Lenora Rose (lenora_rose) wrote,
Lenora Rose

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Good Mark and Good Books

Note: I wrote most of this post about two days ago, realised I didn't have time to finish it, and saved it. This is why i think I'm about to have two long posts in rapid succession.

I'm torn. One the one hand, I did get an 87 on the history essay from last term that caused me so much grief. Good arguments, well presented, etc.

On the other hand, the thing I got docked marks for was occasional poor use of English.

On the one hand, the TA marking it noted several sentences as run-ons which, when examined, contained too many subordinate clauses for comfort, but were at no point gramatically unsound. Er, I suppose they'd be kind of like that last sentence. Regardless, they were not, by actual definition, run on sentences. He also marked one sentence for subject-verb disagreement -- where the "subject" he circled was not the subject of the sentence, and moreover, shouldn't have beenmistaken for the subject, as the subject was the word *immediately before* the verb. Before you ask, it was not a long sentence, nor at all unclear.

On the other hand, though they were gramatically correct, most of the sentences he griped at could have and should have been cut into smaller sentences. It's a thing I do; I put in semi-colons more often than I ought in a rough draft. Normally, they get split up in my last run through, but at the time I was so burned out on essay writing, and so sick of that particular paper, that I didn't make the final pass.

So he's right even though his reason -- and his sense of grammar as opposed to clarity -- is wrong. RRrrgh.

Having a headache ranging from mild to splitting and back again has meant that I've been spending less time at the loudly humming computer, and more sitting somewhere quiet with a book. Fortunately they've all been pretty good.


Elizabeth Bear - Carnival

If you've been reading my journal for any length, you'll know I think matociquala has one of the cooler livejournals around. She has many shiny ideas from her shiny brain -- though I don't agree with all of them, or necessarily share every interest (Although I *want* the green silk corset, or a my-size facsimile thereof).

So I was a little disappointed that her first book I read (Hammered) was merely good. Not even so good that I picked up the second and third in the same series, even though the first book is as much leaping-off point for the rest as its own story.

You'll know if you read my review of Blood and Iron that I've come to like her work more and better than that -- you won't know about the short stories that also impressed me, but they were in there too (Botticelli, This Tragic Glass, and The Chains That You Refuse, all of which you can read in the nifty new collection with the same title as the last story, which is, by the way, a Richard Thompson reference, so I'm not the only one, nyah.)

Er, Digression over.

Anyhow, Carnival did most of the things Blood and Iron did right, but did them better; there was still the multitude of factions and colliding motives, even among people ostensibly united, and nobody's *right* about everything. But the characters are easier to like right off the bat; in fact, the trick here is less growing to like people who do reprehensible things (Which is the Blood and Iron line) as it is growing to realise that even the people you like, a lot, do, or at minimum suggest doing, reprehensible things. The reversal doesn't sound like much, but the effect is... well, better. Right to the end you're rooting for things to work out, and this is after you've seen the cost. It makes the book, not just the characters, more approachable from the start.

There's a lot of intellectual shiny bits in there, too, that I'm glossing over; alien life that is both truly alien and yet grows to be comprehensible, culture clashes, gender clashes (without devolving into too-easy war of the sexes crud; some of the side characters espouse feminist ideas I think are absurd, but they're ones espoused now.) including the bit I mentioned in another post about putting men (and *not* feminized men -- it wouldn't work if they were either effete, or women with penii, these are men men.) into feminized roles, technological coolness, of which the hardest to swallow (the foglets) is apparantly based most on things scientists think they could actually do. Competent "villains" who never stand around and explain themselves. And all the grey vs. gray vs. grey vs...

Oh, and sorry EBear, I think the dream sequence did work. The reason it works is that you give us a single vivid image, which helps us hook all the small implied bits together until, right near the end, you state it plain again. I like trying to pick up all the things left implied instead of spoken, but I also like having one solid thing to use to hold them together.


John Scalzi - Old Man's War

The first thing I thought on reading this is that I could see more clearly how Scalzi could write comedies as I could see him writing the ostensibly serious book before me. Later Pratchettian humour, anyhow, where the puns are gone, and the funny hides all the dark and thinky bits both.

In this book, the dark and the thinky alike surface.

The story starts out light, as John Perry meets the other characters, learns some weird but so far cool things about his world and galaxy, then gets his new body. The story grows complications and layers as it goes, though, and gets grim and sad together or separately as it goes. The violence is explicit as it needs to be in a war novel, and moments are a bit over the top but none of it is gratuitous - well, except possibly the line about the uvula.

There are also a lot of hints, and some explicit statements, that not all of the background is as it seems, never mind all the plot-relevant stuff that is described so simply and accessibly that it takes a while to realise how mind-blowingly weird it really is.

And, of course, not like you can tell, it's a fast paced actiony read.

He hit every mark I can think of that a book needs to hit; fast and fun, thinky, well-written with good use of language, characters not always 3D but that's more to do with keeping it fast, I think, than with what Scalzi can do; for one thing, John Perry himself is proof of that.


