Sunday, May 31, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart Part 4

Welcome to part 4 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. Our host this week is once again Susan of Dab of Darkness, and her questions cover chapters 27-36.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 36 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section!  Quite a lot happened in this weeks section, so I’m looking forward to discussing it with everyone!

1) Alcuin finally talked with Delaunay about being uncomfortable serving Naamah. He spent 3 days in the sanctuary of Naamah and came out with a lighter heart. What do you think occurred there? 

I’m wondering if maybe they weren’t too hard on him since he swore to serve Naamah out of love.  It wasn’t the exact motivation they had intended, but it’s not like he had some kind of disrespectful ulterior motive.  He really just wanted to please the one he loved, and I think the order of Naamah has to be sympathetic to that.  I am wondering if they gave him some counseling on the power of communication and making sure you’re true to yourself.  Also, he didn’t really have to ask to be let out of his vow of service, since he did earn enough from Bouvarre to make his marque.

2) We are introduced to the new protector of the Delaunay household, Joscelin Verreuil. What were your first impressions? Would would you find it harder to pay homage to: Naamah or Kushiel or Cassiel? 

I’m sad Guy is gone, but I think Joscelin is a great new addition to the household.  He’s been trained since he was a kid (sort of like Phèdre would have been in the Night Court), but he’s young and inexperienced enough to be extremely uptight about his order.  I’m wondering if the order sent him, at least in part, because they knew he would mature significantly from having to deal with the Delaunay household.  

Of the three, I would say it would be hardest for me to follow Cassiel.  I’m really not a very violent person, and I don’t think I would do well in weapons training.  They are protectors, not aggressors, so I don’t have any ideological problem with the order.  I just have no desire to ever be in a fight.  I don’t think I would really enjoy paying homage to Naamah or Kushiel, either, though.  Where is the angel of natural philosophy?

3) Phedre visits Childric D'Essoms two more times; once to beg a boon for Delaunay and again because she feels she owes him a debt. Do you think she was right to go on either of these occasions? 

Since everything that she has done up to this point was for Delaunay’s schemes (well, and to serve Naamah), I think it wouldn’t have made sense for her to balk from the first meeting.  For the second, I don’t think I would have done it, if I were her. I can understand her feelings of having a debt, but she didn’t really betray him.  She never even tried to coax information out of him, she just listened and reported back to Delaunay.  He had always known she was going to do that.  I think at least part of it might come down to her feeling that she used the service of Naamah for an unrelated purpose, and she had to make it right by having a meeting with him that carried no ulterior motive.

4) We meet the Duc Barquiel L'Enver, who has spent much time in Akkad. What do you think lies in the past between him and Delaunay? What do you think of his methods to dealing with Vitale Bouvarre? 

Now we know some of Delaunay’s secrets, at least, so I have some maybe-true answers!  Delaunay loved Isabel’s husband, and he also publicly accused her of murder.  I imagine that’s hard to get over for her family, and I wonder if Barquiel at one point suspected Delaunay of Isabel’s murder.  I think this was probably the best method, though it was dangerous.  In addition to getting justice, he can start to move towards not being the enemy of the Duc and his family.

5) At the palace, after a meeting with Clavel, Phedre sneaks off. In the hall, she overhears Isidore d'Aiglemort talking about the Glory Seekers along the Skaldi border. Then she finds herself hiding under some furniture when she witnesses a secret meeting between Delaunay and Ysandre de la Courcel. What do you make of this latest political intrigue? 

There’s too much going on, so I don’t have any real coherent ideas!  I guess Isidore’s problem is that soldiers don’t want to follow the one who betrayed their last leader to execution, and that seems pretty reasonable.  I wonder if this is going to cause some problems with protecting the border, though.  The whole bit with Ysandre has to refer to his promise to Rolande… maybe it was Rolande’s ring?  All I got from the exchange right now is that maybe Ysandre is starting to take a more active role in politics.

6) Melisande Shahrizai points out to Phedre that she both despises and loves each of her patrons, if only a little. Do you think this is true for Phedre? For most human relationships? 

