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Old 05 April 2018, 10:57 AM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,405

In March and at the start of April I read:

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon. These are short stories that are loosely themed around things going horribly wrong. They're really good, and some of them are quite disturbing in various ways. One of the strangest, and probably the one I'll remember longest, is called Wodwo, which is a variant spelling of a sort of pagan wild man (woodwose) that seems mainly to have been used in the past by Ted Hughes as the title of a poem. I found a copy of the poem and read it, but (on a single reading) Hughes's poem is ostensibly about a curious little being that's exploring the bed of a stream in a wood. There wasn't an obvious connection to the story apart from the elements of wildness, and that a river and a wood come into it.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. Since she died I thought I'd read more. This is about first contact between an ambassador from an interstellar civilisation (the narrator) and the various factions living on a planet, whose unique characteristic is that most of them spend their time as non-sexual hermaphrodites apart from a few days per month when they briefly become either male or female at random, and spend all their time having sex. That was really just the background, although it was supposed to affect the ways that the societies on the planet behaved. Most of the story is about a long journey across an ice-cap. It was good, anyway.

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch, in the Peter Grant / Rivers of London series. I don't know what it is with novellas these days - everybody's at them. This one seems to be intended as a short more-or-less standalone introduction to the series, for the American market and for people who don't want to start right at the beginning with the first full novel. Chronologically it's somewhere in the middle, probably at the same point it would be if in the "main series" now, but it doesn't reference any long-term plot strands or more complex mythology, and its own plot is self-contained and all tied up in the book, so it's a good introduction to the characters and settings. The reason I think it's for the American market is that Grant (as the narrator) adds occasional footnotes to explain a UK English term, ostensibly addressed to an American colleague from some of the previous books. This would save a US editor from having to make any changes to the text!

I re-read Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell, which was still a classic.

And I read Fool's Errand, the first of the Tawny Man trilogy by Robin Hobb. These characters still annoy me more than the Live Ship characters do. It starts traditionally with Fitz "in retirement" after his previous adventures, but with various visits that mean you know he's going to be dragged back into some quest or other. But instead of treating it as a relative "reboot" that lets the characters have a bit of a fresh start, the first third at least is taken with recapping bits of the previous series, and going into (I thought) unnecessary detail about some of the non-events that had happened between, so that by the end of it I'd remembered all the things that had annoyed me about the characters and setting in the last trilogy. Fitz still seems to think that everything in the world is his sole responsibility, even when it's things happening to people he's never met and who were born after he supposedly "died". And the other characters still sometimes seem happy to let him think this. Anyway, it was a good story - it could be a stand-alone in that the plot doesn't carry through to the next one. Some of the things that annoyed me before, such as the vagueness about what Fitz can actually do, or does, have been resolved.

I started to read Fool's Fate afterwards and had got about 20 pages in before I realised it was the third book, not the second - its setting could follow immediately from the first, and to begin with I thought the slight time-skip was just a device to show that he'd settled back into a routine. But then Hobb started referring to things that I knew hadn't been mentioned in the previous book, and seemed too significant to drop in as an aside, and I checked the cover and realised my mistake. I have the second one, The Golden Fool, too but I only started the other and realised my mistake this morning so I've not started it yet.

I'm still reading Romola and have just got to the start of book III. Eliot is very good at writing persuasively from points of view I know she disagrees with - Savonarola's speech to make Romola come back to Florence is infuriating; from many perspectives (certainly modern perspectives, and probably from George Eliot's perspective) Romola was being extremely courageous and taking action to remove herself from a bad situation and take control of her life. But add a bit of patriarchy and religion and suddenly she's selfish and cowardly and needs to come straight back and throw herself to the control of the church for the good of others, and it all sounds horribly reasonable and inevitable. Savonarola's a manipulative bastard...
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