Tag Archives: hannu rajaniemi

Books in April ’14

Hello, friends! It is time for book things again! This month was alright, although I had hoped to read one book more – but no matter. Spring is usually a time of reading slumps for me, so considering, this is pretty well. And look, not a single romance novel! What on earth is going on?

 

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

 

It is the summer of 1956. Stevens, an ageing butler, has embarked on a rare holiday – a six-day motoring trip through the West Country. But his travels are disturbed by the memories of a lifetime in service to the late Lord Darlington, and most of all by the increasingly painful recollection of his friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. For the first time in his life, Stevens is forced to wonder if all his actions were for the best after all…

The Remains of the Day is a sad and humorous love story, a moving and witty meditation on the democratic responsibilities of the ordinary man, and a poignant tale of thwarted idealism. Characterized by the grace and subtlety for which Kazuo Ishiguro’s work has been acclaimed, it is his finest novel so far.

(Back cover of Faber & Faber 1989 hardcover)

A friend has recommended Ishiguro to me, and therefore I was delighted to see him on our reading list – nothing forces you to finally pick up an author than requirement! And I must say, I am by no means displeased.

Ishiguro’s style is amazingly beautiful and graceful, and his command of language is superb. There is very little action in this novel, but it is still very compelling and grabs you. Dignity is a big issue, and I found it fascinating to watch it discussed by the first-person narrator Stevens, who seems to have lost himself in his strive to be dignified and as good a butler as possible. And I disagree with the back cover’s description when it comes to “humorous love story”; to me, it seemed simply tragic. Perhaps the task of writing an essay on the book affects me in this, but I saw the relationship to Miss Kenton as a strong example of how out of touch Stevens is with his own emotions and normal interaction on a personal level.

I recommend this book, although I will have to read more Ishiguro to determine how much I actually like him. The Remains of the Day is, however, without a doubt excellent.

Published: 1989

Pages: 245

 

Peter Ackroyd: Chatterton

 

In this remarkable detective novel Peter Ackroyd investigates the death of Thomas Chatterton, the eighteenth-century poet-forger and genius, whose life ended under mysterious circumstances. Fusing themes of illusion and imagination, delusion and dreams, he weaves back and forth between three centuries, introducing a blazing cast of Dickensian eccentrics and rogues, from the outrageous, gin-sipping Harriet Scrope, an elderly female novelist, to the tragic young poet, Charles Wychwood, seeker of Chatterton’s secret… They find more riddles than answers from their search.

This entertaining comedy is at once hilarious, and a thoughtful exploration of the deepest issues of both life and art.

(Goodreads)

Let’s get this straight at once: I think that blurb rather misleading. I would not call Chatterton a detective novel: rather than following any conventions of that genre, it offers layers and layers of lies, misconceptions, delusions, forgery, fakes and pretention, and ties the whole lot together with a bit of the supernatural in a nice tribute to the Romantics. I also would not agree that it is an “entertaining comedy”; I certainly didn’t read it as such. I was left feeling rather uncomfortable and grim, although also found myself nodding sombrely by the end of the novel.

Ackroyd explores the whats and whys of forgery and plagiarism in a rather nice way, offering points of view. Unfortunately, I didn’t take to the supernatural aspect of this novel quite like I took to it in The Fall of Troy by the same author; in Chatterton, I felt it overused and a little too guiding.

If you pick this up and your copy doesn’t have a colour picture of Henry Wallis’s painting, Chatterton (1856), look it up. It not only features rather prominently in the story but is also actually a very nice painting. It is also in the painting, I think, that the layers of fakeness lie the heaviest.

Published: 1987

Pages: 234

 

Toni Morrison: A Mercy

 

In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class division, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were carefully planted and took root.

Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a smallholding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in ‘flesh’, he takes a small slave girl, in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, ‘with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady’, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Florens is hungry for love, at first from the older servant woman at her new master’s house; but later, when she’s sixteen, from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives…

And all of them have stories: Lina, the native American servant, whose tribe was decimated by smallpox; their mistress Rebekka, herself a victim of religious fervour back in England; young Sorrow, daughter of a sea captain, who’s spent too many years at sea to be quite… normal; and, finally, there’s Florens’s own mother back home in Maryland.

This is their blight – men and women inventing themselves in the wilderness. A Mercy reveals what lies under the surface of slavery, and the opening chapter of the story of sugar, that great maw which was to eat up millions of lives. But at its heart, like Beloved, this is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter in a violent ad-hoc world – a world where acts of mercy, like everything else, have unforeseen consequences.

(Dust jacket of Chatto and Windus 2008 hardcover)

I don’t really get Morrison. She’s an alright author and I recognise that she discusses important issues, but somehow the books always elude me. I have read The Bluest Eye and Beloved before, and especially the latter completely escaped me. I don’t know why; perhaps the ideas run so deep I can’t see them.

