juniper green

juniper green

science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else

Review
4 Stars
Space Opera- Catherynne M. Valente
Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

 

For once, a book is exactly what it says on the package: Douglas Adams meets Eurovision Song Contest. It's a rollicking adventure with no shortage of glam and glitter.

 

A hundred years after the Sentience Wars have almost ripped the galaxy apart, humanity has finality attracted the attention of aliens. Now we have to prove ourselves: are we people or are we meat? To settle the question of sentience, the Metagalactic Grand Prix was born. Humanity has to perform, and it's up to Decibel Jones and the last of the Absolute Zero(e)s to save us from annihilation.

 

The concept sounds completely bonkers and amazeballs, and the execution doesn't disappoint. Valente mixes Adams' trademark humour with a very American show of big emotions and social commentary. I have to admit that the humour, all the emo feelz, and the messages were a bit more on the nose than I usually like them. But the ESC is not exactly a subtle endeavour, and Valente writes with enthusiasm and exuberance, with unironic sincerity, and visceral love for her characters - something not easy to admire for someone like me, who grew up to be post-modernities bitch and has learned to filter everything through layers and layers of irony, until she's left with nothing but a pitch-black ball of contempt. No such filtering's happening here. The big, friendly disco ball keeps bouncing and glittering and just sweeps you along.

 

 

At it's core, Space Opera is a very humanist book, tackling the big question of whom we see as people and whom we perceive as lesser. The never ending shitshow of „us against them“. The story deals with the issue of sentience, but instead of joining the nihilist battle cry - „Oh Imaginary, Uncaring Entity Ignoring a Deterministic Universe, the evolution of humanity was such a mistake, and anyhow, who cares!“ - Valente offers a more positive outlook, and, ultimately, hope. After all, human sentience invented Glam Rock. Doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all.

 

Space Opera is not a very plot heavy book. A lot of time is spent on exposition. Chapters explaining about the Sentience War and the history of the Metagalactic Grand Prix alternate with chapters set in the current timeline of events, bringing our unwilling heroes Decibel Jones, Oort St. Ultraviolet, and his rather unbothered, but slightly judgemental, cat closer and closer to the big showdown. I enjoyed the expositionary chapters even a bit more than the rest, not only because Valente has hidden some fun easter-eggs like using words from the languages of ESC participants for planet- and species names. I liked her run-on sentences, her attention to detail, the enthusiastic and colourful descriptions. It took me a bit longer to warm to the protagonists. Spending so much page-time away from them means we don't get to know them till rather late in the game, and it takes them quite a while to grow from accumulations of adjectives and regret to more fleshed-out personalities.

 

But till that happens, we have many other characters to marvel at. Frankly, the bird mostly annoyed me, but I guess anyone can find some species to like here. Similarities to existing European countries are completely coincidental, I'm sure. I think my favourites were the ever so practical, if a bit bloodthirsty, Yurtmak. And that I have kind of a soft spot for the Alunizar – hey, it's not their fault they're better than anyone else, alright? - probably goes to show that I've been living in Germany for a tad too long.

 

Maybe I would've liked a bit more focus on character and plot. Maybe. But I will be getting back to my character-driven, plot-heavy, nihilist neo-noir SF soon enough (and I guess the guys who write this kind of SF never watched so much as a single minute of ESC, poor fuckers). I needed the change in tune.

 

Now, grab yourself a drink...

 

(Flamingo Smoothie - contains 0,0% pulped flamingo)

 

...if handy, a slightly judgemental cat...

 

 

 

dress in something nice...

 

 

 

 

...and remember: There's never a reason not to glitter.

 

 

And save the date:

63rd Eurovision Song Contest 2018, 8. - 12. May, Lisbon, Portugal

 

 

Review
4 Stars
Nightflyers - George R.R. Martin
Nightflyers - George R.R. Martin
Nightflyers contains six classic Science Fiction stories, from short story to novella-length. Most of them have a horror-bend. All of them are charmingly „soft“ Science Fiction, sometimes to the extend of reading more like fantasy. That's not meant as criticism; I prefer this kind of SF to any allusions to „hard“ science, especially if „hard“ science is limited to physics and math (I'm on board with biology, though). GRRM is less interested in hard, cold science, and concentrates more on exploring very human – and humane – questions. The stories are noticeable products of their time, the 1970s: people are almost obsessed with sex, but while women are allowed to experiment, all men are straight; everyone is very, very binary. It's just to be expected. Nevertheless, I found these stories delightful. For me, they also worked as a gentle reminder that we keep telling the same stories over and over again, sometimes dressed as myths, sometimes routed in reality, sometimes spiced with hard science: stories about love, horror, pain, connection. GRRM's stories have all of this in spades.
 
