I recently mentioned that I have backed off my original goal for finishing the Hugos. I also thought I might have a better idea of how far off I am.
It took me nine weeks to read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. It was an extraordinarily long book, but it wasn't nine weeks long. While I was reading it, I was also studying for the GRE and I may have watched an episode or two, or a season, of Downton Abbey when I wasn't jamming books in my face.
Now I have found myself back in school, still working, still a dad, and with just over a handful of Hugo's left, some of them being nearly as ridiculously long as Jonathan Strange. That is to say, I've taken too long to finish the Hugo's and now I'll have more reading with more urgent deadlines and all of my usual things to do and a lot less time to fit the Hugo's in.
I had originally envisioned that I would go back to this year, but I had also thought I would be done with the Hugos by then. Ha!
So, how do I now approach these final Hugos?
Well, to start, I should explain that I am a slow reader, or I should say that I am a careful reader. I read and re-read passages that are confusing, enlightening, awkward, or just rad. I stop and think. I drink a little wine. I figure reading a novel should be taken seriously and approached with the same gravitas that any thousands of years old craft deserves (kind of makes you wonder why I started this challenge right?) Okay, sometimes I read while Emmeline watches Powerpuff Girls or My Little Pony, but when I can, I like to have all my things arranged and I like to dig in. This challenge aside, I take forever to read even the shortest books and I like it that way.
When I started this challenge, I finished each book with days to spare. I was psyched, the books were shorter, I was staying up until all hours of the night and operating during the day on a tiny, coffee fueled replacement brain. Since then the books have grown longer, I've taken on more commitments, staying up past midnight has become a death sentence, my brain is real (and still tiny) and I've had trouble getting through any book in under two weeks. Erg.
With that in mind, my first thought was to just finish them out via audiobook, because it's possible that I could end up reading these until the end of time, but that's out because they aren't all available at my library. Also, apart being a little disappointed about not meeting my self-imposed goal, I'm not terribly depressed about the idea of continuing this for a little longer.
I don't know yet how easy it will be to balance my required reading and my Hugo reading, but with just few to go, I don' t imagine it will take me more than a few more months. I might take a while to finish the longer books and my posts might be a little irregular for the first few weeks, but hopefully I'll get into a groove soon and everything in the entire world will be perfect. Let's plan on that.
And if all else fails, instead of "64 books in 64 weeks", The Hugo Endurance Project will just have to mean that I'm "reading books to death". It might be a confusing goal at first but I assume the autopsy will clear it right up.
30 April 2013
28 April 2013
Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
2007 Hugo Award Winner
Read by Eric Conger
Got it from: Own it
After medical treatments make it possible for Alzheimer patients to completely recover, Robert Gu finds himself in a pretty intensive rehab program. He isn’t the person he used to be, and he doesn’t live in the same world either. He was a famous poet in a world similar to ours. Now he is no one, learning how to “sming” and how to interface with computers. It is during his rehab at Fairmont High School, that Robert becomes embroiled in a conspiracy plot to end all conspiracy plots.
So there is one reality where an author has an uncanny ability to tap into the most salient features of some really complex issues. In Rainbows End, Vinge reminds us how well he capitalizes on our most deep-rooted fears and our most lofty scientific achievements. In beginning this book, I had figured Rainbows End for another goldmine of Vinge-y, SF goodness…but I didn’t labor under that delusion for long.
I was excited by the opening computer/chemical warfare plot. I was reminded of the cyber-attacks on nuclear facilities in Iran going back a couple of years and I thought Vinge might have been preparing to go bigger. I was strapping myself in for Vinge’s brand of ultra-paranoia. It harkened to the message boards in A Fire Upon the Deep and man…I ate that stuff up.
In the first chapter, “Mr. Rabbit visits Barcelona” (Sweet title. I loved it), Vinge was poised to capitalize on how compelling and/or dangerous the convergence of several technological advancements could be in a world where anonymous access is taken to just about every extreme, and I was ready to follow him wherever he wanted to go.
Taken separately, individual elements of Vinge’s future were awe inspiring, but the other reality of Rainbows End is that as these elements come together and the story starts to drag on and on, the final product doesn’t seem equal the sum of its parts.
I almost think this is worse than having just written a story that falls flat altogether. Vinge touches on all the right topics and sets himself up for a home run, while everyone is batting blindfolded. Instead of just striking out, as authors do sometimes, in Rainbows End, Vinge lets go of the bat and injures some unsuspecting kid in the stands hoping to catch a foul ball. And I think I might have been that kid, because this one left me confused.
