is one of those books for me: I know that lots of people like it - there's even a TV production being made by syfy channel for early 2016 - but I'm afraid I mainly disliked it, a lot.

The problem for me is that although I think I can see what Grossman was trying to do here - it's particularly a deconstruction of the idea of secondary worlds as an escape from reality - I found the protagonist, and most of his friends, so completely unpleasant that I just didn't care.

Look, I'm not someone who needs all their lead characters to all be kind and nice - I really enjoy Joe Abercrombie's books for example - but there was just some ultimately really repulsive about Quentin. I didn't start off strongly disliking him; in fact in the first few chapters I actually found him reasonably sympathetic - although I quickly found myself thinking 'This guy is obviously suffering from depression and really should be getting some professional help.' I found the sections set in the magical school a bit so so (did anyone else find themselves thinking of The Sword in the Stone during the training trip to Antarctica?), but it was really the post-school part that had me developing a burning dislike for most of the characters. I hated the hypocracy of Quentin's reaction to Alice sleeping with Penny after Quentin sleeps with Janet - I know that part of his anger is explicitly because he knows that he is on shaky moral ground, but that didn't make it any better to sit through. And I really didn't like the ending; not so much the fact he ends up voluntarily getting set up in the most mundane job possible (where he doesn't actually have to do any work, you notice), but the fact that he ends up being 'rescued' from it by his friends.

But it really presses some of my 'nope' buttons: Quentin is a 'poor little rich boy' who never really seems to take any responsibility for anything ("I have everything I ever wanted so why am I still not happy?" I dunno, could it be because you're a selfish arsehole?) and once again it's a story in which everyone else has to do the emotional 'heavy lifting', a trope that I'm getting a bit tired of at the moment (I've always enjoyed the TV series Castle, but we are giving up on it after this year because Castle never stops being a typical 'man-child' character and everyone around him is has to do the being an emotional grown-up so he can continue not to have to.) I also never feel that Quentin really learns anything from what has happened (reading the description of the second book in the trilogy doesn't make me feel particularly confident that he does grow up.)

So while I appreciate that some of the things I disliked about the book are what the book is supposed to be about, I just found it unpleasant. I suppose it's possible that I may have got more out of it had I been reading it when I wasn't suffering from anxiety... But I don't feel any urge to read the sequels, though is it hypocritical of me to still be interested in seeing how the TV version works? Mainly because there's some stuff in the book that I think is going to be very tricky to translate onto the screen!
bookzombie: (chris)
I've been doing a bit or re-reading recently. I picked up Barbara Hambly's 'Darwath' trilogy at Eastercon this year, which I haven't read since they were originally published in the UK  in 1985 (they were some of the very few BH books I didn't already own - I must have borrowed them from someone?)

I'm not going to talk much about the content, as [ profile] pennski hasn't read them yet, but I'm more interested in what I remember about them after 30 years. There were three important plot points I remember very clearly - though one of those isn't actually confirmed until pretty much the last chapter and I remember as being much more significant. But there's one hugely important relationship that I have absolutely no memory of at all. I also have no memory of the resolution of the main storyline, nor how much an asshole one of the protagonists is at times (I'd also note that I remembered one of the two protagonists as being the more important character and the other being secondary, but in fact it's the other way around.)

What does still impress is that - at a time when there were huge numbers of highly derivative high fantasies being published - there is a genuinely different threat, with no Dark Lord or evil masterplan and, in fact, could be seen as a natural disaster. There is also a wonderful chapter half way through the third volume where one of our protagonists explains What Is Going On which made me smile with genuine pleasure as I read it. So, yeah, overall I'd still recommend them, though with a certain caution; they are definitely stories of their time in some respects (some of the aforementioned assholeness of one of the protagonists may be only noticible because I am better educated about certain issues than I was at 18!)

Oh, and we have a number of female warriors in a medieval-ish setting and no-one mentions it as strange. This was 30 years ago! Why are we still having this conversation?
bookzombie: (chris)
Yes, folks, it's a miracle! Eighteen months since the last one, here's a new review (of sorts) from my blog.
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This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts, by my beloved better half [ profile] pennski! No Gravatar

The Wiscon Chronicles: Carnival of Feminist SF vol 3.

Edited by Liz Henry

ISBN: 978-1-933500-30-0

Aqueduct Press, 2009, 250pp


A challenge for this review is to try to convey what this book covers for those who have never been to a Wiscon convention. Will it mean anything to them?