Nightflyers - ***
A ragtag crew of „academicians“ charter a spaceship to go looking for the volcryn, an elusive alien race, subject of many interstellar myths. But something's fishy on board the Nightflyer. The spaceship's captain refuses to show himself, the group's telepath senses a threat, and soon people start dying. --- It's a classic horror story, a haunted-house story in space. Maybe a bit too classic today. While certainly interesting, gory, and at times spooky, the story didn't really grip me. In fact I think it's the weakest offering of the bunch.
 
Override - ****
Why should the dead be rotting in graves? What an awful waste of resource. Dead Men are cheap work-force, and one that rarely complain. They're also a bit spooky, so it's no wonder that corpse-handlers, the people working the Dead Men, are not all that well regarded by some. So, when you go digging for gems with your Dead Men, better go prepared. --- I liked how GRRM developed the main character in this story and his scenery descriptions are a joy to read. Grotto really seems like a beautiful planet, living up to its name.
 
A Weekend at the War Zone - ***/*
When there a no wars left to fight, boys go play war games. --- It's exactly as ugly and predictable as it sounds. But predictable little pacifist that I am, I liked it nonetheless. Martin tells the story in a strong voice that feels all too real.
 
And Seven Times Never Kill a Man - ****
A trader gets caught in a war between the Steel Angels and the defenseless Jaenshi. The Steel Angels trust in the blade, the Jaenshi trust in their gods. --- A weird and oddly compelling story.
 
Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring - ****
The human mind is not equipped to understand nothingness. When faced with the absolute absence of everything, it can only react with fear. And what do you do when you're afraid? What do you do to cast out the demons? Well, how about making an awful lot of noise? --- I loved this one.
 
A Song for Lya - *****
Well, this is such a story as can only be written by a Western man. Giving up our little individual lives for a communion of joy, the joined bliss of non-existence, is just too fucking scary for us, isn't it? We crave it, and it scares us shitless. --- A variation of a story I've read before, A Song for Lya is the most competent version of this particular theme I've found so far. It goes straight to the core, and it leaves you bleeding. It's visceral, and utterly sentimental, and oh so very human, and I liked it.

 

The inevitable soundtrack: Editors - Nothingness.

 

And now I really have to read something thematically different. And change the record, change the tune...

Quote
"Dino taught me never to cry. He said tears never solve anything."
A sad philosophy. Tears don't solve anything, maybe, but they're part of being human.
Nightflyers - George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin, A Song for Lya

Quote
Man invents gods because he's afraid of being alone, scared of an empty universe, scared of the darkling plain.
Nightflyers - George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin, A Song for Lya

Quote
But how much can human beings know each other? Aren't all of them cut off, really? Each alone in a big dark empty universe? We only trick ourselves when we think that someone else is there. In the end, in the cold and lonely end, it's only us, by ourselves, in the blackness.
Nightflyers - George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin, A Song for Lya

Review
3 Stars
Echopraxia by Peter Watts
Echopraxia - Peter Watts

Echopraxia is more a sidequel than a sequel to BlindsightBlindsight blew me away and I feel comfortable in saying that it will very probably end up being my favourite book of the year. Unfortunately, Echopraxia is nowhere near as good as its predecessor – for multiple reasons.

 

1) Choice of narrator: I felt a certain kinship to Blindsight’s narrator Siri Keeton. I could relate to his difficulties to connect, to his struggling with interpersonal relationships, his misreadings of other people. I saw myself in him – and that’s an extremely rare occurrence. I didn’t expect it to happen again, and it didn’t. To most readers, Siri remained a freak, something inhuman; therefore Watts chose a more standard narrator for Echopraxia: Daniel Brüks, unaugmented baseline human. Brüks is clearly designed to work as a character to relate to, to chaperone readers through the story. He’s also your milquetoast straight white male, an academic and atheist, and more than a bit of a jerk. He spends a big part of the book talking down to a WoC character, trash-talkting her believes and belittling her faith. He’s supposed to be an asshole, a kind of “antihero with a conscience”. But antihero or not, the choice of narrator tells you something about how the author envisions his audience. It’s a vision not including me – or anyone else not fitting the straight white male academic mould. As a result, I felt uninvited, alienated, and quite frequently pissed off.