While I admit to exclaiming audibly at the coolness of this or that bit of tech or social construction quite frequently, I didn’t much enjoy the overall story. Tension? Not so much. Compelling characters? Nope. Cool world, but there was never any reason to be in it.
Consistent with my last Vinge experience, Rainbows End incorporates a plethora of themes both scientific and psychological, and fantastically so, but it also lacks a lot. Comparing the two Hugo winners that I’m familiar with, Rainbows End feels like it occupies a specific place and time in a way that A Fire Upon the Deep did not. I don’t have much interest in re-reading this one, but I am curious how it will hold up to another ten years or so. I might be wrong; it could be like good wine.
I actually started this review several weeks ago and before I chucked everything I had and started again, I noticed that this audiobook was only fourteen hours. Not terribly long as far as audiobooks go, but it felt longer than some of the longest I’ve gone through so far. I guess even though the concepts were interesting, they only had the power to captivate for so long. Perhaps I’ll enjoy the shorter stories that Rainbows End was based on instead.
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Scientific Wonders 4/5
18 April 2013
Well, Stardust was an interesting interlude between the two other Neil Gaiman novels. I’m glad to have participated and I always enjoy read alongs because the questions either require that I think differently about the book or force me to articulate some half-formed thoughts. Carl is especially good at generating questions that get to the meat of a story, but also some of the fun too.
Of course, one of the best parts of a read along is visiting and discussing with other bloggers. For Stardust, it has been a great, smart group and I can’t wait to hear from everyone again. Thanks again Carl for organizing this and I look forward to the book vs. movie discussion to follow.
So how about Carl's questions.
1. In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran. What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended?
Carl did a good job of bringing me around to Tristran during the last discussion. Tristran’s journey was predictable but fun, funny at times. At first I wasn’t sure he had changed all that much by the end. Now that I’m sitting here thinking about it more, I like that Tristran’s journey resulted in a realistic personal growth. We saw his unhealthy infatuation with Victoria vanish, his niavete lessen, but his sudden choice to travel the world with Yvaine recalled some of the old impulsive, romantic Tristran. It seemed a very human way to “grow”.
2. The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own. So I ask the same question, what are your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took?
I had a hard time getting on board with Yvaine’s transformation. I thought the progression from hating Tristran, to feeling obligated to him, to falling in love with him was forced and frankly, I failed to make that last jump from obligation to love. I thought for a minute I had missed something. Yvaine seemed to rather abruptly change her mind about him at each stage and I never really developed much of an emotional connection with her.
I never really saw her as destined for something bigger either. We meet her as a fallen star with a broken leg, helpless and I felt rather insipid at times. That she would later become a wise and balanced ruler was certainly a more appealing fate than just wasting after Tristan died, but I never got a real sense of a trajectory from her.
I wouldn’t say I was particularly upset about her character or her journey, but frankly, I didn’t really follow her transformation very well and as a result didn’t have much of a connection to her.
3. The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones. How do you feel about Neil Gaiman's handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal?
This was certainly the most interesting treatment of villains I can recall for a long time. I mentioned how much I enjoyed seeing the witch queen humbled while at the same time demonstrating her terrible power. Gaiman only intensified his very unusual handling of villains and I only enjoyed it, and them, even more in the second half.
4. Were there any descriptions, characters, settings, plot threads that stood out to you personally during this second half of the book?
I was rather touched by the carefree approach to experiencing the world that overtook Tristran and Yvain after leaving Victoria. There was this one last thing tethering them to Wall, Tristran’s family and society. Once that was eliminated, and combined with the feeling from the first half of the book that Tristran’s parents could have done with a little more upfront honesty about Tristran, their choice to just aimlessly wander was deeply satisfying to me.
5. At the very end of the book we see that Tristran and Yvaine's relationship and fate echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings. If this question makes any sense to you (lol), what comparisons and/or contrasts do you see, especially in the fates of Yvaine and Arwen?
I came to this same conclusion about the two couples myself. I’m not sure I have a lot to add about that here though as it was mostly just something of a passing thought once or twice. What did strike me a differentiating the two was that Yvaine didn’t seem nearly as concerned about what her life would be like with Tristran gone. Perhaps this is the result of a life span counted on a galactic scale, or because Yvaine was less emotionally tied to her man? I’m not sure I have that answer, I admit it has been several years since I read LOTR.
