bonny_kate: (Default)
 In 2014, I read 132* books, per Goodreads. Notable books include The Goblin Emperor and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. (I also read War and Peace, although I wouldn't really recommend the book. Anna Karenina is better.)
 
*Actually, I read slightly more than my Goodreads number, as Goodreads doesn't count re-reads.
bonny_kate: (Default)

One of my friends requesting book recommendations. Now, since I could give a very long list of book recommendations, I asked what genres, and she said urban fantasy and space opera. Here, then, are my recommendations if you want some excellent urban fantasy or space opera.

 

Space Opera

What I mean by space opera is if you took a really good action/adventure movie, and the setting happened to be space. Think of the novel equivalent of Star Wars or Indiana Jones in space. 

 

Trading in Danger (the first book in Vatta's War) - Elizabeth Moon - Ky Vatta is kicked out of the space military, starts trying to be a space merchant, has adventures, and also happen to be a woman. Some of the best space opera I've read. The Serrano Legacy series is also quite good.

 

The Human Division - John Scalzi - More excellent space opera, but this time centered around diplomats and told in a series of linked short stories, some serious, some amusing. 

 

Urban Fantasy

I am loosely defining urban fantasy as fantasy that happens in a modern, urban setting.

 

Little (Grrl) Lost - Charles DeLint - DeLint somehow manages to pull together all kinds of disparate elements and mythologies and make it work. Also, all of his novels have a wonderfully rich and complex backstory that is only hinted at.

 

Spiral Hunt - Margaret Ronald - I was blown away when I read this trilogy, and wish she'd written more. The author has very clear ideas about what her fantasy is (instead of throwing everything in), and it is Celtic with a decent dose of literary theory. I was also pleased to find that instead of a stock love triangle, it is about people trying to figure things out. The protagonist is a woman who freelances on the side as a private detective.

 

Discount Armageddon - Seanin McGuire - (the first Incryptid novel) This takes place in New York and presumes that all the urban legends of things like chupacabras and Bigfoot and such are true, and that they are living normal lives (except for that pesky secret order that tries to kill them). It also features the Aeslin mice, a group of intelligent mice that have their own rituals and wear squirrel skulls and say things like "Hail the taking out of the trash!" and are completely adorable. (Small warning that the author works as a waitress in a strip club, if that would bother you.)


(Joel also suggested Dresden, but I've heard such problematic things about it (from Charis and Sharon, who have excellent taste), and I've never been able to get into it myself, that I have trouble recommending it, and probably won't in the future.)

bonny_kate: (Default)

Here are the "modern" books that I picked as a sampler of science fiction and fantasy. I thought of it as one of those cheese plates or chocolate boxes. It has a little of everything, and I tried to hit all the big notes, even those that aren't to my taste (some people like coconut or nuts, and even though Neil Gaiman isn't to my taste, he is still one of the big tastes in fantasy). I wasn't trying to be exhaustive (this has a startling lack of Patricia Wrede, for instance). I thought I'd post this here, in the hopes that someone might find or book, or that you, dear reader, could point out any glaring oversights.  

Modern:

Since this was a sampler, I tried to pick each of a sort of book. 


I, Robot
- Issaac Asimov - This is a clever set of stories that depend on the three laws that Asimov created to define the behavior of robots. Much of modern science fiction builds or interacts with Asimov's conception of robots.

 

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - It's hard to know where to start with Bradbury. I think his work is pretty consistent, though, so if you like one, you're likely to like most. I've suggested Fahrenheit 451 because it is one of the best known, and because I enjoyed it the last time I read it.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula LeGuin - LeGuin is one of the big names in science fiction, and quite deservedly. This is about names and how they interact with the thing that is named, and is set on various islands.

 

A Wrinkle in TimeMadeleine L'Engle - Many of my friends like this book, and although it has never quite clicked for me, I still think it worth reading, for Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.