 

In a Q&A session, Watts expressed surprise about some readers‘ lack of connection with Brüks. Well, it’s absolutely no surprise to me. Brüks is not only unsympathetic, a person I not only can’t relate to, but wouldn’t even want to know in real life; he also has not agency. There’s not much reason for him – for Brüks, the individual – to be in the book in the first place. To add insult to injury, he also reads like Watts himself didn’t much care for his protagonist. And when the author doesn’t care, why should I?

 

2) Pacing & proseEchopraxia starts with what’s supposed to be an action-scene. We get a vampire commanding a zombie army, people spectacularly dying left and right, a hasty flight into space, explosions and whatnot. Unfortunately, this is written in such an obfuscating way that I often couldn’t tell what was actually going on. The author gets completely lost in his similes; but instead of making things clearer, the similes just muddy things further. It’s a textbook case of writing getting in the way of the story. If I can’t picture what’s going on, all action and suspense is lost.

 

The pacing’s off, too. The story starts with a bang and then just hangs there, with nothing happening. The characters‘ motivations and agencies are kept from the reader till very late in the book. Such mystery can work in favour of a story, upping the suspense. Here, the opposite happened: Instead of thrilled I felt bored to the point of losing all interest to even know the how and why of it. About halfway through, I spoilered myself to see if I should read on. I did and slogging through paid of in the end. Once Portia shows up, things get increasingly more interesting – at fucking last.

 

3) ThemesBlindsight dealt with the relation between intelligence and consciousness. Echopraxia focuses on the questions of free will versus determinism, and, more importantly, on the nature of God as a virus in a simulated universe (digital physics). I’m not the biggest fan of mixing religion and faith with science, but it can be interesting if done right. But Watts idea of religion is limited to monotheistic believe-systems in the Judeo-Christian tradition, ignoring much older faiths which used to be much more widespread. Western-centrism in action.

 

He’s also a bit too sure on the topic of free will versus determinism. Not everything is as settled as he might think it is. (Just a day after finishing the book, I read a meta-analysis by the North Carolina State University, showing methodological inconsistencies in neuroscientific studies trying to prove or disprove free will. In short, researchers are biased, and frequently find the results they are expecting to find. Not entirely surprising. Like the NCSU points out, this analysis does in no way mean that something like free will exists. But it puts a question mark behind some of Watts‘ pet studies – Libet, for example).

 

Despite all its problems, I don’t regret reading Echopraxia. It has a lot of things going for it. Portia, for one. The military zombies seem entirely plausible. And then there’s Colonel Jim Moore. Moore, not Brüks, is the human core of the story: a character showing actual emotion, following a relatable agency. I guess you could easily read his story arc as blatant misery porn; for me, the old Colonel was the emotional anchor, who kept me reading on when I had lost all interest in everything else. I was quite surprised by it, but I genuinely liked him.

 

So, I struggled with it, but the effort paid of in the end. I found the conclusion quite satisfying, and it leaves a lot of room for a third instalment. It was definitely an experience to read this book side by side with Spinoza’s Ethica(which I „read“ – or, more correctly, tried to read – as background for Samuel R. Delany’s The Atheist in the Attic). Spinoza seems regrettably neglected by today’s henchmen of determinism (although I just saw someone quoting him in the comments to the NCSU study) – maybe he’s too optimistic? Or simply forgotten? Be it as it may, the books complemented each other surprisingly well (or maybe not so surprisingly, if you’re already familiar with Spinoza).

 

ETA: I forgot the most important thing! The Soundtrack.

Editors - BelongNot really a theme-song, as the two texts don't have much connection, but it complements the mood. And is it me, or are they channeling this song from "28 Days Later" there at the end? That would explain why my mind immediately caught onto it and found it so fitting for a book featuring zombies.

Review
3 Stars
The Einstein Intersection - Samuel R. Delany
The Einstein Intersection - Samuel R. Delany, Neil Gaiman
**Slightly spoilery and full of pretension.**
 
You remember the legend of the Beatles? You remember the Beatle Ringo left his love even though she treated him tender. He was the one Beatle who did not sing, so the earliest forms of the legend go. After a hard day's night he and the rest of the Beatles were torn apart by screaming girls, and he and the other Beatles returned, finally at one, with the great rock and the great roll.
 
Given a long enough time-span, our reality will turn to myth. When we are lucky, what we know about our lives will survive in stories, fuel the imagination of others, being re-lived in the grand tales and the small.
 
There is no death, only love.
 