But boy, do I appreciate the way A Mercy is put together. I went in expecting to read from the point of view of maybe two characters – easy mistake to make, I’d say, when there is first a focalised third person narrator and then a stylistically very distinct first person narrator – but turns out there are many focalisers. It’s always delightful when all characters are accounted for! The central character is Florens, whose story we follow from her on perspective throughout the novel, with the other characters getting their space around her chapters. I haven’t quite pieced together what this does, and perhaps I will reread the book at some point (you know, when I’m a little older and hopefully wiser) and see if it makes more sense.

Generally speaking, I like A Mercy much better than I liked Beloved, although I believe the latter is more hyped. I think A Mercy is more feminist, about women and their interactions and worldviews and changes, and that at the moment appeals to me.

Published: 2008

Pages: 165

 

Elizabeth Bear: Undertow

 

A frontier world on the back end of nowhere is the sort of place people go to get lost. And some of those people have secrets worth hiding, secrets that can change the future – assuming there is one…

André Deschênes is a hired assassin, but he wants to be so much more. If only he can find a teacher who will forgive his murderous past – and train him to manipulate odds and control probability. It’s called the art of conjuring, and it’s André’s only route to freedom. For the world he lives on is run by the ruthless Charter Trade Company, and his floating city, Novo Haven, is little more than a company town where humans and aliens alike either work for one tyrannical family – or are destroyed by it. But beneath Novo Haven’s murky waters, within its tangled bayous, reedy banks, and back alleys, revolution is stirring. And one more death may be all it takes to shift the balance…

(Back cover of Bantam Spectra 2007 paperback)

Let’s see. Political intrigue? Check. Assassin? Check. Awesome ladies? Check. Slightly confused? Check. So basically Undertow has a lot of things I really really like. Yes, even the confusion is nice. Being confused means you need to think a bit. I took this book with me to the country for a holiday and therefore didn’t push myself as much as I should have, and I’m disappointed in myself because of that, but we’ll let that be and call it a perfect excuse to reread the book.

Much of the confusion is because of my unfamiliarity with SF and not by any means because of Bear. She writes in a way that explains without dumping lots of technical detail (something I’m always afraid of when I start an SF novel) and she engages you from the beginning. I particularly love the shifts and twists in the story: the beginning made me expect things and then it turns out nothing is what I expected it to be. And let me tell you, I love Cricket. So much. I can’t even explain how much I love her.

While not my favourite book ever, Undertow is definitely an excellent read. It keeps you on your toes and your brain active, even if you’re merely pleasure reading like I was. It doesn’t let you off easy, I can promise you that!

Published: 2007

Pages: 332

 

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Quantum Thief

 

Jean de Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy – from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to steal their thoughts, to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of the Moving Cities of Mars.

Except that Jean made one mistake.

Now he is condemned to play endless variations of a game-theoretic riddle in the vast virtual jail of the Axelrod Archons – the Dilemma Prison – against countless copies of himself.

Jean’s routine of death, defection and cooperation is upset by the arrival of Mieli and her spaceship, Perhonen. She offers him a chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self – in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed…

(Back cover of Gollancz 2010 paperback)

Finally got around to rereading Quantum Thief, and boy, am I glad I did! The first time I was tripped up by the physics and other science things; this time it was much easier to keep an eye on the details and to follow the plot and its implications. And I love it, even better than I did before. The craft is beautiful, and the ease with which Rajaniemi uses all the hard SF stuff is magnificent and lulls you into its pull whether you actually understand it or not.

Published: 2010

Pages: 330

 

Catherynne M. Valente: Silently and Very Fast

Fantastist Catherynne M. Valente takes on the folklore of artificial intelligence in this brand new, original novella of technology, identity, and an uncertain mechanized future.

Neva is dreaming. But she is not alone. A mysterious machine entity called Elefsis haunts her and the members of her family, back through the generations to her great-great-grandmother—a gifted computer programmer who changed the world. Together Neva and Elefsis navigate their history and their future, an uneasy, unwilling symbiote.

But what they discover in their dreamworld might change them forever . .

(Goodreads)

This novella gave me so much trouble. Part of this is because it’s fairly complicated in structure; part, because I consider it rather hard science fiction; and part, because I read it for class where I knew I would be expected to say something intelligent about it. (I didn’t manage that, in case you were wondering.) The narrative is not linear, there are retold fairy tales between the story of Elefsis the AI, and I just got very confused, trying to analyse it during the only reading I had time for. I recommend you read this twice; once to see what’s going on, another time to see how the parts actually play together.

But occasionally frying your brain is healthy, and I really want to try some of Valente’s novels!

Published: 2011

Pages: 82

 

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince

 

On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box.

He is doing the job for his patron, and owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack.

The thief is nearly dead, the ship is being eaten alive.

Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him.

And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

There are many stories that can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two will twist, and combine. And reality will spiral.