 

The Abhorsen Trilogy (beginning with Sabriel) - Garth Nix - I reread these quite often. Garth Nix does everything well: characters, description, plot, action, and worldbuilding. Although this trilogy isn't about vampires, it pairs well with Dracula. Both are about the fight of light and law against dark and death. 

 

Alphabet of Thorn - Patricia McKillip - I had a hard time choosing which book of McKillip to suggest, because I like so much of her work. She writes lovely fantasy that draws heavily from fairy tale imagery.

 

Coraline - Neil Gaiman - I'm not sure the best place to start with Gaiman. So many of my friends adore him that I thought I should include Coraline. Quirky and a bit dark. It is also a wonderful stop-motion film. (Or, you might prefer to try the BBC radio play of Neverwhere, which I have and is wonderful.)

 

Trading in Danger (the first book in the Vatta's War series) - Elizabeth Moon - If you want to try space opera, start here. Action, adventure, space pirates, and saving the galaxy.

 

The Human Division - John Scalzi - more excellent space opera, but this time centered around diplomats and told in a series of linked short stories. 

 

Howl’s Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones - A moving castle, an eldest daughter who sets out to seek her fortune, transformations, and a clever use of a John Donne poem. 

 

Going Postal or Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett - Quirky, hilarious fantasy that pokes fun at fantasy and has hilarious footnotes. Also a bit of a social commentary.

 

Tam Lin - Pamela Dean - a novel length re-telling of Tam Lin in a modern-ish college setting. 

 

Beauty - Robin McKinley - a novel length re-telling of Beauty and the Beast in a fantasy setting. 

 

Restoration of Faith (short story available here) - Jim Butcher - Joel knows about Dresden, and as I've yet to read the series, I included his suggestion. Try Dresden if you want occasionally humorous modern fantasy centered around a private detective. From what I've heard, the series improves quite a bit after the first couple of books.


The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle - A fairy tale, of sorts, but this story centers around a unicorn. A haunting, beautiful, slightly melancholy story. (You can also watch the lovely animated movie.)

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Suzanah Clarke - Victorian England, the Napoleonic Wars, the return of magic, and the Raven King. Not to mention wonderful footnotes that fly off on tangents to tell stories of their own.

 

the Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling - The best is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but it is the fifth book and you really have to start at the beginning and read the entire series. Rowling writes characters very well, and is concerned with the disenfranchised. 


bonny_kate: (shindig)
Recently, I learned that a friend who did not grow up on science fiction and fantasy was interested in the genres. We were talking in the context of movies (I made sure she'd seen Star Wars and Firefly and some of those essentials), and I asked if I could recommend some books. She said yes (and made me quite gleeful). I divided the list into two bits, the Before Inklings (or Classics) and the After Inklings (or Moderns). I thought that ya'll might enjoy the list (and there's a minuscule chance you might find something new to try).

Here included with Amazon links.

Classics:
For the most part, these are books that are big in the science fiction and fantasy genre, but also worth reading in their own right. (For instance, I have left Jules Verne off the list because, while he is influential, I think he is also generally dull.)

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - I'm not sure if this counts, but it has ghosts, and is one of Dicken's better works, so I've put it on the list.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson - Like many books on the list, this comes up quite a lot in later books. The ideas are referenced, the characters are referenced, and it begins a discussion.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley - This is the quintessential "science creates a monster" novel.

Dracula - Bram Stoker - Vampire stories were around before Dracula, but this is really The Vampire Novel. Everything that follows that has to due with vampires (from Buffy to Twilight) interacts with Dracula in some way. Plus, it's just brilliant. A bit of a slow start, but atmospheric, creepy, and featuring amazing characters like Mina and Van Helsing.

The Princess and the Goblin - George MacDonald - This is a lovely book that draws from fairy tales written by a wise Scottish preacher. I love all of George MacDonald's fantasy, but this is really the best place to start.

The Charwoman’s Shadow or The King of Elfland’s Daughter - Lord Dunsany - Lord Dunsany is a classic in the fantasy genre, and for very good cause. His use of language is brilliant (he is fond of words like "gloaming") and his imagery is beautiful.