So – my questions to myself about this book are:

What worked well?

What didn’t?

How did this enhance my understanding of the Wiscon I went to?

What does this reflection add?

What new concepts have I gained?

How would this work for someone who had never been? Someone who had missed this one?

Who is the target audience and does it reach them?


First, some necessary background – Wiscon is a feminist science-fiction convention held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at Madison, Wisconsin. It has a multi-track program that ranges over books, TV, film, manga, academic papers, political discourse, fan fic, vidding, gaming, costuming and more. Most program items are in the form of panels.

From the outside it can appear to be scarily monolithic, with an accepted mode of thinking. From the inside, it is a broad church with many different views and thoughts, some of which are exhilarating, some of which are obvious and some of which are batshit crazy. Which is which of course, depends on who’s looking.

The purpose of the Chronicles is to “represent a cross-section of the diverse conversations happening at Wiscon and beyond”(viii) because “What happens at Wiscon doesn’t stay at Wiscon”.

While this representation speaks most clearly to those who were there, it is not exclusive – those who weren’t there are also invited into the conversation.


The most useful concept I picked up was “bracketing” – that of accepting and setting to one side the unacceptable part of something, so as not to reject the good part. All too often in the past I have rejected the whole of something rather than accept it in part!

What worked well for me is that several panels were reported in detail (caveat: from notes not recordings) with a series of responses and reflections. It was particularly good to read the transcript of and reactions to the “Elves and Dwarves: The Racism inherent in Fantasy” panel. I attended this panel and felt uncomfortable at the conflicts expressed. Afterwards, I rationalised it as “one of those panels that didn’t quite work properly” and put it aside. Reading the transcript, I found that a couple of years more experience enabled me to understand some of the dilemmas the panellists were exploring from their different viewpoints and to understand where the conflict came from. Reading Sigrid Ellis, John Kim and Bridget Collins’ responses has shown me that this conflict provoked Sigrid’s clear and valuable “Request to Authors of Traditional Fantasy Novels”, John Kim’s broader understanding of this topic within the fantasy field and his wonderfully creative “what if…?” suggestions for other types of delineation and Bridget Collins’ request of “Where do we go from here?”

On the sheer fun side, there was the panel report of “Let’s build a world”. I wasn’t sure how intelligible this would be given that I hadn’t been there, but it ended up being laugh-out loud funny. I was reminded of one point during a Tiptree auction, when the whole process stopped for laughter. Ellen Klages told us to remember this moment the following week when we were back in our normal lives and someone said “Feminist science-fiction convention? Sounds worthy but dull to me!” Of course, I can’t remember what we were laughing at at that point.

Something that didn’t work as well for me was the account of the Robot Collective uprising. This wasn’t something I was involved in – I saw it happen during the Tiptree Auction and my main reaction was “huh?” Reading the account didn’t really explain it any further. However, while this event made no sense to me, I can accept that for others it may have been a key part of their Wiscon. Bracketing in action you see.

The Verdict

Given that I’ve been steeped in Wiscon for about 8 years now, it is hard to imagine just what this would look like from the outside. I think some of the accounts are complete enough to be intelligible to any sf fan who is interested in thinking more deeply about what they read, whether or not they describe themselves as politically motivated. Other articles would be very hard to follow. I hope the plethora of commentaries would show that we are not all indoctrinated into one viewpoint.

The main target audience is going to be Wiscon attendees and sympathisers. I doubt anyone who wasn’t already thinking about attending a Wiscon would read this. It isn’t a proselytising work, but nor is it a secret handbook only for the initiates.

I found this engaging and readable – it brought my experiences back to life and enabled me to reflect on them a little more.

Originally published at Books, Bytes & Other Bits. You can comment here or there.

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Taming the Infinite by Ian Stewart
ISBN: 978-1-84724-768-1
Quercus, 2009, 384pp


A history of mathematical discovery, considered from the point of view of individual subject areas.


Not just a good overview of the history of mathematics, but a good overview of the whole subject.

In this book, Stewart has chosen not to follow an historical timeline. Instead he picks the significant topics of mathematical study and traces their development through time. I was somewhat amused by the fact that in the introduction Stewart emphasises that this is not the history of mathematics, just a history so naturally the cover copy says ‘The story of mathematics…’ (my italics)!

