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

A Fire upon the Deep

Not for nothing did A Fire upon the Deep take home a Hugo. There are just so many things about it that are good. The universe within which the story takes place is carefully crafted and very interestingly conceived. Several alien races are presented, two of them in detail, one of which (the Tines) had been very elaborately created. The story is huge and compelling, while the writing draws you onward. And the Usenet-like communications setup is an interesting concept.

Probably one of the things that stands out the most in this book is the structure of the Tines. Vinge does a good job of explaining by showing, and the details of the race were enough to make my head hurt as I imagined their ramifications.

The writing was well-paced. It's a long book, and some parts felt slow-moving compared to others, but they were never uninteresting. During the more active parts, especially the climax of the book (and the other climax right before it) I was so immersed in it that I couldn't stop reading. And the image at the end was echoingly haunting.

Simply put, buy this book. It's eminently worth it.

Slashdot seems to have a review of a recently-released special edition of the book. It has notes by Vinge and those who helped him with his book and is apparently only available in electronic format. If I had a working PDA, I'd consider getting it, since the annotations would be very interesting to read, but I'd much prefer a more open format (mostly so I could read it with Weasel Reader).

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.

The Alleluia Files

This book forms the third in Sharon Shinn's Samaria trilogy, being preceeded by Archangel and Jovah's Angel. I still think Archangel is the best of the set, though The Alleluia Files is a fairly decent book.

The Alleluia Files again contains many trappings of romance, though there are two romances this time, and consequently neither is as well developed as previous books'. For me, the one in Archangel is still my favorite, which I realized is probably because of the way Shinn weaves music throughout the romance and the rest of the book. It's still a very important part of this book, but not to the same degree as in Archangel.

I'm afraid I'll have to do the majority of my discussion of the book below the spoiler barrier, since I don't want to spoil either this or Archangel for those that have not read them.

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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.

Phil! Gold