In Hannu Rajaniemi’s sparkling follow-up to the critically acclaimed, international sensation The Quantum Thief, he returns to his awe-inspiring vision of the universe and we find out what the future held for Earth.

(Back cover of Gollancz 2012 paperback)

I like Fractal Prince even more than I like Quantum Thief. It is truly a compelling story that twists and turns and I think I may need a third reading to really explain it to myself. All I can say is, read it. Read them both. I promise you, it’s amazing. Just now I said I’m not good with hard sci-fi. Well, Rajaniemi is exactly that. And I still love these books. They are written so well it doesn’t even matter if you understand everything or not; it’s a damn good ride in any case.

As an extra incentive, the last book in the trilogy is coming out this summer, so now’s a good time to pick them all up!

Published: 2012

Pages: 300

 

So that’s all for April! School has more or less ended, so I hope to get to a good reading pace soon (unless glorious online friends distract me, which they will, bless them) and hopefully this will be a bookish summer!

To finish this off, the usual things.

Books bought:
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick
Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

Currently reading:
Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal (third in the Glamourist Histories series, loving it so far!)

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Books in October ’12

This month saw the end of the Victorian madness – well, more or less. I managed to include a couple of books just for my own pleasure, but it was quickly back to school again. I’ve just realised that this is how it will probably be until summer, as I’ve managed to choose a lot of courses with several books to read. And on top of that all the background reading for the final paper. Oh well. There’s always retirement for reading what you wish…

William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair

Two young women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, leave Miss Pinkerton’s Academy together. They are friends, yet the witty and flirtatious Becky looks set to outdo the passive, sweet-natured Amelia with her ruthless determination to grab what she can in life. And so all kinds of battles and fortunes are won and lost against a backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.

Thackeray’s satire on corruption at every level of English society is rightly subtitled ‘a novel without a hero’, since none of its characters have improved themselves by the end. However, it was a success from its first appearance in 1847 and remains one of the greatest comic novels.

(back cover of Arcturus 2010 edition)

At first, it wasn’t at all what I’d expected, although very amusing and rather engaging. Then, around halfway, I was so stressed and tired it was a pain to read. The brutal schedule did very little for this book – but oh gods, when I got to the end, I was completely in love. It’s funny, and insightful, and full of wonderful characters, although all of them have their flaws. It’s Regency. There’s the war. There’s the society. There’s life.

Writing coherently about this book is a little hard, as I’m so enamoured. I hope a reread will sort my head further and get my out of the general feeling of awesome and into the reasons why it is so great.

I’m seriously looking forward to working more with this book. Just… gaah. I want to watch all the adaptations and just get immersed into it.

You can also read about me drooling over the 2004 film adaptation here.

First published: 1847-1848

Pages: 719 (Arcturus 2010 edition)

Orhan Pamuk: The White Castle

From a Turkish writer who has been compared with Borges, Nabokov, and DeLillo comes a dazzling novel that is at once a captivating work of historical fiction and a sinuous treatise on the enigma of identity and the relations between East and West.
In the 17th century, a young Italian scholar sailing from Venice to Naples is taken prisoner and delivered to Constantinople. There he falls into the custody of a scholar known as Hoja–“master”–a man who is his exact double. In the years that follow, the slave instructs his master in Western science and technology, from medicine to pyrotechnics. But Hoja wants to know more: why he and his captive are the persons they are and whether, given knowledge of each other’s most intimate secrets, they could actually exchange identities.
Set in a world of magnificent scholarship and terrifying savagery, The White Castle is a colorful and intricately patterned triumph of the imagination.

(Goodreads)

Another required read for text analysis. Another read-it-quick-as-you-can novel.

I didn’t really care for this one. I’m really bad with modern and post-modern literature. It’s not all bad, of course not, I’ve read good ones, but it seems to me like everything that becomes popular in literary fiction feels somehow… pretentious.

It’s probably just me though. I like straightforward stories, not clever angles from which to look at life.

But I digress. The White Castle addresses identity – always an interesting topic – and doppelgangers. For the most part I couldn’t really identify with the characters, but later on I sort of recognised myself in Hoca (if you’ve read it, let me assure you, I’m not as crazy but understand where the crazy comes from) and from then on found more interest in reading. The end plays with you, and you get to play detective for a couple of pages, but unfortunately the very ending somewhat disappointed me.

Published: 1985 (original title Beyaz Kale)

Translation: Kalevi Nyytäjä (from the English translation by Victoria Holbrook 1990)

Pages: 216 (Loisto 2006 paperback)

Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers

This 1857 sequel to The Warden wryly chronicles the struggle for control of the English diocese of Barchester. The evangelical but not particularly competent new bishop is Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily curate, Slope, maneuver for power. The Warden and Barchester Towers are part of Trollope’s Barsetshire series, in which some of the same characters recur.

