Mikko: April 2008 Archives

This is a curious book, pleasing in many ways. In the bottom of it, Gun, with Occasional Music is a hard-boiled detective story. It's told in first person by a private detective, who becomes involved in a murder case that isn't quite as simple as the law enforcement would like it to be. There are temptresses, gangsters, corrupt law enforcement, all the basic building blocks.

However, there are also developed animals (one particularly nasty kangaroo, for example), legal drugs to keep the population happy, dystopian society where printed word is banned and asking questions requires a permit and all sorts of science fiction weirdness. The combination is slightly odd but as I said, rather pleasing.

Lethem has created a monster, but it's a good monster. The plot is filled with detective genre cliches, but it's not a joke or parody. Events unfold pleasantly quickly and the final twist is delicious. This was a quick read, but left me rather satisfied. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Gun with Occasional Music at Amazon.co.uk ]Gun, with Occasional Music at LibraryThing ]

The Emperor doesn't rule over the Fourlands. He just protects them, while the god is away. Emperor is immortal and rules the Circle, a group of 50 immortals, who serve him to help the people to survive. All humanity is threatened by giant insects, who have been trying to conquer all lands for centuries. This is the setting, where we peek for a while.

The story is told by Jant, the Messenger of the Circle. He has wings like many other people in this world, but he's the only one who can fly. He also has a nasty drug addiction, giving him hallucinogenic visions of a different world.

The insects aren't the only problem: the immortals of the Circle can't always stand each other. I suppose defending humanity in a never-ending war against completely alien enemy takes its toll. There are several interesting plot lines, but not all of them are properly explored.

As it is, this book certainly has flaws. For example, of the 50 immortals less than ten make any kind of significant appearance. I wonder what the rest do? Well, despite the flaws the book has lot to like and even though the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, I do recommend the books for readers who enjoy modern fantasy and like to explore different worlds. It's certainly an interesting world.

The book does end a bit abruptly, but I suppose the sequel (No Present Like Time) picks up where this one leaves the story. Apparently, this is actually a first part of a trilogy... So better prepare to pick up the sequels as well, if you end up liking this one. I know I'm putting the next part on my BookMooch wishlist. [ The Year of Our War (Gollancz S.F.) at Amazon.co.uk ]The Year of Our War at LibraryThing ]

This small book by the game design guru Sid Sackson describes over 60 card games from around the world. The selection is interesting and there are many interesting and important games listed. Some of the games are hopelessly common, though - I see little point in describing games like Cribbage, Rummy and Old Maid. That is space better used for more unusual games.

What's perhaps most interesting is the section of new games. There are four games included there, two by Sackson himself and two by his friends. These are certainly unusual and worth taking a look at. Despite the lack of historical information and the flaws of the selection, this small book is a worthy addition to any card game book library. It also has one of the clearest explanations of Skat I've ever read. [ Card Games Around the World (Dover Books on Magic) at Amazon.co.uk ]Card Games Around the World at LibraryThing ]

BTT: Springing

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From Booking Through Thursday:

Do your reading habits change in the Spring? Do you read gardening books? Even if you don't have a garden? More light fiction than during the Winter? Less? Travel books? Light paperbacks you can stick in a knapsack?

Or do you pretty much read the same kinds of things in the Spring as you do the rest of the year?

My reading habits are unaffected by the Spring. I have the same TBR mountain, and what I pick out of it to read next is more of a question of how much I feel like reading at the moment, and that has nothing do with seasons... I'm not into gardening, either, and travel is currently out of question as well.

Most of my reading is done in bed before sleeping, so Spring doesn't take my reading outside, either.

Right now I'm reading fantasy, next up might be some non-fiction and if I can get my hands on any books on card games or Go, that's something I'm always interested in.

Douglas Coupland: Eleanor Rigby

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With a title like this, it's hardly a surprise Eleanor Rigby is about loneliness. Liz Dunn is lonely, she just doesn't have much to look forward to in her ordinary, lonely life. Just when Liz decides to look for peace in her life, a huge change happens: a young man is brought to a hospital, with a bracelet bearing Liz's name as someone to contact in case of emergency. Who is he?

That's all it takes to turn Liz's life upside down. Coupland piles unlikely, charming, entertaining and touching twists until things get absurd, but it works. The plot moves on on different times, as Liz is writing about what happened earlier and what happens right now. The different points of view alternate and keep the reader anxious to read on. Liz is a delicious character, as is the young man he meets, Jeremy, and this is a rather delicious book. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Eleanor Rigby at Amazon.co.uk ]Eleanor Rigby at LibraryThing ]

Stephen Baxter: Manifold: Origin

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Manifold is a series of three books. They're not a sequence, actually, as they describe parallel universes. The main character are the same, but the world they live in is different. Origin presents us a world where the good old Moon is replaced by a large red moon. As it happens, the main character, Reid Malenfant, loses his wife Emma on the new moon and has to rescue her.