6. What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done?
In broad strokes, I liked it. Probably my favorite of Gaiman’s stories that I’ve read. I was fun and whimsical in a vague and vaguely dark way. I think this is one to be read several times over the course of a life. I imagine it would take on drastically different meanings each time.
7. If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there? If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on?
My first inclination was to say that all I cared about was Dunstan, but I think I’d also revisit Wall/Faerie for more about any of the villains. Any of them at all.
14 April 2013
This blog was meant to chronicle my time spent training for my first marathon while at the same time reading through every Hugo Award winning novel in as many weeks as there are winners, or the other way around. Being that there are 64 Hugo winners, including the retros, this meant that had I stayed on schedule the entire time, I would have finished reading every Hugo novel ever, yesterday. Anyone keeping track (to my knowledge this is just me, and that is only sometimes), knows that this has not happened. In fact, I still have yet to finish eight more Hugo's.
Books like Cyteen, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, and the Mars Trilogy, combined with a ton of really poor excuses (which I'm going to lean pretty heavily on anyway) to pretty seriously delay progress at several points over the last few months and even though I'm so near the end, I know that I have a couple of whammies that could still make my life difficult.
At the same time, listening to audiobooks more than I ever thought I would, has also allowed me to make some good time when I otherwise would not have been able to. Currently, I've started, and found many excuses not to dig into, Paladin of Souls and I'm also about two-thirds through American Gods audiobook.
Continuing progress notwithstanding, I have obviously failed meeting my reading goal for this challenge.
The silver lining here is that there are about two maybe three people actually reading anything I write here, and fewer people who care, so I'm thinking no one will really hold it over my head and I can just keep chugging until I get there. Except for myself. You know I'm going to lord it over myself every chance I get.
So, I'm hoping that, if I haven't upset the SF gods too much, I will have an amended goal within the next few days. I should be telling you all how disappointed I am, I am I assure you, but the writing has been on the wall since somewhere around week two, so I've had some time to come to terms with my inadequacies (see first sentence). In terms of the stages of grief, I'm well into Shoving Down Emotions and Proceeding as if Everything is Fine (probably because of all the "handshakefullness" workshops I've been attending).
Light up the comments if you'd like. I deserve it. But know that I'm still going strong, just slower. And to those of you who have been around since the early days AND to those of you who continue to leave comments and encouragement: THANKS AND PLEASE STICK AROUND!
Oh, and if you see my wife around, remind her how patient and forgiving she is :-)
11 April 2013
Over the past year, I’ve participated in several of the (non)challenges hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings. In that time, I’ve had to pass on quite a few read-alongs that he has also hosted and which have always looked amazingly fun. When I saw that he had one planned for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, which is short and sounded fun, I thought it was not only a good chance to hopefully redeem my opinion of Gaiman after a not so enthusiastic reading of The Graveyard Book, and also the opportunity to participate in one of Carl’s read-alongs as I’ve been waiting for so long to do.
So here is the first installment. As Carl suggested, I’ve been listening to Gaiman himself read this one and like I said in the case of The Graveyard Book, Gaiman does a fantastic job reading his own work. Carl has also suggested we take these questions as we please and I’m doing just that. I’m getting to this late after-all.
1. We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star. What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?
2. There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book. Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?
At first I didn’t care much for any of the villains, but I became very interested in the Witch Queen toward the end of Chapter 5. Her goats were interesting and her chariot even more so, but what I really appreciated was that we see her fooled so early in the story. She is still clearly a force to be reckoned with and will no doubt cause some serious trouble for Tristan but she’s also liable to be tricked when her guard is down too. It didn’t so much endear me to her as it did to the storytelling itself. I like that Gaiman’s villains can be pretty terrifying even when we see that they can be tricked into paying too much for the milk (that is totally not a saying but I’m going with it).
3. In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes "each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there...". What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?
4. We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold. Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.
5. If you have read much of Gaiman's work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex. Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust. What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?
I didn’t so much enjoy the sex scene per-se, but I did enjoy how emotionally charged it was, without being graphic or disturbing as Gaiman’s other portrayals have been. Instead, I came away feeling very much a part of the fleeting yet strong and unspoken connection between two people. It seemed like something that shouldn’t be overlooked and felt real and important. In a world that was so quickly established as something different than our own, their meeting seemed so real. Of course, anything Gaiman writes has an essentially other-worldly quality but, and especially in contrast to the market scene, this scene imparted a sense of grace and beauty that was shockingly endearing.
