Tue, 22 Oct 2013

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

As most people are by now aware, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen's classic that adds a plague of zombies to the book's setting and plot.

I have to say that while I was looking forward to the book, its execution left me wanting. The zombie storyline feels like a veneer laid over the original storyline in a way that doesn't really add much to that original story. I feel like the zombies are just a gimmick that don't hold up for an entire book. Pretty much the only thing that kept me reading was my love for the original story, which remains mostly unchanged beneath the zombie veneer.

Seth Grahame-Smith has recharacterized several of the people, mostly making them more violent and bloodthirsty--Elizabeth is a Chinese-trained "master of the deadly arts", and Lady Catherine is a noted zombie slayer with an entourage of ninjas--but everyone takes pretty much the same actions and ends up in the same places. At least one character becomes a zombie and is killed, but not until after her presence in the original plot is finished. I think this sameness is what led me not to really engage with Grahame-Smith's additions: the original was a deliciously sarcastic commentary on 19th century people of wealth layered in with a genuinely compelling story of the development of characters' personal relationships1. The zombie additions don't change the story enough to make a statement of their own, but they do serve to obscure some of the themes and characterizations of the original, so their presence is a net negative.

All in all, I probably would have been better off just reading Pride and Prejudice again.

1 One of the great things about Pride and Prejudice is that it's pretty feminist-friendly. Sure, it's a tale of two people who take a long time and a lot of minsunderstandings to finally come together and realize their True Love(tm), but two of the things I've always appreciated about it are: 1) Elizabeth is given agency to choose her own path in life and 2) the reason it's okay that they end up together is that when she tells Darcy what her issues are with him, he listens. How often does that happen in popular love stories?

Mon, 12 Feb 2007

E Pluribus Unicorn

E Pluribus Unicorn is a collection of short stories by Theodore Sturgeon. All of the stories were written between 1947 and 1953, though they don't seem very dated, aside from occasional archaic-sounding language usage.

The stories are mostly fantasy, though some could be considered almost horror; many are certainly unsettling, most notably The Professor's Teddy-Bear, with Bianca's Hands (and perhaps A Way of Thinking) a close second. Die, Maestro, Die! reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe, in structure, if not in style. There's an element of melancholy in several of the stories, including The SIlken-Swift, Scars (which has no elements on fantasy, but is simply a good story), and especially A Saucer of Loneliness.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection; I hadn't read much by Sturgeon before, and I quite like his writing.

Thu, 22 Jun 2006

War of Honor

allconsuming link

It's past five in the morning. I've been up reading for almost the last four hours because I wanted to finish the book. It's good. The pace is much slower than I remember previous Honor Harrington books being, but things do move along.

Reading all of the Honor anthologies before this book is highly recommended.

Spoilers below.

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Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Archform: Beauty

A lot of critics seem to like Archform: Beauty, and I can't really disagree with them. It tells its story from five points of view, switching among them as it progresses. Despite the title and the presence of five narrators, I didn't really see much evidence of Bartók's arch form in the structure of the book. Beauty is, however, on the minds of the characters, though each has different ideas about what is beautiful.

Mostly, though, it's a detective story. Illegality has transpired, and the characters, variously, have committed it, are chasing it, or are affected by it. The different threads of the story tie together marvelously as events work their way forward.

Modesitt also gets points for a very well-developed world. Language usage has changed a bit in three hundred years, and the book is littered with new turns of phrase. It's not too hard to figure out meaning, though, and a short ways into the book I found the terms nonintrusive.

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The Truth

Another element of the teeming horde that comprises Terry Pratchett's Diskworld novels, The Truth would probably be grouped with the subset featuring Ankh-Morpork's City Watch. That's not entirely accurate, because the story really revolves around William de Worde's newspaper, but the Watch is involved to a large degree.

I'm not entirely sure what to think about this book. The whole thing is very Pratchett, with plenty of sections that left me literally laughing out loud (sometimes to the concern of those around me). On the other hand, there were parts that I didn't feel really worked, such as Mr. Tulip's manner of cursing ("Too ---ing right"). I'd say that, on the whole, the book's satirical bent tended to interfere with the storytelling. It was good in pieces, but not necessarily in large chunks. Still, it's quite funny. Go ahead and give it a read.

Lucifer's Hammer

Put very simply, Lucifer's Hammer is a book about a comet hitting Earth. The book takes 640 pages to do this; there's a lot of detail to the story. The first couple hundred pages are all pre-comet and set the stage, introducing all of the characters. (There's a dramatis personae at the beginning of the book; I found myself referring to it frequently to see which characters were which.) The strike itself occupies about another hundred pages, with the balance of the book dealing with the aftermath.

As might be inferred from the spacing of events, the book proceeds at a somewhat slow pace, ramping up so gradually that I didn't notice the tensions in some scenes until I had to put the book down and realized that I was nearly breathless wondering what would happen. The aftermath is where the meat of the conflicts occur, but the preceding half of the book is pretty necessary to lay the groundwork for later developments.

The science in the book is also good. Niven and Pournelle spent a lot of time working out the details of a comet strike such as the one presented in the book, and it shows; the science is very thorough and believable. This was somewhat surprising given how long ago the book was written: 1977. Much other SF from that far back tends to be very dated, a fate Lucifer's Hammer seems to have escaped, for the most part.

There were some instances where I was reminded that the book was taking place three decades ago. Racial tensions in the book are a lot higher; while the civil rights movement had succeeded, many people still weren't accustomed to it, and a couple of the black characters have to deal with some uncomfortable situations. The technology isn't as good as that which we have today; while I can't remember any specific examples, there were some things that I noted would have been different if the story had taken place in our present. And someone makes reference to NASA's perfect record of not having any deaths during their missions, a record that, sadly, has been broken a few times since then.

All in all, it's a very good book, especially for fans of either SF or disaster stories.

Postscript: The copy I read was one I got from a used book store. It's the third printing of the Ballantine Books paperback edition, printed in 1985. The inside cover has the following written on it:

Dec. 21st, 1990

To: Mr. Senior
After I saw that film on meteors I remembered this book. You can look it over during the holidays.

Best Wishes,
Bob Vandervoort

I haven't found any more information about who the people named are.

The Child that Books Built

I occasionally venture beyond my fiction readings into the realm of non-fiction, and I'm pretty sure it counts even if the book is itself about reading. I saw The Child That Books Built mentioned in a post on Neil Gaiman's blog and it sounded interesting enough, so I bought it the next time I was in a bookstore.

I found the book to be a rather mixed bag. There were parts that I, like Gaiman, found eerily similar to my own experiences--the way reading can blot out all that transpires in the surrounding world, the discovery of SF, reading The Hobbit, reading the Narnia books. (Though in my case, the Narnia series were the first "real" books I read with The Hobbit following shortly thereafter.) There were other parts that didn't necessarily resonate with my experiences but which I nevertheless found interesting--the discussion of lingual development in children, for instance. Some things were just there as autobiographical but didn't have echoes in my life--much of Spufford's childhood reading differed from mine, being separated by both distance and time, while there were books that interested him but not me, such as the Little House on the Prairie series. Possibly related to those were the parts where I felt that the book rambled without any clear purpose or result--the discussion of the primeval forest, or the exploration of small-town America.

Overall, I found it interesting but not really compelling. Yet another book tucked into the category of, "Huh? Oh, yeah, I've read that."


Phil! Gold