On the surface, The Einstein Intersection is a quest. Lobey loses his beloved Friza and goes on a journey to wrestle her back from death. He has monsters to fight, cattle to tend to, and underworlds to enter. He has to leave old friends behind, to make new acquaintances and foes. Just like every hero, he has to confront his arch-nemesis, Kid Death, a read-headed child-devil.
 
It's a quest, a coming-of-age story, and a re-enactment of myths. Lobey and the other characters channel mythic figures, more than one at a time. Lobey is Orpheus and Theseus, further we have Minotaurs and oracles, a Cyclops who is also Jesus, the traitor who is every traitor combined, Persephone who is Jean Harlow who is every dream you ever had, and Death who is Billy the Kid who is the Devil. Through re-enacting, Delany confronts our myths and our myth-making. He uses the hero's quest as a rumination about differences and how we come to terms with them. These differences are the heart of the story, as are the contrasts: live and death and the in-between, village and town and city, feral Minotaurs and cattle-like dragons and tame dogs, the old tryst and the lost love and the object of pure desire. Lo and La and Le.
 
There is no death, only rhythm.
 
Delany creates an irrational universe in spellbinding prose. His writing is lyrical; it has rhythm. Poetic descriptions are juxtaposed with action sequences channelling classic pulp, in the best tradition of Alfred Bester (I have been told Delany is a fan).
 
While the prose is beautiful on a sentence to sentence level, and the individual episodes of Lobey's quest are fun to read, they don't connect all that well. I have too little familiarity with ancient myths to say if Delany was trying to imitate them here, or if he was simply making things up as he went along.
 
Each chapter – or rather episode, as there are no real chapter breaks – starts with an epigraph, some of them taken from Delany's own author's journal. That's more than a bit pretentious; but Delany was just in his mid-twenties when he wrote this book, a young author very full of himself (and, to the most part, rightly so); I'm willing to cut him some slack. 
 
There is no death. Only music.
 
Lobey is a musician. His flute is also his machete, an instrument to create and to destroy. It's one example for Delany's surrealist, metaphorical writing. It sometimes reaches obscurity and leaves the reader with an ending that is, just like the author wanted it to be, inconclusive.
 
No answers, but are the questions really that important? Endings can only be inconclusive, because there are no endings. This post-apocalyptic world is peopled with aliens who have taken over humanity's legacy, trying to walk in our shoes. But just like Lobey must transcend his role as Orpheus, earth's new inhabitants must learn to transcend the old myths and go on, making their own stories, to fully become themselves. A new beginning.
 
The appropriate soundtrack here would be the Beatles. But I'm really not that into the Beatles, so I chose the Orpheus tale from someone who is one of the greatest storytellers the great rock and the great roll ever had: The Lyre of Orpheus

 

Review
0 Stars
Arshad Ahsanuddin - Insurrection
Insurrection - Arshad Ahsanuddin
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

**Spoilers for Zenith and Azimuth.**

It starts with a bang – and continues with a whimper, with not much happening for about 40% of the story.*
But when it finally delivers, it's back to Bang! again.

This is the third instalment in a series of m/m romance space opera/ time-travel stories. The first two parts have been a refreshing change to the usual m/m sci-fi fare: solid science-fiction stories with a lot of stuff happening in different time lines and a bit of romance in the background. Insurrection leaves this path and brings the romance to the front. It's the most relationship-focused instalment of the series – and has been a very mixed bag for me.

The first half I was mostly bored.
These stories have never been character-driven. This latest instalment reads like the author tried to change that (maybe due to quite a few readers asking for more romance), giving us more background information about his central characters and more human interaction. I can understand why he went there, but I doubt it was a wise choice. It just served to show what Ahsanuddin is lacking as an author: He's an author of action, not an author of feelz, good when describing what people are doing, but not so good when he tries to tackle their motivations, or the psychology behind them. And there's nothing wrong with that! A lot of space operas aren't driven by characters or emotions, relying on ragtag crews with one or two distinguishing character-traits for each member, fighting villainous villains – and it works! The attempt give the characters more depth is admirable, but didn't work here didn't. Not for me.
I mean, just take Edward as an example: The boy killed a whole world, destroyed a whole time line for mostly selfish reasons, but Ahsanuddin clearly has no idea how to translate this guilt into an emotion palpable for the reader.
The multiple romances continue to be equally devoid of real emotions; this didn't bug me as much in the previous instalments, because there the romance was kept in the background. Dragging it to the front shows the series weaknesses again: constant muttered „I love you“s are no replacement for actual feelings, and marriage proposals don't equal true love (I don't get why they are all so hung up on marrying anyway, but that might be just me). These characters are talking about their feelings a lot, but the only relationship here I can actually believe in is the one between Jacob and Thomas.