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells - Not only is H.G. Wells one of the most famous early writers of science fiction, he remains quite readable, because he is interested in using futuristic science to explore what it means to be human. You can start with just about any of his novels. I picked The Invisible Man because I liked it.

The Sword in the Stone - T.H. White - I am a huge fan of King Arthur, and T.H. White presents Arthur in a more approachable way. It includes Robin Hood, wyvverns, griffins, Merlin, and the Fair Folk, and one of the most amusing jousts I've read.

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis - Anything by the Inklings deserves to be on this list. Narnia is often underestimated, but Lewis manages to do something with Narnia that is almost unique when he created Aslan. I think everyone should start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien - Wonderfully written, with what remains some of the best, most thorough worldbuilding in fantasy, Tolkien constructed a story and world that is infused with Christian ideas. He also began a trend of epic fantasy that double as bricks or doorstops.
bonny_kate: (Default)
If you like the style of Victorian/Edwardian literature (think Sherlock Holmes or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) as well as fantasy, then you might like the Coming of the Faeries (I think, Nim dear, if you weren't exasperated by the book you would enjoy it). It talks about (and this is hardly a spoiler, because it is mentioned in the preface) an author who learns of two young girls who've claimed to not only have met faeries, but to have photographed them. Experts are brought in. Most determine that the photographs are real, that they can't have been created through technological tricks such as double exposure. The author vouches for the veracity of the girls, who are known to be reliable and truthful. Further, there is the evidence that though the girls took pictures of the faeries, they didn't try to make money from it, or even to publish the fact. It was not until someone saw the photos and realized the importance that everything came out. England is in an uproar, as some claim that it is all an elaborate hoax, while others say that it is definite proof of the existence of faeries. The author sets out to prove, through letters, evidence from other sightings, further photographs from the girls, and pyschic explanations what occurred, what is the nature of faeries and what is their relation to us. If this is starting to sound rather similar to the Cottingley fairy hoax, it is because The Coming of the Faeries is the account written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as an attempt to convince the reader of the existence of the Cottingley faeries. As a fantasy novel, it is brilliant, as Arthur Conan Doyle carefully refutes all critics and explains how the photos could not possibly be a hoax. He then goes on to give us what he considers a probable explanation for the existence and purpose of such creatures. As it is, it is a very strange little book. There are two reasonable explanations for the fairies. They may be real, or the fairies may be carefully cut out pieces of cardboard (which is what one of the girls later confessed them to be). Doyle chooses the fantastic explanation (partly because of seances, and surely related to his involvement with spiritualism, and in fact most of the witnesses he produces are spirtualists), trying to explain everything in terms of etheric vibrations, psychic abilities, and so on. It is an odd and curious book, and yet I found it strangely fascinating and interesting, as it read to me like a brilliantly constructed fantasy novel (reminding me of stories I've read on Strange Horizons). I am quite convinced that the Cottingley affair was a hoax (although perhaps not intended so at first, at least from the impression from this book), and I strongly doubt that fairies exist at all. On the other hand, I would not be surpised to find that they did, although I should expect to find that they were not tiny little things that only danced in flowers, nor that they were some natural spirit that tended plants, but rather that they were the fey of the old fairy tales; beautiful and ugly and terrible and very, very dangerous.
bonny_kate: (book love)
I read Nine Coaches (by Mary Stewart) because Nim thought I would like it. Half the time we don't like the same books, and the books that we both do like, half the time we like them for different reasons. Anyway, I didn't like Nine Coaches. Reasons (with major spoilers) follow behind the cut (Nim, dear, you don't have to read them, but I thought you might, like myself, be insatiable curious).

