Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Echoes of a Single Sound

I feel the need to start by pointing out that I'm writing these reviews as I encounter a book. I'm probably being silly, but can't get myself to remove that first sentence, so now I must apologize for dithering, and wander into Lois McMaster Bujold. I meant to write this about Shards of Honor, but that will be the next post, because this post is about the Short Story that came with it.


When I was 22, I spent a month traveling around Europe, making an ass of myself, and lucking into perfect timing in nearly everything. Thanks to the people who put up with my insufferable youth. A few days after arriving in London in time for the Queens Jubilee, I got myself south of the river to the Imperial War Museum. It's an interesting place, the exhibits are wonderful, and then there's the section on The War(s)

It's a separate display, and it's entered along a sloping hallway, dimly lit, with 5 pictures on each side, each attached to a quote. I've spent some time online to try to find a public view of this, but to no avail. It's a chilling way to enter the exhibit, the quotes, from first to last, and somewhat unattributed because my camera didn't have that much resolution

"In every parting there is an image of death" with a picture of a old woman embracing a soldier leaving for the front - George Eliot

"The world will little note nor long remember, what we say, but it can never forget what they did" with a picture of a world war two soldier leaping forward - Abraham Lincoln

"One does not pity the people of the town, nor does one hate them. One says 'they did it to us' but one is left just staring. The scene has gone beyond argument." with a picture of an injured boy and an old man in front of the ruins of a bombed town - VS Prichart?

"War is part of God's creation" with a picture of an toddler, with a head injury, in a hospital bed, clinging to a doll - Helmuth von Moltke

"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival" with a picture of an ecstatic young woman clutching a newspaper and thrusting it into the air. - Sir Winston Spencer Churchill

"There were great numbers of young men who had never been in a war and were consequently far from unwilling to join in this one." with a picture of a ANZAC soldier departing for Europe. -Thucydides

"The essence of war is violence and moderation in war is imbecility" with a picture of a young officer urging his men forward, with his men prone in the background - Lord Macaulay

"I pray you to believe what I have said. I reported what I saw and heard but only part of it. For most of it I have no words." with a picture of a young man, sitting outside Buchenwald after it's liberation. - Ed Murrow

"Only the dead have seen the end of war" with a picture of a blinded French soldier being led by another member of his company back from the trenches - Plato

Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." with a picture of a weeping mother, waving from the siding of a railroad station. - The Duke of Wellington

This is what Aftermath was like. Walking down that hallway.

It's about a two person ship, a pilot and a med-tech, working to recover bodies after a space battle. The pilot got out of flight school 3 days after the end of the war ended, the med-tech has been in the service for years upon years. They recover 4 bodies over the course of the story, each one humanizing conflict for the pilot, giving a face to those from his service who died, removing some of the jingoistic veil of hatred for those the invaders, showing the loss suffered by loved ones, and in the end a willingness to respect the innate humanity in oneself, by not refusing to see the humanity in those who were recovered, regardless.

It's interesting to contrast this sense of loss with those given by other writers in the same genre that I've been reading. Weber for instance jumps right to my mind. In the Honor Harrington novels... which I'll probably have to reread and write up some week, there are deaths, but the sadness is seen. Here the grief is experienced. It's a notable difference. I can't explain it better than to say that in a Weber novel, I wondered how the character was going to deal with/avenge/move on from the grief. Reading Aftermath i felt like I did years ago in London, and like then I wept.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Losing his Mooreings

A while ago I wrote the following while considering the problems of character construction in sci-fi.

Mainly this comes from the lack of a time lag for the reader to overcome. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away..." sound cool, but getting into touch with the motivation of the characters can be dicey. All to often we never get well rounded characters because Adam Awesome is a dashing space adventurer! So there goes Adam off to save the princess. The human Id is easy enough to tap into - we all like fun and excitement, so there goes the space man finding space excitement. It's an infantile but easy method of putting together a story, and while it can be a fun distraction, it's rarely a worthwhile one.
This sums up Serpent of Venice in a nutshell, and on a larger stage with Christopher Moore's Shakespeare parallax's in general. Fool was silly, and this semi-sequel keeps the silly flowing. The bard wrote high and low humor into his work, and comedy and tragedy into every play. Moore grabbed onto a lot of interesting strands in Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and then distorted his point by covering everything in a layer of penis jokes so large that... sigh.

If what he is trying to do is make a point about justice and equality accessible to everyone, that's noble but, to paraphrase a line from a Christopher Stasheff character attempting the same thing: education in entertainment is great, but it still has to be entertaining. The top layer of Serpent was, but trying to engage with the underlying metaphors and points weren't, and should have been for the book to be fully successful.