That doesn't mean there's nothing to enjoy here. Around 40%, the plot finally - finally! - makes a reappearance and the story recovers to the strength that made Azimuth such an enjoyable read. It offers many twist and turns, secrets wrapped in more secrets, and a lot of Redshirts dropping dead on the way – as well as some more important protagonists.
I still needed to suspend my disbelieve quite a bit: I've noticed before that Ahsanuddin's characters have a tendency to overreact – instead of knocking on the door, they blow up the whole house. Admiral Crazypants I and II here are no exceptions to the rule, always relying on the most extreme measures. But it makes for a fast-paced, exciting story, so I just got over my misgivings and enjoyed the ride.
The high-stake, high-octane action is where Ahsanuddin can shine. A very good editor might smooth the kinks, tease out believable, psychologically sound motivations and reactions from the characters, cut the story where it needs cutting, and add where it needs adding. The basis is there. (Apparently there was an editor in on this. Well... I still think the details need work.)

*Jaja, I hate people quoting T.S. Eliot in PA-reviews (only thing worse is PA authors quoting T.S. Eliot) , and now I'm doing it myself. So much for consistency.
Review
3 Stars
The Last Days of New Paris
The Last Days of New Paris - China Miéville
In Paris, you had to be ready to fight art and the Hellish – not to mention Nazis – so they labored under weapons for all eventualities.

It's another one of them alternative histories about WWII – but this time it's about Surrealist art fighting Nazis and demons in Paris. If you don't want to read that, there's probably no help for you anyway.

I felt sorry for the demons, btw.

A fucking storm, a reconfiguration, a shock wave of mad love, a burning blast of unconscious.
Paris fell, or rose, or fell, or rose, or fell.


While The Last Days of New Paris was definitely a ride on the weird side, riding S-Blast instead of S-Gerät, it was not as wild or nightmarish as it could have been, a bit too tame, too little sex and drugs and Rock'n'Roll for my personal taste. But my main problems are personal ones and not concerned with any technical issues: for one, novellas always give me a bit of a hard time; I need more time and space to care about a story. And (just like with every novella I've ever read) the plot here seemed a bit thin, a flat canvas, invoking just the pretence of depth. For two, I simply don't like Naziploitation, and this here wasn't an exception from the rule.

It is beautifully written, though.
Maybe even a bit too beautiful, with too much care on a sentence to sentence level. And maybe I read it a bit too fast: I liked the prose, but I also felt like overindulging on caramel chocolate from time to time. Being who I am, someone who frequently overindulges on caramel chocolate, that didn't stop me from reading this one too fast – so there.

”Something doesn't make sense,” Thibaut says.
“Really?” Sam says. “Just one thing?”


Very helpful resource

This is also one of these stories where Google wikipedia a bit of knowledge about WWII, especially French history, and Surrealism proves to be really helpful. I have the former, I lack the latter. My response to fine art is similar to my response to poetry: I can appreciate the effort, but it leaves me ultimately indifferent. Surrealist art, though, is a constant deja-vu, every work a picture already seen, the familiarity of forgotten dreams. Miéville sends the reader on a treasure-hunt for manifs – there's a extensive appendix, and Goodreads readers, always so incredibly helpful, have already provided a lot in their status updates, but it was fun to search for the different works of art and learn a bit about their history.
Just a pity I can't speak French.
Review
4 Stars
Return to Neveryon
Return to Neveryon - Samuel R. Delany
And thus, our story from the brink of civilisation, from brutal and barbaric times, from strange and terrible lands, about Liberators and Child Empresses, oppression and desire, dragons and dreamers, plagues and carnivals, signs and mirrors, tales and tale tellers, comes to an end.

We've heard about lovers fighting slavery; young girls riding dragons; bandits, merchants, Masters, and Vizerines going about their business; warrior women with double-bladed swords making their way through fabled and terrifying lands; tale tellers weaving their tales; famous men and not so famous women inventing very useful things.

We've learned that our memory deceives us, that tales develop, and that signs change their meaning. That's how legends are born.

The circles closed now. Let the legends live on.