in which I explain why I didn't like the book )
bonny_kate: (book love)
Well, the short (and spoiler free) version of the book review must start with a little explanation. Pegasus is half a book. The second half is supposed to be released in 2012. It is hard to review a book that I've only read half of. (That said, I shall talk about it a bit anyway.) Pegasus was not my cup of tea. Robin McKinley is rather hit and miss for me (something I finally realized), and I wasn't particularly impressed by the book. It is the story of a princess who is bound to a pegasus, and the two of them have a special bond that no other human/pegasus pairing has. It is quite possible that they will save the world. The book veered too much into what I was afraid from the summary; wish fulfillment. I will wait for the second half until I completely form my opinion.

the rest of the review, with spoilers, because they can't be avoided )
bonny_kate: (Default)
Preface: I wrote this in March. I meant to post it, and then somehow never got that far. So, here it is, finally, being my thoughts on the book . . .


So, it seems that all my friends list has been talking about A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotsen, and so six weeks or so ago I saw it at the library, and having got it, read it. The short version is that it wasn't my cup of tea.

thoughts on the book, involving some spoilers )
bonny_kate: (book love)
I have found Connie Willis to be rather mixed when it comes to her work. Some of her short stories I like, some I dislike, and some I just find perplexing. Similarly, while I liked To Say Nothing of the Dog immensely, and it was the reason I read Passage, I found the second nowhere near as good as the first (I've also read Doomsday Book, although quite a while ago, and disliked it rather a lot, and it was on the advice of Joel's sister, Hannah, that I read To Say Nothing of the Dog, otherwise I wouldn't have picked it up).

So, to start with Passage. (there will be spoilers for this book, but nothing related to the plot, only the main idea of the book) This is one of Willis' more serious books, and this is one of the reasons that I disliked it, as it is her lighter, more humorous work that I've enjoyed. Further, it draws a sharp distinction between the physical and spiritual, and it is this distinction that the book depends on for the primary conflict. It is about near death experiences, and there are two ways of thinking about such things in the book. First, there are the crazy spiritualists who claim that all near death experiences are deeply spiritual in nature, cannot be replicated by science because they aren't physical, and the spiritualists twist the evidence in order to achieve the results they want. Second, there are the scientists, who say that all near death experiences are only physical, can be replicated by science (a new drug that acts on the brain in the same way), and as such can be studied like all physical phenomenon, and therefore can't have any spiritual value. I don't like Passages because it is based on a false distinction. Experiences need not be merely physical or only spiritual, but can be both. Someone may have a spiritual experience which also has physical explanations. Because humans are amphibious (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis), being both body and spirit, it is only logical that many of our experiences would be both physical and spiritual. Loving someone no doubt means that a certain bit of your brain lights up, and you have certain chemicals more present in your body when you think of them, and you have certain involuntary reactions when you hear their name, but it does not mean that that is all there is to loving someone. Similarly, near death experiences may have certain physical characteristics, may be imitated through the use of a drug, but that is insufficient to conclude that near death experiences aren't spiritual as well. That was my primary complaint of the book; it did not allow for any nuances between the physical and spiritual explanations of an experience.

On the other hand, I found To Say Nothing of the Dog quite delightful. It is rather like The Importance of Being Earnest, only with time travel, at least in tone. It has that light, crazy, tone of The Importance of Being Earnest, and is set mostly in Victorian England. There is adventure, romance, boating along the Thames, references to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (particularly Gaudy Night), Jeeves, and all sorts of clever dialogue. You should read it.
bonny_kate: (Default)
Recently, Nim mentioned reading the trilogy 100 Cupboards, and raved a bit about it. So, being the curious sort of person that I am, I promptly borrowed all three books from the library (100 Cupboards, Dandelion Fire, and The Chestnut King). I am afraid, Nim dear, that they were not quite my cup of tea. It wasn't that they were horrible, or any such, but I found them not at all what I was expecting, and rather underwhelming. *here follow minor spoilers, although nothing beyond what you can gather from the dust jackets* The concept is quite brilliant, and I am always in favor of cupboards that lead to other worlds, or bits of other worlds, but the story itself began quite slowly in the first book. I spent most of the first book waiting for something to happen. I did like the letters from the faeren, although when they actually showed up in the second book I found them unimpressive. I was bored about halfway through the third book, and only finished it because I'd already read two and a half books and I wanted to see how it turned out. There was much skimming, and I found the end somewhat unsatisfactory, not to mention that I was distracted by all the discussion of imperial soldiers in red uniforms as "red-shirts." Hah.

