Archive for December, 2009

December 31, 2009


I began this year with a picture of an inflatable giraffe.

Things I did this year:
- Wrote a thesis.
- Obtained a new degree.
- Obtained paid full time employment.
- Visited three countries in one day.
- Accumulated five crates of books (Dublin) and …some more books (Delhi).
I also discovered:
- The romance novel.
- That Dublin is full of amazing people
- …and so is Delhi.
And in conclusion:
Baby donkeys are ridiculously adorable.
(from here)
I hope that everyone reading this has a good time tonight and a wonderful 2010.
December 24, 2009

Not a best books of 2009 list

Right, books published in 2009 that I am most likely to remember/think about/return to. It’s probably obvious from this list that pretty much everything I read this year was YA and/or SFF. That is, when I wasn’t reading school stories for the thesis.

In no particular order:

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. When I talked about this book a few months ago, I was speaking more about the book’s reception than the work itself. In case it wasn’t clear though, Lanagan is an amazing writer. The book is intense and lyrical (and never overwritten) dark and absolutely gutted me, and it’s going to be a long time before I read it again. But I will read it again, and I’m very glad I read it the first time.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Young adult, steampunk, alternate history, flying whales. I was expecting this to be really good no matter what. And I absolutely loved it; I love Westerfeld’s protagonists (Deryn more than Alek), Keith Thompson’s illustrations are fantastic (my laptop wallpaper is currently his map of Europe), and this just all-round worked. The only thing I could have asked for is more politics. But Behemoth, the next book in the series is out next year and as far as I can tell focuses on a diplomatic mission to steampunk Constantinople*. So it looks like I’ll be getting what I wanted.
Incidentally, Leviathan‘s on sale at the Waterstones website here.

Soulless by Gail Carriger. Another alt-history novel, set in Victorian England. Alexia Tarrabotti deals with her Italian ancestry, her big nose and her growing attraction to (werewolf) Lord Maccon while solving a mystery and fending off rogue vampires with her trusty parasol. If this was a best books of 2009 list this book would not be on it, much as I enjoyed it. I can see plenty of things wrong with it, it’s not that original, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed my life in any way (except maybe as a stepping stone towards getting my boyfriend to read Austen). I think you’d have to be a romance novel fan to really get how hilarious Carriger’s book is. But in a year when I discovered Loretta Chase (thank you, Pradipta), rediscovered Sarah Caudwell, and turned frequently to Heyer and Wodehouse for solace, Soulless really held its own beside all this other clever, funny fluff. Which is actually a pretty huge compliment.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. It still amazes me that Pratchett manages to come out with a book a year, usually good and usually on or around my birthday. Unseen Academicals isn’t the best he’s ever written, particularly coming after last year’s amazing Nation. But it’s a good book, and I treasure each one of these now more than ever.

The City and The City by China Miéville. This is my book of the year. I love the genres it’s playing off, I love the concept, and I love Borlu’s voice. There’s a regular-size review of it that I wrote floating around the internet somewhere, so I’m not going to say much more. But it is amazing and if you have somehow managed not to read Miéville yet you must rectify the situation at once. Apparently next year we get Miéville + tentacles, which sounds about perfect.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton. I discovered Newton this year and spoke a couple of months ago about The Reef, his first novel. NoV appears at first a more conventional fantasy than The Reef. It’s a dying earth story and it is rather good. I still feel like Newton’s prose occasionally drops into clunkiness and some of the book’s subplots were a lot less original than others (*cough* Randur) – but I like how his head works and he has some serious world building skills. And so I’m pretty excited about City of Ruin, which comes out next year (and I love that cover more each time I look at it). 2010 looks like it’s going to be a pretty great year, bookswise.

The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness. Technically I read both of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking books this year, but only TA&TA was published in 2009. I’ve talked about it a little here, and I’m not going to add much to that except to urge people once again to read these books. They’re authentic and thoughtful and painful, and just incredibly good.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is the only book on this list that I actually disliked. But I never said these were my favourite books of the year, and The Magicians really is a fascinating read. Because it’s about reading fantasy – right at the beginning of the book Quentin thinks about how the Fillory (Grossman’s version of the Narnia series) books function as literature, and Grossman plays around with that idea throughout. Which is great, and the sort of thing I was likely to enjoy even when the book made it a little too obvious. What ruined it for me were the characters. I don’t ask that my characters be flawless, and I suspect I’d be bored to death if they were. But I felt such a strong, irrational repulsion for Grossman’s characters that however much I liked the idea of what the author was trying to do it simply didn’t work for me. But The Magicians is here because it’s interesting, because it came very close to being something I could really enjoy, and it’s certainly worth reading.