I’m not sure if that’s true or not for Phèdre.  I think that she has some fondness for each of her patrons, though I’m not sure I would call it love.  However, I don’t think Phèdre really has a lot of hate in her right now, so I can’t really see her despising them.  I think she feels a little condescension towards some of their kinks, but so far she seems too good-natured about it to call it contempt or hatred. I really don’t think that’s true for human relationships, in general.  I try my best to understand and accept people, especially the ones I love.  The people I love might do things that annoy me sometimes, but I’m sure I have my share of annoying habits as well.

7) Phedre is contracted for the Longest Night by Melisande to be shown off to the Duc de Morhban. What stood out for you the most this night? Now that Phedre can complete her mark, what do you think she will do? 

That was an impressive night.  Melisande had Phèdre so dazed that she was completely off her training, and didn’t really notice anything.  I think the thing that most stood out was her using her safeword— and I’m glad Melisande respected it.  I still think it’s weird that Melisande seemed to see that as a triumphant moment, but I’m glad Phèdre seems willing to use it.  But on that safe word topic, could it be that Phèdre is developing feelings for Hyacinthe?  That would be rough, since they are really not into the same things.  Concerning completing her mark, I think Phèdre is pretty happy with her life as it is.  I think she hopes to stay with Delaunay doing mostly the same things, but now as a more equal partner in his scheming.

Other Things:
—It was interesting that Phèdre was jealous of Alcuin.  I didn’t think she really liked Delaunay in that way.  I guess maybe she did, but was aware that their tastes were too different for them to ever work, even if he reciprocated her feelings.  I’m wondering if that’s going to start to be a serious problem for Phèdre, that her heart loves people that are incompatible with her particular niche.

—On Delaunay’s past, what else is there?  Apparently this part of the puzzle was not what Phèdre does not want to know.  Now that she will have her marque, does that mean Alcuin will tell her the rest?

—It’s nice to see Alcuin and Joscelin getting along!  He deserves a bit of happiness and peace, and I’m betting this peaceful period won’t last too long.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente
Published: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
Series: Book 3 of the Fairyland Series
Awards Won: Locus YA AwardThe Book:

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.”

I have reviewed a few of Valente’s books on this blog so far, and I generally really enjoy her work.  Unfortunately, this will be a little shorter than my usual reviews, because it is months delayed and I don’t seem to have written a whole lot of notes.

My Thoughts: 

This series as a whole is following September as she grows up--in the first book she is a child, in the second an adolescent, and in this one she is a 14-year-old teenager.  The ideas and problems she faces are also maturing with her.  Some of the main topics she struggles with this time include free will vs. predestination, self-identification and purpose, and social responsibility. I enjoyed the new realizations September comes to as a result of her journey, but it seemed a little more meandering than the first couple of novels.  In addition, while September does a lot of talking, thinking and wandering, she has more of a passive observer role in the main adventure.  Part of that might be due to the fact that the conflict of the story is much more nebulous than dethroning a marquess or a shadow queen.

As usual, September travels across a new area of Fairyland, meeting varied new creatures, such as moon-yeti, oyster cities and self-aware tools.  Her old friends A-through-L and Saturday are also much more involved than they were in book 2, and it was nice to see them again.  Valente’s writing was as lovely as usual, though I think that the flowery language coupled with the slower-moving story might make it a little more difficult to get into than the previous novels.  In general, if you thought the writing style of the first two books was charming, this one is pretty similar.  One other thing that I rather enjoy about Valente’s Fairyland is that it is not limited to children-- September doesn’t have to give up her magical world when she becomes a teenager.  Rather than teenagers putting away childish things, it is refreshing to see a story where a girl and her dreams are allowed to grow up together.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, May 25, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  Our host this week is Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow, and her questions cover chapters 19-26.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 26 in the questions and answers below!   You can find the schedule HERE. We also have a Goodreads group for SF/F read alongs. Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section!

1)  We get a lot of political intrigue to wade through this week, plus a couple of pretty big dramatic revelations, not least of which was the twist of fate for Prince Baudoin and his mother. What did you make of the trial, and what became of these two?

I was shocked by how honest Lyonette was, but maybe she knew there was no point in lying since the evidence would condemn her.  I also found it surprising that Prince Baudoin did not expect to be sentenced to death— throughout history, I think treason has always been dealt with pretty horrifically. I was actually relieved that they got to choose their own method of execution, so that we wouldn’t have to read about them being hanged, drawn and quartered or something equally horrible.

