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

Times Without Number

Times Without Number is a time travel story set in an alternate-history Earth. (Yes, the implications are pretty obvious. I won't comment on them until after the spoiler barrier.) The book was originally three separate short stories. For this publishing, Brunner reworked the stories to create one narrative from them. Nevertheless, the book breaks easily into three different sections, each following a particular event in the life of "Don Miguel Navarro, Licencate in Ordinary of the Society of Time". (The alternate-history is that the Spanish Armada successfully invaded England and Spain, instead of England, became the colonial empire of the West.)

The setting seems reasonably well-thought-out, if a bit chauvinistic. Women are second-class citizens, though that's generally presented as a bad thing. There are slaves, which exist and are never commented on. Native Americans are all referred to as Mohawks, though some do express indignation at this. Time travel is the sole dominion of the Catholic Church; the creator of the original device didn't think anyone else would behave properly with it. This book is probably not for anyone who would get offended at any of this. (It was written 1969; the original stories are from 1962. All well before political correctness came into vogue.)

Within the story are some reasoned explorations of various aspects of time travel. The Society has strict rules governing the use of the technology; naturally, the stories tend to hinge on the breaking of various of those rules. For me, this is the main reason to read the book. There isn't too much here that hasn't been explored in other time travel stories, but this one probably predates most others. Beyond that, the writing is decent, but not excellent, and it feels a bit dated.

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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 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