every Starbucks should have a polar bear (scoradh) wrote,
every Starbucks should have a polar bear

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#64 - #70

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve

I can't decide if this book was more creepy than not.

It is set in a semi-dystopian future where cities have become mobile and hunt each other down under the cunningly-named principle of 'Municipal Darwinism'. I couldn't help cheering on the Anti-Tractionist League, if only because I find these moving cities unappealing predators. I also don't understand what exactly they 'hunt' when they're on the hunting grounds - other cities, yes, but what is it about them that makes it worth the while? The hunters tear the victim cities apart for fuel and make the citizens their slaves, but surely it would be better to use said cities to expand the hunter's arable land? It's really not entirely clear what people actually live on, aside from one mention of 'algae flakes'. I also wish the nature of MEDUSA was more fully described.

What I always look for in dystopian stories is the glimmer of redemption. There are three more books in the series, so I'm hopeful. Hester Shaw is certainly an interesting character - perhaps a little too obviously so, with her mutilated face and hatred of people. She's worth a bit more development, especially when she's willing to sacrifice herself to Shrike on one hand and yet fight and run from him on the other. This essential dichotomy is not given enough screentime to make it viable.

Reeves is both funny -

"It's just that it may be dangerous. Anyway, I [...] want you to stay here and finish school and become a fine, beautiful High London lady. And most of all I want to you stop Dog from peeing over all my crates of soup..."

- and unafraid to allow major character death, and for those reasons if no others I will finish out the series.

The Undomestic Goddess, Sophie Kinsella

When I finished this, I thought: what a SHAME! If only this idea had been written by someone with the skill to do it justice.

This is the story of Samantha, a high-powered finance lawyer who has either studied or worked every weekend of her entire life. On the brink of being named partner, she makes a mistake - thanks entirely to the fact that she has a messy desk - and in a dissociative fugue, catches a train into the countryside, something she's apparently never encountered before.

In an unlikely twist that, again, in better hands could have been carried off with aplomb, she accidentally stumbles into an interview a rich couple is holding for a housekeeper. Due to the fact that they are nouveau riche and not the proper, old-fashioned kind, they don't spot her numerous and glaring gaffes. She fobs them off despite being unable to use a washing machine or a toaster, learns to cook in a weekend from her new lover's mother, and experiences sexual awakening in a raspberry patch. That scene in particular read like the rough notes of a proper eroticist marking down an idea in passing; it's stiff, rudimentary and poorly executed, but showed so much promise it was even more disappointing that it otherwise might have been.

In an Amazing Twist!TM, it transpires that Samantha was set up. She exposes fraud and is offered an even better job than before, but turns it down approximately three times - once being inadequate for chicklit - and has a Touching ReunionTM with her lover at a train station. Because, you see, trains played such a vital role in transforming her life! EyerollTM, and exeunt.

Miles in Love (Komarr, A Civil Campaign, Winterfair Gifts), by Lois McMaster Bujold

I AM SO CROSS! As Memory is not included in any of the new omnibuses, I skipped it entirely, meaning I have been totally spoiled for it by the events of Komarr and A Civil Campaign. It did puzzle me at the time, given that Bujold never reveals vital plot points in flashback. GRR, AGHH, DEATH TO ALL SPOILERS ETC.


Man, Duv Galeni's romance must have occurred in Memory too. I figured it also contains the death of Admiral Naismith and a terrible accident befalling Simon Illyan. TELL ME MORE ON PAIN OF DEATH.

The funny thing is, I don't think romance is Bujold's strong suite in the slightest. Despite presenting Miles as being superficially unattractive and throwing every possible tactical nightmare at him, he never has a problem with the laydeez. Unfortunately, his eventual bride is married. Fortunately, her husband's a bit of a fuck-up - not enough to scar her permanently, or give Miles a headache in dealing with her ~Issues, but enough that she fell out of love with him long before Miles ever appeared, and enough that his convenient death doesn't grieve her overmuch. Therefore she can't even be said to have been emotionally unfaithful, given that she emotionally divorced Tien years before. It's all a bit too handy for my tastes.

It's a good thing I don't read her books for that reason, then. The intrigue surrounding the solar mirror perplexed and intrigued me right to the end. Despite Miles performing his nick-of-time-saviour act, it's the implications and the moral agenda that are the real climax and driving point. What if the rebels had succeeded in cutting off Barrayar from the galaxy again? What if there are more like them? What if the Butcher of Komarr is exactly that, not the hero we perceive him as through Miles' eyes? Et cetera, et cetera.