2)  On a rather different, much more personal note for the House of Delaunay was the drama that unfolded surrounding Alcuin (poor Guy!). What do you think might become of Alcuin now that he appears to be out of the game?

Based on the things that Delaunay said during this chapter, I get the impression that he would have had an alternate plan for Alcuin, if he’d known how much the boy hated the idea of serving Naamah.  Maybe he would have trained him in arms, and had him serve others as an escort or bodyguard, and he could fulfill his work as a spy in that way.  Maybe, if he is trained up quickly, he could be Phèdre’s escort, now that his marque is complete?

3)  As we'd suspected last week, Phèdre's refusal to use her signale gets her into some trouble with d'Essoms - but it also gets her the result that Anafiel had hoped for... Do you think she'll be more careful from here or will this only make that addictive slope more slippery for her?

The trouble it got her into was pretty trivial, though.  I think the injury would be serious for a normal person, but her fast-healing ability means that she won’t even have a scar.  Instead of being more careful, I think this has probably confirmed her sense of her own invincibility. Also, she got some nice information for Delaunay in the process!  Rather than being more cautious, I would expect the opposite. 

4)  Speaking of Phèdre and trouble, what do you make of the 'relationship' building between her and Melisande?

I think something major is going to happen.  The night with Prince Baudoin and Melisande was pretty tame, I think mostly because Baudoin didn’t really have much interest in that sort of thing.  Phèdre suffered mostly from neglect, when Baudoin got distracted with Melisande and just left her tied up.  I could be wrong, but I felt like the point of it for Melisande was to make Phèdre feel involved in her betrayal of Baudoin.  That’s a much more subtle kind of pain than the sort you get from a whip.  I expect there will be more brewing between the two of them, as we continue.

Other Bits:

—It’s hard not to blame Alcuin for Guy’s death, but I can see where he was coming from.  He had to know that meeting was going to be dangerous, and Delaunay would have stopped him.  If he’d warned Guy, though, I wonder if that would have allowed Guy to take enough precautions to keep them safe.

—I am pretty disappointed that Phèdre’s first safeword disaster was just a side note story, and one that basically came out great for her in the end, at that. I imagine we’ll see more trouble on this front.

—Phèdre’s latest assignation was surprisingly sweet.

—I’m worried about what Delaunay is going to do to bring Bouvarre to justice.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review: Mockingbird by Sean Stewart

Mockingbird by Sean Stewart
Published: Small Beer Press, 2005
Awards Nominated: Locus Fantasy, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:
“Toni Beauchamp never liked her mother's world of magic and visions and six strange gods that took over her body at will. So when her mother died, Toni and her sister Candy thought it meant a new beginning, a life free of magic. But Elena had one last gift for her daughter - a sip from the Mockingbird Cordial. And from the moment Toni held the drink to her lips, her life would never be the same…”

This is the second book I’ve read by Sean Stewart, and I bought it at the same time as Galveston. Both books are fantasies set in Texas, but I had a really hard time with Galveston’s unlikeable protagonists.  I’m happy I gave Stewart’s work another shot, though, because I enjoyed Mockingbird.

My Thoughts:

Mockingbird is a story primarily about familial relationships between women, identity, and coping with the unexpected.  The Beauchamp family was affected by the everyday presence of magic, but I think they were more significantly influenced by their relationships to one another.  For example, Toni disliked the magic because it made her mother an unreliable parent. Toni never knew, when she came home, whether she would be interacting with her mother or with one of the spirits whose fetishes her mother kept in a cupboard.  Toni and her little sister Candy learned from experience which of the personalities would be kind, and which were cruel or abusive.  Their close, dysfunctional family shaped both Toni and Candy’s lives, but in different ways, and it was interesting to see them come to terms with each other as the adults they have become.

While the story has its share of dramatic twists and turns, the focus is always more on the characters and their connections to one another.  Rather than an adventure that has a set beginning and end, this is the story of a specific period in Toni’s life, a time where she struggles to define her chosen identity and path. Toni initially tries to define herself through contrast to her mother--she has a stable job as an actuary, a reliable, self-sufficient personality, and can even take reproduction into her own hands.  The truth is, though, that no one can plan and execute their life with perfect control. Toni’s first curveball is her inheritance of her mother’s magic, but it is by no means the last unwelcome twist in her life.  In a way, it is a kind of a 30-something maturation story, and I enjoyed following Toni as she struggled to find the shape of her future life.

