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book review: the bone clocks

The Bone Clocks is David Mitchell’s new novel about a woman named Holly Sykes and the strange life she gets caught up in living. It does the excellent David Mitchelly thing of having multiple sections which are their own stories in their own specific times (though this one, unlike Cloud Atlas, does keep marching into the future).

I liked the story as it built from a literary-feeling mundane story into a pretty gonzo sci-fi spectacle. Holly Sykes is in every part and she’s great, but she’s not the narrator or even a main character in many of the sections, which is kind of what I really liked about the novel. It bounces around with a bunch of different perspectives (which are not as extremely different as the different styles in number9dream) that to me make it feel like it’s trying to capture the multiplicity of life. The book’s always about Holly even if we’re in the heads of her less than immaculate friends and lovers.

There are a couple of things that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but they were more on the loose ends side of things. The final section was longer than it probably needed to be but it was also the most affecting part of the whole experience. That might be because it was the furthest into the future and the most sfnal. I can see how you could call it preachy, but I think that fits the narrator at that point.

So yes, I liked it. It’s a bit weirder than The Thousand Autumns of Jacon de Zoet, but Mitchell knows how to write characters you’ll really care for (in the midst of weird scifiishness).

book review: the collector

John Fowles’ The Collector is a novel of the 1960s about a man who wins the lottery and then kidnaps a young woman, keeping her in a dungeon in the British countryside. It’s an unsettling book, even in our age of antiheroes, but what’s great about it is the structure. (I am such a sucker for an interestingly constructed novel.)

See, the first half of the book is the story from the collector’s point of view. We’re in his head and we see his reasons for everything he’s doing, and because he doesn’t rape the young woman immediately there’s this dread that builds and builds. The hassles and frustrations of buying a house and building a dungeon in it are all treated in a very matter of fact way and it lulls you into this weird headspace. It never has you rooting for him, but you can find yourself feeling sorry for him.

Then for the second half of the book we see everything through the victim’s eyes, including her preoccupation with an affair she was having with an older artist. It’s kind of amazing. I love that we don’t alternate points of view on things as they happen (or even on a chapter by chapter basis). Since we know the incidents that will happen from how the collector experienced them, it builds even more dread in the second half, not about what will happen, but about how will she feel when that thing we know is coming happens?

The conclusion isn’t anything special (I was kind of hoping for something amazing like in Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman) but this was his first novel, so I’ll forgive that. The whole book is quite restrained, and makes something like The Silence of the Lambs (just to pick a kidnapping story) seem really crass and obvious.

snowden and miranda and the guardian’s destroyed hard drives

As I’m sure others here have been doing, I’ve been keeping up with Glenn Greenwald’s coverage of Snowden’s leaks about the NSA. I’ve been kind of disgusted by the fact that this stuff appears to be legal even though it’s terrible. And that so many politicians have lied about the procedures, though that surprises me not a huge amount. I’m also not fool enough to believe this kind of surveillance doesn’t affect those of us north of the 49th.

But it seems like this weekend the progression of that story got much worse. It seems to me that holding the partner of a journalist under anti-terror laws for his role in supporting journalism is pretty heinous to those of us who believe in intellectual freedom.

It also seems that the UK government going to a news organization’s headquarters and making them destroy hard drives containing information they disapprove of is also fucking terrible.

These are laws created in a democracy designed for one thing being used to attempt to intimidate people who want to get information about our various democracies out there. This is legal but abusive. Gah. Fuck. More cussing.

To me this is clearly an intellectual freedom issue. This is the government telling someone what they are and are not allowed to talk about. This is bullshit.

As a librarian it might not be hitting where I live… yet. I mean, our government isn’t telling librarians what we are and aren’t allowed to have in our libraries, so maybe this isn’t our fight? But the fact that journalists are being disallowed from publishing certain stories is a big problem, and one that will spread. As librarians we can celebrate how we deal with cook challenges in various Bible Belts, but I think we should be doing more.

I would like to suggest that this year when Banned Books Week comes around, us librarians reach a bit further. I’d like to see us celebrating wikileaks cables and articles about Snowden in our libraries instead of merely pointing at the challenged books we have in our collections in a collective fit of smugness.

Books are fine. I love books, but I think celebrating our victories over past challenges is just another way to celebrate the status quo when there’s more we can do. Although, as a friend of mine said today, the baseline in libraries is a bit better:

If the status quo still includes intellectual freedom, mitigating income inequality, etc…sign me up.

Consider this a co-sign.

book review: the case of the team spirit (bad machinery vol. 1)

The Case of the Team Spirit (by John Allison) is the comic I’m most looking forward to booktalking for middle-school students next year. It’s about a group of six 11-year-olds (three boys, three girls) in Tackleford England (a made-up place) who solve mysteries. This mystery is about the hex that’s been put on their local football (soccer) team. This gets right to the heart of one investigator, while the rest are, well, less into football, but they do like their friend.

These characters are funny, and all of them are clever. The supporting characters, also great. I have a special affinity for Mr. Beckwith the young teacher who has this exchange with one of our detectives:

Charlotte: Sir how come you got rid of your beard?

Mr. Beckwith: My wife said it was scratching her.

Charlotte: Worr sir you are married?

Mr. Beckwith: Yeah I got a wife… am I giving away too much? Maybe I just have a piano. I didn’t want to scratch the piano with my chin.

