books

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

Trying to write a summary for War and Peace is hard. It's a novel that spans the years 1805-1820, through the tumultuous years of the Napoleonic wars, and follows the interlinking stories of three aristocratic families: the Rostovs, Bolkonskis, and Bezukhov. The novel opens as the old Count Bezukhov is dying and his relations are jockeying for his favour in the will. The major characters are Nicholas Rostov, the Rostovs' eldest, who buys a commission in the army as a cavalry officer; Natasha, his sister, who is just coming of age; Andrei Bolkonski, a young man who also goes into the army, against his idol Napoleon, but struggles with unhappiness; Maria Bolkonskaya, his sister, a deeply religious young woman who is stuck in the countryside with their father, a distinguished retired general; Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate, awkward son of the count who ends up inheriting the title and immense wealth. The novels draw in a huge, sprawling cast of characters that interact with the core families, including both supporting characters that reappear periodically, like the Kuragins and various aristocratic members; and others appear once and are just incidental, but the overall effect is a very dense novel with a lot of elaboration even at the level of small everyday incidents. In addition, especially as the novel progresses, Tolstoy uses the story to illustrate or encapsulate his theories on how history is created: not only how it is recorded, which is not his focus, but what events and people create the headlining events that stand out, like war, the actual influence of historical figures, and especially in the end, the relative impact of free will in the events of history and the way he believes the "science of history" does and should operate.

I read the Duke edition, which was translated into English by Aylmer and Louise Shanks Maude. They worked with Tolstoy on their translation, although that's not why I picked the text. I think I was just looking for an edition that the library had and that was not abridged. If their translation is accurate and faithful to the Russian text, and I have no reason to believe it's not (readers in Russian definitely add your input!) the prose is extremely straightforward and the ornamentation entirely lacking. I would call the prose completely unadorned and that the stories are conveyed with a dry recitation of actions. Sometimes the emotions of the character whose perspective the novel is focusing on at that moment, or else a recounting of various political moves made over some time. This is not a novel with elaborate, indulgent descriptions of landscapes or settings. There are no prose tricks. The depth of the book is really in its many, many, many small stories. There are full-length adaptations in their own right that only use material from a few chapters, like the musical.

I generally enjoyed reading the narrative/story sections, whether it was drawing rooms of the wealthy or the battlefield, or whatnot. Increasingly towards the end, Tolstoy uses the novel to discuss his views on how history works. The novel takes place against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and of course the person Napoleon as well as the other major leaders - the Emperor of Russia, the generals that lead the armies - are conventionally seen as directing and changing the course of history, a view Tolstoy disagrees with. He argues that the leaders are pushed by the actions of the armies and people that they head, that the chaos of the battlefield and army make it impossible to actually direct them and enforce real orders. And this is supported, of course, by the densely layered stories all piled together in the novel, because no matter how trivial the scene is, Tolstoy handles them with the same kind of prose, point of view, etc, no matter whether it's a snippet of the boredom of the cavalry and going off and having little amusements or Kutuzov meeting with his adjutants. They all get space and arguably the smaller stories receive much more.

The last epilogue (which is several chapters long) is almost entirely devoted to the question of free will and history, how history could be scientifically treated, which I won't encapsulate here, mostly because I found them incredibly uninteresting and disagreed in several parts. I do generally agree that the view of history which only follows the actions of the very top to be pretty incomplete. Tolstoy argues that it's essentially not the genius or vision or whatever other quality of Napoleon (to take the most prominent example of his time) that shaped that era of history; it's just that Napoleon inhabits a highly-visible role that all these momentous events get attributed to him. I agree and disagree - I definitely agree that given communication technology of the day, orders would be relayed with extremely variable reliability and speed. Your couriers could die on the way to delivering your message and you might not find out till much later! But it's not true that Napoleon had no impact, or that his decisions did not have an outsize impact compared to an man who did not have his position or his personal influence. And the army is composed of many individuals, and acts because each of them acts, and they will make their own decisions to some degree - but swapping out someone random into a role like Napoleon's would not present the same choices to individual cavalrymen. Even some of the Russians, like Andrei Bolkonski, are admirers of Napoleon, and it's hard to see how Napoleon's decisions are all inconsequential.

Incidentally, as the novel goes on, the feeling that Tolstoy did not like Napoleon strengthens, which I found amusing.