(Goodreads)

Well written and amusing in its sarcasm, but really, the interior design of a house or who gets to be dean are not subjects I thrill in. The prose is, however, very neat and pleasant to read, and by no means very heavy. There is a romance plot as well as the drama of the religious circles of Barchester, and they blend very nicely together. Second in the series of books situated in the town of Barchester, it suffers very little from the reader not being acquainted with the first part, The Warden. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, but sort of enjoyed Barchester Towers nonetheless.

First published: 1857

Pages: 586 (Penguin English Library 2012 edition)

Herta Müller: The Passport

The Passport is a beautiful, haunting novel whose subject is a German village in Romania caught between the stifling hopelessness of Ceausescu’s dictatorship and the glittering temptations of the West. Stories from the past are woven together with the problems Windisch, the village miller, faces after he applies for permission to migrate to West Germany. Herta Müller (Herta Mueller) describes with poetic attention the dreams and superstitions, conflicts and oppression of a forgotten region, the Banat, in the Danube Plain. In sparse, poetic language, Muller captures the forlorn plight of a trapped people.

(Goodreads)

Consisting of titled fragments, this work of Müller’s was a positive experience, once I realised it takes place in Romania, rather than Germany. Made more sense after that. It’s got lots of rather nice images and interesting metaphors, and most people in class said they needed or wanted to take time reading it, to better concentrate on the images. Some even considered it a hard read. Now, I may be just stupid or something, but I didn’t think it was all that hard. It took me a couple of hours to get through the about 100 pages, and I believe I got it. (But then again, I believe most of the participants in the class major in Comparative Literature and thus perhaps have a more analytical approach to reading than I do. Who knows.)

It’s very interesting, and I do recommend it. My second favourite of the six I’ve read for this course. (First being Time’s Arrow.) I find the English title rather unfortunate though – the Finnish translation used the original, and while the English one draws attention to the object of desire of the people in the book, the original is more attractive. Without any real knowledge on German, I believe it translates roughly to, “Man is a big pheasant on earth.”

Published: 1986 (originally Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt)

Translation: Raija Jänicke 1990

Pages: 110 (Tammi 1990 edition)

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince

‘On the day the Hunter comes for me, I am killing ghost cats from the Schrödinger Box.’

On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box.

He is doing the job for his patron, and owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack.

The thief is nearly dead, the ship is being eaten alive.

Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him.

And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

There are many more stories than can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two stories will twist, and combine. And reality will spiral.

In Hannu Rajaniemi’s sparkling follow-up to the critically acclaimed, international sensation THE QUANTUM THIEF, he returns to his awe-inspiring vision of the universe and we find out what the future held for earth.

(Back cover of the Gollancz trade paperback)

Okay. If you haven’t read The Quantum Thief, the first part in the trilogy, go do that now. Then you can get to The Fractal Prince. And I promise you they are both beautiful.

I didn’t have time to reread Quantum Thief, but I think this second book starts from about where the first one ended. Fractal Prince then turns out to be even more confusing than Quantum Thief, but, I think, the prose is more beautiful. I can’t really grasp a clear plot, a clear goal for the characters, but that doesn’t really matter. Jean, Mieli, and the new character Tawaddud are all interesting, as well as the spidership Perhonen. There’s several timelines that get confused, identities that you can’t be sure of, and some political intrigue which I liked immensely. There’s also more Finnishness in this book than the previous one, or perhaps I was just more attuned to it.

Sometimes I didn’t even understand a sentence, but loved it to bits. That, I think, tells a lot. Amazing prose. So engaging and magical. You don’t need to be a physics whiz to enjoy it. I hated maths, chemistry and physics in high school and do not read much science fiction, but this series has my heart.

Non-Finns who have read Rajaniemi – how do the names and words especially Mieli uses look to you? Mieli, Sydän, Perhonen, Kuutar, Ilmatar, koto, väki… I can’t really get enough distance to the words to not see what they mean and would love to hear what they sound like.

Published: Gollancz 2012

Pages: 300

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

(Goodreads)

It was nine years ago when I last read this book. I was thirteen. This was probably the first book ever that I like a lot but haven’t read every year, so the difference between my opinion then and opinion now was actually interesting to compare. It was also my first time reading it in English, so another first! Yay! This reread, by the way, was obviously because of the upcoming movie, which I can’t wait for…

It was more or less as I remember it. Bilbo is a darling, Gandalf is somewhat annoying, the dwarfs are fun. What felt really different though was the pacing. I had real trouble getting through the Battle of Five Armies before, and now I marvelled at how compactly the whole battle was described. I was so looking forward to it, and then it was only a few pages long. Slight disappointment there. In general the book felt much shorter.

What I really admire is Tolkien’s way of writing for children. It’s only very slightly less complicated than the way he writes for “adults”, but The Hobbit is also very obviously a story intended for children. But Tolkien is not patronising or condescending, and that is a true talent.

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1937

Pages: 276 (Harper Collins 75th anniversary edition)

Nick Foulkes: Dancing Into Battle – A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo

The summer of 1815 saw the final and desperate efforts of the European powers to usurp Napoleon’s reign over France.

