Fascinatin' Rhythm

March 28, 2014

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ImageImageDaniel Suarez: Daemon and Freedom

A reclusive genius dies, leaving his massive online gaming empire behind, and kickstarting a chain of events that will lead to the end of economies and possibly the fall of civilisation as we know it.

At least, that’s the premise.  And it starts promisingly, with a slow burn introduction as disparate threads of the plot are introduced.  We meet the hard-bitten cop who doesn’t really understand the crime he’s investigating; the amoral killer who might just be redeemable; the grasping starlet who’ll do anything to keep herself in the spotlight; and the star of the show, the reclusive dead genius himself, who becomes something of a literal deus ex machina throughout the course of the two books.

What is remarkable about the unfolding plot is the sense of bitter rage directed at our current economic system, and our helplessness to do anything about it.  The two books act as a crì de coeur for the world’s population to take back control of our systems of governance and our tools of economic prosperity, but not by anything so simple as a return to wholesome material production.  No, the vision of a new system that Suarez reveals little by little is one heartlessly egalitarian.

If it’s not obvious, I hugely enjoyed these books.  Despite some moments of wince-inducing villainy (and stupidity), the plot unfolds engagingly, giving us heroes (yay!) and villains (boo!) but not making them quite so clear-cut as all that.  For the most part, the villain of the story is apathy.  The two novels act as a potent restorative against that particular malaise.


March 2, 2014

Same script, different cast

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Redshirts cover imageJohn Scalzi: Redshirts

It has been a long time since I read Scalzi, but I was impressed enough by his novel Old Man’s War to pick up its sequels.  Impressed enough by those to grab this effort on a recent book binge, as the premise from the blurb was appealing to the sci-fi geek in me (and I use the term ‘sci-fi’ entirely deliberately, in case anyone should be tempted to write in).

On its face, the book shouldn’t work.  A less-than-mainstream premise, in-jokes aplenty, narrative causality employed as a plot device: it screams B-movie novelisation.  And yet, the whole is somehow more than the sum of its parts.  Partly this is due to Scalzi’s characterisation.  There are moments of genuine pathos in amongst the flummery, and while the action scenes could have been taken from parts of Galaxy Quest which never made it to the big screen, there was a genuine sense of danger for the cast of likeable characters.

The metafiction strands that ran through the novel were perhaps the most interesting.  Who, when all is said and done, isn’t the hero of their own story?  Wouldn’t all of us like a bit of that narrative invincibility and rectitude on occasion?  Ideally, when we actually want it, of course.  The idea that these redshirts have stories of their own, that they are not simply discardable bodies to be flung at a problem in order to work out its parameters so the true heroes can solve it (always in the nick of time, don’t y’know) is one that many authors have played with.  Glen Cook in his Chronicles of the Black Company, and more recently following in his footsteps, Steven Erikson’s massive Malazan series, have both played with the grunt’s-eye-view of events.  

I’m not sure anyone has had as much fun with it as Scalzi, though.  And in the end, a lightweight concept delivers a book that is lightweight, but with the impression of weightier themes lying behind the action for those who want to delve more deeply.  Which is as satisfying a summary as an author could wish for, perhaps.

February 10, 2014

Strong as Steel

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The Alloy Of Law -- cover image

Brandon Sanderson: The Alloy Of Law


 It has taken me a while to get to this novel, a follow-up to Sanderson’s acclaimed Mistborn trilogy, which, while rough around the edges, still delivered some rip-roaring fantasy action while also being heavy on the interesting-magic-system shenanigans so popular these days with, er, Brandon Sanderson.  (Among others, but Sanderson is definitely in the forefront of them.)

He has taken his story in a direction many fantasy authors, especially those with large-scale mediaeval settings in their past, have shied away from: the industrial fantasy, complete with gunslingers and the beginnings of mechanism.  Of course, Sanderson’s world-building in Mistborn, with his metal- and alloy-based magic system, lends itself particularly well to such a development, and one of the many attractions of this novel was in seeing what Sanderson could do with it.

His tin ear for character names rears its head once again, however (“Waxillium”, really?) but aside from this, the story is engaging if lightweight.  The villain of the piece is only slightly more than two-dimensional, but serves as an adequate foil for the hero.  It might have been more interesting for the initial villain we encounter to have been more than a simple harrowing encounter and nightmare fuel for pages to come — he was reminiscent of Pratchett’s serial killer in Night Watch — but alas, no.  Instead we have a scarcely believable slide from moral probity to moustache-twirling, monologuing antagonist to Waxillium(?)’s hero.  The best character moments come in the interactions with the love interest Marasi, who should be played by whichever English actress comes closest to Rachel Weisz of The Mummy vintage in the movie.  She has the same academic focus, a superficially narrow competence which suddenly broadens out to encompass all sorts of applications, and an endearing self-deprecating heroism which really made her shine for me.