The magic is very naturally woven into the lives of the characters, and I would say this is more of a family drama than a fantasy.  I felt like the it mostly served the story by providing symbols and emphasis to specific events in this part of Toni’s life.  The novel is pretty slow-paced, as well, so I think the plot might risk feeling a little aimless if one is not invested in the characters. Altogether, it’s not the usual style of novel I read, but I enjoyed the change of pace.  Thus far, this is my favorite of Sean Stewart’s novels, and I can see why it received award nominations.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Mockingbird is more of a character-driven story of female relationships and identity than a fantasy, though magic does play a seemingly natural role in the characters’ lives.  It is a slow-paced novel that follows Toni Beauchamp’s life in the wake of her mother’s death, as she passes through the journey “from being a daughter to having one”. Toni plans for her future to be organized and stable, in contrast to her mother’s magic and unreliability, but life has other plans.  I think the novel relies heavily on a reader’s investment in the characters, and I was very easily emotionally invested in Toni.  This is not my usual style of novel, but I’m glad I decided to read it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.  I am actually hosting the questions this week, and they cover chapters 9-18.  Keep in mind, therefore, that there will be spoilers up through chapter 18 in the questions and answers below!  Also, remember to visit all the participants blogs to see what they have to say about this week’s section:

Allie (me) at Tethyan Books
Lisa at Over the Effing RainbowLynn at Lynn’s Book BlogGrace at Books Without Any PicturesLauren at Violin in a VoidCeline at Nyx Book ReviewsJenn at Morrison GirlIgret at Igret’s CornerMichael at Nashville Book WormKheya at Not Food PornEmma at EmmaMaree.comNancy at FaeStruck’s Reviews & MoreKelly at Orange Pekoe ReviewsSusan at Dab of Darkness

1) In these chapters, Phèdre finally gets to have her own dedication ceremony.  Were you surprised by what they did with the dove? Also, do you think it is fair to ask people to make a life decision about serving Naamah at such a young age?  

I imagined that they were going to sacrifice the dove, so I was really happy to see that it was more of a symbol, with the dove flying up to freedom.  Thinking on what Phèdre is dedicating her life to, it would not have made sense to kill the dove.  I think it’s just what I have grown to anticipate from these kinds of scenes.  

I don’t really think it is fair to treat Phèdre’s adolescent decision as one that is completely un-coerced, even though I think her guardians have made it as free a decision as they can.  Phèdre has been educated a little by the Night Court about what to expect, but she has also been a little bit indoctrinated by them.  Also, she knows that this is the path Delaunay has planned for her, so there is additional pressure even though he doesn’t intend to actively apply it. Furthermore, given her inexperience and age, I don’t think she could truly understand what she is agreeing to in the long run.  For instance, younger-adolescent Phèdre would have happily gone to Valerian House, but just a few years later she realizes that she would have regretted that decision.

2) Sex ed is definitely different in Terre d’Ange.  Do you think the Showing was useful for the teenagers? Do you think, at their age, you would have appreciated something like the book-learning they received in the art?

I’m pretty sure that most teenagers would probably enjoy that kind of a Showing, but I don’t know if I would say it was useful in their case.  If it was to learn the mechanics, the two principle actors’ hair seemed to have covered most of that up.  Also, it featured one possible pairing which doesn’t seem to be Alcuin’s most common, so far.  Maybe it was more intended to get them excited about the future? In that case, I think it served it’s purpose!  The classes, on the other hand, sound very useful.  In a society where everyone is just expected to magically know what to do (like modern-day society), I think it would be very cool to have some kind of formal theoretical training.

3) Hyacinthe has some neat theories about Delaunay’s past.  What is your favorite theory? 

I’m falling down as a reader in puzzling this out.  It’s probably partially because I still have to keep reminding myself all of the courtiers names right now, and also because I read these first two sections sleepily on airplanes.  I think my favorite theory so far is that Delaunay was the King’s first betrothed’s lover, and that he is trying to bring her killers to justice.  There also seems to be a bit of a Count of Monte Cristo thing going on, since it seems like Anafiel Delaunay has a different previous name, and this is known to some of his closer friends. 