The pivotal moment was unfolding in an age where war was a social occasion; the military urgency was matched only by the soldiers’ and their wives’ frantic efforts to keep apace of the lavish balls which were being thrown. The intention to deny war with frivolity persevered until 15 June, when the tension broke, and troops exchanged dance partners for weapons and prepared for battle.

Nick Foulkes captures the sense of what it was like to be at the very hub of events when the fate of Europe seemed to hang in the balance.

(Back cover of the Phoenix 2006 paperback)

I really enjoyed this book. It might be the fact that I’m getting really excited about my final paper topic, but it might also be the fact that the Battle of Waterloo and the days leading up to it were very confusing and interesting. The Britons in Brussels didn’t really grasp what was going on, did they?

Foulkes has drawn on a multitude of sources. The most interesting of those are diaries and letters, of such personages as Fanny Burney, Harry Smith, Thomas Picton, Thomas Creevey and Rees Howell Gronow. The book builds the picture of what went on during the Hundred Days that started when Napoleon escaped from Elba and guides the reader through the move of the British upper classes to Brussels and from thence to the battlefield. The Duke of Wellington is, naturally, a very prominent character in the book, but also the families of Capel and Richmond are much represented.

At first it may take a while to grasp the names and social positions of the people through whose reminiscences the world of society and war is shown, but towards the end this gets easier. I could recommend keeping a list, though, and I fully intend to do so on the second reading.

This is a very informative book, and perfectly suited for those who find plain war description heavy reading. The women of the time are amply represented, which is very delightful – my own favourite being Brigade-Major Harry Smith’s spirited Spanish wife, Juana, whose description of the panic on the road from Brussels to Antwerp is lively and a pleasurable read.

Published: Phoenix 2006

Pages: 230 (plus notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index)

Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Conceived by a shy British don on a golden afternoon to entertain ten-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have delighted generations of readers in more than eighty languages. “The clue to the enduring fascination and greatness of the Alice books,” writes A. S. Byatt in her Introduction, “lies in language. . . . It is play, and word-play, and its endless intriguing puzzles continue to reveal themselves long after we have ceased to be children.”

(Goodreads)

First book to be read for the course titled “Classics of Fantasy Literature” (although I’m very tempted to call it “Classics of Children’s Literature”), Alice is something I’ve never gotten around to reading before. And I found it delightful. Carroll’s prose is flowing and pleasant to read, and doesn’t patronise. It’s absurd, but at the same time full of meaning and things you never thought of. I only wish I had been read this as a child! I also enjoyed how seamlessly the events of the book flow into one another, and you suddenly find yourself quite somewhere else than you were a couple of sentences ago.

It’s also a very quick read, which at this point in time is a definite plus in my books!

I hope I have time to read Through the Looking-Glass as well before I return this book to its rightful owner. I have a feeling I’ll enjoy that one even more.

First published: 1865

Pages: 115 (Wordsworth Classics 2001 edition: this edition actually has both of the Alice stories, as well as a 30-page introduction – I only read Wonderland)

So there you go again. You’ve already seen the books I bought this month, as they are all in the Edinburgh post. That leaves me one more thing to add to this post before leaving to Night Visions festival to see a werewolf movie!

Currently reading:

  • William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair (yup, rereading it already. Hunting down anything to do with the army.)
  • Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift (enjoying it so much!)

Happy Halloween, people!

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Events: Helsinki Book Fair 2012

Let me warn you. There will be some light fangirling in this post.

And as usual – if any of the people in the pictures want me to take them down, just drop me a line and I will!

This weekend was the time for the annual Helsinki Book Fair. The event is a four-day one, but Kay and I only explored on Friday. The Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre in Pasila was full of books, authors and all sorts of societies – and previous experience suggested it’d take time to get through all the second-hand book stalls. It did.

Second-hand book heaven.

We also sat down for a couple of panels. The first one was all about newbie Finnish SFF writers, and we heard all sorts of interesting things about Emmi Itäranta’s Teemestarin kirja and Jenny Kangasvuo’s Sudenveri. (Teemestarin kirja is a dystopia, where clean water has become an expensive commodity. The title approximately translates to “Tea Master’s Book”. Sudenveri is about werewolves, power, and, I gather, family. Approximate title translation would be “Wolf’s Blood”.) I have read neither of the books, but I’ve been eyeing particularly Sudenveri, and listening to the author got me even more interested.

Jenny Kangasvuo, Johanna Sinisalo and Emmi Itäranta.

After some extensive browsing and me bouncing with impatience it was time for the science fiction panel! The first half hour was spent with SF veteran Vesa Sisättö and – here starts the fangirling – Hannu Rajaniemi, the author of The Quantum Thief and now The Fractal Prince. The stage was designed and manned by the students of a local art high school, and after the gents had spoken their bit about the planet Mars and stories located there, the girls asked some questions about the SF fandom and being an SF author. I was vastly entertained!