Charlotte:Sir can I sit down on account of being confused?

Mr. Beckwith: Yes Charlotte.

Though Bad Machinery is a webcomic which you can read for free on a screen, the book is a beautiful widescreen kind of thing about the same size (and orientation) as a laptop screen. But it is batteryless.

So yes. Great stuff, and you will learn Britishisms.

book review: the ocean at the end of the lane

The Ocean At The End of The Lane is Neil Gaiman’s latest book for adults, but it reminded me much more of Coraline or The Graveyard Book than American Gods.

Part of that is because of its small scale. There’s an author whose father has died and on his visit home for the funeral he stops by a neighbour’s farm. This prompts recollection of the story of the opal miner who was their lodger when he was seven, which is a story he’d forgotten. The story involves a creature giving people money and seducing his father so that he will never be able to get help.

I liked the story, it was beautiful and Gaimany. I kind of feel bad for saying it but I’d hoped for something more substantial.

book review: johnny and the dead

Johnny and the Dead is a book about a boy who can see and talk to the deceased folks in his local graveyard. Terry Pratchett uses this short kids’ novel to deal with the importance for living people to remember the dead (and the dead people to forget the living). The basic plot is that the village council wants to put in a new condo development on the graveyard and the dead people tell Johnny to stop them. Johnny gets his friends together and (this is where the book really shines) do not organize a protest or anything big and outside the scope of what a bunch of 11-year-olds could conceivably do, they just ask questions about the people who are in the graveyard.

Now, it’s Terry Pratchett writing this, so the characters are funny, but the situations never really are. Even though it’s a bit dated (it’s from the ’90s), it’s a pretty excellent story for Remembrance Day, especially since it talks about how sad it is that soldiers go off and die (instead of doing some bullshit celebratory thing about their noble sacrifices or whatever). Also, it’s the middle book of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, but I haven’t read the first one and did not feel like I was missing anything.

book review: supergod

Supergod is the story a British scientist tells of how the world was destroyed by nations putting their trust in hugely powerful beings who can fly. It’s an interesting read for the ideas and the pictures of superbeings reshaping the world.

There aren’t really any characters to get attached to apart from the narrator, who basically takes the place of Uncle Warren telling creepy tales of mushroom sex and soviet robots. Also, because it’s a Warren Ellis comic, of course the British space program plays into the story.

It’s a different take on superhumans than something like Black Summer; a much bigger picture story, and one that highlights how badly people would really deal with that kind of thing.

book review: the children of men

Disclosure: I loved the movie version of P.D. James’ The Children of Men and without having read the book made the assumption that they would be very similar. Because I am strangely naïve about movie adaptations I guess? I’d have thought I was a cynic in these matters by now, whatever. The book in this case is very different from the movie.

The best way to think of it is to consider the two stories to be parallel tales about the same world. In this world, there have been no babies born for decades. Humanity has inexplicably gone sterile. Here, the book and movie part ways.

In the book the protagonist Theo is in his fifties and is a history professor with no real students anymore since even the youngest people are over 25. The youngest people are known as Omegas and they terrify the aging populace, since they were brought up doted on and knowing they would be the final humans ever. Theo is the cousin to Xan, the despotic ruler of England. A bumbling bunch of fools ask him to talk to the ruler to make some sort of change. Against his better judgment, he does so.

The book is about that relationship between Theo and Xan, who are both not-young men. Theo has all this guilt from accidentally killing the daughter he and his ex-wife once had, which plays a big part. The bumbling fools are trying to be terrorists to get England changed, but they aren’t effective. There is talk about the Isle of Man, where the prisoners are exiled to, but the book doesn’t take us there. The climax in the book takes place in a woodshed near Wales. It’s very different.

I like the movie version better but I love the idea that both stories happened, with different participants and results. If more stories from the childless future intrigue you, the book is worth your time. If you mainly loved Children of Men for that amazing Steadicam shot, there’s not a lot for you in the book.

book review: a monster calls

I made the mistake of reading the last third of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls out in a park on a sunny day. This was a mistake because the book is so sad I was sitting there sniffling and holding back tears in the midst of happy people in the sun looking at boats and such. If you read it on a rainy day you will feel much more in tune with the world.

A Monster Calls is about a monster who comes and visits Conor, who’s been having terrible nightmares. The monster tells him the monster will tell Conor three stories and then Conor will have to tell the monster one, and in this way the monster will help the boy.

Put like that it kind of sounds like a cool little fable kind of thing. But it’s actually a story about how death and love and cancer and everything in the universe is just not fair at all. It isn’t a fantasy story; it’s a coping with reality story.

It is so good.

book review: apocalypse suite (the umbrella academy vol.1)

Apocalypse Suite is a time travel, get the team back together to fight something that’s gone horribly wrong, high adventure style comic that I enjoyed immensely. It’s Gerard Way’s first time writing a comic and it doesn’t really show.

The Umbrella Academy super team was once a bunch of orphan kids brought together to fight terrible threats (including an animated Eiffel Tower). This story takes place when their mentor has died and they regroup after scattering to the winds (or the moon) for years. Then one member comes back from the future and the team member who doesn’t do anything special feels slighted and it all spins out of control. It’s a great story, illustrated superbly by Gabriel Ba. Highly recommended.

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