(And now I have to thing about some curses combining terms for women's genitals, men's excreta, and cooking implements.
And did anybody find out what those blasted rubber balls were about?)
Review
0 Stars
Pirate Utopia
Pirate Utopia - Bruce Sterling, John Coulthart
...and because I seem to be on a roll with such things...
Review
5 Stars
Half A Crown (Small Change)
Half A Crown (Small Change) - Jo Walton
This is a book I want to say too much about. I'll try to restrain myself as good as I can.

Where [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1442714837s/183740.jpg|1884104] was an WWII AU dressed as a cozy mystery, and [b:Ha'penny|433716|Ha'penny (Small Change, #2)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1391143310s/433716.jpg|422656] an attempt at suspense, Half a Crown is a full-blown political thriller – one where the personal stakes for our heroes run very high. Of course, all of them are also cautionary tales.
The trilogy grows considerably bleaker from book to book, and part #3 is by far the most unpleasant one to read. It's also my favourite of the three.

Walton sticks to her proven structure, once again alternating between a female first person narrator - Carmichael's ward Elvira this time - and Carmichael's third person POV.
More than ten years after the events in Ha'penny, the political situation in Britain has turned even more dire. Britain's building her own concentration camps, and everyone lives under the watchful eyes of... well, the Watch, a Gestapo-like secret police. Carmichael himself has been forced to become Watch Commander, betraying the very justice he so fiercely wants to believe in. He accepted to save his loved ones – and to try to do a little good at least, to save at least some innocents. The essentially good man being forced to do essentially bad things is one of my favourite character tropes, and Walton certainly knows how to play it.

Then there's Elvira. From all of Walton's not-so-very-likeable female narrators, she's the most unlikeable one. It's not entirely her fault: she's an 18-year-old snobby deb, risen far beyond her working-class status and hyper-aware of it; she's also the very picture of a generation raised by fascism. Educated to be a mostly apolitical trophy-wife, she's trained not to question fascism, and to rat on anybody who might be up to anything “seditious and criminal”. Her chapters were hard to read for me, exactly because Walton pinned such a believable character here.

It was also quite interesting to see Carmichael through the eyes of this little wannabe fascist. He isn't without fault, either. He can't help being a child of his time, with his deeply ingrained misogyny and homophobia, although being queer himself. There's a particular unpleasant scene at an underground gay nightclub, and Carmichael's resentment towards other gay men, especially effeminate men, was almost unreadable for me. I could just marvel at his partner Jack; I don't know how Jack put up with it all, with Carmichael's work, his hours, with basically being his kept man. It must have been love, I guess.
Some of Carmichael's decisions - well, a lot of his decisions come back to bite. His efforts to keep Elvira innocent and ignorant follow best intentions, but set events in motion that will break havoc on both their lives. After reading Ha'penny, I complained about a lack of tension and emotional investment. Well, I got enough of that here to last me till the end of the year (yeah, be careful what you wish for).

Some reviewers have complained about the ending being too rushed, too hopeful, too improbable. I'm inclined to agree; it is kind of a Hollywood ending. After all the bleakness, all the grief, it seems a bit unlikely, too convenient. But not everything gets resolved, not all questions are answered. There are a few lose ends left, just like in real life. The end offers a tentative silver-lining, and I was grateful for it. Call me naïve, but I just refuse to believe that we can't change this world for the better.
Last but not least, it's so rare for a book to engage me emotionally, to get me really invested in the characters; every author who manages has my utmost respect and admiration. And a book like this deserves five stars.
Review
4 Stars
Ha'penny
Ha'penny - Jo Walton
Something's rotten in the state of England.

Ha'penny starts about two weeks after the Farthing case in part #1. And once again Walton alternates between a female first person narrator – Viola Lark, ex-Larkin, peer's daughter gone actress – and Carmichael's third person limited POV. When a bomb tears a famous actress to pieces, Carmichael finds himself with a new case. Soon he has to face another conspiracy, one that Viola herself is being swept away with. But this time, the conspirators aim for the Bad Ones.

