Wednesday 31 May 2023

Book review: Gaudy night

PXL_20230527_103909564 Wiki says: Gaudy Night (1935) is a mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, the tenth featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and the third including Harriet Vane and I have no reason to disbelieve it. I enjoyed it; it is a good book to read in Oxford.

For me, who comes back to Oxford every now and again, the most interesting part was the coming-back-to-Oxford thread. It is well handled and suited my mood, on a weekend when I was back to watch Eights. There are two or three other threads, which is nice in itself, as a multi-thread novel is more complex. But it has to be well-handled; they have to be threads woven together; unlike say Eversion where the threads are largely unlinked.

Wiki quotes Orwell saying "her slickness in writing has blinded many readers to the fact that her stories, considered as detective stories, are very bad ones. They lack the minimum of probability that even a detective story ought to have, and the crime is always committed in a way that is incredibly tortuous and quite uninteresting" and there is a good deal of truth in his words. In this case, about 2/3 of the way through and I was wondering whodunnit, and was struggling to think of any of the characters being interesting enough; in the sense that any of them could have, but it would have been arbitrary. It doesn't help that all of the dons are thinly sketched and rather blur together. In the end (faint spoiler) the guilty party emerges as somewhat distinct from the rest, linked by another thread, but it all turns out to be not really the main point of the book at all; which in another sense is nice.

Other threads - and you can take your pick as to which are the real point - are Women's rights, doubtless exciting at the time and not completely extinguished as a topic even now; the balance between work and life; and the balance between man and women in a relationship.

The latter, though, is examined mostly through the HV-LPW nexus, and since LPW is an idealisation of a caricature little is learnt there.

Perhaps the book would have been better with the crime thread removed entirely.


Book review: The Documents in the Case

Book review: Whose Body?

Saturday 13 May 2023

Book review: In Ascension

PXL_20230429_115535191 In Ascension by Martin MacInnes: read in Waterstones, initially promising, gets lost about the half way mark. I ended up skipping a lot to get to the end, where I found nothing. I recommend this Goodreads review.

The "backstory" of the central character is unhappy; and she swims, in Rotterdam, or something. But it is all pointless. It reads as though the author knows that sci-fi books often lack "real" characters and so decides to bolt some on. But a whole pile of "character" that is nothing to do with the story is pointless; effectively, it makes two books, unhelpfully shuffled together. But apart from that...

The best bit is the exploratory vessel investigation, and life on ship. This almost reads like the author knows something about it, or has at least talked to people that did. And the weird bits - just how deep is the hole? - kind of work... as long as you don't think: hold on, if the hole really were that deep, that would be like mega-important and the govt would be all over it.

The segue into deep space is odd, in many ways. The mystery space drive... doesn't work. I mean, the way it fits in the story. I think it is implied, or the possibility left implied - its that kind of book - that it might be alien tech; but that doesn't really fit. The decision to grow food on the trip, rather than just bring it, doesn't really make sense either; nor does the "oh it would cheer people up" motivation. And therefore neither does her presence on the ship. It kinda reads like it should have been written by Gwyneth Jones who would have handled it better.

But in the end it is just another exploring the mystery of aliens maybe visiting, and trails off into nothing once it realises it has no idea what to say.

Thursday 11 May 2023

Book review: Eversion

PXL_20230511_113959899 By Alistair Reynolds. See Goodreads. TL;DR: it's OK but, as with so many books, better if you stop before the end. He does better than many others because you should stop 3/4 or perhaps even 4/5 of the way through.

As always, spoilers follow.

The idea of the lead voice continually running through the same events but with successively later technology is quite cute and handled quite well (in particular, although it is to some extent the same story multiple times, this works: because it isn't the same, it evolves). The characters, and the reader, slowly realise that he is approaching, and shying away from, something. I think in the end though there's a confusion: the shying-away-from relies on human reactions to being near death, which isn't true for an AI (much is made of the horror of the skull-in-the-spacesuit. For a human, being that would be horrifying. For an AI, it is rather less clear). The existence of (only one) sub-AI isn't really clear either.

So I wanted another plot twist near the end, something that would be horrifying: that our doctor has been lied to; he really is a human, trapped in there, somehow.

The nature of the (extra-solar-system) entity, The Edifice or whatever, is never clear, and that's alright: it is come to do some intelligence gathering, that makes some sense; what doesn't really make sense is how the crews of two ships, one of which is forewarned, would have been dumb enough to fall into its grasp. Nor is it clear how it was going to report its intelligence back to base; although - and here we come to the eversion of the title - perhaps it is broken.

The eversion concept comes from the Morin surface and Sphere eversion. They aren't strongly connected to the rest of the book; the entire thing could have been written without them, really; and this is dissatisfying; it becomes just plot candy.

My picture is of the college associated with Lady Margaret boat club.