The heist-caper plot was fun, if again lightweight, but then Sanderson had said explicitly in the pre-publication publicity for this novel that it had turned out much lighter than he had expected.  If he revisits the world again (which fans fully expect him to), then he has certainly laid lots of groundwork here for further exploration.


January 31, 2014

The Kids Are Alright

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Ender's Game: cover artOrson Scott Card: Ender’s Game

I read Ender’s Game a long, long time ago.  [Sure you don’t want another ‘long’ in there?  Ed.]  In light of the new film coming out, I thought I’d revisit it, and am glad I did, in spite of my misgivings about Card’s politics and homophobia.  But I’ve always divorced any appreciation of an artist’s work from the artist themselves, or there’s not much Wagner I could listen to.

One thing that is plain: Card doesn’t permit his private beliefs to colour his work.  This was evident in other works such as Songmaster, and so it was much easier to appreciate Ender’s Game as a work outside of the politics of any particular person or era.  What is clear, however, is that it remains a work with relevance for today, in how we view children and the military.

It’s an easy book to love.  Ender in particular is almost too easy to root for, his circumstances drawn so as to engage all our sympathies with him, and yet with a streak of ruthlessness that those with small children will I think readily identify as accurate, though perhaps they would hope that their own kids would not go so far.  Could any parent say for certain that they know how violent their kids might be if pushed?  I think that is what makes Ender’s Game such a disturbing read for some adults/parents, as much as Lord Of The Flies, perhaps.  Card has commented on the mail he receives from people being divided strongly into those for whom the story speaks of their own experiences, and those who complain that the depiction of children is unrealistic, to the effect that he believes the latter merely hope that that is the case, as the alternative would be unbearable for them.

The story itself is masterfully interwoven.  The existence of Ender’s siblings and their contrast with him are beautifully realised.  I particularly like the interludes with the commander of the Battle School (Graff) and his superiors/peers as the development of Ender is carefully choreographed and monitored.  The reveal at the end is one of the best in my memory of reading science fiction, and it still packs a punch years later.

To call Ender’s Game a classic is to throw another drop into the ocean of plaudits it has received over the years.  It fully deserves that status.

January 20, 2014

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow

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On The Steel Breeze: Cover Image

Alastair Reynolds: On The Steel Breeze

I hadn’t really expected Reynolds’s Blue Remembered Earth to get a sequel, but was tolerably pleased when it turned out it he’d gone and done one.  I found the reluctant heroes of the first novel, Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, engaging and likeable, and the mysteries they unravelled as the book progressed similarly so.

So it was with some disappointment that I opened On The Steel Breeze to discover that much time has elapsed since the events of its predecessor, and the vaunted Akinya family has fallen, if not hugely far, then certainly from its previous position as the premier family of the civilisation of that time.  Geoffrey is gone, and Sunday is in a virtual coma, rousing only occasionally before lapsing back into chasing the illusions of new mathematics that she uncovered.

So the focus shifts to Chiku Akinya, scion of the dynasty, and I placed my trust in Reynolds to deliver another character as much fun to read.  And what does he do.  He only goes and dos a 3-for-1 deal!

Now, the idea of splitting and recombining personalities and memories has been explored by many different authors (Dick, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale; Brin, Kil’n People, Tepper, The True Game, among others).  but the permanent 3-way split, with deliberate transformation of the original so that no identification was subsequently possible, I’ve not seen before.  Chiku was an uncomfortable heroine, somewhat naive in each of her three incarnations, and at least for me her attachments to people never really rang true.  In common with Geoffrey of the earlier novel, she seemed more able to love elephants than people who would love her back.  It’s something of a shame that I came to read the three interleaved stories (of Chikus Red, Yellow, and Green) as mere adjuncts to Eunice’s story, and the struggle between her and the intelligence that is slowly corrupting the Mechanism that ensures the safety and prosperity of the Surveilled World (and what a hideously suggestive euphemism that is).

The book, it’s probably no surprise to reveal, lends itself to yet another sequel, when we will find out how the holoships survive, what happens to Crucible, and how the Surveilled World copes with its new predicament.  If Chiku Red takes on the narrative, she’llhave to become more than she was in this novel, where she was mostly marking time until her actions at the end of the novel.  The interest in any sequel storyline lies, in common with most of Reynolds’s work, outside of the sphere of Earth and the solar system.