Somehow, this one didn't grab me like [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1442714837s/183740.jpg|1884104] did.
The plot isn't all that original, and neither is the execution. Walton tackles the old questions: How far are you willing to go fighting for what you believe in? And how far if you don't believe at all, but are forced to act?
Both Viola and Carmichael find themselves caught up in circumstances where third parties force their hands. Both are made to do things they don't believe in. This could make for a riveting plot, but I didn't feel as emotionally involved, as ethically challenged as when, let's say, reading [b:First Against the Wall|7937238|First Against the Wall (The Administration, #6)|Manna Francis|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1272495303s/7937238.jpg|11343375] (the comparison is a bit unfair; not only has FatW a completely different plot and is set in The Future(TM), it also has five books of built-up. Plenty of time to choose sides, to choose people to like and people to hate).
Maybe it was just due to the heatwave during the last few days that I couldn't be arsed to feel invested in anything else than ice-cream. The stakes certainly are high here, but it never really felt that way. First of all, there was little to no suspense. I didn't know what was going to happen exactly, but I did know Viola would live long enough to tell the tale. And there's a part #3, so... no real suspense. Not until the last 50 pages, at least, where all the cozy went very bleak very fast and culminated in bitter irony. That I could appreciate.
The second reason I already mentioned above: while the characters face ethical challenges, I didn't. By all means, lets kill Hitler? Not necessarily a good idea, I did read [b:Making History|317457|Making History|Stephen Fry|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1355932489s/317457.jpg|1384] after all. But that's exactly the thing, Ha'penny is alternative history - it never happened, never will. Yes, I can see how it relates to today, I can see this very well (we have an election coming up this weekend, and people's recent fears will influence it not for the better, that much's for certain). But I just couldn't bring myself to care if that damned bomb detonated or not.
The third and last reason is Viola's own lack of emotional involvement. The only thing she's even remotely passionate about is acting. (Oh, and ice-cream. We have that in common, at least.) Everything else she treats with the same enthusiasm: none at all. Which makes her infatuation with Devlin all the more curious; when telling her story she seems completely blasé about it. Somehow that rubbed off on me.

Of course it's still a very good book, not only a filler, even though it's not as smoothly written as Farthing. I enjoyed the bits about the cross-casted Hamlet, I enjoyed to see a more private side of Carmichael as well as his interactions with Royston; their work-relationship is a bit strained after the Farthing case, but their dialogues are a delight. And, because I'm just that kind of person, I liked this terrible, terrible end – because it sets the scene for part #3 so nicely.
Review
2 Stars
Protection
Protection - T. Baggins
Pretty stereotypical drama-llama.
It started of well enough, but turned into a tooth-ache inducing sap-fest along the way.
A well written one, admittedly.
(And of course nothing here was much of a surprise, because one reviewer found it wise to blurt out the ending. Good job, morron. But why am I even reading reviews before I read a book? Stupid me.)

I skipped the Coda, btw. There's just so much sap I can take.
Review
4 Stars
Something Different
Something Different - S.A. Reid, T. Baggins
One of the most realistic romances I've read so far. Even if it's a rentboy story that enters fairy land at the end. And although it could use a few more pages to sufficiently tackle all the conflicts, and to delve deeper into character development; a lot of blanks here have to be filled by the reader.
(I admit, it certainly helps my enjoyment that S.A. Reid and I apparently share a taste in men.)
But I never felt that S.A. Reid was aiming for drama for drama's sake and the characters felt real. Michael's a prick, a cheat, and a liar; he's also a man trapped in a marriage that's unsatisfying for both partners. It excuses nothing, but explains a lot. I just wish Reid had spent a bit more time on showing how Michael grew from totally repressed to confident. James has his insercurities and fears too, and it takes the men some time to grow together.
Review
1 Stars
A Lie about My Father
A Lie about My Father - John Burnside
This is a review. This is my opinion. I don't mean to provoke, and I don't mean to offend any Burnside fans. Just to make that abundantly clear.

I'm actually too lazy to translate my review into English right now. The gist of it is that this is one of this cases where I wonder what - in the minds of critics, in the minds of readers - constitutes great literature and "good writing". Burnside is an award-winning poet, a highly praised author, and a lot of people seem to love his style (maybe not so many here on GR. But definitely in German literary circles).
And I can't see why.
What I see is how much effort Burnside puts into poetic phrasings. So much effort that, for me, it became painful to read. I also see clumsily used literary devices like foreshadowing (oh so much foreshadowing), random slips into present tense, and similes which seem not poetic, but unintentionally funny to me. And don't get me started on the obnoxious use of comas. Which may be supposed to be poetical, idk. I've quoted a few particularly outrageous examples in my review; I could have quoted a lot more. But a lot of readers seem to dig that shit. I'm baffled.

Some people tell me "someone like me" simply can't get Burnside's genius. "Someone like me" meaning people who mostly read erotica and pulp, which for some readers apparently equals trash. Which leads me back to my initial question: Why are many things I like considered trash - smoothly written erotica, ass kicking hard-boiled, space operas, fantasy = entertainment, in one word - and this here is supposed to be great literature? Also: Don't those people know a lot of today's classics started as pulp? Which is a matter of publishing, not a matter of quality.

