Archive | August 2010

Thoughts on reading: Non-Stop

Number 33 of the SF Masterworks is Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss, which deals with the generation-ship vision of spaceflight. As I’m doing with the Fantasy Masterworks, I’m sort of making my way through the SF Masterworks as well. So far, I’ve read 2, 4, 43, 46, 52, 53, 60, 61, and 67.

I enjoyed this. The worldbuilding is good and there is a mystery that builds up to an excellent reveal. What I noted particularly about the writing was the use of language. Aldiss uses words that indicate one thing to the reader and manages to convey that the characters of the story understand something else by them, for example, ponics (the crop the characters harvest) and ship-related words. There’s a lovely point at the end where the main character, Roy, sees the sun for the first time and says he imagined it square because the lights on the ship were all square. Having said that, sometimes, often enough for it to be noticeable, Aldiss uses cliches and adages that are too contemporary and it jolts the reader out of his world. So, I found use of language both good and bad in this book.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger is a book based on a 1970s TV series of the same name, examining the role of the observer in studying art and the myth and meaning of oil painting in Western culture. Fascinating, thought-provoking and challenging. The ideas in this book really excited me. Recommended!

Thoughts on reading: Black Man

I read a lot and as I’ve got better at writing (and more confident in my writing), most of what I read either makes me feel ‘I can do this too’ or ‘That’s a good way of doing it’. Occasionally, I read something that makes me feel talentless and stupid, that makes me realise how big the gap is between where I am and where I want to be. Richard Morgan’s Black Man is one of those books. It was amazing.

Something about this book made it seem better than everything I’ve read in a long time. All the basics are there and are done well. It’s a great plot, with twists and turns but no cheats. There are two key moments where I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next (in a good way) and in the end everything came together to create a full understanding of what had happened. The plot was really strong and well paced.

Worldbuilding is something I particularly noted. Morgan throws the reader into his world immediately and just leaves them to catch up. It’s slick and realistic. I don’t know if it’s just that I haven’t read much new science fiction lately, but it seemed really modern. It seemed like Morgan is really up on current affairs, cutting edge science and social/psychological theory and his vision of the future jumps off from now. He has lots of little details that really ground the book and make it real, such as having the characters reference celebrities, music, intellectuals and gurus. My over-riding impression was that this was a really intelligent, thorough book.

The characters were well-drawn, believable, with deep inner worlds and congruent outer actions. It was all done through inner monologue, for the POV characters, dialogue and action. The action scenes were exciting, convincing and pacy.

It’s not perfect. I noticed one or two clunky adjectives and awkward turns of phrase but that was all in a 600+ page book. I think that what makes this work so well is that all the elements are done to a high standard. There are many enjoyable books that have good plots with ok characters, or great writing and weak plots, or fascinating characters with nothing to do. Few books get everything right, and this is one of them. And on top of that, the themes are intelligently thought through in a fascinating way. Read it. It’s amazing.

In non-fiction news, I read The Courtesans by Joanna Richardson, which is a book of short biographies of 19th century French courtesans. Interesting, and full of tidbits for the work-in-progress!

30 Days of Buffy meme – Part 5

Day 25. Favourite Buffyverse saying. See, I think this is about catchphrases and Buffy didn’t really have catchphrases. There was great dialogue and some amazing lines, and a slanguage all it’s own, but no catchphrases. This is a one of its strengths. There are few things more annoying than having catchphrases endlessly repeated at you. I definitely went through a phase of adding ‘-age’ to nouns though.

Day 26. Favourite Scooby moment. The bit in Primeval where Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander gather to discuss the things that were said in The Yoko Factor. They are not ok as friends but they decide to do what needs to be done anyway.

Day 27. Cutest moment. Anya dressed as a scary bunny in Fear, Itself.

Day 28. Character you love to hate. This really has to be Buffy. She is often whiny, miserable and self-righteous. She struggles to find the fun and hides behind her responsibilities. But then, she does get put through the wringer and you can’t help but empathise with her.

Day 29. Episode you hate that everybody else loves. Don’t know what everyone else loved. I wasn’t overly keen on Him in Season 7.

Day 30. What you think made Buffy so great. So many things. The wit, the music, the feminism, it had vampires. It had great characters: the heroes were a little bad and the villains were a little good. There was some awesome dialogue and great chemistry. It didn’t take itself too seriously. Buffy had It, the X-factor, that indefinable thing that makes something greater than the sum of its parts.