"You may not have heard of [Duv Galeni] yet, but you will. He's Komarran-born."
"Of Barrayaran parents?"
"No, of Komarran resistance fighters. We seduced him to the service of the Imperium. We've agreed it was the shiny boots that turned the trick."

That small exchange represents everything I love about this series. I can't even entirely express it; just put a few words around it, like 'humour' and 'reversing tropes' and 'surprising' and 'touching' and 'trying to change the world' and 'succeeding in bits and pieces.'

And where would any Miles book be without Cordelia?

"I believe I've seen your mother a few times on the holovid," she offered after a moment. "Sitting next to your father on reviewing platforms and the like. Mostly some years ago, when he was still Regent. Does it seem strange ... does it give you a very different view of your parents, to see them on vid?"
"No," he said. "It gives me a very different view of holovids."

A Civil Campaign

OH MAN THIS IS TOTALLY MY FAVOURITE. Now I understand the comparisons to Heyer (and also why Bujold dedicated the omnibus to Jane, Charlotte, Georgette and Dorothy, charming me ENTIRELY).

I mean. Political intrigue! Sex changes! BUTTERBUGS! Again, I could wish that the romances had been a little more fleshed out, and that someone married someone who wasn't a Koudelka, and also that we got a bit more Gregor. But these are minor concerns! The Counts and the alliances and the ineluctable need for honour in all things! LOVE LOVE LOVE.

"- has anyone mentioned Midnight, the fifth Count Vortala's horse, yet? If a horse can inherit a Countship, I don't see what's the theoretical objection to a Cetagandan. Part-Cetagandan."
"I doubt Lord Midnight's father was married to his mother, either," Ivan observed brightly.

IVAN, OH IVAN. I confess I'm more interested in his potential One Tru Luv than anyone's. I hope she, or he, is Cetagandan. I love Cetaganda.

"Oh, and Mark," he added, "the girls need more food as soon as possible. I got these this morning, but they won't last the day." He waved at the florist's box.
Mark, who had been anxiously watching Kareen contemplate the bug in her hair, seemed to notice the roses for the first time. "Where did you get the flowers? Wait, you bought roses for bug fodder?"
"I asked your brother how to get some Earth-descended botanical matter that the girls would like. He said, call there and order it. Who is Ivan?"

Ivan, roses ... I'm just surprised it wasn't night-flowering orchids. Maybe he'll give those to his Cetagandan.

"As for happiness ... I don't think you can give that to anyone, if they don't have it in them. However, it's certainly possible to give un-happiness - as you are finding."


I also love when Miles stops fighting his reputation and works with it instead:

At Miles' polite, "Excuse us, please," Vormurtos pursed his lips in exaggerated irony.
"Why not? Everyone else has. It seems if you are Vorkosigan enough, you can even get away with murder."
Ekaterin stiffened unhappily. Miles hesitated a fractional moment, considering responses: explanation, outrage, protest? Argument in a hallway with a half-potted fool? No. I am Aral Vorkosigan's son, after all. Instead, he stared up unblinkingly, and breathed, "So if you truly believe that, why are you standing in my way?"


Winterfair Gifts

Although at first I was unsure, by the end I was delighted with Roic as the narrator and sole POV. The nefarious plot was pretty underdeveloped by Bujold's standards, even for her novellas, but that wasn't the point. The point was Taura, and that dresses are weapons, and that she suffered so much and is constantly judged negatively for her looks and she's going to die soon, because of Jackson's Whole. Even if Roic's turnabout in affections was relatively unlikely, I'm glad for her sake that it occurred.

The Hunger Games Trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay), Suzanne Collins


I confess, I didn't want to read these. They sounded like a rip-off of Battle Royale, which I've also avoided like the plague. The idea of fighting to the death for TV entertainment fills me with horror. (Perhaps because, as these books suggest, it's a legitimate next step.) I bought The Hunger Games post-call, wandering around a newsagents that sells a small selection of chart books. I only started reading because on the first page, there was a cat.

I finished the three books on three succeeding nights, over Christmas no less. I didn't want to - it's not exactly festive reading - but I couldn't actually stop. I scoffed at the idea of a literally unputdownable book until now. Eleven to three am three nights running put paid to that. I cried - sheets of water down my cheeks, a rare event - over Finnick (and by extension Annie) and over Buttercup's pilgrimage to find his dead mistress.

