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
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.
Mon, 07 Mar 2005
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.
After the tedious Quicksilver, Ilium was a welcome change. It's a wonderful blend of science fiction and Greek myth.
As Simmons' Hyperion was infused with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, so Ilium works from Homer's Iliad. One of the central events of the book is the siege of Troy. In Ilium, however, the gods are more science fiction than fantasy--they accomplish their majestic feats via nanotechnology and quantum manipulation. And the events in the Iliad are only a rough third of the events in Ilium.
The book opens with the words of a twentieth-century Homeric scholar, in a very deliberate reference to the opening of the Iliad. That scholar has been resurrected by the gods and sent to observe the unfolding of events that shaped the Iliad. The following chapter introduces humans living on Earth several thousand years past the 20th century, in a world largely abandoned--the "post-humans" meddled with the planet, cleaned up some of their mess, and left it to the old-style humans, whose lives they continue to regulate. The third chapter sets the stage for the third storyline, involving sentient organic/inorganic machines that live and work among the moons of Jupiter.
Into all three storylines, the reader is dropped without much backstory; the shape of the world in which the characters live must be gleaned from details in the story's telling. And the threads don't tie themselves together until a distance into the book.
The single best thing about the book, however, is the writing. Simmons does a very good job of taking these disparate threads, blending them together while painting the backdrop for the story, and weaving a thoroughly engaging tale.
Ilium certainly deserves its Hugo nomination. I can't speak to whether it should win, since I haven't read most of its competitors, but if it does, I'll not be disappointed.
New Writings in SF7
As far as I can tell, New Writings in SF7 hasn't been published since before ISBNs were adopted. (Hence, no allconsuming link.) It's a collection of short stories from authors that were, in 1966, "major new writers". Like many such collections, some stories are good while others are not. The collection is, on balance, decent.
The first two stories, "The Pen and the Dark" and "Gifts of the Gods" are typical science-driven stories of the era. The main characters are all male and serve merely to advance some particular scientific speculation. The third, "The Long Memory", I found to be too scrawny a story with a too-abrupt ending. From there on, things get better, however. "The Man Who Missed the Ferry" is probably my favorite of the set, with a just-slightly-surreal approach to things. "The Night of the Seventh Finger" is rather moving, and I enjoyed its characterization. "Six Cubed Plus One" was also good, if a little forced at times. "Defense Mechanism" was interesting in its depiction of a future Earth.
It's a thin volume, and I'd say that "The Man Who Missed the Ferry" alone was worth the time taken to read the whole book.
Endless Nights is another book from Neil Gaiman in the world of The Sandman. It contains seven stories, one for each of the Endless. It is ... impressive.
Each of the stories captures the personality of one of the Endless. Possibly the weakest of them in that respect are Death's and Dream's, but they're also probably the most prominent characters in the Sandman series, so the lapse is forgivable, especially since Dream's gives some very nice backstory for the Endless.
Probably my favorites from the set are Desire's and Destiny's stories. Each is a succinct encapsulation of its respective Endless's personality, combined with some stunning artwork. Death's, Dream's, Delirium's, and Destruction's are all good stories, with excellent artwork of their own. Despair's story is probably the one most different from the others, and while it's very well done, I can't say that I enjoyed it, largely because it isn't really meant to be enjoyed. I'll say simply that it is very well executed, contains superb artwork, and I had to rest for a while after reading it to recover.
If you're a fan of Sandman, buy this book. If you're not familiar with Sandman, a lot of the point of this will be missing. It's probably still worth reading for the artwork alone, but the Endless are what really drive this book.
For my part, I'm very happy to place this book on my shelf beside my other Sandman novels.