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

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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Excel Saga, volume 01

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I'm a fan of the anime series and I saw the first two volumes of the manga in the book store, so I decided to give it a read. I like it.

This is the first manga I've really read that went right-to-left. It is arguably more true to the original format (no reflections or rearrangement needed), but it can be harder for americans to follow. I found myself adapting to the format much more quickly than I thought I would, however.

I like the footnotes supplied in these manga. The American editor decided to leave many of the sound effects in the manga, which is not too surprising given the fact that they're often as decorative as they are descriptive. In lieu of translation, there are gootnotes for all of the sound effects. Much of the time, you can get the gist of the soungs from other context, but it's nice to be able to look to the back of the book and see exactly what's going on.

There are also general translation notes, mostly noting places where American idioms or similar things were substituted for Japanese concepts. It's a tribute to the editor that I barely noticed most of these; the story flowed well.

According to notes in the volume, Excel Saga was a doujinshi that went pro. Didn't realize that was how it started.

Discussion of differences between the anime and manga occurs below.

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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.

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.


Phil! Gold