2009 books that I still haven’t got hold of and really, really want to:

Finch, Jeff Vandermeer
Liar, Justine Larbalestier
Ash, Malinda Lo
You Might Sleep, Nick Mamatas


December 19, 2009

I am promoting two things with this link

One is this post on io9 about Avatar. It is a good post.

And two, if you scroll down through the comments, is this magnificent rant by commentor Moff at 3:32 pm. Sublime.

Of all the varieties of irritating comment out there, the absolute most annoying has to be “Why can’t you just watch the movie for what it is??? Why can’t you just enjoy it? Why do you have toanalyze it???”

If you have posted such a comment, or if you are about to post such a comment, here or anywhere else, let me just advise you: Shut up. Shut the fuck up. Shut your goddamn fucking mouth. SHUT. UP.

First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making — even if the thought was, “I’m going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible”! — and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception. That is why, among other things, artists (including, for instance, James Cameron) really like to talk about their work.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to think about a work of art. I don’t know anyone who thinks every work they encounter ought to only be enjoyed through conscious, active analysis — or if I do, they’re pretty annoying themselves. And I know many people who prefer not to think about much of what they consume, and with them I have no argument. I also have no argument with people who disagree with another person’s thoughts about a work of art. That should go without saying. Finally, this should also go without saying, but since it apparently doesn’t: Believe me, the person who is annoying you so much by thinking about the art? They have already considered your revolutionary “just enjoy it” strategy, because it is not actually revolutionary at all. It is the default state for most of humanity.

So when you go out of your way to suggest that people should be thinking less — that not using one’s capacity for reason is an admirable position to take, and one that should be actively advocated — you are not saying anything particularly intelligent. And unless you live on a parallel version of Earth where too many people are thinking too deeply and critically about the world around them and what’s going on in their own heads, you’re not helping anything; on the contrary, you’re acting as an advocate for entropy.

And most annoyingly of all, you’re contributing to the fucking conversation yourselves when you make your stupid, stupid comments. You are basically saying, “I think people shouldn’t think so much and share their thoughts, that’s my thought that I have to share.” If you really think people should just enjoy the movie without thinking about it, then why the fuck did you (1) click on the post in the first place, and (2) bother to leave a comment? If it bugs you so much, GO WATCH A GODDAMN FUNNY CAT VIDEO.

December 12, 2009

Orcs and football and racism, oh my.

Terry Pratchett in the Guardian on orcs and football hooliganism:

Ever since I first read Tolkien at the age of 13, I was worried about the orcs. They were totally and irrevocably bad. It was a flat given. No possibility of redemption for an orc, no chance of getting a job somewhere involving fluffy animals or flowers.

This is no reflection on Tolkien. We are all prisoners in the aspic of our time. But now, I think, people have learned not to think that any race or culture is naturally or irredeemably bad. We have seen the world from space and it isn’t flat.

I have waited decades to write about Nutt; I can remember the excesses of football hooliganism that began in the 1960s and have only recently been cleaned up. It was a world of scaffolding-pole clubs and Stanley knives slashing railway seats and faces. The orcs, with a scarf or two, would have fitted right in in those days. More recently, an inflatable banana is the worst thing that’s brandished; it would appear that the leopard can change his shorts.

China Miéville on orcs and racism:

In the broader sense, I absolutely do think that the implicit politics of our narratives, whether we are consciously “meaning” them or not, matter, and that therefore we should be as thoughtful about them as possible. That doesn’t mean we’ll always succeed in political perspicacity—which doesn’t mean the same thing as tiptoeing —but we should try. So for example: If you have a world in which Orcs are evil, and you depict them as evil, I don’t know how that maps onto the question of “political correctness.” However, the point is not that you’re misrepresenting Orcs (if you invented this world, that’s how Orcs are), but that you have replicated the logic of racism, which is that large groups of people are “defined” by an abstract supposedly essential element called “race,” whatever else you were doing or intended. And that’s not an innocent thing to do. Maybe you have a race of female vampires who destroy men’s strength. They really do operate like that in your world. But I think you’re kidding yourself if you think that that idea just appeared ex nihilo in your head and has nothing to do with the incredibly strong, and incredibly patriarchal, anxiety about the destructive power of women’s sexuality in our very real world. These things are not reducible to our “intent”—we all inherit all kinds of bits and pieces of cultural bumf, plenty of them racist and sexist and homophobic, because that’s how our world works, so how could you avoid it?