I also think that history's focus has broadened considerably from his day. There has been a lot more scholarly research into how the rest - the majority - of the population lived, even those who couldn't read or write, who lived away from urban centers, who couldn't leave their individual histories the way the rich could. I know medieval history best, so what's studied are, for example, the manorial court rolls, where the peasantry could seek redress for various grievances, some small and some large. Not a complete picture but at least a glimpse.

One of the things I noticed about the characterization is that it's quite neutral and compassionate. One of the first characters seen in the book is Prince Vasily Kuragin, who is at Anna Petrovna's party in order to curry favour with the wealthy and powerful attending her (not very interesting) salon. Neither his daughter nor son are very nice either, which doesn't suggest good things about Prince Vasily either. But I wouldn't say that the text ever calls or even really implies that he's a slimy little thing. Instead it says that Vasily probably didn't even think of it as a deliberate attempt to climb - just that he was made like that and he felt it was the right, instinctive thing to do. Characterization of Nikolai Rostov was also similarly drawn. I personally think that Nikolai is a spoiled young man who's never had to survive in the world - son of a count, with a commission in the cavalry, he mostly does as he's told and tries to appear dashing and gallant. When his family's finances start to plunge, he returns home, half-heartedly tries to do something about it, and, upon failing after speaking to the estate manager once (once), he just goes back to going to parties and gambling and such. After all, what can he do? If he were competent and good at this, he would be frankly a strange character. Where would he ever learn to have this spine for dealing with distasteful or uninteresting work?

Finally I want to say that I hated a few characters and found them personally repellent. Like the older Prince Bolkonski, the father of Andrei and Maria. Maria lives with her father in the countryside, pretty much buried in obscurity, and she's constantly bullied by her father, who the narrative describes as treating her that way because he loves her. Yes, he may do so - but he constantly berates and belittles her, and makes her life a complete misery, even though she's probably one of the kindest characters in the novels. What is in your heart doesn't matter much when every action you take hurts the person you love! What difference does it make to Maria? Andrei Bolkonski - I tried to come up with a description but an eyeroll interrupted me. He repeatedly cycles through being extremely cynical and depressed, then having this epiphany of his capability of happiness and bliss, and then back again, in a way that suggests that he'll always be in this cycle. He's someone who will keep having the same epiphanies over and over again, and none of them will ever stick. I was honestly cheering for his death midway through the novel (before the shell - just wanted him gone) and the trope of losing the will to live is not my favourite either.

And finally. The treatment of Natasha Rostova. My overwhelming impression is one of "wow, Tolstoy is such a man writing about a young girl becoming a woman". There's no other way I can put it. I could not think of anything else while reading her story. It's not exactly creepy. It just leans so much on the innocence and the unartfulness - Natasha's as-of-yet mostly untaught voice is one manifestation, beautiful and of course never learned, then that would be unnatural - and joy and such. And maybe this is way too much influence of growing up in the recent century, but have you met an adolescent girl before?! We were not so joyously gay and springing of girlish glee. Young girls have a range of emotions greater than wide-eyed happiness. Where Maria Bolkonskaya represents the soulful, pious woman, Natasha is the giggling, child-like dream girl. Natasha does become depressed after the Anatole incident - but bleh, it's caused by a man, of course. There's nothing else that could cause characterization shifts - not war sweeping the whole continent.

So - should you read War and Peace? Well, what do you like in a novel? If you're after a lot of small, interlocking stories, or a novel with decades' worth of scope in a time of a lot of political tumult, probably! Do you want to hear someone's views on the prevailing theories of history and his suggested framework? Skip to the end to save some time, but yes. I don't regret reading it, and there were parts where I liked it and wanted to keep reading because of the storyline, but there were equal parts where I trudged through, hoping something more interesting would reappear.

[Note: the latest review I have ever written. I finished the book in February, started writing the review mid-May. To be fair, there were some extenuating circumstances. But this would probably be more fulsome if I'd written it earlier.]


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/187840.html.
Carol frown

I have 3 inboxes

in my personal life (for purposes of not crossing the streams) and at work, 2-3 (personal inbox, team group box, team task box etc - actually for the latter there's actually 2+1 but I don't usually work out of the other 2). I get a LOT of email. Especially on former team where my personal inbox was on a group distribution list, so every morning was 100+ emails and it just kept climbing. In this system you either develop some kind of way to cope or you drown utterly and miss important things, so my main strategy is "file anything that has been dealt with". So I have the No Scroll Ideal - i.e. empty inbox probably impossible, because I leave stuff in there as reminder/for easy reference in the future. But I should be able to look at it all without scrolling. And if something needs to twitch at the corner of my vision until I do it, I mark it unread.