Also, where was all the violence that Nim talked about? Maybe I'm just too used to Joss Whedon, but while there was some fighting, I didn't find any of it particularly violent. Or creepy.

more specific discussion, and major spoilers )
bonny_kate: (Default)
Last night I finished reading (yet again) Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster trilogy, and had the same reaction that I always have. I like the first book, quite a lot. I'm bored by the second book until the end. I'm extremely ambivalent about the third.

in which I ramble on, and there are spoilers )
bonny_kate: (book love)
I recently finished a collection of geeky short stories, Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. I was massively underwhelmed. There were some stories I couldn't stand, but mostly, they were forgettable. Kelly Link's Secret Identity was tremendously well written (I go back and forth on her work, my favorite being Magic for Beginners, which I fell in love with when I first read it, and have since vacillated on), but somewhat disturbing in terms of the story itself. Other than that, I quite enjoyed Garth Nix's The Quiet Knight, but didn't think it his best work at all. It was rather predictable. The whole collection, while occasionally having moments of being amusing (the premise of the first story, a Jedi and a Klingon hooking up at a sci-fi convention is hilarious, for instance), fails because it stays within the nice, comfortable levels of geekiness. It is geeky, but conventionally so. None of the stories challenged how I think about geeks, or what I think it means to be geeky, or what I think about an aspect of being geeky. They aren't bad stories, I just found them unremarkable (and a few were more explicit than I expected).
bonny_kate: (book love)
I finished reading Soulless, and my main complaint is that it isn't the book I thought it was. I thought it was a Victorian steampunk novel (the subtitle is "a novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols"), but it really is a romance novel with a very light steampunk influence. I generally consider steampunk to be Victorian (which the novel is, nominally), all about mad science in the vein of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne with crazy steam powered science (which the novel is not; it has a few very evil scientists, but although mad scientists may be evil, evil scientists are not necessarily mad) and the apocalypse (which the novel hasn't got at all, not even a hint of burning trashcans or whatever the Victorian equivalent is). There is also only one parasol, and it is (sadly) soon lost. Almost all my complaints about the novel is that while I was under the impression that it is a steampunk novel, it really is a romance novel (and if I want a sci-fi / fantasy romance novel (which I don't), I'll read Sharon Shinn). So, while I could go on about these, it doesn't seem fair, and I will confine my complaints to those not directly related to this confusion of genre.

Soulless is based on the premise that souls exist, and that they are a substance in some sense of the word, and that a person may have more or less of a soul. So, some people survive being turned into vampires (for instance) because they have more soul. This seems dubious, but what I think really hurts the novel is that Ms. Carriger does not appear to have a clear idea of what a soul is within the context of the novel (not merely that the characters are unsure, but there seems to be no clear working definition at all). Alexia has no soul, but still thinks, feels, and has some degree of morals. She seems to lack some degree of creativity; her clothing choice is technically perfect but lacks soul. She has nifty abilities to cancel out supernatural powers, which includes vampires and werewolves. This doesn't make sense to me, because the lack of something does not cancel out the presence of something (to oversimplify, an anti-electron cancels out an electron, not a lack of an electron).