That said, Moore is great at dick and fart jokes, it's just that I know that he's capable of weaving both levels in his own work. That could be the problem, that in aping the bard he lowers his own prowess.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Turning, turning, and returning

I'm going to try restarting this place after half a decade of reading and writing. I'm likely going to clear out some of my backlog, and add new books as I read them and listen to them.

There are piles of older books, and I'm thinking I may need to reread them and add them that way.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Bourne Supremacy is a wrap. As was the case with Identity the movie diverged from the book in major ways. What began to strike me, however, was the way that it stayed true to the theme of the book. Although Russia in the movie replaces China, the "big bad" in each case has the same MO and level of access. I still think that the movies went a wise route in cutting Jason Bourne off from the CIA and making his life one of running instead of teaching.

Partially this change was created by the age factor. In the books, Bourne starts in late middle age and runs quickly toward early old age. The switch to Matt Damon made the "old" Bourne a no-go and created a younger face for the franchise. It also helped to cut out the family man aspect of the books. This made the movies much more exciting to watch and faster paced.

The books in turn benefited from the older Bourne. Ludlum's Bourne wrote better about Bourne as he made him older and more of a family man. In Bourne Supremacy Ludlum's Bourne is altogether more readable than he was in Identity. I'll follow up on this theme in my review on Bourne Ultimatum, but briefly, as Bourne became more like Ludlum the writing of his character became more and more nuanced. As these details increased, Bourne as a character became more and more readable.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I finished up Bourne Identity two days ago. I found it a passable thriller, but not as good as Le Carre or sadly, the movie. In the long time that I've read books and seen spin off movies this has only happened once before. In that case it was The Hunt for Red October. A vastly more enjoyable movie than book. Something about the way that the submarines moved in the ocean was much clearer in the movie than it was on the printed page. Usually I prefer my own vision of what a novel's events are, and most of my favorite writers are damn good at helping me to create that vision. The submarines in Red October defied my ability to see them as well as the movie could present them to me.

In this case Identity the film was close to but not lifted straight from the source book. They moved the movie to a two sided affair instead of the three way game of intrigue in the book. This allowed the film to concentrate much more on the two things that made it stand out so well from the pack. First, it brought to the forefront the relationship between Bourne and Marie. This humanized Bourne and made him a character that was much easier to root for than the Bourne in the book.

The second focus was the real winner for the movie over the book. The flashbacks that Bourne underwent as he tried to regain his memory. In the book Ludlum rushes through these moments, concentrating on using them to push along the plot of the book. The movie humanizes these moments, they become personal experiences of Bourne that the viewer gets to share. These interactions drew me into the movie and made me relate with the characters. It also made the plot much more vivid. Bourne's unknowing was the key to the film, in the book it's discarded whenever it becomes inconvenient.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There be Dragons

I finished up the first three books in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series last week. They were enjoyable if fluff filled books that reminded me of the Dauntless series that I wrote about earlier. This is a fantasy historical adventure in the same vein. There were good books but I can't say that I'd reread them. For a book I find that worrisome. I enjoy rereading my novels. If I didn't I'd run out of books far to quickly. But I just can't find a reason to reread them. They were fun and tasty, but like a sculpture made of sugar, they melted away once I was done with them.

I also got the new Bourne books for my birthday, given the difference between the books and the movies (and there are some BIG ones) I'm thinking I need to go back and read the novels. The movies have taken up to much of my consciousness of the series and they have very little in common with the books. And while I suspect that these will be made into movies, I think that they'll only be loosely related to the titles.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More unfinished buisness

I finished reading Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Again I found that he didn't complete the story that he was writing. Having completed the story that involved the cryptography, the human elements of the story, the characters that he'd developed to that point, and the entirety of the rest of the plot were left incomplete. Sometimes this type of ending can be an interesting way for a story to end, in Limbo (the movie) the story is left with the viewer to decide if the people who are stranded are going to be rescued or killed. This choice was the point of the movie, and was built up to. In Our Game, Le Carre has an ending without resolution of the story plot of his novel. He does, however, resolve the internal plot of the main character. We followed him as he came to grips with a situation that he began the novel flummoxed by, and at the end had come to understand and accept.

Cryptonomicon doesn't build to a point where the reader is left wondering about a few discrete outcomes, nor does it follow one character closely enough for us to find an ending of the book in their internal choices. The solution of the cryptography puzzle also wasn't followed closely enough to be the center of the novel. When the we learn the solution, we are more interested in how the character cleverly learned while thwarting pursuers than in the solution itself. We as readers are left begging for another chapter, not to wrap up a happy ending, but simply to give us a sense of closure about the novel.