Emma finds the new moon inhabited by various hominid species. Baxter offers us an interesting view to the life of different hominids, with a point of view of the hominids themselves and humans living with them. It's interesting, but it can also get slightly tedious - this is one long-winded book, with a plot that's a framework for all sorts of neat stuff Baxter wants to present.

But it works, for me at least, because even though I began reading book with some doubts, I soon got sucked into the events. It gets quite interesting and Baxter has some pretty wild ideas there. This book isn't for everybody (that is easy to see from the Amazon reviews, many of which give just one or two stars), but if you enjoyed the other Manifold books, this one is worth reading. [ Manifold: Origin at Amazon.co.uk ]Manifold: Origin at LibraryThing ]

BTT: Vocabulary

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From Booking Through Thursday:

I've always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they've never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word?

I just keep on reading. First of all, books in Finnish pose no problems for me, unless the vocabulary is very difficult (local dialects or something like that). I've also read enough books in English to read pretty fluently. Of course, just about every book I read has words whose precise meaning I don't know, but I usually grasp enough meaning from the context.

Occasionally I check what a word means, if something bugs me. I have an English dictionary, but it's huge and on the top shelf, so I usually just google the unknown words. Bucolic (a synonym for pastoral) is a word I've learnt this way from some book I read. But if I check something, it's usually not in the middle of reading.

If I'm reading hard science fiction, I sometimes may check some of the scientific concepts to understand them better, but that's fairly rare.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Gifts

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Gifts starts the Annals of the Western Shores, a trilogy (so far) of fantasy novels for young adults. That doesn't stop me from reading it, no, because Le Guin is such an excellent story-teller. The book is fairly short and quick to read - but with a book shelf full of unread books, that's not a bad thing at all.

The story is fabulous, that's what counts. It's about two youths, growing up on the highlands where magical powers run in families. Neither of them wants to use their power, for good or bad. The themes of the book - responsibility, fulfilling the expectations of parents, power - are old and familiar, but the way Le Guin uses them is very pleasing. I also really enjoyed the world, with its earthbound magic. Highly recommended, both for younger and older readers! [ Gifts at Amazon.co.uk ]Gifts at LibraryThing ]

Parker Brothers is a familiar brand to everyone who has played American mainstream board games. This book by Philip Orbanes recounts the history of the company from 1883 when it was founded by George Parker to the end, when the company was swallowed by Hasbro (originally Hassenfeld Brothers, by the way) in early 1990s.

It is an interesting story to anybody who is familiar with Parker Brothers games. Orbanes appreciates games and spends plenty of time writing about games and how they were made. It's all very fascinating, the origins of the games and how the company developed. The Game Makers certainly beats your average corporate history. Anybody interested in classic American board games will do themselves a favour by reading this book. [ The Game Makers: The Story of Parker Brothers, from Tiddledy Winks to Trivial Pursuit at Amazon.co.uk ]The Game Makers at LibraryThing ]

Salt is very commonplace, yet wars have been waged to gain control over its sources. Salt has made nations rich, paid the salaries of soldiers and preserved the food throughout the history. Mark Kurlansky takes a swift tour of history of salt, from ancient China to Civil War USA. The book is filled with interesting stories and facts about food (rather curious recipes, too!).

Simply put, I'm jealous: I wish I could write a book this good. If you're looking for something intriguing and educational to read, Salt is an interesting book about a topic everybody knows. I enjoyed the book thorougly and learnt a lot. Highly recommended! (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Salt: A World History at Amazon.co.uk ]Salt at LibraryThing ]

BTT: Writing Challenge

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From Booking through Thursday:

  • Pick up the nearest book. (I'm sure you must have one nearby.)
  • Turn to page 123.
  • What is the first sentence on the page?
  • The last sentence on the page?
  • Now . . . connect them together....

Actually, I had to travel all the way to our living room and bookshelf to find a book. I grabbed Sheri Tepper's Sideshow. Let's see, bold is Tepper, rest is me:

"Where's Jum?" asked Metty suddenly. Jum was nowhere to be found, and he had just stood next to Metty. The bloody fog was really getting thick. Metty sat down, miserable. "We need to find Jum", she said, hanging her head, "we can't leave him behind."

"I'll go find him, he can't be far", Jacent said and brandished his flashlight. After just few steps to the direction where they had come from, a faint trace of light was all that was visible of Jacent. With the light it didn't take him long to find Jum. Jum's batteries had run out and he couldn't move anymore. Silent as he was, he couldn't cry for help either. Jacent sighed. The fog was getting troublesome, and it started to look like they would have to stay here until Jum could recharge his batteries from sunlight. That would take a while... Jacent would find Metty and tell her.

