Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Harry Potter: The Half-Blood Prince

What I really liked about this was the sensitivity with which it treated teenage love and infatuation. Compare the tenderness of Ginny and Harry, with the comedy of Ron-ron and Lavender; or Lavender's monumental sulk with Hermione's bitterly painful disappointment.

I also liked Slughorn -- I found him thoroughly unlikeable and snobbish in the book. In the film, he seems like a sentimental old man who is proud of his nose for rising stars.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Outlaw of Gor by John Norman

The plot
Man finds himself back on parallel Earth where men are men and women are women. But his city -- and his woman -- have vanished and he finds himself set against a city where the world order has been turned on its head.

What I liked
  • The delicious naughtiness of reading a Gor book -- my mother firmly removed one of the books from my hands when I was 12.
  • The plot is actually very impelling: where else are you going to get a gladiator escapes because he is randomly set to fight against his own giant hawk? And what other hero would, in making his escape on the back of his GIANT HAWK, kidnap the queen from her seat in the arena? And then be BETRAYED and sent to the slave mines? And then escape by making the slaves wait in turn to eat like MEN? And then buy the queen as his SLAVE, because she LOVES him, even though she's a queen who hates men and he kidnapped her?
  • It has introduced into our domestic vocabulary the phases 'Scarlet Dancing Silks of Gor' and 'The Pleasure Rack of Gor'.
What I learnt
  • That forbidden fruit is the sweetest.
  • That logic and realism are not vital ingredients of a good story.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Interzone 223 (Dominic Green special issue)

Butterfly Bomb by Dominic Green

Old man gets himself taken by slavers to rescue his granddaughter -- who is not the dear little thing she appears to be.

A stirring story set in an intriguing universe where technology doesn't work as it should -- the slavers are glad to take Krishna on board as an AI mediator because their computer is sulking.

I loved being in this universe, and wanted to spend more time there; and I admired Krishna and the limitations imposed on him by his frailty.

Coat of Many Colours by Dominic Green

Scientist annoys big business by trying to prove that a genetically engineered creature is too intelligent to farm for its skin.

Glister by Dominic Green

Stranded hunters get lucky in a goldrush con adventure.

I read this one a second time, and the start made a lot more sense once I knew what the twist was.

The Migration of Aishwarya Desai by Eric Gregory

Scholars argue about the nature and observing of alien creatures.

This flew right over my head philosophically, but it was very atmospheric. The claustrophobic luxury of living quarters on the the snow planet Ganesha was very well conveyed. And I liked the descriptions of Desai's physical reactions to the debate.

Silence and Roses by Suzanne Palmer

Robot carers discover first death and then hope.

This was lovely and played me like a lute. It's achingly sad, then hopeful and finally the end put a big smile on my face. I feel quite ashamed at being such a simple soul, but this was very skillfully written.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Life of Martha Ballard, based on her diary 1785-1812: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

To continue the medical theme started by Thackery T. Lambshead...

Martha Ballard was a New England midwife whose practice straddled the turn of the 19th century. Unusually, she kept a diary. A fairly tedious diary, it must be said: endless lists of who visited and what was growing in the garden. But in the hands of skilled social historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, it comes alive.

Each chapter is headed by a short section of diary; and then the rest of the chapter discusses, explains and enlarges on Martha's terse prose, adding details from other documents (notably the diary of Henry Sewell, but also court and town records).

Some of the content is heart-breaking: one chapter covers the murder of a family by the father; another describes the death of a child from a scald. There are some gruesome details -- a lot of puking up and passing of worms.

Much of it is fascinating, too: Martha Ballard's love-hate relationships with the town's doctors; the use of medicinal herbs; a barter economy; as well as hints at unrest between settlers and land owners.

It reminds me rather of Anne Hughes' Diary (except the provenance of Martha Ballard's diary is impeccable).

Monday, 6 July 2009

Torchwood radio plays

Asylum: A young girl with a strange way of speaking is arrested for shoplifting; and promptly picked up by Torchwood for carrying what looks like a lasergun.

I really enjoyed this: I thought Frieda's speech was fascinating, with its mix of Scandinavian and slang words.

I was interested in all the techniques the writer used to wind up the tension. Because Frieda is underage, the police get involved and stay involved; and their agenda for her is different to Torchwood's. Because she's a teenager (and she's frightened) she sometimes acted irratically, or illogically. She had lost her memory -- it returned gradually over the course of the show, but each fragment was more horrifying than the last.