Vesa Sisättö and Hannu Rajaniemi.

After Sisättö and Rajaniemi the stage was taken by author Saara Henriksson and the translator of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch books, Arto Konttinen. There was unfortunately very little about translating and more about the book and the fantasy genre in general, but Konttinen was such a fun guy I enjoyed the conversation immensely.

Saara Henriksson and Arto Konttinen.

From the SF panel we sauntered to a publisher stand, where Rajaniemi was once again interviewed. There was interesting information about quantum space that I didn’t really understand, and gentleman thieves and space. After the interview we formed a surprisingly short line and – squee! – got books signed! I’m very awkward with people I don’t know, but managed to squeak out some enthusing without seeming completely rabid and got my Fractal Prince signed.

“To Veera with thanks.” SQUEE!

It remains a mystery as to why I seemed to be the only one with A) the book in English and B) the new book.

My little fangirl heart was bursting with joy for the rest of the day. If you haven’t read The Quantum Thief, you should. If you’ve read that but not yet gotten to The Fractal Prince, wait no longer, because it’s even better than the first one!

This be the end of fangirling. And this post. More about Rajaniemi’s latest in the end of month post!

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Books in September ’12

Well. Let me tell you, it’s been a stressful month. Pro-sem reading, text analysis for comparative literature requires weekly reading (plus essays), the Finnish academic writing class has lots of annoying little things to do… Thankfully, it’s just two more weeks of this kind of intensive no-free-time studying, and then I can relax a little. And, you know, maybe read some fantasy for a change.

There’s also been fun stuff though – season’s end party for work (I came second in a quiz about all sorts of details of selling ice cream), all the freshmen parties, new friends, old friends, and, of course, pro-sem conversations. Yes, I love the pro-sem, despite the stress it puts me through. We have a good group.

But, no matter if it’s fun or not, all this interferes with normal reading schedules. Out of the books bellow, only two first ones (plus one in the romance post) have been my own decisions. Rest are required.

 

Kim Newman: Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D’Urbervilles

Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Professor James Moriarty – wily, snake-like, fiercely intelligent, terrifyingly unpredictable – and Colonel Sebastian ‘Basher’ Moran – violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike.

A one-stop shop for all things illegal, from murder to high-class heists, Moriarty and Moran have a stream of nefarious visitors to their Conduit Street rooms, from the Christian zealots of the American West, to the bloodthirsty Si Fan and Les Vampires of Paris, as well as a certain Miss Irene Adler…

(back cover of Titan Books 2011 edition)

Now, I have to say I might actually prefer the adventures of Moriarty and Moran to those of Holmes and Watson: the former are much more twisted and crafty, and criminals to top that – always an interesting quality in a character.

The adventures in this book touch on the original Holmes cases, but mostly have little to do with the Thin Man of Baker Street, as he is usually referred to by Moran, who in Newman’s book fills the shoes of Watson as the narrator. Moriarty gets illustrated very nicely, and we even meet his two brothers, which gives as all the three James Moriartys. (The situation gets explained, no worries!) The book is also filled with allusions to English literature, as you can guess from the title, some of them explained in the footnotes (inconveniently at the end of the book and often rather lengthy) and some not. I can’t be sure how many of the allusions I missed, but I think I got a lot of them, even with my limited experience of the English classics.

Published: 2011 Titan Books

Pages: 467 (plus annotations)

 

Geoffrey Trease: Byron – A Poet Dangerous to Know

 

This little book gives a quick look into Lord Byron’s life, and I think it has been meant for students of literature, as it really only covers the essentials and some well-known facts. There was very little I didn’t know, but getting the whole story more or less chronologically was nice. I also chose the book for it’s brevity, as I’m not sure how interested I’m in his travels and final times in Greece, and a longer biography would undoubtedly dwell on these for much longer than I could bear. However, I would have been more interested in some of the minor characters of Byron’s life, such as Lady Caroline Lamb and Claire Clairmont, both a little cuckoo if you ask me. But then again, I just need to get my hands on their biographies.

You will feel sorry for poor George in the end, though. He was a good man, if a little imbalanced.

Published: 1969

Pages: 135 (plus a map, bibliography, and timeline with essential years)

 

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity.

She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

(Goodreads)

What can I say? Jane Eyre is a rather wonderful book. Being the only Brontë I’ve ever read, I can’t compare the sisters, but what I can do is compare different adaptations. The 2006 BBC adaptation (with the brilliant Ruth Wilson and wonderful Toby Stephens) is so strong in my brain and such a well-made mini-series that I see the milieu and actors while I read.

This was also my second time reading the book, and we had to mark scenes and bits we liked for class. I noticed for the first time that there’s some foreshadowing regarding Rochester’s secret (don’t want to spoil it for those of you who might not have read it yet) and Jane is actually rather funny when she cares to be.

