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

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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

Inversions

Not surprisingly, Banks plays a bit with the form of the storytelling in Inversions. He tells the stories of two people in different kingdoms, alternating between them for each chapter. Not unique, to be sure, but not a simple, straightforward tale, either.

Honestly, I wasn't terribly impressed with this one. The story was average; not one I found immensely gripping. I did enjoy piecing together the surrounding world from things mentioned in passing by the characters, and figuring out things about Vosill and DeWar via the same methods, but there wasn't a whole lot of depth the the information derived thereby. Nor did I really feel the characters were all that interesting.

Banks has certainly written books I liked more. This was a decent read; not bad, certainly, but nothing special either.

Just a brief note or two below the spoiler barrier.

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Perdido Street Station

While Perdido Street Station certainly falls under the broad-reaching umbrella of "speculative fiction", it's hard to pin it further than that. Like the city of New Crobuzon and many of its inhabitants, the book is a blend of several things; there are fantasy aspects and steampunk aspects and horror aspects and probably half a dozen other sub-sub-genres scattered throughout.

There are many good things about the book, but the most immediately obvious is Miéville's writing style. When he's being descriptive, his prose drips adjectives, each chosen for just the right shading of connotations. As I read, I could almost feel the sludge-filled river or the miasma of smoke above the industrial sector. And after I stopped reading, my mind would race along thought passageways, seeking to maintain the same dense, rapid flow of words to which it had become accustomed. Many scenes left me breathless with their coiled tension, the languor of subsequent events providing some relief.

The world in which New Crobuzon exists is well thought-out and very detailed. It's obvious that Miéville has put significant effort into fleshing things out. All of the parts hold together, which is important, because part of the enjoyment derives from exploring this whole other world, with cactus-people and insect-headed women and demons and causal-spinning spiders and well, you get the idea. Many of the details presented tie back into the story eventually, but plenty of things exist simply because they would be there in a complete world.

The story itself is good, as well. There are too many branches and joinings to describe succinctly; you'll have to read it yourself to learn of Lin and Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and Too Too Abstract Individual Yagharek Not To Be Respected and everyone else.

In short, it's a well-written book with a beautiful, distinct writing style. Go read it.

The Fifth Elephant

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Yet another Terry Pratchett book. Specifically, another City Watch book, though much of this one takes place in Überwald. No witches are visible, though there are plenty of werewolves, dwarves, vampires, and Igors.

There is, as usual, a good story. Being a City Watch book, it's largely a detective story, with the details swirling around the coronation of a new dwarven king, a very revered piece of dwarf bread, and the politics of the region, including the involvement of Sergeant Angua's parents. And, of course, plenty of very funny bits; Pratchett has a tendency to make me laugh out loud while on the bus.

I had worried that Terry Pratchett was losing his plain humor in being overly satirical, but The Fifth Elephant is merely a funny, well-told story with satirical elements running through some of the details. (Well, "politics" is a pretty big detail, but still...)

Yet another Terry Pratchett book I'm happy to add to my collection.

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.


Phil! Gold