My fandom email is pretty quiet, but my personal one is terrible these days, probably because I get Real Life Important Stuff to it sometimes, or friends' emails that require typing (and mobile typing is The Worst). I unsubscribe from stuff I don't want, and I'm liberal with the delete/archive function, so every email in my inbox is something to look at. My terrible to-do list. So stuff can stagnate there for so...so...long. Even though if I sat down for 30 mins I could clear 99% of them. It's just that it's much more entertaining for my monkeybrain to continually swipe down on my gmail inbox and see something new and shiny pop in.


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/187621.html.
stars in the sky

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I saw Spider-Man: Far From Home last Thursday and it was really good!

Not spoilery - I didn't see Homecoming, but it was fine. I really enjoyed Tom Holland as Spider-Man - believable teenager, endearing, awkward but genuinely trying to be a good person and understandably wanting to still live his life. There's a great vibe between his friend Ned and with MJ. Lots of jokes and I honestly didn't know that what I wanted in my superhero visual fights was acrobatics - but I totally did. Some fight scenes tend to drag on and get uninteresting, but I really liked the change the acrobatics made!

LOVED some of the touches - it opens right with an in memoriam segment, and just as I was thinking "is Marvel unironically using comic sans?!" it turned out to be a student-made presentation and it was hilarious. I did wonder at all the TVs in the hallways for announcements. Did I just go to a poorer school? Am I old? The students are getting announcements from taped segments that are filmed and then shown on big TVs in the halls! We had PA system announcements.

spoilersCollapse )


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/186956.html.
  • Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
stars in the sky

new table!

I have a new desk and I'm all aglow with happiness! It is L shaped, I bought it for as a flatpack for about a hundred dollars, and it has no drawers but it does have two shelves at one end. I, um, bought it in November, being fed up that my desk was tiny - it wasn't deep enough to have my computer (then a fairly large 15") and work on something analogue like a piece of paper at the same time, and moreover was unsteady, as in I would erase something and the whole thing would sway. The swaying drove me crazy.

However once I got the package - which was very heavy and there was some thinking and trial-and-error to get it up the 5 steps - I discovered that the instruction packet said I needed way more screws than had been shipped. So I contacted customer service, and they said yes we can replace the screws, and they sent me the same thing. Aargh. So I wrote back and said hey, on my first request I said exactly what I was missing (with their product numbers and how many of each), I just got sent the same thing as my original package. To be fair, the lady answering my question was quite nice and said, "I see what you're missing, I'm going to send you them separately" so in December, I got mail that consisted of two yellow bubble-package mailers of just screws. Like I tore the mailers open and it was just fistfuls of screws and cam locks and stuff.

Anyway it's taken till now. (To be fair, I wasn't able to use my arm between March to, well, now - still restricted to under 10 lb but at least I can use my left arm again). I told one of my book club friends - who was so annoyed she couldn't install the drywall in her boyfriend's house - that she should come over and peer-pressure me into FINALLY assembling my table, and she was so excited to come to my apartment and assemble it. Which she kinda did. Thank god, because the whole screw-acquiring episode was sufficiently irritating that I kept putting it off.

The assembly instructions were not very good. I think it must have been an instruction manual for a slightly different table, because though the table assembled just fine, it kept telling us to put this cam lock into this place but it wouldn't fit (still baffled) - we went with what did fit, and it worked.

But!! despite all that, the table was built, and it's less prone to shaking than the last one, so YAY. And it has much more workspace than my last one did! So I am so pleased. I am sure that I will manage to fill it with all my stuff - indeed I think I need to buy some organizers because I no longer have that drawer, and maybe tidy/throw out some stuff I don't really use - but I am so happy. Ahhhhh, more work space!!


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/186519.html.
  • Current Mood: jubilant jubilant
Tags:
Bee

(no subject)

I started taking skating classes again! It has been pretty good so far. The only thing I do not like is the spinning. Oh my god I'm so dizzy and my brain hurts. Apparently it's supposed to get better. It has been...but it's painful. Also I am amazingly hungry afterwards.