In class people seemed to be most concerned about Mr Brocklehurst and his hypocrisy, or Jane’s very modern comments on the equality of sexes. Then there was me, raving about one of Jane’s most emotional lines and how it’s rarely delivered with real feeling in screen adaptations. Ahem.

First published: 1847 Smith, Elder & co.

Pages: 548 (Wordsworth Classics 1992 paperback edition)

 

Martin Amis: Time’s Arrow

In Time’s Arrow the doctor Tod T. Friendly dies and then feels markedly better, breaks up with his lovers as a prelude to seducing them, and mangles his patients before he sends them home. And all the while Tod’s life races backward toward the one appalling moment in modern history when such reversals make sense.

(Goodreads)

Okay. Wow. This novella takes some getting used to, but blimey, when you get into it, it’s kind of fabulous. Everything happens backwards: people walk backwards, drool their drinks into glasses, converse backwards. The first chapter is a small struggle while you try and reset your brain to understand the backwards chronology, but once it gets easier you can ignore the little things and concentrate on figuring out what is on Tod’s conscience. It works like a detective story, and you get to piece the picture together with what clues you get.

Tod being a doctor, some scenes get rather gory – just think about an emergency room that works backwards, with people coming in fine and leaving with bleeding scars – so if you’re queasy I recommend caution. It’s worth reading despite the gross bits, and I’m a little sad I had to get through it in such a hurry. Will definitely be rereading!

Translation was very good, although in a few places English crept through. Then again, I’d be hard put to figure out any way of translating those bits, so can’t really complain. Want to reread in English though.

Published: 1991

Translation: Seppo Loponen (Otava 1992)

Pages: 167

 

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Considered by many to be Dickens’s greatest work, this is a timeless story where vindictiveness and guilt clash with love and gratitude. Enriched by a cast of unforgettable characters, from the orphan Pip to the convict Magwitch and the bitter Miss Havisham.

(Goodreads)

I know I read this in June. But it’s a good thing I reread it for pro-sem, because last time the BBC mini-series was too strong in my head; I enjoyed the book much better now that I’ve got some distance. I still found some bits unnecessary, but they bothered me far less. Pip I don’t like – he’s annoying. The most interesting people are Estella and Miss Havisham, although who really caught my attention this time was Mr Jaggers. There’s a hard professional for you! His speech on the importance of knowing all the facts, which put Mr Wopsle to his place, impressed me beyond all expectations, and it was one of the scenes I marked down for class.

So now that my opinion has changed, I do recommend this book, if you’re capable of ignoring the main character.

Or, if Dickens isn’t your cup of tea, watch the 2011 BBC mini. Great cast, beautiful mis-en-scene, and everything unnecessary has been cut off the script. Oh, and there’s a new movie out soon, with quite a cast – Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch… Looking forward to that!

In class we discussed following things:

  • Differences between the endings of Jane Eyre and Great Expectations
  • Love as described by male/female author, interpretation by male/female reader (Apparently the feeling of love derives from different chemicals in women and men, and that women in general love someone they feel safe with and men a woman they for some mysterious reason prefer over all the other women. We have one guy in the class, and when asked he said he didn’t really feel the love Jane feels for Rochester, but he totally got the love Pip feels for Estella. It’s completely the other way around for me, so I found this very interesting.)
  • Whether middle-aged men can still be passionately in love (This kept on throughout the class, and it was a lot of fun xD)

First published: 1860-1861

Pages: 445 (Arcturus Publishing 2010 paperback edition)

 

Andrzej Zaniewski: Rat

This novel leads the reader into the mind and universe of a rat and in doing so, transforms one of nature’s most despised animals into a creature representative of us all.

(Goodreads)

This was sort of interesting, although I only got into it in very short sections. The world of a rat is very violent and insecure, and some of the scenes were very heart wrenching – a young female losing her young, for example – and some just plain disgusting. Then again, at times it was rather boring and confusing, particularly when we were told to pay special attention to the narrator, which switches POV frequently and to no end I can fathom.

The book was originally written in Polish, and as I know nothing about said language I can’t say for sure, but I think Finnish ate some of the meaning in the POV changes. In Finnish it is not necessary to use personal pronouns in first or second person because those can be replaced by inflections, but I feel it would have been better to have the pronouns. It would have been very clumsy Finnish though, so I might reread the book in English at some point and see whether that makes a difference.

Published: 1993 (original title Szczur)

Translation: Kirsti Siraste

Pages: 169 (WSOY 1994)

 

George Eliot: Middlemarch

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

[…]

(Goodreads)

I would have enjoyed it, probably, if I’d had a little more time. This is not a book you want to rush through, because it can get heavy at times – and after a tough night of reading it I was too tired to pay attention to a rather important plot point and was confused for the next sixty or seventy pages. (Turns out it was less dramatic than I’d hoped…) The characters are interesting though. The problem is that in the beginning you can’t be sure who is going to be important and end up paying attention to the wrong people. The main characters – Dorothea, Mr Casaubon, Dr Lydgate, Rosamond and Fred Vincy, Will Ladislaw, Mary Garth – are turned round and round until you’ve seen all sides of them and probably hate most of them. Rosamond, for example, amused me greatly in the beginning, with all her romance and sillyness, but soon after she turned completely insufferable.