In the interview at the end, Ms. Carriger talks about how she thought of Victorian Imperialist Britain, and thought that the fashions must have been dictated by the vampires, and the military might a result of the werewolves, if such existed. I would have liked to have read that novel; Souless only has a few hints of it. Naomi Novik does this sort of thought experiment much better in His Majesty's Dragon (which also has a modern feel) or Susannah Clarke in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (which has a delightful, almost Victorian feel).
bonny_kate: (book love)
So, I just finished The City and the City in two days (not that impressive, if you consider I'm the sort to stay up past the witching hour reading Garth Nix, which means I generally only read him on vacation). I wouldn't read it again, because of the swearing, which is way too much for my sensibilities to read it again (also it meant I tended to skim more). This is really sad, because it is a fascinating book, telling of two cities (Beszel and Ul Quoma), which exist side by side, in complicated and fascinating ways (there are some places where both cities exist, with different buildings or such, some where only one exists, some where neither exist, and some places where both cities exist in the same way), and the inhabitants of either city must keep from breaching - contacting or directly relating or stepping into the other city, except by going through customs. It's more like two countries which occupy a similar spot in space and time, but can't be directly looked at or interacted with. Mieville also throws in a good dose of politics, of the way in which these cities/countries interact with the rest of our world (because it is our world), and with each other. And it's a detective novel in the best sense of the word, with a believable protagonist, Inspector Tyador, who really wants justice for a woman found dead in his city, Beszel, but ends up finding out more and more complicated things about both cities and the Breach. If you don't mind the language, I would recommend it.
bonny_kate: (book love)
Wow. I haven't done a book review in ages. Well, to start off, I like politics in fantasy. I like it complicated to the point where it is almost ridiculously hard to follow (not because of names, though, *coughAnneMcCaffreycough*), where things are all tangled up and interesting. It figures, because I like those Russian novels (Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, particularly) and Tolkien, and practically anything that really explores the fascinating and complicated way in which people relate to one another. So, I had hopes for Darkborn when I started it, because it really is a fantasy novel about intrigue. Add to that a rather new take on the vampire story, and I quite enjoyed the book. For the first half or so. The Darkborn are humans to whom light is fatal (with a few exceptions, such as light from fires); they step outside in the daylight, they burn up. Literally. But, to make up for this, they have a sort of sonar. Now they city all this is set in is also populated by the Lightborn, to whom darkness is fatal, and who are magicians, of a sort. The Darkborn, on the other hand, are all about technology and from on magic. The two worlds exist side by side, but with very little interaction. So far, fascinating, and some clever world building. But somehow, somewhere around the middle of the book, everything begins to be simplified, and (without giving away huge chunks of plot) it becomes more of an action adventure instead of an intrigue. And I was really liking it as an intrigue, and hoping for more complexity than I was given. It comes down to simple motives, and fairly clearly drawn lines. I don't mind that in my fantasy, but I like a good intrigue, and after such a promising start, I was hopeful. I don't think I'll be picking up the next book.
bonny_kate: (Default)
Being a book review with spoilers, but all minor if you've read the fairy tale

I'm always looking out for fairy tale retellings. But, I must admit that I'm generally underwhelmed. In fact, the last fairy tale retelling that I liked that wasn't a McKinley was . . . well, I can't actually think of any. So I started Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow with no great expectations. It's a YARG retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with perhaps a bit more Beauty and the Beast than is usual. I liked the first bit. It was decently written, engaging, and the bit about the magical white reindeer was just about perfect. But then it just didn't really go anywhere. There are fauns, gargoyles, and all sorts of strange creatures that don't seem to belong. The portrayal of the winds didn't seem to gain anything to me. I've never found it that awkward that the girl sleeps in a bed with a strange man, because in the fairy tale it isn't awkward, it's just how things are (and it echoes Cupid and Psyche in interesting ways). But this novel made it all extremely awkward, although nothing actually happens. In short, the novel gains very little (the white reindeer that grants wishes), and loses much that is enchanting from the original tale. It never sinks to the level of abysmal, but it never really realizes it's potential. This is, I think, the reason I feel compelled to write fairy tale retellings; nobody is telling them the way I think they ought.
bonny_kate: (kaylee)
I very much admire Ann Rand's style of writing. It is clear, precise, and cleanly beautiful (with the occasional exception of a chapter or so of exposition of philosophy). But I quite disagree with the philosophy of her books. I specifically disagree with Atlas Shrugged for its treatment of the ordinary human, with The Fountainhead for its denial of small pleasures, and generally with her philosophy of the "virtue of selfishness."