I got sorted into Basic 5 and have mostly regained my edges, though I'm still slipping on the backwards outside left - I had my skates sharpened so I think it's a skill/balance issue, not a skate issue. Before I sharpened them, I slipped on ALL my edges, which is pretty scary. I think my weakness on this particular edge is because every rink I go to apparently is diehard counter-clockwise in skating direction. I have tried to convince people to go the other way, but it's ridiculously difficult. So I don't get to actually practice that one. (Edges - skates aren't a flat piece of metal on the bottom like a ]|, they're more like (|, i.e. in a curve, which is measured by the radius of the circle. This makes two edges. Lots of the interesting things in ice skating is done on one of the edges. There's a R/L front and back edge.)

I finally fixed my 3 turns (well, the easy forward outside ones!) This is how you learn to do one foot forwards-to-backwards (or vice versa) turns. I've struggled with this for foreverrrr and it took pretty much 1 comment from the instructor to fix most of my problems. So I feel that alone was worth the price of lessons.


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/185827.html.
Tags:
books

Archangel series by Sharon Shinn

I have to review some of Sharon Shinn's Samaria novels. I both enjoyed them and am loling greatly.

Here's the series description from her website:
In Samaria, angels raise their beautiful voices to intercede with the god Jovah on behalf of humans. Because their ancestors fled centuries ago from the violence of a war-torn planet, harmony is prized among all people. But sometimes the divine music of the angels is not enough to prevent conflict among mortals—and sometimes the god can’t even hear the angels singing.


I read Archangel, which is about the archangel Gabriel on the eve of his becoming archangel, and he's looking for a wife, who will sing next to him on the Plain of Sharon. Every year the disparate nation tribes gather in harmony and the archangel and spouse open the ceremonial singing. If the singing does not happen, Jovah will first smite the mountain, then the rest of Samaria. His Kiss, which is a crystal embedded in his arm that speaks to Jovah, says his wife is Rachel, who is one of the Edori, who live nomadic lives almost completely separate from Jovah. And she does not want to involve herself in the politics of the angels.

I also read Angelica set before Archangel, which gives strong hints about what Jovah is. There are mysterious strangers that are able to appear and disappear with unnatural speed, and can cause huge destruction with flame. It's about Archangel Gabriel (another one) and Susannah, his wife, and then Miriam, Gabriel's sister, who meets one of the strangers while running away with the Edori.

Finally I read Angel-Seeker, which is two stories. One is about Elizabeth, who takes off from being a housekeeper in her relative's home, where she's treated as a poor dependent, and tries to make her fortune in the city by birthing an angelic child. Mothers of angel children are mostly set up for life, because of how rare the angels are. Then it is the story of Obadiah, one of the angels, and Rebekah, who is a Jansai woman who lives under the extremely restrictive conditions all Jansai women do.

This is the mainstream published wingfic, I swear. It's never been a genre that particularly appeals to me, but lots of the hallmark traits (the temptation that angels present to writers?) is right there and it was incredible to read it in published fiction and have tag names float through my mind. The wings are of course sensitive to touch and angels are twitchy about people (especially clueless humans) touching them. Their metabolism burns hot so they only wear leather. All the angels are beautiful. It followed fandom's wingfic in so many ways - Sharon Shinn's novels are in the fantasy and romance junction, except I would say she leans more fantasy - that I was frequently pulled out of the narrative to laugh. Not that there's anything wrong with wingfic. Iddy stuff is iddy, and I obviously enjoyed the books enough to read three of them in a row! But it made me wonder if theyr'e tropes that just seem to evolve out of angelic literature, or if liking these tropes makes wingfic more appealing, or what. I don't think Shinn is involved in fandom, though I could be wrong.

What I think is a super interesting aspect of the books is the science fiction part. The world of Samaria is like a pre-industrial world, but there are lots of hints that there are more advanced societies. For one, even the religion records that they were not from Samaria originally, that they were carried there "in Jovah's hand" to a new place where there was not so much conflict and strife. The angels, who are able to fly, are able to make intercessions - they can fly up and sing and cause the weather to change, they can ask for rains of medicine to fall, and the medicine that falls are clearly pills. Most fun of all is Angelica. As Miriam first nurses and then starts to teach the stranger how to speak the common language of Samaria, she discovers that they have some words with the same roots, and eventually finds out that he arrived in a spaceship of some kind. And then, when the strangers are trying to destroy Samaria, Susannah can't sleep one night at the oracle's place. Believing herself to be sleeping, she walks to the place where there's an odd interface, and is told to close her eyes for a minute (while Jovah beams her up inside - Jovah is an orbiting spacecraft). She has to reposition Jovah's artillery, which destroys the spacecraft of the strangers who are waging war on Samaria with vastly more advanced weapons. I found this personally super interesting. It's something about the contrast of the deeply fantasy setting and the science fiction. Though Jovah is obviously AI - it speaks, it understands - I don't see why it couldn't reposition its artillery itself.