That took a bit of twisting... not very compatible phrases. I have no clue whatsover who all those people are and how my little story line fits in with the original book, since it's on my TBR list and I haven't read it yet.

Every Carroll novel has been a pleasure, so far, and Marriage of Sticks is not different. There's a nice twist in the plot, so I'll avoid spoiling the fun for you. It's a story of a rare book dealer, Miranda, living in New York, having an affair - and then some rather surreal and fantastic experiences, as is the standard in Jonathan Carroll novels (I'm not sure I'd like to be a character in a Jonathan Carroll novel!).

In any case, it's an interesting story, very fast-paced and at times confusing, but Carroll draws all the plot lines together in the end in a pleasing way. If you've read any of his other Crane's View Trilogy books, you'll recognize some places and people. [ The Marriage of Sticks at Amazon.co.uk ]The Marriage of Sticks at LibraryThing ]

Road to Wigan Pier starts strong: Orwell describes the life of an English coal miner. His description is grim and convincing. All in all, worth reading, even though the life he describes is history now. The vivid details of Orwell's trip to the bottom of the coal mine are particularly nasty.

The rest of the book - well, it's less interesting. Discussion of hot social issues from 70 years ago, Orwell's thoughts on socialism and fascism... didn't hold my interest, really. It's always somewhat fascinating to read about the way class is an all-penetrating force in the British society, but much of the book is simply not very interesting to a modern reader. Well, some of the things he writes about poverty are very much true, even in the 21st century Finland, so while the times do change a lot, some things apparently stay just like they are.

The first part is strong, that I must say, and worth reading to a reader interested in poverty and social injustice. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin Modern Classics) at Amazon.co.uk ]Road to Wigan Pier at LibraryThing ]

Ken MacLeod: Newton's Wake

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Newton's Wake is a space opera (it says so on the cover). The Carlyles, a band of entrepreneurs (or gangsters) who control a profitable wormhole network discover a planet with some rather interesting artifacts. Too bad it's already inhabited by a lost fragment of humankind. A simple combat archeology operation turns into a huge mess that threatens the whole Carlyle family business.

It gets rather complicated in the end, and it's kind of funny how this book really has no bad guys or good guys - or at least I'm finding it hard to decide who are who. There's quite a bit of action, some pretty cool futuristic technology, plenty of rather entertaining comedy (though that seems to divide opinions pretty wildly according to the Amazon reviews) and even though the purpose of it all is kind of hard to follow at times, I still found the book a good read.

Granted, at some point I thought Newton's Wake was really, really good, but in the end it's not - it's just good. The ending, in particular, didn't please me quite as thoroughly as I would've wanted. Someone said the end of the book felt vague, and I think that's pretty close to how I felt. It was worth reading, however, as Newton's Wake certainly has some pretty wild highlights. I was particularly fond of the search engines. [ Newton's Wake at Amazon.co.uk ]Newton's Wake at LibraryThing ]

BTT: Lit-Ra-Chur

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From Booking Through Thursday:

  • When somebody mentions "literature," what's the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
  • Do you read "literature" (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

I think the first thing in my mind is the Finnish publisher literature series, mostly the Tammi's Yellow library. It's a long-standing series of translations of quality literature, Nobel prize winners and other great masters. For some reason I haven't read many of those.

I did few courses of literature in the university and those included reading some classics. So I did: Dostoyevski, Duras, Stendhal, Melville, Rabelais and others. I found many of them interesting and I fell in love with Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. I didn't fall in love with writing essays about the books, so I quit my literature studies quickly (I only took them because I thought it was appropriate for someone studying to become a librarian).

Of course, most of what I read is far from being "high literature", and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I'm a science fiction fan and that's it. However, I do appreciate books that are written well and I won't read just anything, science fiction or not. I do read what they call "literary fiction", but mostly skip the classics.

However, if a Nobelist writes something I find interesting, I'm in. Yasunari Kawabata's Master of Go was an excellent and very interesting book, for example, and I've been meaning to read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago for who knows how long.

I read good books for enjoyment and try to avoid the bad ones - in the end it's that simple.

China Miéville is one of my favourites in the fantasy genre. His New Crobuzon novels are all very interesting, but so are his short stories, too: Looking for Jake is an interesting collection of eight short stories and one comic written by Miéville.

London is a popular setting for the stories, but there's also one set in the New Crobuzon, telling the story of the legendary Jack Half-a-Prayer. All in all, a good collection of interesting stories, highly recommended for those who have enjoyed Miéville's longer works or want a dose of new weird. [ Looking for Jake: And Other Stories at Amazon.co.uk ]Looking for Jake at LibraryThing ]

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