Friday, June 24, 2011

The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi

I had this recommended to me as good new space opera. I enjoyed it, but am a little puzzled by that descriptor. Maybe 'space opera' does not mean what I think it means. It's far-future SF, that flavor where technology is so advanced that nearly everything is mutable, and reality is several layers of artificial. The most notable idea in this novel (for me anyway) was "gevulot", privacy protocols that you can use in real life to hide your appearance and dictate just how much anyone can know or remember from their interactions with you. But there are a lot of cool ideas in here.

The characters and dialogue and settings are all great, and it never loses its sense of fun. I was totally enjoying it right up until the last few pages, when I realized that there was no way some of the big questions were going to be answered by the end (which in and of itself would have been fine--I don't need a story to resolve every mystery) but as I feared, instead of tying off the narrative, the last scene screamed "SEQUEL!" I hate that. Let the story be the story, and if you want to write another one in the same universe, fine (see Bujold, Lois McMaster: Vorkosigan Saga; Pratchett, Terry: Discworld series). But I am tired of cliffhanger series. SO VERY TIRED.

Some explicit sex and nudity, and some coarse language. The narrative also might be difficult for a younger reader to follow.

I'm withholding ultimate judgement on this until I see a sequel. If Mr. Rajaniemi can bring the thing to a satisfying conclusion--not necessarily answering all the questions, just no more cliffhangers--I'd probably let Z read it when she's about 16.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Watership Down

I remember this book always being on the shelf in my grade-school library. I never read it, because a glance at the cover always made me think, "Clearly this is about seafaring rabbits," and I don't know why my fantasy-loving self thought me too good for seafaring rabbits at the time, but at any rate I never read it.

Two things: It is not about seafaring rabbits, and it is awesome.

The cover already proclaims this thing a classic, so any praise of mine is superfluous. It's an adventure story--gave me the same feeling as my memories of reading Swiss Family Robinson as a child--and the world is one I thoroughly believed in. It is about rabbits.

Incorporated into the narrative are rabbit myths, which made me extremely happy. Myths or fairy tales are one of my favorite things to make up, and so it was encouraging to see that they can be used, and used well, in a modern book. (Well, relatively modern--it was published in the 70s.)

I borrowed this from a friend and intend to get a copy of my own posthaste.

Age I'd let Z read it: Whenever she wants. 8 or 9, probably.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wicked Uncle, by Patricia Wentworth

There are two things you need to know about Miss Silver, private detective: She knits while she solves crime, and she speaks in Cough.

I always noticed that she coughed a lot, but in this book I was really impressed by the variety of things she's supposedly getting across to her audience. In the space of two pages I found coughs that were 'introductory', 'gentle', 'gracious', and 'hortatory'. I've decided to accept the absurdity, which may have been easier this time since our intrepid detective hardly features in the book at all.

All that aside, this may be my favorite Miss Silver to date. Patricia Wentworth can be quite witty and observant when she wants to be, and the whodunit is textbook. House party in the country, everyone has a motive, etc. etc. Sometimes that is exactly what you want to read.

Age I'd let Z read it: 11 or 12.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl

Picked this up at a library book sale. I read a lot of Roald Dahl as a kid, but never this one; and now I can say I don't think I missed much. The plot is pretty thin and lacks that zaniness that Dahl brings to the books I did like as a kid (The BFG, Matilda, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach) -- I really didn't care whether Mr. Fox got shot by the farmers or not. Meh.

I'll probably sell or give this one away before Z's of an age to read it. Things to watch out for: gross farmers, a drunken rat, characters telling each other to shut up, glorification of theft (though that's hardly unique to this book).

Age I'd let Z read it, if she really wanted to: 7 or 8.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is a reread, well on its way to becoming a favorite. It's a small domestic drama played out over the course of 600+ pages, unfortunately left unfinished due to the author's death (but only by a chapter, which her publisher gives the details of at the end, so we know how it wraps up.)

I guess the reasons I love this book are summed up more eloquently by said publisher, thus: feel yourself caught out of an abominable wicked world, crawling with selfishness and reeking with base passions, into one where there is much weakness, many mistakes, sufferings long and bitter, but where it is possible for people to live calm and wholesome lives; and, what is more, you feel that this is at least as real a world as the other. The kindly spirit which thinks no ill looks out of her pages irradiate; and while we read them, we breathe the purer intelligence which prefers to deal with emotions and passions which have a living root in minds within the pale of salvation, and not with those that rot without it.

It's moral but never preachy, funny but never sophomoric, observant but never cruel. The heroine, Molly, is quiet and studious, and always strives (often with difficulty) to control her temper, think well of others, and do the right thing. I'm tired of heroines whose utter lack of tact and self-discipline are upheld as virtues. Please. Give me more heroines like Molly, and more books like this one.

Age I'd let Z read it: As soon as she thinks she's ready for a book this long. I can't say for certain since I first read it in my early twenties, but I suspect this one improves with age and experience.