Patricia C. Wrede - The Raven Ring

This is a reread, kind of, which is why it wasn't on ly list of to-be-reads. On the other hand, read it the first time wehen it was a new book, and I'd forgotten almost the entirety of the main plot. I remembered almost everything about the romance subplot.

There's a reason I forgot the main plot is that this whole book is pretty much the most typical of typical fantasy. A woman from a kick-ass medievalish warrior culture ends up trying to stop Evil from entering the world, via a group of companions and a magic item. Oh, and some use of a poorly-disguised Tarot variant to reveal the near future and the point of her quest. And some very silly fantasy names (Though at least they mostly seem like they belong in one place.)

But damn good in most respects. Eminently readable.

I've been wary of rereading Pat Wrede's Lyra books for just this reason: I was almost put off reading anything but her regency stuff after reading Shadow Magic, her first Lyra book and first publication, because it was so... pastiche. I could see strong retreads of ground covered by Robin McKinley (And not that fresh when McKinley did it), but without the characters and the quirky point of view and the style. I'd already read enough of her other work to know that this first novel was an aberration, that she grew book by book in facility with language and characters, and that the other Lyra books I'd read didn't have the same bad knock-off feeling at all. Still, these kinds of revulsions and hesitations are hard to shake off.

This books is like a textbook example of how good writing and good thought can take a "typical" book and lift it out of the mass of similar books.

First, the reason I remembered the romance subplot so well is because it's got several unusual things going for it; it's rooted deep in two very different cultures which never quite understand one another, and it involves a love triangle where both men are good and worthy and competent (for this woman, at this time, one is superior, but it's not the too-frequent case where one is blatantly the better man for virtually *any* woman put in the situation. Er. Or Man. And yes, er, I think I'm guilty of the wrong kind of love triangle, too. Not that it should be surprising that an oft-published writer gets things right that i mess up.)

The cod-medieval settings, too, even the one with kick-ass warrior women, are carefully and realistically drawn, and attention is paid to why and how they would work in most aspects. Not terribly surprising: Pat Wrede is the woman responsible for multiple essays and panels on how to do just that (Also, IIRC, to the great little pithy phrase "Who does the laundry?" which effectively sums the whole issue up.) The feeling of Eleret trying to navigate a world that isn't her own -- and the ways people from that world react when she makes a faux pas or displays an unexpected talent -- is very well drawn, and provides almsot all the details that make this book really shine. Best of all, even the character who occasionally thinks an ickle pwetty girl can't do the sorts of things this one does never falls into cliches about it, adjusts his thinking as best he can, and flubs it again, but in a different way.

Characters act smart. They figure things out then figure out what to do. They may fixate on the "tarot" cards a bit too much, but tey actually get useful information.

They actually go and let the authorities deal with things the authorities should deal with. And co-operate with them. (One of the Romance novels I was reading over Christmas even went wrong with that, making the main character go to extreme lengths to hide things from the authorities when the concealment made her look guilty of murder and the disclosure might actually help her. It's definitely something I see in fantasy novels, especially those that involve a party of companions - fallout from the Role Playing game issue that the PCs should have all the big moments of solving the crime or beating up the bad guy, even when it strains the world.)

I did find most of the details of Eleret mourning over her mother felt forced-in and unrealistic. The scene where she's going through her mother's effects works very well, and feels realistic; the others seem contrived. Odd, because most of the rest of the book feels like it was reaching for sincerity in how it showed the people and their worlds.

Lynn Flewelling - Stalking Darkness

Actually read before all three of the above, at the tail end of my Christmas holiday.

Another typical fantasy type story. Also well written and with many merits that make it stand out a bit. It tends to hit hard on the author's "cool stuff", but in a way that carries it through. (It's second in a series; This one and the first, Luck in the Shadows, make a complete story -- to the point where I felt I had to read the second half of it ASAP after reading the first, but don't feel the same urge about book three or any potential future books. My impression is that it's meant to be an ongoing thing, not a trilogy, though she paused to write an actual trilogy.)

But some time after I set this oen down, I finally put my finger on that's been bothering me about these books.

Seregil isn't a man.

This is one of the things that prompted my post earlier about "Why are all these men here?" even as it's one of the aspects of that issue I didn't want to get into deeply.

Seregil is meant to be written as a gay male who's comfortable in his sexuality (and with cross-dressing, where spy-work requires it) in a culture that's okay with it too, as Alec is supposed to be written as a bi male who, coming from a more closed culture, is a bit thrown by the idea. But Seregil *reads*, or did to me, as something closer to a female with a penis. Alec, oddly, reads for me at least as a gawky young man, in spite of being the virginal one.

Note that this is a "rivets on a moving train" issue. It didn't bother me as I was reading, and I'm deliberately exaggerating the problem; it's not that overt. Moreover, Seregil is consistent and well-drawn within himself, and his dialogue is a hoot more often than not. I'd be willing enough to keep reading the series, though i've got a lot of more appealing things already in the pile.

Just started back into The Dragon Waiting (I reread most of the murder at the inn segment to get back into it, but remembered far more of it than I'd thought.)

Will probably have to stop again to read more stuff on the Faerie Queene. And maybe even parts of the bloody poem itself again.
Tags: back to school, bookishness

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