04 February 2008 by Published in: book list No comments yet

Vellum: The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan. (1) [specfic]. I checked this out of the library. I thought it was interesting, but it took me forever to read it. I’m not sure I’m up to the second book of the duology. I don’t care enough to find out what happens next. My central problem with the book is that it’s not a story in the conventional sense. There’s no narrative drive. For all the journeying of the various characters, we’re not really going anywhere. I found it hard to keep reading because of this. It’s extremely beautifully written, the prose level is top notch, but it also came across (to me) as kind of shallow, so the excellence of the prose seemed like dressing up a corpse. Unfortunately, I think this is the result of writing people as mythic incarnations instead of as characters, so there’s no way I can see to solve this and still keep to what Duncan wants to tell about. I had a hard time getting emotionally involved with anyone, especially with Carter and Pechorin, since they are presented in such radically different ways and I don’t think I ever figured out why they were quite so malleable. I think I’m meant to care about the characters because of some of the heartbreaking situations rendered, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to it. Much of what happened to the characters didn’t quite seem real, especially the big tragic moments. The small moments seemed more real: the three guys sitting together on the quad, Jack and Guy lying together in the cold house at Evenfall, Phreedom sharing a beer with Finnan, Phreedom stepping into the tattoo parlor for the first time, Puck painting things purple in the book as they travel along the Vellum. Eh, maybe that was one of Duncan’s points: small is real, big is only archetype. If so, it makes for a strangely unsatisfying reading experience. I also had what I usually call a Miéville issue with this work: whenever anything I was desperately interested in showed up, it turned out to be scene setting and not something I was going to get to find out more about or follow. Meanwhile, stuff I couldn’t have cared less about was treated in excruciating detail for pages and pages. Also. Points off for horribly translated Spanish. Guh. My brother, if you’re going to set things in the Spanish Civil War, make the Spaniards talk right. It was frustratingly anticlimatic to be yelling at the page when supposed death sentences were being pronounced. That’s pretty much cause for a complete breakdown of my suspension of disbelief lately and I think I may put bad Spanish on my list of dealbreakers from now on. There’s no excuse for it, really. It’s not like Spanish is an obscure language. Bonus points for nice scenery, though. And for a gripping opening. I did like the vastness of the times and spaces of the real world we explored (often more than I liked the fantastical bits), and part of the reason I’m so pissed off about the bad Spanish is because it took the air out of scenes I would otherwise have been really interested in. Some of the archetypal linking was a little…blurry. Sometimes when he linked things (usually by name transformations) I said “oh, ok, what a cool connection” but many other times I was like “that’s a bit of a stretch there, isn’t it?”. In rendering down all the different incarnations as aspects of the same archetypes I thought sometimes valuable individual pieces of story were lost. Maybe that’s one of his points too, but I didn’t care for it. Anyway, it gave me some stuff to think about on a meta level, and it was pretty, but it didn’t really get hooks into me, transport me or give me any kind of catharsis or deep satisfaction on completion. In fact, it felt essentially unfinished. Maybe that would all be nicely wrapped up in the second half, but I’m not sure I trust Duncan to pull it off. Finished on 01/12/08.

A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. (2) [specfic]. I checked this out of the library. This was a quick read, which I definitely needed after the slog through Vellum. There were some things I really liked about this book a lot. The main character was quite sympathetic, as was the benevolent helpful elf, and (of course) all the wolves. I found the sex scenes neither overly squicky nor hot, hot, hot. They didn’t detract or anything, they were just kind of there. OTOH, I found the main character’s constant passing out and withdrawing inward as a coping mechanism for dealing with trauma too reminiscent of Felix in Melusine and it kind of made my eyes roll, but for all I know that was Bear’s work and not Monette’s. With the exception of long passages that either exclusively used the word ‘estrus’ or ‘heat’, the writing was seamless, afaic. I couldn’t tell which words were whose. The story moved well and the stakes were high and there were hard choices with consequences and fulfilling character arcs – you know, all of those things I expect when I read Bear. I’m not sure I’d read something else set in the same world, necessarily, but I’m not at all sorry I read this. Finished on 01/16/08.

Origami Boxes by Tomoko Fuse. (3) [crafts]. I got this book for Christmas and am delighted to own it. When I say I read it, I mean I made all the boxes, because there’s very little text. However, this is the first of my origami books for which I have made (or attempted) every design within, so I’m pretty pleased. I love this book. There was only box I couldn’t follow the instructions for, though the hexagon box was right to the limit of my folding ability and did not come out very well. I am especially pleased with the triangle boxes. They are easy and gorgeous and I’m going to try to make lots of those in the future. In the middle of this book I embarked on an organizing project of my origami paper (which is not yet finished, but which I have a much better handle on now). Below is a picture of all the boxes I made during the course of “reading” this book. Finished on 01/19/08.
Origami Boxes I made

Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell. (4) [specfic]. I checked this out of the library. Another quick read. This is what I call swashbuckling fun! I love the universe, I liked the characters, the action was non-stop, there were casualties all over the place and the train kept moving. I hope I didn’t ruin anything by reading Ragamuffin before Crystal Rain because after this ride I’m definitely going back to read the first one. There was lots to love here, but I still saw some shortcomings. One was a sort of superficiality to the feelings the characters were purportedly experiencing. Too much of the emotional tenor was overtly declaimed, and not as much as I would have liked subtly telegraphed. It’s as though Buckell is in too much of a hurry with more plot, plot, plot to let me see the characters’ inner worlds. The best I get is told how they’re feeling (usually in sentences that literally start “He felt” and “She felt”). The second major letdown was the terrible proofreading job that was done with this work. Straight characters sometimes spoke in Raga dialect, sentences ended in conjunctions, typos a spellchecker would have caught all over the place (“He swalled” for “He swallowed” frex) and more. This added to the feeling that the work had been rushed, and not received the polish it should have. Still, while I have a word focused eye and sloppy proofing throws me out of the story like a body slam, I still managed to enjoy the thing and sympathize with the broad brush stroke characters. Finished on 01/21/08.


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