The utopia presented in Atlas Shrugged is composed entirely of people who are geniuses, and supremely good at what they do. But there is no place for the ordinary person who runs the grocery store, and has no higher aspiration in life. Oh, certainly, the geniuses of her books may run a restaurant or do manual labor, but it is in revolt against the world because the world will not accept them. They have grand dreams and grand ideas of changing the world, and there really seems to be no place for the person who has no higher ambition than to check street plans or own a restaurant. Ordinary people let the world dissolve into anarchy, through a desire for socialism instead of capitalism. I do not think that socialism is a good idea; I don't think it works. I agree that people are entitled to their labor, as Locke argues. But that is a rabbit trail. To return to what I was saying, there seems to be no virtue in the common, ordinary person. It is the opposite of Chesterton's The Flying Inn, where the great evil is thwarted by the common, ordinary people of Britain who finally realize what is happening. One of the leaders is the military leader, but the other is the owner of an inn who has no particular ambition, only a desire to keep his inn. At the heart of Chesterton's England is the ordinary person, and that is what the revolution is founded on.

I disliked The Fountainhead for two reasons. First, it has such a strange model of an ideal relationship, founded on desire and passion, and selfishness. Each is with the other in order to fulfill their own desire, and seeks their own passion, rather than the self-sacrificing love of a good relationship. Further, the woman wants to be dominated and subjected. She takes no pleasure from kindness, but has a strange, masochistic pleasure in physical and mental pain of domination. It is, to be blunt, an abusive relationship. Sayers addresses this in one of her Peter Whimsey novels (I think it is Strong Poison, but I don't have the books in front of me). One of the female characters is a strong feminist, and is looking for someone who will dominate in a relationship. But Whimsey tells her that she is confused, and the man that she is looking for will respect her intelligence and look up to her as being superior in that way. Sayers gives this character the opportunity for a relationship founded on respect and love.

Second, I disliked The Fountainhead because there is no place for the pointless, small, happy joys and pleasures. Everyone acts in their self interest, for great passions or pleasures. I cannot see anyone dancing in the rain for no particular reason. All her heros act with a purpose, and it always for their own self interest. Everything should have a reason and a purpose. There is no place for people who wander aimlessly, or who jump in the fountain just because, not even because they feel like it. Happiness must always have a reason, be it mental, emotional, or physical (although I'm not sure her characters are ever happy, though they may pursue and experience pleasure and passions). Her characters are happy when they build a house and do it well, or they have pleasure in physical labor, both of which are pleasures, but they are never happy just because. Emotions are funny things. Feeling happy, or depressed, or lighthearted or any other emotion may not have a logical cause. I have been completely happy one day for no reason, for no discernable cause. Things that have no reason to make me feel happy or sad have affected me strongly. I have skipped down the street for no reason at all, and I have cried without knowing why. I think emotions are messy, irrational, fabulous things. I think it is good to feel, without necessarily having a cause for feeling.

Finally, I disagree with Ann Rand completely on the "virtue of selfishness". I don't think selfishness is a virtue at all, but a vice. I admire philanthropists, and people who do things for other people not because they are in some way inadequate, nor because they desire to feel approval, and often not even because it gives them pleasure, but because they love people. Saint Francis, trading his battered cloak to a beggar for a worse one, makes no sense in this philosophy. In fact, Saint Francis would be a great fool. There is no place for philanthropy, or charity. I do not think a world like that is worth living in.

Twilight

Jun. 17th, 2008 09:17 pm
bonny_kate: (castle)
The short (and free of spoilers) version is that I found Twilight to be a quick, light read that I didn't particularly like, but neither did I particularly hate or find huge problems with. As a fast read, it is decent, but as to anything more, I think it has too many issues to be considered a great work of literature, or even reread very often.