4) Phèdre seems to be making a name for herself as an anguissette, known for never giving the signale. Do you think she would ever actually choose to use the signale, even if she were in real danger? Do you think her inability to do so might get her into trouble?

This seemed like a danger sign to me.  She gets so caught up in the moment that it doesn’t seem to me like she would ever use her signale.  That puts all the responsibility for not seriously injuring her on the patron, and we know that some of the patrons hate Delaunay, at least.  Also, I think that having that kind of a reputation might attract patrons who want to do more and more extreme things, which would make it more likely that she would need to protect herself. I hope nothing terrible happens to her. 

5) Do you think Alcuin is enjoying his career as much as Phèdre, or do you think he has a different focus? Do you think their differing appeals and tastes will drive them apart?  

I thought Alcuin seemed less excited than Phèdre about the actual assignments, especially about his first one.  I am wondering how much his decision to follow this path of service was due to personal desire, and how much was to please Delaunay.  If he really doesn’t enjoy this life, then it seems like that might start to grate a little between him and Phèdre.  I think we’ve also seen a little distance already between Delaunay and Phèdre, due to the fact that he doesn’t really understand her tastes.  I’m wondering if that’s going to cause any problems between Phèdre and Alcuin as well.

Other Thoughts:  

—To keep up my comments on real-world Terre d’Ange, from what I can gather, I am not all that close to the Skaldic raiding. I think my little village (near the French-Swiss border) is pretty safe.

—It seems like la Confédération Helvétique has collapsed in this fictional world? Is this a clue as to the corresponding real-world time period?

—I’m wondering what’s going to happen between Kushiel’s Line and Kushiel’s Dart!  Future-Phèdre is seeming to say it’s something serious.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: Intrusion by Ken MacLeod

Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
Published: Orbit, 2012
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Campbell Memorial, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards

The Book:

“Do you believe people should be free to make their own personal choices?  What if they don’t choose what you believe is right? In a perfect world, where everyone has access to all information, perhaps everyone would make the ‘right’ choices.  Since we don’t live in this perfect world, maybe imperfectly informed individuals need to be protected from making the ‘wrong’ choices.  Then again, to what authority could we comfortably surrender that responsibility?

In a near future world with advanced technology, a pill (the Fix) has been developed that, when taken by a pregnant mother, cleanses her fetus’s DNA of any potentially troubling content.  Hope Morrison is pregnant with her second child, and she does not want to take the Fix.  She also refuses to give her decision any socially acceptable justification. In a state that increasingly controls the bodies of its people, in a world that is threatened by nihilistic anti-civilization terrorists, no personal decision is allowed to be as simple and harmless as it first appears.” ~Allie

This is the second novel I’ve read by Ken MacLeod, the first being “The Night Sessions”, which addresses how artificial intelligence might fit within religion. I bought a signed copy of Intrusion at last year’s WorldCon, LonCon3!

My Thoughts:

This is one of the scariest dystopian novels that I’ve ever read, most likely because it is very easy to imagine a similar society rising out of our current world. The central story involves a young couple, Hope and Hugh, whose second child is on the way. Hope does not intend to take the Fix, and refuses to give a rationale for her decision. This doesn’t seem like it should be a problem, since the Fix is not yet legally compulsory, and plenty of parents choose not to take it for religious or philosophical reasons.  However, due to the current political climate, what should be a quiet personal decision begins to be escalated to extreme levels.  From my perspective, her refusal to justify herself is exactly the point of the situation.  It is a question of whether or not Hope has a right to bodily integrity and to make choices for her unborn child.  Once one starts judging the case based on whether or not the reasons behind her decisions are acceptable enough, one has already answered the previous question in the negative.  

This is far from the only difficult issue the story grapples with, through Hope and Hugh as well as through a few secondary characters.  For instance, there was exploration about the compromises made between safety and privacy, in a populace whose monitored lives risk being flagged as suspicious by impersonal computing algorithms.  Similarly, how much should a government intrude in people’s lives ‘for their own good’?  This falls most heavily on women of child-bearing age, who face many restrictions on their lives, ostensibly for the good of a potential fetus. There are also discussions about about civil liberty, terrorism, and governmental use of physical torture. Things could get quite information-dense and confusing at times, especially since I am not particularly well versed in modern-day UK politics and the culture of the island of Lewis. Realistically, though, there are no simple solutions to ‘fix’ society.