Golden Age: Thousands of people have been disappearing in Delhi, and rift energy is apparently responsible. The team discovers that it centres on the Indian Torchwood -- which Jack thought he closed down 80 years ago.

Of the three, I enjoyed this the least -- I found it hard to sympathise with the illusive Duchess; and I found all the 'Have you got anything weird here?' 'Let me show you the kitchen' building search a bit tedious. It pulled no punches where British Empire views on women were concerned (Gissing's patronising treatement of Gwen) and on India and Indians. I wasn't emotionally engaged by the team's efforts; I felt as if they were going after the Duchess, not trying to save the vanished people.

The Dead Line: Answering the phone puts people in a coma-like trance. Torchwood's investigation becomes personal when Jack picks up his phone.

This was very exciting -- I loved Gwen's efforts to protect Rhys; and the confusion this causes. It's interesting how a plot can hinge around a phone call (or not being able to make a phone call). A phone ringing is the ultimate aural cue, as well. It dominates everything -- you can't ignore it -- and to have it induce fear in people is very effective.

I liked how the scene in the abandoned Cardiff and West office was set using a foul smell -- not visual, but it gets the characters talking.

You can catch the three Torchwood plays on BBC Radio 4.

And Tim over at Heropress has reviewed them in his post Torchwood for the Ears.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

The human body is strange; and when it goes wrong, it gets stranger. These encyclopedia entries tell sad stories of case studies, rivalries between scientists and doomed expeditions.

I particularly liked Printer's Evil, which has infected its own page; and Delusions of Universal Grandeur (apparently invented to snipe at people who hold a theory with which the contributor disagrees).

There are entries by some of my favourite writers: Neil Gaiman (Disease-maker's Croup), China Mieville (Buscard's Murrain) and Alan Moore (Fuseli's Disease). I'm also a fan of Jeff Vandermeer's anthologies.

I read this from cover-to-cover, but it's the sort of book that you can dip into again and find something wholly new.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Interzone 222

Johnny and Emmie-Lou get Married by Kim Lakin-Smith

Greaserpunk gang love story. This is a small and perfect story set in an original universe. Read it and tell others.

Unexpected Outcomes by Tim Pratt

Mellow apocolypse story that questions the nature of reality. I liked the slackerish main character who responds other people, rather than acting for himself.

Lady of the White-Spired City by Sarah L. Edwards

An emissary visits a primative colony to find the family she left behind. This had a really good mountainy feel to it -- it had a fresh air and bright cold sun and splintery grey wood atmosphere reminded me of Alpine holidays. It explores the effects of extending life spans by deep sleep space travel.

Microcosmos by Nina Allan

A child puzzles out adult relationships in a resource-starved landscape. This is beautifully written, so atmospheric. I felt the heat; I thirsted with Melodie. I was fascinated by the view down the microscope. I stood with her looking over the shore of the lake and wondered: 'What happened here?'

But the end of this story had me rearing up Godzilla-like 20 storeys high, breathing fire, head in the sky.

It stopped. Short. With a hint at foul experiments and a lost love; with no explanation of why Melodie's parents are so angry with the scientist, and yet so keen to help him.

I'm guessing that this feeling of deprivation mirrors the helplessness and water-starvation felt by the characters. I've been well and truly manipulated. Nina Allan, I hope you're satisfied. Now please get back to work and write some more stories to tell me more about this landscape.

Ys by Aliette de Bodard

Unwillingly impregnated woman goes head-to-head with cruel goddess. Aliette de Bodard always comes up with the goods as far as I'm concerned, and I'm always excited to see her stories in Interzone. This is a tense salty tale, stinking of ozone and seaweed, of a woman -- or maybe two women -- who refuse to walk the set paths. I liked it very much.

Mother of Champions by Sean McMullen

Conservation thriller that explores non-human intelligence. I was intrigued by the narrative voice, so I kept reading despite the clunky dialogue. I'm thinking now, having finished the story, that the dialogue clunked along for a good reason -- the narrator thinks the speakers are morons; and she was hearing the talk, but not seeing any actions that could be used as dialogue tags.

It's very cleverly written, and has a lot to give on a second read: once you know the ending, you can see all the clues that point to it.

Read more about Interzone on the TTA Press website.