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

The Fifth Elephant

allconsuming link

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.

Foucault's Pendulum

I liked The Name of the Rose, so when I saw Foucault's Pendulum at the bookstore, I decided to grab it. Unfortunately for me, it's a rather different sort of book than The Name of the Rose.

The Name of the Rose is essentially a detective story. It's set in medieval times and is told in a wonderfully baroque manner, but with all the descriptive flourishes pared away its story is relatively straightforward. Foucault's Pendulum is more of a surrealist book--the journey matters more than the destination, and the book's climax is just a single element in the tapestry of the narrative, a fact for which I was not completely prepared.

The pacing of the book is also rather slow, and not always in a good way. In, say, A Fire Upon the Deep, the pace is slow, but there's a feeling of grandness, of something gradually but inexorably building as the story progresses. I often felt that Foucault's Pendulum was dragging along without necessarily going anywhere, especially during the elaboration of the Plan, where the characters just keep piling details on details seemingly without end.

I should not that the edition I read had an annoying synopsis on the back cover. It claimed that the main characters put facts into a computer that drew connections between apparently disparate facts. In the book, those events don't take place until about two-thirds of the way in, and the actual details are somewhat different than those which the synopsis implies. At least it didn't completely give away things, like the summary text at the beginning of my copy of Archangel.

I'll discuss the ending below the spoiler barrier.

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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."

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).


Phil! Gold