Mikko: January 2008 Archives

Wicked takes The Wizard of Oz and extends it. In the original work, the Wicked Witch of the West is just a side character, a bad guy for Dorothy to beat. But what made the Witch so wicked? Maguire follows the life of the Witch, from childhood to her lonely adulthood.

Wicked is funny, witty and covers some pretty serious topics: origin of good and evil, religion, family, human rights, tyrants. I didn't love Wicked (it's not that good), but I enjoyed reading it and there's definitely some food for thought as well. I'm not a major Wizard of Oz fan - I have a feeling Oz is a tad more popular in USA than it is in Finland - but I found Wicked interesting nevertheless.

Apparently this book has little to do with the musical. Also, Wicked is clearly an adult fantasy, not a children's book like Wizard of Oz. [ Wicked at Amazon.co.uk ]Wicked at LibraryThing ]

Iain M. Banks' latest book Matter was published today (Feb 27th in the US). First reviews say it's a good one, but then again, most people who'd bother to review it on Amazon this quick are likely to be fans anyway. Still, I'm intrigued.

There's a Facebook event celebrating the publication of the book. Visit the event, drop a note saying "I love Culture" and you might win a signed copy of the book. If at least thousand people participate, one lucky winner will win signed copies of all the Culture books. That seems unlikely, as there are only 150 participants so far. Well, the odds of me getting signed copy of Matter are higher the less people participate, so...

Anyway, if you're in Facebook and love Culture, go tell them.

Jonathan Carroll: Sleeping in Flame

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Sleeping in Flame uses the classic Jonathan Carroll elements: there's Vienna, love, reincarnation, magic, a writer and so on. That should sound familiar to anybody who has read Carroll. However, despite the familiarity, I found Sleeping in Flame simply fantastic. I've read, what, nine of Carroll's books so far and of what I've read, it is probably my favourite.

Walker Easterling is screenwriter living in Vienna. She meets a fabulous woman, falls in love and then, magic starts to happen. It's not warm and fuzzy magic, but strange and apparently dangerous. Walker investigates and bumps into curious cast of people, some familiar from the other books in the same continuum Wikipedia calls the Answered Prayers sextet.

It's a lovely story and I enjoyed the way it recycled old fairy tales. The only downside about reading this book is that there's one less Carroll book left for me to read... He's one of the most constantly great authors, every book I've read from him has been good. Highly recommended, this one's a good starting place for those new to his works. [ Sleeping in Flame at Amazon.co.uk Sleeping in Flame at LibraryThing ]

Stepan Chapman: The Troika

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What does a writer with too many ideas? Turns surreal, of course. The Troika, Chapman's debut, is filled to the brim with all sorts of ideas. If anything is possible, how can anything have meaning? Chapman's book avoids this trap, the fragments manage to make sense even if they're really odd.

The protagonists are an unlikely trio. There's Eva, an old Mexican woman. Alex is a jeep and Naomi a brontosaur. They're crossing a desert that seems to go on forever, and the reader is shown glimpses of their past in the form of strange, perhaps false memories, dreams and stories. There's an ending, but if the reader is looking for a proper plot, this book will be a disappointment.

I didn't love The Troika, but enjoyed it quite enough. The turns and twists are interesting and some of the stories paint pretty pictures of curious worlds. I can forgive the lack of plot and all the delusions for that, no problem! (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Troika at Amazon.co.uk ]The Troika at LibraryThing ]

Guy Gavriel Kay: Tigana

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The Peninsula of the Palm has been divided between two sorcerous tyrants. There's a peace, now, as the tyrants rule and people gets on with their lives. Only one province has no peace. The forces of Tigana killed the son of one of the tyrants. In revenge, there's a dark spell over Tigana, wiping its name out of existence as soon as the last living person from Tigana dies.

There's an underground resistance movement, of course, fighting for Tigana. But how can a group of people, working under cover, defeat the tyrant - and the other tyrant at the same time - when the armies of the nine provinces failed in that task?

Tigana is Kay at his best: epic fantasy for adults. It's a wonderful mixture of gloomy events, glimpses of hope and moments of triumph. This one's highly recommended; it's a very good starting point if you're interested in Kay's work. [ Tigana at Amazon.co.uk ]Tigana at LibraryThing ]

Frederic Manning: Her Privates We

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The First World War in literature makes me think of Farewell to Arms and All Quiet on the Western Front. Manning's Her Privates We is perhaps less known, but deserves a place with those classics. The book tells the story of Bourne, a simple soldier fighting in France, apparently quite like the author did.