Personally, I probably dislike Angel-Seeker most. I like that Shinn just took head-on the subject of Elizabeth going to the city to get pregnant with an angel baby. It's an interesting story and also has plenty of terribly prosaic and unromantic attempts - angels are encouraged to be licentious in the hopes that one of their children is angelic, because they're so rare, and they play pretty important roles; in a world so dependent on fairly un-technological agriculture (this is not a world with the Fritz-Haber process), weather control is pretty important, among other things. But Rebekah's society, arrgggh. Men and women live in separate parts of the house, the men have all the outward facing roles and tasks and all the power, the fathers choose marriage and the women aren't even allowed to meet the men they marry. All women are veiled outside the house. And if you are caught outside, the women get thrown into the desert to be stoned, and then die of exposure. It's not enjoyable reading and the women around Rebekah aren't very pleasant to her either; her mother regards her as useless (except Rebekah has to do all the baby-caring because her mother's just "too tired") and the children with her current husband the much more important offspring. It was not fun to read. I hate these plotlines.

I read these three because they were borrowable at the library. Actually that's true of plenty of my reading. I really need to read Alleluia Files, which goes much more into detail of what people believe Jovah is - and some being to suspect it's a ship.


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/185361.html.
books

a very truncated list of what I've read earlier this year

(and I'd like to say that I have my computer screen half-and-half with this Create Entries on the right, and an Excel spreadsheet of this year's reading on the left, for reference).

*I think I talked about Mary Beard's SPQR and...uh...I just went back. No, I did not talk about that.

Mary Beard - SPQR
- I really liked this. I only have a glancing, overview knowledge of classical antiquity, so this was extremely helpful. It's a very high level overview, starting all the way from the mythical beginnings of Rome.

- One of the things I really appreciated about SPQR is how clear Beard was about presenting the evidence (this is the observations we have from archaeology) and then presenting her interpretation, as well as other scholars'. I can turn off my brain for fiction, mostly, but it's hard to do in non-fiction that wants to teach, so I appreciate how she really laid out the evidence. Not to mention it's interesting to me to see what kind of evidence exists, how we use it, etc.

Robin Lafevers - Dark Triumph
-This is a YA about young women in a convent dedicated to Mortain, the god of death. They are trained as assassins, and play silent roles in the medieval Brittany in which they live. This is basically so many things I love all bundled up.

- Alas that it is YA. I don't know what it is, but it's some combination of this writing style that seems to be so uniform across the genre, and shallow treatment of everything. I've spilled enough e-ink on how I don't think grittier = realer, but I feel like maybe the length isn't enough, or there just isn't enough treatment, because everything feels superficial. I've mostly given up on YA at this point.

- Also. SPOILERS as this is the third bookCollapse )

- However. Obviously, considering that I read all three books....Can we make these medieval assassination convents a trope themselves? I would read so many...

Seth Dickinson - The Traitor Baru Cormorant
- One of the best fantasy novels I've read this year. Baru Cormorant sees the invaders come to her island as a little girl, sees her mother and two fathers torn apart, goes to the colonists' boardingschool at her island. And she scores exceptionally, and is granted a post as Imperial Accountant at distant Aurdwynn. Aurdwynn is full of rebellion, and she intends to forment it, and use her position to destroy the Empire of Masks.

- It's hard to describe all the things I loved about this novel, not least because there are a lot of twists, and it would ruin the novel if I talked about them in my enticement.

- I thought it was a very clear, unflinching look at imperialism and its expansion. Baru herself is clear-eyed too, and pretty much prepares herself to be just as hard. Such a good character - it's from her perspective, but you don't get that softening as you see the internal thoughts the way you do with a lot of "from the perspective of villain" stories. Which isn't to say Baru is a villain. It's complicated.

- It's also quietly beautiful in prose. It was written in a way that induces rapid page turning because OMG WHAT JUST HAPPENED i can't turn pages fast enough, but there was an understated, unshowy gorgeous prose.