6. I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust. Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?
7. And finally, which of the many side characters introduce have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?
The dynamic between Tristan and his father, Tristan and his mother, and between the father and mother themselves was just great. Gaiman really just hints at a quiet anxiety but even the nub he shows us hints at a pretty complicated family dynamic that I really wish we could have heard more about. The truth just seemed to hang about the air and though the family put on pretty taciturn airs, all the little things apparently made a huge impact on Tristan’s upbringing. Meanwhile, his father’s acceptance and special attention only highlights what they were all trying so desperately not to point out. We didn’t get much of a look at the family, but what we did see was fraught…in the most intriguing way.
Similarly, I was, at least initially, very interested in what could have made Tristan’s mother leave him at the Gates of Wall. I think we’ll probably get a better flavor for the pressures and fears that lead her to make such a difficult choice as we get further into the book, but maybe not. In any case, it only contributed to a very much understated sense of mystery surrounding Tristan that I was quite thrilled with. Compared to Gaiman’s other books I’ve read (just a few of them), this has been the most absorbing beginning for me.
Of course this is also where my only complaint comes in so far. I couldn’t help feeling there was something missing in Tristan’s character. I didn’t get the sense that his family life, excessive teasing, and his deep love for Victoria didn’t make for the strong connection with Tristan that you might expect. He seemed oddly impervious to the weirdness and meanness, and the outright rebuffs Victoria deals him. You’d expect his reactions, or lack thereof, to somehow manifest themselves as an extraordinary sense of determinedness or other such capability. Instead he came off rather uncaring and emotionally inept at times.
07 April 2013
I'm sure some of you thought it might never happen, but I finally finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. On April 7th, 2013 at 10:10 pm. If you haven't read it, this is something of a life moment for me. That's all I have for you. Start celebrating!
31 March 2013
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
2008 Hugo Award Winner
Read by Peter Riegert
Got it from: Public Library
In Chabon’s alternate history, European Jewish refugees were allowed to settle in Sitka, Alaska during WWII. Israel was destroyed after only a few months, and now after sixty years, the Federal District of Sitka is set to revert to the state of Alaska. In the midst of the gloom and the impending finality that surrounds the district and its inhabitants, Meyer Landsman, an alcoholic homicide detective, finds himself pulled inexorably into the murder investigation of the son of a powerful organized crime boss.
Reading in three dimensions
No one can deny that the Hugo list, which has tended to the representation of male and WASPy perspectives, could use an infusion of diversity. Some of my favorite Hugo’s have been those that more inclusive of a wider array of human experience, but they’re few and far between. I was pretty excited by the title, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, for that very reason. Chabon’s win has the added benefit, or curse, of being the kind of book that tests our boundaries, and as a result, reaches fans outside the genre. And that’s probably a good thing.
At the same time as I’m happy about this book as a kind of border crossing, I’m not a great fan of alternate history as SF. I’m not aware of much critical discussion regarding the topic, and maybe this is my fault. Maybe there is a true dearth of scholarship on the fringes of SF, I’m not sure. I suppose I should do some research. I do know that I don’t find that the most often repeated justification holds water. After all, doesn’t every book ask, “what if?”, in some way or another?
Whatever your perspective of the appropriateness of considering this book, or alternate history in general, as a part of the Science Fiction/Fantasy universe, this book will hopefully be one that, years from now helps us to better understand the genre. Other than this, I feel pretty ambivalent about The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.
Chabon in fact conceived of the book as a result of something of an odd question - What if there was a place that would necessitate a translation manual from English to Yiddish. What countries would such a manual (he happened across one called “Say it in Yiddish”) be necessary?
Chabon’s Sitka, Alaska, was a pretty wonderful exploration. There is a very real sense of place and space – a feeling of a living breathing place – which is the result of some truly great prose. It tricks you into grabbing hold of the direct and austere noir elements which he then slyly pokes holes in with unexpectedly sardonic witticism and cynical-yet-florid descriptions. The effect is that every street, building, and room, has something of a unique texture and feeling of actual depth. It felt like reading in three dimensions.