30 Days of Buffy meme – Part 4

Day 19. Character you like that everyone else hates. Again, not sure I know who everyone else hates. People seem not to like Kennedy and Glory; I thought they were ok. Glory had some great lines and a really good plot device in the form of Ben.

Day 20. Best Spike-centric episode. They’re all great, obviously. But I think I like Lovers’ Walk largely because of this piece of dialogue from Spike: “You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love ’til it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other ’til it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”

Day 21. Best Willow-centric episode. Doppelgangland. I love vampire Willow and this is close on one of my favourite episodes of the whole show. It’s a little slice of a different imagining of Buffy, how it might have been if Whedon was a grittier, darker writer.

Day 22. Best Xander-centric episode. Xander doesn’t have that many episodes to be centric in, does he? I think The Zeppo from Season 3 because Xander gets to take care of himself and learns that he can. The Triangle is fun too, but I’m not sure it’s really Xander-centric.

Day 23. Two characters you wanted to get together that never did. Spike and Faith. That would have been hot. And also Joyce and Giles, even though they kind of did a bit in Bandcandy.

Day 24. Favourite example of 90’s special effects. There’s a training montage moment in When She Was Bad in Season 2, where it is clearly SMG’s stunt double.

30 Days of Buffy meme – Part 3

Day 13. Favourite potential slayer. The potentials didn’t really become individuals for me until Season 8, but I’m not really counting that. I’m going to go with Kennedy, mainly because she’s the only one I can remember.

Day 14. Favourite female villain. Faith. She rocks. If I was a female villain, I’d be Faith.

Day 15. Favourite male villain. Spike. Close runners up are Caleb and the Mayor.

Day 16. Episode you like that everyone else hates. Well, I’m not sure that I know what episodes everyone else hates. A few people seem not to like Dead Man’s Party, which I quite enjoyed.

Day 17. Character you relate to the most. Faith, definitely. For a lot of the time she was deeply unhappy and, particularly at the time it was on tv, I was pretty unhappy too. She takes independence to a paranoid extreme and I get why. Possibly not to quite the same extent.

Day 18. Character who didn’t get enough screen time. Faith! Or possibly Caleb. Or Cordelia, she was hilarious, and I was gutted when Season 4 opened and she wasn’t in it. As I remember I had to wait a week to find out she was in Angel.

Thoughts on reading: Twilight

People have had lots to say about Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if I hadn’t read so much criticism of it and it got to the point where I really wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

While I do subscribe to the view that all published fiction has something good about it, I recognise there are levels and types of goodness within that. So, in comparison to other published fiction that I have read, is Twilight any good? Surprisingly, it is. I wasn’t expecting that.

Plot-wise, there’s not much to it. Aside from Edward and Bella the characters are pretty lifeless. Bella’s friends and family are ciphers and she doesn’t seem to like them much. Edward’s family are more vivid, in the sense that I know what they’re supposed to look like, but by the end only Alice has a distinct personality. Edward and Bella are more fleshed out, especially Bella as the book is in first person from her POV. I can’t say I found either Edward or Bella particularly likeable. It’s an easy read; it’s 434 pages and I got through it in less than four hours.

The description of setting is variable; natural settings are brought out well with good writing but the town and buildings are vague and somewhat sketchy. Weather is also done well. The dialogue is ok, although Meyer is overly found of expressive dialogue tags, of which I think I found ‘snickered’ the most irritating. In fact, both Bella and Edward do quite a lot of snickering and chuckling and it is part of what contributes to making them unlikeable.

Yet, Twilight has something. By page forty, I was so engrossed I nearly missed my stop on the train and that doesn’t happen often. The relationship between Bella and Edward starts off in a standard Mills & Boon format. Edward starts off as angry boner man directing a violent and unpredictable temper at Bella. Then, about half way through, he ‘fesses up. Edward opens up and reveals that his anger stems from his insecurities. He still is a bit of a dick, but not so much as he was shaping up to be.

The romance between them is the intensely emotional yet virginal kind that you only experience as a teenage. This isn’t a young girl seduced by an older man, it is two teenagers experiencing first love. Edward may be a 100-year old vampire but in this respect he is a seventeen year old boy. There is a bit of touching, face, neck and arms only, four kisses with no tongue, and that’s it. Yet, it is so sexy. The passion between them is overwhelming and in the end that’s what pulls you in.

The writing is ok (it generally gets better towards the end), neither plot or character are compelling, but the relationship is absorbing. Twilight is good; it’s not great, but it’s not awful either.