This is definitely a book I will remember for a long time for its ideas, though it did not seem to spend quite as much time developing its characters.  I felt a bit like the characters were held at arm’s length--observed through their words and actions, but never allowed to be fully understood. The existence of Hugh’s second sight, also, seemed a strangely fantastical addition to an otherwise grounded near-future dystopian story. I appreciated its role in clarifying the motivations of Hope’s decision, but I did not really understand why it needed to be supernatural. From my perspective, at least, the ideas were so compelling that these minor complaints seem small in comparison.

My Rating: 4.5/5
Intrusion paints a terrifying picture of a dystopian society with policies that do not feel very far removed from those in place in many societies today.  The novel covers many topics in the uneasy relationship between the state and the individual, including, among other things, rights to privacy and to bodily integrity. The story escalates from the decision of a young married woman, Hope, to not take a genetic Fix for her unborn child, and her refusal to provide a socially accepted reason for her choice. While I thought the characters were somewhat distant and the inclusion of one slightly fantastical element seemed a little off tone, I was deeply affected by the topics explored. I think this is a frighteningly plausible dystopia that deserves many readers.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Dart, Part 1

Welcome to the my discussion post for the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart! This  post will cover chapters 1-8, so all of that content is fair game for discussion.  I’ve never read Kushiel’s Dart before, so I’m not planning on having any spoilers from later in the book or the series. Our list of participants has been updated since my previous announcement post, and now includes:  

Also, I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks, which is why my frequency of book reviews suddenly dropped off.  I will be back at home shortly, and my usual regular-ish schedule is expected to resume. And now, for the discussion questions:

1) Here we have the earliest days of Phèdre's life, and we have the story of Elua and his followers. Did you note any similarities between Phèdre's beginning and Elua's stories? Do you enjoy having these stories upfront or would you rather have had the stories shuffled in later with an adult Phèdre looking back? 

I was a little more distracted by how the Elua story fit in with Christianity. Now that you mention it, though, they both started life unwanted.  I’m of two minds about the stories.  I find them interesting, but I also feel like they might have been more powerful if they were revealed more gradually as they became relevant to different parts of the story.  As it is, I’ll probably be referring to the wiki entry on the stories to remind myself of details—I’m afraid I was a little more attentive to Phèdre’s story than Elua’s so far.

2) Hyacinthe has become Phèdre's one true friend. Do you think she is the same for him? The dromonde, or fortune telling, fascinates Phèdre. Do you have a fortune telling story? 

I don’t think I really know enough about Hyacinthe yet to say for sure.  It definitely seems like Phèdre is important to him, but I don’t know how much that is just because she is beautiful and unusual (in that she is from a very different environment and upbringing).  Alternatively, Hyacinthe seems important to Phèdre because he is not beautiful (unlike everyone else she’s ever met) and unusual.  I don’t really have any fortune-telling stories. I prefer my life to be a surprise, so I doubt that is something I would ever seek out even if I believed in it!

3) The Midwinter Masque on the Longest Night is a long held tradition in Terre D'Ange. What stood out for you? Have you been to such a fete? 

It reminded me a bit of the welcoming of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons to the Hogwarts castle, with the way that each faction had their own act and style.  The masks also reminded me a bit of Carnevale di Venezia, though I have never been there while it was happening. I’ve never been to anything like that, but it sounds like it was beautiful! 

4) Anafiel Delaunay has many secrets. How do you think those secrets will shape Alcuin and Phèdre? 

Right now, he seems a little like Petyr Baelish to me, and I really don’t have any clear idea of what he wants to accomplish with Phèdre and Alcuin.  He seems to want to educate them, and to use them as distracting ornaments at drinking parties. Given what he has taught them so far, I don’t yet understand how Phèdre being an anguissette matters.  I feel quite certain that this will be addressed in the future.

5) Delaunay has a saying; All knowledge is worth having. Do you believe this is so? 