- That ending was hard to read. It hurt.

- I'm a huge nerd and enjoyed that monetary policy got a look in. Though...if your economy isn't very developed (as Aurdwynn's is, because it's still mostly agrarian without a ton of loans, the loans are to the nobility mostly), I'm not sure how much of a lever monetary policy is. But I digress. The one part I totally call BS on is Baru reconciling the accounts of a country in one day. I'm sorry HAHAHAHAHA NO. oh my god especially since they're all on paper do you know how long those columns of numbers to add up are?

- But really. I loved the politicking, the characters, the plot, the writing, solid 10/10 would recommend.

Elizabeth Wein - The Winter Prince
- About Medraut, and his relationship basically to Arthur's son.

- Somehow my copy had these illustrations at the heading of every chapter, and they were distracting; they were black and white pen drawings, and they looked amateur. The net result on me was that I would go from emotionally quite engaging and fraught scenes, to un-skippable drawings that reminded me of angsty teenagers, which meant I got taken out of the novel every chapter.

- There's more incest than I expected. And it being Arthurian lit, I expected incest.

- I don't know. I don't feel very motivated to read more Elizabeth Wein, to be honest. I know people rave about Code Name Verity, but meh.

Chris Hadfield - An Astrounaut's Guide to Life on Earth
- Chris Hadfield - Canadian astronaut, commander of the ISS - wrote an autobiography.

- Mostly what I've come away with is that I would love to meet Chris, he really does come across as an incredibly good and humble and persevering person. I also enjoyed learning about what kind of training the astronauts get, mentally and physically, in the real world. I like space opera! It's neat to see what actually happens outside stories. It's as much a story about what happens before anyone can go to space as it is about the fun quirks of what life in space is like. Staggering amounts of work.

Dorothy Dunnett - Niccolo Rising
- Historical novel about Nicholas de Fleury, a dyer's apprentice, set in 15th century Bruges to start. It's part of an eight-novel series that follows him - mind like a whip, full of schemes and ambitions, but irrepressibly cheerful despite the beatings.

- One reviewer described it as "pungently historical" (paraphrase) which I agree with. It's obvious Dunnett did her research. There are also real life figures that appear as minor characters - I saw one of them's portraits in the Met on Saturday! That was like an unexpected Easter egg in real life.

- I also found this to be a slog initially. Until about 40%. You're left to draw your own conclusions a great deal, and there are a lot of names and places and relationships to keep track of, and if you read it piecemeal like at lunch in 5 min snatches between getting distracted, it's kind of hard to enjoy. But then the plot picked up and it flew. Some very good twists, especially with Katalina.

- On the other hand, the next seven books are daunting. I'm not sure I want to start one any time soon...

- These also tie into her more famous Lymond series. Niccolo is an ancestor, I believe.

Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None
- Murder mystery, where ten guests are summoned to an island, each by a different person they'd answer a summons for, to attend a party. The host just doesn't show up and the whole party is marooned on the island - deliberately, apparently. And then one by one, they all begin to die...

- I am a wimp and it totally gave me the creeps. It's very much the locked room mystery - one of those characters is a murderer!!!

- If you read too many Christie mysteries (actually, golden age mysteries in general) you notice a lot of character archetypes that crop up frequently. Young society miss, red-faced colonel who rather wishes he was still in the war, the misfit only American there, etc. I offer this observation not as an insult or accusation, but just as an observation.

all of Prospero's War, Dirty Magic to Volatile Bonds by Jaye Wells
- Think police procedural except in novel form, and instead of the war on drugs, potions and magic have taken the place of cocaine and heroin. Kate Prospero is a beat cop that patrols the magic side of the city, but her position is somewhat precarious and unusual; she grew up as the niece of Abraxas Prospero, who was gang leader of one of the three strongest covens that operated in the city. Abraxas is in prison now, she refuses to touch potion cooking, and is raising her younger brother. But her strong desire to do right by the city draws her into conflicts about all this.

- I actually really like Kate as a character. She's complicated and has a lot of conflicting loyalties. She's very against using magic - she attends an AA style magic-rejecting group (people get addicted to potions) - she was a very talented potion cooker as a girl - the police force use 'clean' magic to operate more effectively - 'clean' magic is just what mainstream drug companies use, 'dirty' is street, there's regulation but really it's magic anyway. And her little brother wants to cook potions...