As this is an honest book, it's not much about fighting and a lot about what happens in between. The life behind the front is boring, though the alternatives aren't charming either. Bourne is an intelligent man, perhaps somewhat unlike his fellows, yet he fits in and doesn't really want the promotion they want to give to him. There's the futility of the war, and then there's the strong companionship between the men.

Manning paints a beautiful literary picture of a horrid thing. The crude language of the soldiers (at least in the non-bowdlerized editions), the vivid descriptions of mud and ruins, of all the uncomforts of military life, it is all described in detailed, beautiful prose. If you're looking for a good book about war, particularly the First World War, look no further. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Her Privates We at Amazon.co.uk ]Her Privates We at LibraryThing ]

Charles Stross: Glasshouse

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Life in the transhuman post-singularity 27th century is flexible: movement is by teleporter, computers can scan your consciousness and transfer it from one body to other, you can clone and back up yourself, and assemblers produce whatever you need from basically nothing. Very nice. However, ugly censorship wars have ripped the society apart and while it's over now, things aren't quite as they used to be.

Robin, our protagonist, is an ex-warrior, now demobilized. To get rid of nasty baggage he has gone through heavy memory-excision operations. While he recovers, he's invited to an experiment, where a group of people is closed to a society that tries to recreate the Dark Ages, that is approximately the time period from 1950 to 2050.

Stross offers some pretty nice satire, but cooks up quite a thriller as well. To begin with, someone is pursuing Robin outside the Glasshouse - why, well, Robin doesn't quite remember. As it turns out, there's something badly wrong in the experiment and Robin keeps having these memory problems and issues with his identity.

This is an excellent book, well worth any praise. Stross has come up with clever ideas and manages to spin the reader around - having an amnesiac protagonist helps, of course - many times before the story is at its end and you finally get a glimpse of what's actually going on. Delicious book! Highly recommended for science fiction fans (the whole post-singularity thing is probably too much for readers unaccustomed to science fiction). [ Glasshouse at Amazon.co.uk ]Glasshouse at LibraryThing ]

Sailing used to be dangerous business. One of the major problems was determining the longitude (figuring out latitude is a lot easier). In 1714, Great Britain declared the Longitude Act, promising massive amounts of money to the inventor of a reliable method to determine longitude.

Sobel's book is about John Harrison, the amateur clocksmith who invented a reliable clock that works at sea. Sounds trivial by the modern standards, but it was very complicated process. With the clock, determining longitude was possible and Harrison was able to try to claim the prize. Which was another complicated process...

Longitude isn't a brilliant book, but reads pretty well nonetheless. If you're interested in the history of seafaring, this book is well worth reading. [ Longitude at Amazon.co.uk ]Longitude at LibraryThing ]

Ombria in Shadow, the first of McKillip's books translated in Finnish, tells of Ombria, a city that's facing problems when its prince dies. The new prince is just five years old and the city is ruled by mysterious and frightening Domina Pearl. Pearl doesn't seem to have the city's best interests in her mind, she has her own motives.

Lydea, the prince's mistress is driven out of the palace to die in the streets. She doesn't, thanks to the interventions of Mag, a "waxling" servant of Faye, a strange witch inhabiting the shadowy underworld of Ombria. There's also the prince's bastard Ducon, who seems destined to power, but reluctant to accept his fate.

It's a wonderful story, quite unlike any other. I can easily recommend this to anybody who hates the standard fantasy dreck: Ombria in Shadow is something else. It's a hazy story, full of dreamy elements and interesting twists. It's certainly one of the better fantasy novels I've read in a while. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Ombria in Shadow at Amazon.co.uk ]Ombria in Shadow at LibraryThing ]

Francis Wheen hates the mumbo-jumbo that seems to dominate the world these days. In particular, he attacks "holy warriors, antiscientific relativists, economic fundamentalists, radical postmodernists, New Age mystics [and] latter-day Chicken Lickens" who oppose rationalism and reason.