Despite amazingly great writing, I thought the story itself was lackluster at best. I’m normally a fool for a story with such dark and hopeless characters and places, but something kept me from really sinking into this one. Even by the end I didn’t have any particular feelings about it. I hope it wasn’t because I was forced to listen to the audiobook, but it could have been. There were countless times that I wish I could have lingered on a scene or phrase. I guess this is all good reason to return, at a time when I’m more prepared to give it some real effort. Honestly though, I don’t know what would motivate me to do that.
When I started this decade, I was committed to “no more audiobooks”. Then I checked out Susanna Clarke’s mind-bogglingly long winner and felt I had no choice but to listen during my commute if I wanted to finish the Hugo’s anytime soon. A vague awareness of the book’s critical reception had only heightened my anticipation and I had been excited to read The Yiddish Policeman’s Union for the cover alone so I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get the feel of real pages.
Peter Riegert’s reading was the perfect substitute. He was great for capturing the gritty-noir and the uncomfortable air of something impending. Perhaps his gruff sound took something from the moments of levity in Chabon’s prose, but I loved every minute of his reading.
There is also an interview with Chabon at the end of the book which was helpful. I appreciated the better understanding of where Chabon was coming from, the genesis of Jewish Sitka, and his intentions.
Overall, I was happy with the audiobook. I don’t know that I would really encourage anyone else to listen but if someone were anxious to, I wouldn’t stop them.
Despite recognizing that this was an amazing book, I find myself deeply perplexed as to how it was nominated and won Best Novel. I’m not completely convinced that it belongs here and Chabon himself admits that he never thought of it as science fiction while writing it. I normally don’t care much for what an artist thinks of their own work once it’s in the public sphere, but in this case it seems telling. I’m not diametrically opposed to it winning, I just need better context. For everyone else, there’s plenty to like here. Just know what you’re getting into.
Social/Political Climate 4/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5
29 March 2013
Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
2003 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
The book’s synopsis had me quite worried at the start:
“During a quantum-computing experiment, Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, accidentally pierces the barrier between worlds and is transferred to our universe. He is almost immediately recognized as a Neanderthal, but only much later as a scientist. He is quarantined and studied, along and bewildered, a stranger in a strange land.”
– from the inside cover
Hominids was such an odd read and got off to a very shaky start for me. Parallel universe stories are not my favorite, AT ALL. Added to that was a decidedly pretentious author’s note intended to demonstrate how much research Sawyer had done – and no, Mr. Sawyer, I’m not interested in where to look if I want to learn more about Neanderthals. Then a decidedly male gaze (we are introduced to Louise as a lacy-bra-wearing, cosmo-reading-when-she-should-be-paying-attention-to-sciency-stuff, statuesque French-Canadian post-doc) left me thinking I had really stepped in it. I should have been more prepared, the dedication was to “Dude and The Other Dude” after all. Of course that was only the beginning of my woes, but I’ll get back to that because there was at least one element that had me smiling (not for long), and I don’t want to lose this fleeting positive attitude.
I’ve you’ve seen my reviews of Startide Rising and The Uplift War, you know that one of my favorite things about the Hugo Awards has been the extension of personhood to dolphins and monkeys. The jump from Neanderthal to Sapien probably isn’t much of a leap but it’s something, but expanding our sense of who we are and who else is “us”, even just a little, is a step in the right direction. And it’s a direction that I consider one of the most proper roles of science fiction.
Rape, religion, and everything else that made no sense.
While we’re on the topic of the proper roles of science fiction, let’s talk about one of the most contentious elements of the book, the rape of Mary Vaughan.
After reading +/-80% of the Hugo Novels, I’ve come to expect a nuanced and meaningful discussion of the interplay between technological and social progress from any Hugo winner. Instead, Sawyer completely misses an opportunity to discuss the unequal realization of the benefits of scientific advancements between men and women. Here I found myself excited at the possibility for a courageous discussion when Mary dashes back to the lab to collect any possible evidence. Skipping ahead though, rather than a treatment of the way that science allows us to bring to justice so many more rapists than ever before, or maybe instead of the frequency with which the justice system fails to do so despite clear evidence, Sawyer never returns to the evidence in the lab. In fact, Mary never really gives reporting the rape a second thought once she’s made her way into Ponter’s safe, gigantic – male – hands. Sawyer’s treatment of rape is problematic at best; his failure to return to the theme though, is inexcusable.