Some might also remark I started this book with a negative attitude, that I've been critical from the beginning.
Yes, it's true. I sometimes read books although I suspect I won't like them very much. Partly because I believe I have to leave my comfort zone once in a while, partly because I would miss a lot of gems if I'd stick to my particular likes and dislikes (erm... that might actually be just one reason.).
And sometimes it works. [b:Gravity's Rainbow|415|Gravity's Rainbow|Thomas Pynchon|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1414969925s/415.jpg|866393], Delany's Neveryona series ([b:Tales of Nevèrÿon|85866|Tales of Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon, #1)|Samuel R. Delany|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1376845643s/85866.jpg|82862]), Jo Walton's [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1442714837s/183740.jpg|1884104], to name just a few resent ones - all books I was convinced I wouldn't like. And I did like them very much indeed, in the end. Books and authors who can do that, who can sway my opinion that much, have a good chance to become instant favorites.
However, sometimes it doesn't work. Here, it didn't work.
(And as far as books about the sad life of drug addicts in Scotland go, [a:Irvine Welsh|5687|Irvine Welsh|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1461084249p2/5687.jpg] is a much better read.)

Sorry, that was a lot of ranting, but I had to get that off my chest.

**************************************


Vorhang auf für ein kleines bisschen Nabelschau...

Burnside ist sichtlich bemüht, seiner Kindheit eine Atmosphäre irgendwo zwischen Magie und düsterem Schrecken zu verleihen. Leider gelingt ihm das nicht wirklich – nicht so, wie es zum Beispiel Neil Gaiman mit [b:The Ocean at the End of the Lane|15783514|The Ocean at the End of the Lane|Neil Gaiman|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1351914778s/15783514.jpg|21500681] gelungen ist, einem meiner Lieblingsbücher des vergangenen Jahres. Oder wie es King immer wieder mal gelang.
Der Vergleich ist natürlich nicht ganz fair; Gaiman und King schreiben Fiktion, darüber hinaus im fantastischen Bereich, Burnside hier eine Art Memoiren, oder zumindest seine Version der Wahrheit. Aber Gaiman und King schaffen in ihren Erzählungen eine Unmittelbarkeit, die Burnsides Bemühungen fehlt. Seine Geschichte liest sich angestrengt: zu angestrengt um wohlklingende Formulierungen ringend, zu offensichtlich mit literarischen Kinkerlitzchen beschäftigt, wie dem Vorgreifen auf kommende Ereignisse, das hier immer wieder auftaucht, auf sehr aufdringliche und geradezu plump erscheinende Weise. Ich konnte hier immer den Schriftsteller bei der Arbeit sehen, manchmal auch den Dichter, und das möchte ich nicht, wenn ich lese (wenige Ausnahmen bestätigen die Regel).

Insbesondere im Prolog sowie gegen Ende hin liest sich das zudem recht pathetisch und verkünstelt.
Beispiele:
My childhood dream of a father had been just that conservative seeming type: a man who willingly accepted his self-imposed silence, his easy invisibility, and lived inside himself, in a self-validating world that had gradually become richer and quieter, like a pond in the woods that goes undisturbed for years, filling with leaves and spores, becoming a dark continuum of frog life and the slow chemistry of generation and decay.

Manche nennen's poetisch, ich finde derartige Vergleiche unfreiwillig komisch. Ebenso wie folgende Konstruktion
Forty years later I remember it all and dream the same dreams. Night after night I populate the dark.

Leider ist sich Burnside auch nicht zu schade für Klischees auf Frauenzeitschriften-Niveau:
you learn to love yourself by loving the world around you. Because what we love in ourselves is ourselves loving.

Nein, so eine Sprache zu lesen macht mir keinen Spaß.

Dabei nehme ich es Burnside durchaus ab, dass er ehrlich an einer Auseinandersetzung mit seinem verstorbenen Vater interessiert ist, dass er durch seine Spurensuche in seiner Kindheit der eigenen Geschichte näher kommen will. Das Buch ist keine billige Abrechnung, keine Schuldzuweisung. Sondern vielmehr ein authentischer, persönlicher Versuch, diese Figur des Vaters zu greifen, zu begreifen.
Der Autor hat mir nur bis zum Schluss nicht erklären können, warum das mich als Leser eigentlich interessieren soll. Und das liegt zum großen Teil daran, dass mir der Schriftsteller Burnside im Weg stand und den Blick auf den Sohn Burnside versperrt hat.