Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sacrificial Ground

Thomas H. Cook is largely known for his suspense novels, but Sacrificial Ground, written early in his career, is a fairly straightforward police procedural.  In this case, though, straightforward is not at all bad; in fact, Sacrificial Ground is quite a good novel.  It doesn't really break any new ground, but it's tightly written without feeling rushed, it develops its central characters solidly, and the writing is decent.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

London Riot

Ben Aaronovich's London Riot is a competent enough entry into the urban fantasy field.  It's reasonably well-written, has a bit of an odd-ball plot, and does a nice job of using London itself as a major plot element.  But it also somehow didn't really ever make me say "wow."  I'll probably follow up with more of the series, since it was a decent debut.


Persuasion, written toward the end of Jane Austen's life (and published posthumously) is often considered her quietest work.  But to me it feels colder, somehow, than her other work.  Although Austen has always poked at the pretensions of her characters (Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, for example), here the vain and thoughtless characters (mostly Ann Elliot's family) take up a disproportionate share of space.

Another lack is that Ann Elliot herself doesn't really change through the course of the novel.  She's correct in just about everything she does, so we lose the narrative arc of, say, Emma's realization of her fallibility or of Lizzie Bennett's realization of her prejudice.

It's of course not a bad novel by any means (and her skewering of her characters' vanity is very funny), but I think I would rather re-read Emma or Pride and Prejudice than come back to Persuasion.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wind-up Bird Chronicle

About 1/3 of the way into vol. 2.  Toru realizes that his wife has been having an affair when she doesn't come home one night.  Her brother tells him it's because Toru is such a total waste of space -- he quit his job, has never really done anything with himself, and so on.  Toru gets defensive, but admits to himself that it's true.  So, to think things over, he goes down into a well to think things over.

This is one of the famous scenes from the novel, in the bit of reading I did about it before starting to read the book.  If nothing else, it's very emblematic of Murakami's style; rationally, there's no reason why Toru should go into the well.  In fact (as it turns out) it's a very stupid thing to do when he ends up stuck there.  But in the context of the novel, it feels like an understandable thing to do.

And we finally start to learn something about the relationship between Kumiko and Toru, as Toru has flashbacks to their getting together, her getting an abortion, and so on.  In this whole part of the book, Toru is finally less passive -- both in the present (yelling at his brother-in-law), and in the past (pursuing Kumiko, his reaction to the abortion).  We also learn about the darkness that even then was in Kumiko's character.

Overall, vol. 2 looks to be a lot more intense than vol. 1.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Rock, Paper, Tiger

I was inclined to give up on Lisa Brackman's Rock, Paper, Tiger about 20 pages in, feeling like it was a thriller that used pushing the protagonist from one location to another in lieu of an actual plot.  But I stuck with it, feeling like some actual development was going on.  Sadly, the joke was on me, and the story didn't actually go anywhere.  At just about any point after p. 30, I could've jumped to the last chapter and it would have made as much sense.

Ellie the protagonist has some character development, but that, too, stalls out in the middle 2/3 of the novel.  She's very passive, and so she gets pushed around from place to place, but it all feels very purposeless.  Lastly, the Uighur maguffin turns out to be completely meaningless; we never learn out why/whether he was important.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Princess of Mars, King Solomon's Mines

Although I've more-or-less switched to talking about one book per post, it's hard not to write about A Princess of Mars and King Solomon's Mines, which I read back-to-back, simultaneously.

Both are pulpy adventure stories written almost a century ago, both are imperialist, sexist, etc.  And yet I enjoyed King Solomon's Mines, but couldn't really get into A Princess of Mars.  I think part of this is down to different narrative styles.  Allan Quatermain, narrator of Mines, is more appealing than John Carter, narrator of Princess.

  • Quatermain confesses to being "a bit of a coward."  Obviously he doesn't flee from danger, or this wouldn't be much of an adventure story, but he worries about the future.  John Carter is "so constituted that [he is] subconsciously forced into the path of duty without recourse to tiresome mental processes."
  • Quatermain regrets shooting an enemy general who didn't do him any personal harm.  John Carter would happily kill anyone who randomly gets in his way.  (As he kills 4 guards who are safeguarding Dejah Thoris, even though they weren't even holding her captive).
  • Quatermain sees the occasional humor in situations.  Carter is always (tiresomely) in earnest.  Similarly, Quatermain is occasionally pensive, and his flights of philosophy slow down the novel for a few pages here & there.  Princess just barrels ahead at full speed.
As I mentioned above, both are thoroughly of their time (though Haggard seems the closer to modern sensibilities of the two).  But even with that in mind, I found Princess hard to enjoy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Jane Austen is known for her novels about women in more-or-less straitened circumstance who find and marry men of great wealth.  But Emma is very much the exception to this rule, as the very first line of the novel tells us.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Instead, the ostensible plot of this novel is about Emma's learning some humility; she learns that she's not as perceptive or wise as she had thought.  I say "ostensible," because I think that the novel is really about the various class conflicts that are going on at the time of the writing -- the nobility vs nouveau riche, landed gentry vs those in trade, and so on.

Emma herself is quite a snob, and its easy to read her attitudes onto Jane Austen, but I don't think that would be fair.  Rather, Mr. Knightly is the epitome of virtue in the novel, and we see that he eschews the use of a carriage where one could walk (Emma chides him for it -- she says that he should ride in a carriage to show his nobility).  Through his eyes, we see Robert Martin as a solid yeoman, at least the equal of the pretentious Eltons.

It's also, though, a very funny novel.  In the long time since I'd last read it, I'd forgotten how funny it is.  It may be Austen's funniest novel.  (I'm about to go on a bit of an Austen kick, thanks to a nice sale at Audible, but next up is the (as I recall) more melancholy Persuasion).

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Pleasures of a Futuroscope

The Pleasures of a Futuroscope was Lord Dunsany's last work, published posthumously.  Unfortunately, I think it needed a much more severe editing than it got, the kind of editing it might have received had he published it in his own lifetime.

The opening is promising, as the narrator tells us about his view into the future and the coming nuclear cataclysm.  But from there, every page has at least one of the following paragraphs, and sometimes more than one:

  • The people in the future have returned to nature, and they are much more alive to the events in their day-to-day lives than we are.
  • The narrator doesn't know how the futuroscope works.  It's something like TV, in that it can go indoors and outdoors.  (This is nonsense, of course, but we can assume the narrator is just ignorant).
  • Someone who knows about science or history could really make good use of the futuroscope, but the narrator is just following one family.
  • I wanted to communicate with the people in the future, but the futuroscope only goes one way.
The story, such as it is, proceeds in the interstices of these paragraphs.  It's pretty dull through the first half of the book, which is where I gave up.  I really wanted to like this book, being a Dunsany fan, but it's just not very good, in addition to being preachy.  (I happen not to agree with his message, but that's a side issue).

Out of the Deep I Cry

Out of the Deep I Cry, the third book in Julia Spencer-Fleming's Fergusson series, was not as enjoyable as the first two, and I'm not sure why.  The characters and setting are still strong; the writing is reasonable; the plot is fine.  I think it's partly that the romance angle is getting old.  Three books (and counting) is a long time for an unrequited love story.  But, more, I think that previous books shuttled back and forth between Clare and Russ's points of view.  Here, we're stuck with Clare, and it ends up feeling a bit claustrophobic.  Lastly, with the whole story being from Clare's point of view, I start having the problem I always have with amateur sleuths -- why aren't the police dealing with this instead of you?