Then, there is the unexplainable religious debate between Mary and Ponter just days after Ponter finds himself in our universe, and while he still can’t speak English. The whole argument is completely flaccid and clearly propped-up by a desire to make Mary’s faith seem silly. More than the question of whether Mary’s beliefs were given a fair shake though, I just found myself exasperated that the entire conversation was even happening. Meanwhile, Reuben and Louise are either pounding each like they’ve been charged with repopulating the world, or else cooking meat in the back yard.
Needless to say, I found it completely ludicrous that after a Neanderthal inexplicably shows up on Earth and has subsequently been kidnapped, fallen deathly ill, quarantined, and learned English, all in a matter of days, that anyone it that house would act as they did. These were apparently serious and respected scientists in the midst of the greatest discovery in the history of the universe and the whole thing had the air of a Seinfeld episode with the added gravity of The Room.
Finally there is Sawyer’s apparent disdain for humanity. Here I’ll call into question precisely that which has been so hailed as Sawyer’s crowning achievement, the Neanderthal society. Sawyer from the beginning establishes a worldview which holds human social norms in pretty low regard, clearly in an effort to bludgeon his way to a human development story, but his apparent response is the creation of a Neanderthal universe which is clearly just as bad in every way. I actually thought there was the potential for an interesting question of free-will here, but trying to do too many things made any possible human development theme awkward and confused.
In particular, but among other things, I was thrown by his treatment of male-female sexual relationships. Sex for Reuben/Louise was just inappropriate, and in Mary’s case, it’s a tool for violence. Sawyer’s response is basically akin to an abstinence only philosophy. Sure male-male sex seems to be good, but I don’t recall if there is even mention of female-female, and male-female is only allowed for procreation…and we all know how well that works.
Worst of all, Sawyer never returns to Mary’s rape. Well he does, but simply and vaguely to move her past her rape and “into the future”. In the absence of further discussion, Sawyer appears to use rape simply to create drama. This is of course a frequent use of rape in popular culture, but inexcusable nonetheless. For this reason alone (but the other issues don’t help Hominid’s cause), I would hesitate for a long while before recommending this book to anyone.
Social/Political Climate 4/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5
19 March 2013
I finished listening to Harry Potter today. Jim Dale is so much fun. Of course I have several other reviews to write before I can get around to reviewing it, but I wanted to take a moment now to have some fun with it anyway. You see, one of the worst things about the book is that Rowling completely fails to capitalize on the year when Harry and Ron start to notice girls and well, Hermione’s feelings are pretty much non-existent.
I refuse to miss out on all the magical teenage anguish that must have been floating around Hogwarts, so I did my very best to remove a few quotes as far from their context as possible and imagine that Rowling was actually giving us closely guarded hints at how being a teenage witch or wizard might really have been with so many students and so few teachers.
Let’s ease into this. What exactly did Harry have in mind, I wonder:
And as the vela danced faster and faster, wild, half-formed thoughts started chasing through Harry’s dazed mind. He wanted to do something very impressive, right now.
Harry’s dirty thinking - Chapter 8
This makes me uncomfortable for so many reasons:
“Nice socks, Potter.” Moody growled as he passed, his magical eye staring through Harry’s robes.
Mad-Eye Moody to Harry - Chapter 23
I always figured Hagrid for a despicable old half-giant, but this is just obscene:
“Big bones…I’ll give her big bones.”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another nervously…
Hagrid to the Gang - Chapter 24
Never, ever, say prod:
(his voice was so quiet now, Harry leaned closer to listen) “if I can help at all…a prod in the right direction…I’ve taken a liking to you…”
Ludo Bagman to Harry - Chapter 24
Everything about this next one is filthy, but then her name is Moaning Myrtle after all:
“Oooh, very good,” she said, her thick glasses twinkling, “it took Diggory much longer than that! And that was with her awake too”
Moaning Myrtle to Harry - Chapter 25
I’d venture to guess this is illegal for several reasons, but what do I know about Wizarding Law (also this is not actually funny):
Ron was tied between Hermione and Cho Chang. There was also a girl who looked no older than eight…All four of them appeared to be in a very deep sleep.
I can’t tell if it’s the “master” or the “winky” that makes this sound wrong:
“Master is needing his…Winky!”
Winky to Hermione - Chapter 28
I actually look forward to reviewing this book, and I hope to get around to soon. Until then, which was the least appropriate?