What was nice for me personally about this book is that it covers pretty much all of the topics that my degree covered – although it was also a timely reminder of how much I have forgotten! By the end of this I was determined to pick up some of my old textbooks and work through them again.

One warning though, some of the discussions are quite detailed, including examples, so it is pretty tough going if your mathematics is rusty (I certainly found it difficult to follow in places), so don’t expect an easy read.

Overall if you want a good overview of the subject, from number theory to chaos theory, covering calculus, geometry, algebra, analysis, complex analysis and functional analysis on the way, this is highly recommended.

Originally published at Books, Bytes & Other Bits. You can comment here or there.

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Always by Nicola Griffith
ISBN: 978-1-59448-935-8
Riverhead Books, 2007, 470pp


Aud Torvingen travels with her friend Dornan from Atlanta to Seattle to investigate why the agent who is supposed to be looking after her financial interests is not making the money from her properties that she expects. She is also going to meet up with her mother, Norwegian Ambassador to the Court of St. James and newly married. When Aud starts to investigate what is happening to her properties she discovers a film production in trouble and an injured stunt woman who catches her attention.


A very good, slow-burner of a thriller, with something to say about obsession and control. Spoilers follow.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Originally published at Books, Bytes & Other Bits. You can comment here or there.

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Megan Hood used to be a neurosurgeon, but after being in a car accident, nerve damage means that she cannot continue to pursue her original career so works as a medical examiner. Her forthright and arrogant manner puts her in conflict with both her colleagues and the police.


A fairly typical glossy US detective series with some promise, but let down by cliched characterisation. Spoilers ahead.

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Originally published at Books, Bytes & Other Bits. Please leave any comments there.

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Among Others by Jo Walton
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2153-4
TOR books, 2010, 302pp


After the death of her twin, Mor runs away from her power-hungry mother and ends up getting back in contact with her absentee father. She discovers a shared love with her father of science fiction and fantasy, but the purse strings are held by her father’s spinster sisters and so Mor is sent away to boarding school. There she discovers that she lacks the privileged background of her classmates and has to struggle to find her place, while at the same time fighting to resist magical attacks from her estranged mother.


An interesting novel, which seemed to get ‘love it or hate it’ reviews on its release. I kind of understand why. It’s a subtle book and has some interesting ideas but a week or so after finishing it I’m still scratching my head a little bit, trying to decide what I think of it. Spoilers ahead.

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Originally published at Books, Bytes & Other Bits. Please leave any comments there.

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Yes, I know it's been nearly three weeks, but I've really been mulling this one over a lot!

I am given to understand that my views on this episode may border on being slightly controversial...;-)

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Something that came to mind after watching this weeks Doctor Who Confidential.
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A quick review of the last episode: 

I am not terribly kind to it...
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After an absence of a month or so (life seems to have got in the way!) a return to the review blog. This week, a review of the opening two episodes of the new season of Doctor Who. Spoilers abound, so be warned!
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 Okay, strictly speaking it's my general impressions based on the first five episodes...
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I've just posted a review of the above book at my review blog (link: )

Comments welcome!
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From [personal profile] littlebutfierce:

You write about books not infrequently, but I don't know if I've ever seen you mention your top favorite book ever??? Ha ha, I know that's kind of a cruel question--if someone asked me that I'd be sunk. Maybe even top 5 ever, if that's easier.

Book hmms

Jul. 25th, 2007 09:15 pm
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I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak the other day.

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Had a good rehearsal for the autumn concert last night, rather spoiled by the official NODA review of My Fair Lady (for those who don't know NODA stands for 'National Operatic and Dramatic Association' and is the British umbrella organisation for Operatic societies). Good comments on Paul, Carol & John (Higgins, Eliza & Doolittle respectively) but I just got a negative which was roughly 'Chris Hill as Colonel Pickering did not have the gravitas required to carry off the part'.

So three reviews, two didn't mention me at all and the third was negative. Now I had lots of positive comments from other members of the cast and audience (some of them complete strangers!) so I know that I shouldn't take one comment too seriously, but you know how it is. I was quite upset for a while but I've pretty much calmed down now.

Unfortunately I woke up abruptly last night from a dream, went back to sleep and then woke again at about 3:30 and took at least an hour to get back to sleep. This morning as well as tiredness, I'm also starting to feel like I'm just getting the early part of a cold.



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April 2017



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