The long version

Here There Be Spoilers )
bonny_kate: (Default)
or, How to Avoid Boring Your Readers

I was reading a serialized novel, and my mind started to wander. This is exactly what you don't want to happen if you are an author. Once the reader starts to wander, to ask questions about the reality of the story, you've already lost. I shall then take a close look at the passage in question, and see what can be gained from reading it.

From Procyx (in the April 2003 issue of Deep Magic):

The parkways were themselves sweeping gardens. The fragrances of rich, floral perfumes drifted and flowed among the trees. They were exquisite, never competing - always complimentary. One fragrance would seem to drift by and end, and there would be an interval of olfactory silence before another scent might swell upon the air.


That's it, in its entirety. Now, before I begin to dissect it, let me show you just what was wrong. Compare the following paragraph, which adds on my thoughts.

The parkways were themselves sweeping gardens. The fragrances of rich, floral perfumes drifted and flowed among the trees. They (the fragrances, not the trees) were exquisite, never competing - always complimentary (this word never failed to remind him of art class in high school). One fragrance would seem to drift by and end, and there would be an interval of olfactory silence (he winced, even as he thought it, because it really was mixing metaphors) before another scent might swell upon the air. Reeber sneezed twice, in quick succession, and felt in his pockets for a kleenex. He never would have thought that he would be allergic to the flowers of that earthly utopia. At least, he assumed they were flowers, as the trees weren't blooming, but he couldn't actually see them. He snufffled. His eyes were already beginning to water.


So what happened? Obviously, by the end of the description I'm bored stiff, and have wandered off on a mental tangent. The first sentence isn't bad. It isn't very interesting, but it gives necessary information. The second sentence begins to give interesting images. We have perfume, but no flowers for the perfume to come from. In other words, the image is very nebulous at this point. Now, the next sentence get's into a bit of trouble. The last noun was "trees", but "they" refers to "the fragrances". This bit of confusion drew me out of the story for a moment, until I understood what the author was saying. Now I'm paying more attention to the words, which is bad. I don't just follow the flow of the story. The author must, at this point, work to regain my attention.

The next sentence, about the drifting fragrances, is bad. It gives no concrete images or scents. We don't see any flowers, or pollen on the air, or know what it smells like. Do the scents come from the trees? from herbs? from flowers? Are they sweet or pungent? Is it more like cinnamon or roses? What associations does the narrator have with the scents? I can't picture the garden, I can't smell the garden. I see someone standing in the middle of trees (and I don't even know whether they are really ordered, like a park, or more unkempt, like a wood), smelling various things.

Now, the description "olfactory silence" seems particularly ill timed. It mixes senses. There may not be a word for "not smelling anything in particular at the moment", but that is no excuse. But this might have been excused, if it was clear what sort of silence it was. There are all sorts of silence: the quiet after everyone has gone to bed, the tense silence while a class is taking an important test, the happy silence when everyone in the lab is working on a project that is going decently, the numbing sensation when a large, persistent noise like a drill has suddenly stopped, or the delicious silence on the way back from a party when the people in the back seat of the car have stopped talking. But we don't know which of these silences it is like. Further, it is confusing, because just a few sentences ago, the author was talking about mingling the fragrances, and here it is quite plain that they don't mix. What's a reader to do?

Finally, this is the sort of story that doesn't seem particularly realistic. I love gardens, especially the sweet, citrus smell of my roses on a muggy evening. But they make me sneeze. Most flowers do, in fact. Or they make my nose run. In fact, lot's of scents, particularly unexpected, strong scents, make me sneeze.

I should close by saying that this is definitely a problem passage. The author wrote some pretty decent stuff (otherwise I should never have made it this far). But any scene that confuses or bores the reader is bad. Once the reader stops to pay attention to phrases like "olfactory silence," you've lost them. Now, it may be possible to gain their interest again (or they may feel like slogging through the rest of the book because they've already read most of it), but it is still poor writing, and you risk the reader putting down the book and never picking it up again.

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Kate Saunders Britton

April 2017

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