17 March 2013
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2009 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
Audiobook read by the author
The only surviving member of his murdered family, Nobody Owens was raised by ghosts. As you can imagine, Nobody eventually wishes to leave the graveyard and explore the big world, only to find that in the real world, there’s no place as friendly as your neighborhood graveyard.
My library has The Graveyard Book in just about every format to be found and I tried to sample them all. In the end, I decided to try out these Playaway thingies. My Mom has told me about them at her library, but I’d never actually seen one before now. I liked that there was an option to speed-up or slow-down the audio, and that it was read by the author, so I decided to give it a shot while also making note of the many other formats in existence (the illustrations by Dave McKean looked fantastic).
I’m glad I chose the Playaway device (a counterintuitive use of an mp3 player) because although the faster speed setting wasn’t to my taste, just hearing Gaiman read “flibbertigibbet” at what was descriptively labeled “speed ++”, was well worth the price of admission.
Going into this book, I knew next to nothing about it. Since completing it, I’ve seen The Graveyard Book oft praised for inspiring a sense of wonder.
Well, it certainly starts out promising. The title alone is about as ominous as the Hugo’s come (maybe right behind Doomsday book). We are immediately introduced to a toddler who has only narrowly escaped the clutches of “The Man Jack” (another threatening title), who murdered his family for an undisclosed reason. The first chapter ends when the boy is rescued, at the behest of his recently dead mother, by a graveyard full of very unthreatening ghosts. The rest of the book cobbles together an uninspiring hero’s journey, never managing to live up to the possibilities suggested by the title and first chapter. Gaiman notes that it began as a re-telling of The Jungle Book, but I just didn’t find it to be much of an improvement.
This is a book with an orphaned protagonist, ghosts, ghouls, and a murderous evil dude, from the 2000’s and it’s not Harry Potter. The fact that it is still well-known and well-loved is impressive. However, beyond the neat concept, the story lacks any robust development and it never mattered to me whether Bod would ever see Scarlett again, whether he’d get out of the graveyard permanently, or whether anything in particular would happen at all. The graveyard ghosts fell flat for me and Nobody Owens was one the most flat characters of all the Hugos. I might have cared about The Man Jack for a minute…but then I stopped at the uninspired “Jacks of All Trades”.
The Harry Potter series, for all its faults, had readers invested in not only Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but in the Hogwarts Castle, secondary characters and the compendium of magical beasts and intricacies of the previously unknown magical world. Compared, The Graveyard Book is just the most beautifully wrapped and enticing gift under your Christmas tree that upon unwrapping turns out to just be a second pair of boring pajamas.
The good wreck
Gaiman has a very recognizable voice. I’ve only read The Graveyard Book, Coraline, and I’ve heard him read a handful of things on the Youtube, but even this small sample has demonstrated an instantly recognizable author’s voice. He tells The Graveyard Book in much the same way that he addresses a graduating class. I happen to like that he approaches all of these with the same level of care for the construction and tone, so it’s fair to say that despite a fairly strong disconnection from the characters and events in The Graveyard Book, the vehicle in which it was told was truly pleasing.
But that’s not the voice I mean to talk about. I mean to say that his voice – his speaking voice – is just wonderful. If I were a contestant on one of those old dating shows where the bachelors are screened from view and they answer inane questions and whatnot and Neil Gaiman were one of the bachelors, his voice would totally be my pick.
He has the sort of voice that can perfectly convey the sense of wonder (I’ll admit there is a little more than none), of silliness, but also of the grave things that only a children’s story might contain all at once. The combination of his distinctive brand of storytelling and a rather natural voice-acting ability (the man knows how to pause like nobody’s business) created a children’s story that can fill the room.
I’m aware there are a great many people out there that enjoyed this book more than I did and I imagine for those who did, listening to Gaiman read it himself will just wreck them. This has been one of my most favorite audiobook experiences thus far.
The only other complaint I’d pass on here, was that it seemed to have such a deficit of emotion (and a story about an orphaned child should have been easy) that I never felt much about it at all. Honestly, the 2009 nominees included some pretty big names (Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Neal Stephenson), and it seems unlikely that this one pulled out the win. It was fun at times, but mostly just seemed uninspired. If my daughter were reading now, this would be pretty hard to suggest given the dearth of amazing SF/F for kids in existence.
Social/Political Climate 3/5
Scientific Wonders 2/5
After initially deciding not to listen to any more audiobooks for the remainder of the challenge, the time it is taking me to finish Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is forcing me to. So while I continue with that beast, I'm also listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.