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

Zodiac

Zodiac is one of Neal Stephenson's earlier books, and it shows. A lot of the writing style that went into Snow Crash is there, but it's rougher. It's hard to pick out specific examples, but the whole book didn't feel to me that it flowed as well as it ought to have. On the other hand, the story was a decent one, and had several nice moments of chemistry geekiness that reminded me of the mathematically-geeky side trips in Cryptonomicon.

Surprisingly (at least to me), I liked the ending. I haven't really been happy with the endings of Stephenson's more recent books; I prefer something with a sense of closure. All three of his books that I've read (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon) had endings that felt unfinished. (Note that I don't mind endings that deliberately leave things open-ended, but I do like to feel that the main story has been resolved.) Regardless, Zodiac's ending did have closure, and I was happy with that.

So, it's a decent read, especially if you like Neal Stephenson's writing, but not really something I'd recommend going out of your way for.

Foucault's Pendulum

I liked The Name of the Rose, so when I saw Foucault's Pendulum at the bookstore, I decided to grab it. Unfortunately for me, it's a rather different sort of book than The Name of the Rose.

The Name of the Rose is essentially a detective story. It's set in medieval times and is told in a wonderfully baroque manner, but with all the descriptive flourishes pared away its story is relatively straightforward. Foucault's Pendulum is more of a surrealist book--the journey matters more than the destination, and the book's climax is just a single element in the tapestry of the narrative, a fact for which I was not completely prepared.

The pacing of the book is also rather slow, and not always in a good way. In, say, A Fire Upon the Deep, the pace is slow, but there's a feeling of grandness, of something gradually but inexorably building as the story progresses. I often felt that Foucault's Pendulum was dragging along without necessarily going anywhere, especially during the elaboration of the Plan, where the characters just keep piling details on details seemingly without end.

I should not that the edition I read had an annoying synopsis on the back cover. It claimed that the main characters put facts into a computer that drew connections between apparently disparate facts. In the book, those events don't take place until about two-thirds of the way in, and the actual details are somewhat different than those which the synopsis implies. At least it didn't completely give away things, like the summary text at the beginning of my copy of Archangel.

I'll discuss the ending below the spoiler barrier.

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Heroing

A completely run-of-the-mill fantasy story, Heroing probably isn't worth your time. I found it annoying to read and only finished it because I forgot to put anything better in my bag. Be warned that I'm not bothering to put a spoiler barrier in, simply because I don't care enough. You're not going to read this book, right?

Actually, some of the story is interesting in concept, like the Jiana/Jianabel split personality, but the execution is horrid. The characterization is particularly bad; I had a difficult time believing in any of the major characters, especially in the professed love between Jiana and Dida.

And the afterward reveals that the author had a pro-feminist goal for the book (which was published in 1987). Good books with political or social subtexts are fine--such things can enhance a well-written volume. Bad fiction written to advance a particular viewpoint is often among the worst writing around.

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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