- The internal police politicking sounds quite realistic. And exhausting.

- But let's be real. I am desperately awaiting the next book because I am so interested in Volos/Kate becoming a thing. It's the emotional core of all this, and it's a hell of a magnet.

Nate Silver - The Signal and the Noise
- Non-fiction, about statistical modelling. Nate Silver runs FiveThirtyEight, which rose to fame during the 2008 American presidential elections run-up; his modelling of the electoral college was both very accurate and fairly precise.

- It is a book written to appeal to a broad base of people, so there really was not much math in it. Some graphs, which was nice, but I wanted more statistical treatment (ugh go read a textbook.) He focuses heavily on Bayesian statistics, which, to prosify and simplify hard, means you should make a prediction initially based on your knowledge, then incorporate further evidence and weigh it more heavily depending on how confident you were in your initial prediction and how un-like your initial prediction was.

- Some of the cases, like epidemiology and economics, I found much more interesting than the poker and baseball bits. I just don't care that much about poker and baseball...but Silver does, and sabermetrics is how he got interested in statistics in the first place.

- Silver also references some very random things, and will allude at intervals to isolated historical facts or incidents or pop culture, and I don't really think it adds much to the credibility of the book. It doesn't discredit but I've always hated the way that introductions to subjects - like accounting - must always dive into a poorly researched and not terribly interesting historical diversion to pull as an example 15th c Italian double-bookkeeping as The First Accounting, or worse, pull even more loose examples like shopping lists etched on stone tablets... Stick to your own damn expertise, I am not interested in Your Thoughts On Something You Do Not Study.

Michael Scott Rohan - The Hammer of the Sun
- The third book of the original trilogy, it's a high fantasy set in an interglacial period. The protagonist is Elof Valantor, a smith, and other than the interglacial setting, it's otherwise quite standard high fantasy in technology levels, magic presence, fantastical species, etc. It picks up seven years after the previous Forge in the Forest - I do love the evocativeness of the titles - and Elof tries to chain his love to him. Oh, he has his justifications, he fears the influence of an evil Louhi over his wife, but that's what he tries to do, and it backfires on him spectacularly. She shapeshifts into a bird and flies away, and he takes a boat and pursues...

- This is the third book that I read, so obviously it was not intolerable. But I read this book in a fit of apathy. By which I mean, I would open up Moonreader on my phone, and The Hammer of the Sun would be already loaded and open to the last page, and I wasn't feeling like reading it but also without enough emotional energy to start something new...so I kept reading.

- Seriously, the part where he tries to chain Kara bothered me so much. Obviously the narrative doesn't agree with his decision, since she kind of just flees, but...he also just goes and pursues her, which was eyeroll-inducing.

- The most interesting thing about these books is actually the glaciers and their inexorable advance. It's weird to read it today, because climate change seems to be happening also inexorably, in the other direction, and it's been hot, and in temperatures like this I feel like packing up and moving to Nunavut.

- I do not like Elof. He has never interested me in the slightest. I wish there was a more personable and interesting character to center the books around. I can't believe I read three books' worth of mediocre fantasy for glaciers...

- The prose, bless it, tried so hard. It used big words and grown-up constructions, but it never actually clicked properly. There's an incredibly satisfying feeling you get when you read someone like Diana Wynn Jones' writing, for example - it's a little tongue in cheek, but not arch, and the words and descriptions fit so perfectly, and so unerringly describe sensations and sights that it's a pleasure to just take in the words. Or authors who can give their work a sweeping depth that transports you. This was none of this, and the subtly not quite there constructions were distracting instead.

- It's so trying after Tolkien it's just embarrassing instead. After I finished the book, I went onto Goodreads. I didn't mean to - I just googled first. There's a reason I'm not on Goodreads, and I speedily remembered why. There are many people that I would sincerely like to take a look out their eyes sometime, because I don't understand. So many white men writing glowing praises of the prose and how it's like Tolkien and I think we have read different copies. Oh yes, it's like Tolkien, in that it's a heavily watered down attempt.

- Oh my god it was so slowwwww, the first half, the sea-journey. I just did not care for Elof. I did not care for his journey. I thought his companion Roc was a fool for coming with him. I thought Elof's total fear for the Ice vaguely ridiculous.

OK, I've done a bunch. Gotta sleep. Still a few more to go, including DOROTHY SAYERS ♥


Crosspost: https://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/184430.html.