And Ros-who-is-amazing on football and racism. Slightly more harmful than an inflatable banana.

When this first started, the season before last, I had a racist moment myself. I looked at the banners and thought oh wow, well. One day Mario Balotelli is going to score the winning goal in a World Cup final, and it will shut everyone up and we will all look back to the abuse he was subjected to as a teenager in sad stupefaction. It was a stupid kneejerk fantasy that made me happy for about a minute. It was obviously rubbish. Mario’s future success, and the future improvement of his character, and the thought that maybe somehow someday he is going to morph into the best, nicest, handsomest, most successful footballer ever created, will not stop racism against him. It will not retroactively correct tifosi’s failures because he triumphed in spite of them. It will not be the final proof of his Italianness to those who sing that black people cannot be real Italians.

Because Mario’s character is really not the point at all.

December 9, 2009

Little Things

I was perhaps disproportionately pleased this morning to see this story in the Times of India*:

While pronouncing the verdict in the Dhaula Kuan rape case where a 20-year-old girl from Mizoram was gangraped by four men in a moving car the judge extensively criticized the prevalent practice of defence counsels of putting a question mark on the victim’s character to prove that her statement is unreliable. “It cannot be said that a lady who has already lost her virginity is an unreliable lady,” ASJ Gupta said in the judgement. …”Definition of rape is categoric to the effect that sexual intercourse is done without the consent or against the will, meaning thereby that an adult can have sexual intercourse with some other person only with his/her will,” the judge said.

This is the sort of thing we should all be able to take for granted – that if one was raped one would be able to accuse one’s rapist without being put on trial for…what, exactly? And that judges will be familiar with the definition of the term rape, and should be able therefore to apply it. It should be obvious, yet it never happens that way, and I retain the right to be disproportionately elated when it does.

Here’s the Outlook story on the same case.

* Especially since the last thing I’d read in the TOI was also rape related – the Delhi Times coverage a few weeks ago of the Madhur Bhandarkar case that argued that a) Rape can’t be rape if it happens multiple times and b) rape conviction laws are like, totally unfair to men. (Luckily, this evening someone linked me to this, which totally restores my faith in the paper).

December 3, 2009

Robert Holdstock and some incoherent gushing about Mythago Wood

Many of you are probably aware by now that Robert Holdstock died a couple of days ago. I loved the man’s work, and wanted to link to this wonderful obituary in the Guardian by Jon Courtenay Grimwood:

He wrote dozens of books – in the late 1970s and early 80s, he published one every three or four months, under numerous names – but Rob will remain most famous for this breakout novel, a study of what it means to be a storyteller and the dark wells that novelists tap.

Written to the music of Vaughan Williams, and showing Rob’s detailed knowledge of prehistory, Mythago Wood was at odds with readers’ expectations of literary fantasy at the time. Rob’s world was brutal, disturbing and almost unknowable, rather than being simply our world in medieval fancy dress.

Set in the late 1940s, in a small Hertfordshire forest that has been undisturbed since the last ice age, where time flows more slowly and the forest protects itself by disorientating those who try to enter, Mythago Wood is a history, not of the British Isles, but of our pre-Christian, shamanistic subconscious.

Holdstock isn’t a writer I’ve talked about much on this blog. I haven’t read all of his work (or even all of the Mythago cycle books), and I rarely reread him. I occasionally recommend him (most recently Merlin’s Wood to a friend who has hardly read any fantasy but loves Idylls of the King). But I’d been thinking about his work in the week or so before his death becase Unmana asked me about books that people just beginning to read fantasy ought to read, and it was clear to me that Mythago Wood was one of them. I remember reading it for the first time (I was about 16) and being overwhelmed by the depth, and the cleverness, and the way it worked. This was simultaneously an exploration of the subconscious, and a piece of fiction that hit me hardest at that subconscious level. There’s so much to say about these books, and how much they fed my brain then, and continue to now. And yet the strongest memory I have of the series is not a particularly clever moment at all. It’s that bit from the first book, when Stephen and Guiwenneth are in the Huxley bathroom and she’s looking at the bath fittings and he’s looking at her hair, and it’s all sunlight and shadow and smell.

Holdstock’s most recent (and last, I suppose) book was published earlier this year. This man was genuinely important as a writer (and apparently a pretty amazing person too); these books are treasures, and I haven’t done enough (like this guy, for example) to tell people about them. Read them.