The writing is clean and crisp and doesn't fall prone to melodrama or ornate description. Collins lets the story tell itself most of the time, and well that she does; while the outcomes are limited, it's how the characters deal with that same knowledge that is heartbreaking. Katniss taking Prim's place, knowing that one of them will die; making deals with Peeta, knowing she'll have to kill him; the alliance with Rue, knowing she'll have to kill her but actively denying it. The concept of turning the Game on its head doesn't bear fruit until Catching Fire, but it was always on my mind, particularly when Katniss covered Rue with flowers.

I can see the series has faults. The same plot is essentially repeated three times - but that is clearly intentional. The emotional intensity is hiked up with every subsequent Games. When I read past Katniss knowing she will return to the Games in Catching Fire, then the fast pace of the challenges and dangers of the circular arena, I wondered how I thought the book dealing with one Games for the entire 450 pages was fast-paced. Yet it was - it was simply that the pace got faster and faster with every page until I nearly felt sick with it.

Katniss isn't a very good rebel. Unlike Gale, she has no fire and hatred. Unlike Peeta, she hasn't thought through the alternatives. She constantly considers running away and hiding in the woods, alone if necessary. Her responses to the cold and brainwashed way Capitol citizens regard the tributes are angry, sure, but no angrier than anyone else in her shoes probably was.

"They want to know about you, Katniss."
"But I don't want them to! They're already taking my future! They can't have the things that mattered to me in the past!"

It's the little slices that she doesn't even react to that cut deepest.

One of the announcers actually gets teary because it seems the odds will never be in our favour, we star-crossed lovers of District 12. Then she pulls herself together to say she bets "these will be the best games ever!"

Katniss doesn't register this as a horrible thing to say; she doesn't even realise the inherent contradiction in the statement. In her world, it actually makes sense that the return of the District 12 victors to the arena will make for good television. She accepts all that without question, unlike Gale and Peeta, the real rebels.

I think perhaps her greatest strength is what's represented as her greatest weakness: her sense of guilt and obligations owed. She has killed for food all her life, but automatically recognises the debt to nature she tallies by staying alive herself, by keeping her family alive. From the nameless boy she kills in the first Games to Finnick and Prim and her last victims, the Capitol children, she never relinquishes the burden of guilt. She never even thinks that she deserves to.

Yes, I wish there was a little more interaction between the sisters (although you'll note every conversation they have gleefully fulfils the Bechdel Rule): enough to justify Katniss parting from Gale forever with hardly a murmur. I also wish that she'd favoured either Gale or Peeta more clearly, although it's a coming trend in YA that girls can have as many boys as they want at the same time, and That's Okay, Okay?! (Personally I'd rather hear about the girls who can't get anyone, but there you go.)

In the end, however, Katniss is ultimately the most noble heroine possibly ever created. She is willing to die for her sister, then for Peeta, and even accepts that she would be a powerful martyr in Mockingjay. She is willing to die for killing Coin, even though she saw so clearly that it had to be done. In all cases her willingness isn't just a mouthed rhetoric; rather, it's almost wordless action. Perhaps it would be a more fitting finale for this series if the Hunger Games had continued in a different form, but I, for Katniss' sake, am happy they did not.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov | I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates | Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥ | The School for Husbands, Moliere | On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks | The Famished Road, Ben Okri | Lord of the Flies, William Golding | Moby Dick, Herman Melville | A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway | Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥ | The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥ | Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad | Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy | The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman | The Sea, John Banville | paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle | The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥ | The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥ | The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman | Possession, A.S. Byatt ♥ ♥ ♥ | Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales | The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon | Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon ♥, Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Life of Pi, Yann Martel | Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier | At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O'Neill ♥ | The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt | Un Lun Dun, China Mieville | Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel &hearts | This Book Will Save Your Life, A.M. Homes | Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons ♥ ♥ | Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers | Crime and Punishment, Feodor Dostoevsky, The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard ♥ ♥ ♥, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard, Love's Shadow, Ada Leverson, The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov, The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie ♥ | The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton ♥ | I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett, Flipped, Wendelin Van Draanen, The Return Journey, Maeve Binchy, Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy, Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer | Pompeii, Robert Harris, Amanda's Wedding, Jenny Colgan | The Keys to the Golden Firebird, Maureen Johnson; This Charming Man, Marian Keyes; Tales of Enchantment, Patricia C. Wrede; One Day, David Nicholls; Huge, Sasha Paley; Miles Errant, Lois McMaster Bujold; The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde; Suite Scarlett, Maureen Johnson; The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner; Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon
Tags: book glomp 2010
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