Wheen's style is entertaining, especially if you agree with him. The book's a bit shallow, perhaps, some of the cases could use deeper discussion. While he hits the nail on the head many times, the book isn't quite brilliant - just good. Some people would benefit a lot from reading it, but of course it's one of those books that's mostly read by the people who already agree with it (Dawkins' The God Delusion is another example).

Sure, the book could be better, but it's a good starting point to discover all the mumbo-jumbo that's filling the world. [ How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions at Amazon.co.uk ]How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World at LibraryThing ]

Vellum was pretty amazing. Ink picks up the pieces where Vellum left, ready to blast the reader through a heavy mist of literary references, stylistic experimentation and archetypical characters playing their roles, repeated through the many-folded landscape of Vellum.

Ink is a clever book, so clever it hurts sometimes. I don't pretend I got most of it, but nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot. The plot is interesting, though once again, probably not in the leading role after all. The parodies of literary genres, the play within a play structure, all the adventure, sex and violence - it's a delicious book, all in all.

This time the storylines wander through the mess of World War II, the Palestine in 1929, futuristic Kentigern, who knows where. Jack is Jack, Joey is Joey and so on, despite the setting and the characters they seem to play. I quite liked that. The ending is less stale than the last time, yet still not... perfect? Hard to say. I'm reasonably satisfied, and looking forward to reading these two again later. [ Ink: The Book of All Hours (Book of All Hours 2) at Amazon.co.uk ]Ink : The Book of All Hours at LibraryThing ]

John Brunner is probably best known for his Stand on Zanzibar. This one's somewhat less known, but I just had to read it because of the title. The book's about Godwin Harpinshield, who leads a sweet life. He has all he wants, and the price is cheap: he has to do small missions to an unknown employer, and he doesn't even remember anything about the missions after he's done with them.

The book starts in a very confusing way, but gets a grip and becomes interesting fairly quickly. Harpinshield's life gets interesting, when he first recruits a girl to share his style of life and then meets the girl's mother and has to reflect on his life a bit.

If you like to hear explanations, avoid this book: Brunner doesn't explain much and leaves plenty of interesting details in the dark. Players at the Game of People isn't a brilliant book, not even a very good one, but perhaps still worth reading.

World is full of countries where musicians aren't safe, where governments and religious leaders persecute musicians and try to control the music they play and the words they sing. Islamic countries in particular don't seem to appreciate music, and in places like North Korea musicians must follow the orders from the glorious leader like anybody else.

But it's not just Afghanistan and North Korea, music is also censored in United States and France, for example. Censorship takes many forms: one says "you can't sing this, you can't play that, or we'll kill you", while the other says "sure, sing that, but we won't ever play it".

This collection of twenty articles is a good starting point for those interested in censorship of music around the world. Not the most entertaining read, no, but enlightening enough to make the time used reading it well spent. After reading this book, you can continue to Freemuse, the publisher of this book for more information about the topic. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Shoot the Singer!: Music Censorship Today at Amazon.co.uk ]Shoot the Singer! at LibraryThing ]

Ever Since Darwin is the first collection of Gould's essays, published back in the 1970s. Thirty years is a long time for a science book, but there's several essays worth reading in this one. Gould writes about Darwin, naturally, about human evolution, odd examples of evolution in practise, history of life, theories of Earth, abouts sizes and shapes, science in society and the science and politics of human nature.

It's a wide selection of topics and Gould sure knows how to write an interesting essay. There's plenty to learn between the covers and a fair dose of entertainment as well. Despite its age, Ever Since Darwin is well worth reading. [ Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History at Amazon.co.uk ]Ever Since Darwin at LibraryThing ]

This poetical book tells of Pam and Lucas, who the nameless narrator knows from their time in Cambridge. Something mystical happened back then - none of them remembers what, but whatever happened, left deep scars. There's also the strange Yaxley, who has something to do with this all.

Pam and Lucas obsess about Cœur, a lost kingdom, and the destinies of its heirs. There's also Pleroma, existing and not existing, yet worthy of plenty of effort to find.

The narrator observers the stormy relationship between Pam and Lucas, sometimes mediating between the couple. The book is full of mysteries and sometimes quite hard to figure out, but the beautiful language Harrison uses is worth the efforts. Mystical, yet enchanting book. [ The Course of the Heart at Amazon.co.uk ]The Course of the Heart at LibraryThing ]

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