January 5, 2014

Steal Away

The Republic of Thieves: book coverScott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves

I had great expectations of this, and for the most part, they were fulfilled.  Having followed Locke Lamora from his debut in The Lies of Locke Lamora through the sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies, and thoroughly enjoyed both, this was one third novel that had set a very high bar for itself.

Lynch’s prose pulls me in very easily, like slipping on a very comfortable glove.  You hardly notice it’s there — it is entirely at the service of the story, and this story was of the characters and their relationships.  The most believable relationship in the entire sequence thus far, for me at least, has been the one between Locke and Jean, his opposite thematically and physically.  But the central relatinoship of this novel was between Locke and his crush-cum-obsession, Sabetha, and, not having experienced the kind of helpless longing described, I found it hard to believe that Locke, otherwise painted as a character whose moral compass was more windvane and whose delight in trickery, misdirection and scheming would make a cynic of even the best man, could fall so far for a woman as to be blinded — and blind-sided — so frequently.

Sabetha herself, however, was a delight.  A mouthpiece for female emancipation and suffrage, she was so much more, and never better than when puncturing Locke’s patriarchal view of his pursuit of her.  The various turns of the major arc in the novel, which pits them against each other in an attempt to control the outcome of an election, were intertwined with a rekindled romance between the two, now older and wiser than when they first tentatively got together.  And the second strand of story, where the unfolding of that original passion was detailed, proved an interesting if unfulfilling foil to the major arc.  Having the Gentlemen Bastards put to work as jobbing actors learning to inhabit their characters to more effectively equip them for future endeavours was at first sight a problematic side issue, whose relevance only became clear when the eponymous play they mount starts to have echoes in the situation they find themselves in in the to-be-rigged election.  But Karthain can hardly be called a Republic, though the mages who control it are certainly thieves.  Or is it that the grand revelation at the end of the novel makes Locke an even greater thief than we had thus far beleved, and magic the means?

To be resolved in the next instalment.  I had wondered if this would turn out to be a trilogy, and when the revelations began, it started to feel like an ending.  And endings there were, if not the ones expected.  But we now are set up for a glorious finale — or a middle trilogy, possibly, as the structure feels more like Bakker’s sequence of trilogies than anything else.  Whatever the case, whenever Locke and co. make their next appearance (at an election near you, perchance) I shall hurriedly rush out and grab a copy

December 4, 2012

And we’re all gonna shine a light together

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 12:59 pm
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A post at the excellent Captain Awkward blog reminded me to get my shit together.  Work on novel progresses somewhat excellently — and I just purchased a laptop which will be dedicated to writing.  I imagine January will be a month full of coffee and editing.

My current music project is setting H.P. Lovecraft’s sonnet cycle Fungi From Yuggoth to music for various combinations of choir and piano.  8 done so far, out of 36.  You can read the sonnets at the link above, but I won’t be publishing any of the completed scores on here, as I’m hoping to keep them for something more, er, serious 😀

As I’m updating, I guess I should add: current classic novel in mid-read is Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.  I’m dipping in and out, as it’s the kind of book that you don’t really read in a single sitting.  It’s also hugely immersive, so very easy to get back into when I do take the plunge.

But the reason for this post is the Captain Awkward post I mentioned above.  I’ve been feeling recently that my awesome parts have been somewhat squished by the demands on my time.  So am using this post as a call to arms for myself: don’t neglect your passions!  Direct energy to where it will be returned tenfold!  A thousandfold!

Speaking of which, had a great idea for a fantasy trilogy whack me upside the head on the train this morning.  Must set it to one side while I finish this WIP!  But it’s funny, sometimes ideas hit and I think, nah, been done before, or, nah, I’ll have a better idea before lunchtime.  But this one demanded to be remembered and worked on at some point in the future, so I’ll probably give in to it next year.

Hey ho.

Post title: from the last English Eurovision winner, ‘Love Shine A Light’ by Katrina and the Waves.

October 5, 2012

She’s a Man-eater

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 3:09 pm

My increasingly infrequent series of blogs about classic novels continues — hurrah!  Contrary to my previous blog in this series, where I thought I’d be tackling The Picture of Dorian Grey, I instead have found myself reading Jane Austen’s Emma.  On my new Kindle, on which I have loaded several other classic titles, of which more anon.