Well, yes and no.  In an academic sense, sure, all knowledge is worth having. However, as in my answer to the fortune-telling question, I think knowledge of the future could only make life less happy.  Also, I really don’t want to know everything about everyone.  Perhaps it would be different if I were scheming for advantage against everyone around me (I’m not), but there are things about even the people I love that I probably do not want or need to know.  Everyone should be allowed their secrets.  I suppose I would make a poor politician!

Other notes:

—Since I live in France, it was kind of fun to try to work out which regions of France corresponded to each of the fictional regions.  I suppose I’d be from Camlach, and my husband has ties to Eisande.

—Wrong culture, but I couldn’t help thinking of the Japanese yogurt-drink company whenever someone mentioned the drink ‘joie’:

—It’s nice that Terre d’Ange keeps the French tradition of adding excessive accent marks everywhere :).

—I’m curious about what the Night Court was like in the past, since Phèdre is commenting that the court of her youth was already well past its heyday.  Is it maybe kind of like Oiran, and the Night Court folk are becoming increasingly detached from the current-day culture, so that the pool of people who have the means and interest to be their patrons is becoming more and more constrained?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published: Crown Publishers, 2011
Awards Nominated: Locus First Novel and Campbell Memorial Awards

The Book:

“It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune-and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt-among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize.”

Ernest Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, has met with a lot of success, including a deal for a movie that will reportedly be directed by Steven Spielberg.  I have to agree that this novel is a lot of fun, and I think it has a good chance of becoming an excellent movie adaptation as well!  On another note, Ernest Cline is publishing his next novel, Armada, this summer.  

My Thoughts:

I knew going in that the novel was going to play heavily on nostalgia for the 1980s, and that is very true.  The quest for Halliday’s Easter Egg requires all of its candidates to have an extensive knowledge of 1980’s pop culture and skill with the video games of the era, and movies, games, and music are constantly references throughout the story.  It seems like Ernest Cline must have really enjoyed the decade, to naturally have such an extensive bank of knowledge to weave into his story! One thing I wasn’t expecting, but which was quite welcome, was the nostalgia for MMORPGs.  So much about the OASIS seemed designed to trigger happy MMO memories, though it is clear that OASIS exists after the unfortunate migration of games from subscription-based to free-to-play/pay-to-win.  In any case, I would expect this novel to hit some positive buttons for anyone with happy memories of either 1980s or of MMORPGs.

For me, most of the novel was an exciting thrill ride, but the beginning started off a little bit bumpy.  I know it was important to establish the physical world and Wade’s part in it, but I felt like the bleakness of that beginning segment dragged on too long.  It featured a little too much of Wade being alone, thinking about his lack of meaningful family or friends, the environmental and social ruin of the world, and how his life was a miserable march towards death.  For a book that I’d expected to be mostly a fun quest story (and had chosen to read specifically for that reason), I found this dismal enough that I almost decided to start reading something else instead.  Happily, once the story moves to Wade in the OASIS, his virtual friends, and the treasure hunt, the pace and tone both perk right up.

As you can probably gather from the description, this is a quest story, where the main character Wade is trying to acquire three keys and pass through three gates in a virtual world using his knowledge of 1980s pop culture and skill in gaming.  The story really is that straightforward, so it is a credit to Cline’s storytelling ability that it is so engaging and entertaining. Wade’s companion top egg hunters (‘gunters’)-- Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto/Daito--are interesting characters in their own rights, each with their own stories and dreams. There is a stereotypically evil corporation, but its existence makes a certain sort of sense in their dying world--they may impress people into debt slavery, but some people are willing to accept that in exchange for food and shelter.  I was hopeless at figuring out the solutions before the characters, because I’m just not that good at the 80’s, but the riddles seemed both challenging and well-designed.  I’m glad I finally got around to reading Reader Player One, and I’m excited to see what Cline will write next.         

My Rating: 4/5

Ready Player One is a highly entertaining debut novel, which makes excellent use of 80’s pop culture and MMO experience in an Earth that is in environmental and societal decline.  The beginning is a little bit too bleak and full of existential dread for me, but the story soon picks up as the dangerous puzzle quest that Wade has made his life’s goal starts to get underway. The story is pretty straightforward, featuring Wade and some of his enthusiast friends squaring off against an evil corporation in the search for Halliday’s Easter Egg.  However, the pacing, the characters, and the storytelling ability that are on display here are really impressive, and make this one of the most fun books I’ve read so far this year!