But first, Emma.  I knew the vague outlines of the story, and though I am allergic to period drama (and real-life drama, for that matter), I knew that Emma has had its own adaptation on the BBC, and I was ready for a froth of lace and piano playing, with the delightful Miss Austen providing social commentary via her characters, many of whom would be entirely agreeable and fun to listen to.

Ah, me!  Oh, foolish notion!  Emma was, I confess, far less enjoyable for me than Pride and Prejudice had been, and the fault for that lies solely at the (I’m sure very respectably-shod and dainty) feet of Miss Emma Woodhouse herself.  What a truly loathsome and objectionable creation she was!  How obtuse and demanding, how conscious and superior, how condescending (with no basis).  If I were to say that she rubbed me the wrong way, you may conclude that I have been quite thoroughly made raw by such rubbing.  It was a huge struggle to finish the novel with such an unsympathetic main character.  And her thoroughly annoying father helped matters not in the slightest.

Gah!  Dreadful heroine, but the book was better than she made it.

April 11, 2012

If I Say ‘Yes’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 1:14 pm
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I wonder how many people who conduct surveys have ever been to a Cooperative shop?  IMO, their simple survey process is easily the best I’ve encountered, and I’m pretty sure it could be adopted more widely, satisfying HR managers and their gimlet eyes the world over.

If you’re not familiar with a Coop store, allow me to enlighten you.  It’s exactly like any other supermarket.  The addition comes in the form of the pre-payment screen of the ubiquitous card-reader.  Before payment, and throughout the item scanning process, right up until you choose to pay via card, it displays a single question with a Yes/No answer.  Hit the answer you agree with, and that’s it, you’re done.  No follow-up questions, no difficult choices to make (do I ‘Disagree strongly’ or merely ‘Disagree’?)  I don’t have any metrics for their response rate, but the ease of participation would indicate to me that it’s considerably higher than street-walkers pestering people for time.  If anyone has any links to data on this, I’d be grateful if it were sent my way — and I’ll see if I can find some myself after posting this.

The scourge of any establishment with a HR department must be the employee survey.  My experience of even the best-designed surveys is that they are teeth-grindingly tedious, fail to capture the detail of your response, and unfailingly have a catch-all comments box at the end, the apparent function of which is to serve as a black hole into which all your frustrations can be poured, never to see the light of day again.  The Cooperative survey method has at least the recommendation that it is unobtrusive (you don’t have to answer the question if you prefer not to), random (to an extent), and invites participation as a low time cost.  These are all surely pluses that outweigh the simplicity of the data set thereby obtained.

P.S. The title of this post is Five Star’s 80s hit.  Go listen!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBfDaqkxCLE

January 26, 2011

Here’s some thoughts for you to chew

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thurulingas @ 5:05 pm

So, it’s been a while since I posted, and there’s a lot to talk about!  Each of these probably deserves a topic of its own, but I’m currently into brevity and compression, so, yeah.

1. Driving test: duly passed, first time, licence now updated — look out world!  Woo-hoo!  Don’t know when I’ll actually get myself a car, probably not this year (or at least, not until well after we move buildings to Salford Quays).  But it’s on the horizon now, and I’d kinda like the independence and freedom it would bring (or so I imagine).

2. New bike!  I actually rode to work for the first time on my new bike this morning, and it was great fun.  It’s been ages since I was on a bike, but you know what?  It was really easy to remember how to do it.  I’m sure there’s a simile in there somewhere, but I can’t come up with one, so please supply your own!  Reckon I’ll be cycling a lot from now on.  Might even keep an injury/near-miss count.  Watch this space.

3. New Year, new resolutions.  First and most urgent, my resolution to read at 1 book a month by a different author, that would be considered a ‘classic’ novel.  First up: ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens.  I had lots of suggestions on FB for novels to add to my list, but please feel free to add your own suggestions here.  This may even become a recurring resolution, if it works out.

4. PC build — I will add the second part of the build when I have more time.  Suffice it to say now that it went very well, and I’m extremely happy with the result.

5. Music: two things.  Piano teacher — acquired, yay!  First lesson tonight, in which we’ll just talk generally about what I want, where I am music-wise, and what we might aim towards.  Second thing: Halle Choir joined!  First piece we’re doing is Delius’s “Sea Drift”.  Madeleine Lovell is the new chorus master of the Halle, but due to family issues won’t be taking up her post until March.  I want to find a singing teacher up here, but need to get some recommendations from people I trust.  Debbie didn’t have many contacts up here, so I’ll have to cast my net wider, I feel.

6. Xmas — fun.  Parents: well.  Brother: bonded with, but still annoying.  Ireland: snowy.

And that is all.  Hie-yahh!

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