As a novel this is very different from Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. The narrator is omniscient, and there are so many characters whose head you get to visit it gets overwhelming from time to time. It’s also very wordy, and sometimes I wondered how on earth Eliot manages to make simple things last for pages and pages.

But, as it is one of the biggest classics of English literature, I’m happy to have read it. I think I’m going to re-watch the TV-series when I find some time, as it would be interesting to do a little comparison.

First published: 1871-1872

Pages: 746 (plus annotations; Oneworld Classics 2010 edition)

 

Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

(Goodreads)

On rereading, the two sides of this book became even more pronounced than the first time. There is the romance side of things, and there is the social commentary side. Of course this novel contains, as the title already suggests, lots of comparisons between things, and I think this dual plot is one of them. Just as north and south, master and man, wealth and poverty have their points and can co-exist, so can cutesy love and a serious message be weaved into one work. And it works beautifully.

Gaskell’s prose is very easy and delightful, although a little on the dramatic side of things – I haven’t yet made up my mind whether it’s intentional mockery or just Gaskell’s way of doing things, but I have high hopes of finding out when I eventually read her Wives and Daughters.

I warmly recommend this book. Gaskell is among the less-known authors of the Victorian period, but, I think, well worth attention.

First published: 1854-1855

Pages: 403 (plus introduction and annotations; Wordsworth Editions 2002 edition)

 

So that’s it for September! Pro-sem intensive reading period is halfway through, and I think I’ll survive it. It’s another thing will I manage the other courses I should get done during the next couple of weeks…

Books bought this month:

Getting better. I finally got my hands of Wolf Gift, after having craved for it since February. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is something I’ve wanted to read but never got around to, and having it at home is helpful – when I get the impulse I can just grab it now instead of hunting it around libraries. And guess what? I didn’t buy Grass King’s Concubine. I won it off a giveaway on Goodreads. My first time winning! Looking forward to reading it, but when that will happen, I can’t say. So many books, so little time…

And finally! The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi! Squee! I’ve so been looking forward to this! I hoped I’ll have the chance to reread The Quantum Thief before getting to this, but I doubt it, as I want to have this baby read before the Book Expo in October, where Rajaniemi will be participating a panel and most likely signing.

Currently reading:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (which I’m loving)

 

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The 2012 Anticipation

New year, new books! This is the first year when I am actually aware of the books that are coming out, and although my anticipation list is not the longest possible I am very excited about the books on it.

Here they are, in release order (most release dates are from http://en.risingshadow.net/):

Saladin Ahmed: The Throne of the Crescent Moon (February 2nd)

This book seems so very promising it is hard not to want to read it! The first chapter is very promising – you can read it here: http://www.saladinahmed.com/wordpress/2011/10/28/throne-of-the-crescent-moon-chapter-one/

The book speaks for itself, I think.

Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift (February 14th)

When I started high school, I found Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (you know – Interview with the Vampire, Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned…). And now she has finally written a novel about werewolves! I am currently plotting the fastest way of acquiring the book.

Douglas Hulick: Sworn in Steel (April)

Even though the first book in the Tales of the Kin series, Among Thieves, did not pull my heartstrings like I had expected it to do, I am curious about the second instalment. I expect to get more into Drothe’s world, although I have a feeling this will be on my list for light summer reading.

Sam Sykes: The Skybound Sea (April)

I have yet to read the second book in this trilogy, but I nonetheless anticipate this last one. The first book, Tome of the Undergates, got better the farther you got, and I have a hope that this trend will continue throughout the series – which, of course, would mean that Skybound Sea would be the best one. I will have to make an effort to get my hands on Black Halo (Aeon’s Gate #2) before this one comes out.

Mark Lawrence: King of Thorns (August)

The second on my Most Exciting list is this book, the second book in the Broken Empire trilogy. Prince of Thorns surprised me with its pull, so it was a relief to find out the next instalment in the series was not too far a wait away.

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince (September)

What can I say? The Quantum Thief was the first sci-fi book I had read in years, and I liked it more than I ever thought I would, so I am excited for the next book in the trilogy!

Scott Lynch: Republic of Thieves (October)

This is absolutely my number one anticipation book. The release date has been pushed back several times due to all sorts of difficulties, but I remain hopeful. I decided some time ago to do my utmost not to spoil myself, which has been a little difficult since the blurb is out as well as the prologue, of which I read about half before I decided I would much rather know nothing about the book before actually starting to read it.

This is not a multitude of books, but I find this soothing – the fewer books I anticipate, the bigger percentage of them it is possible for me to buy. That, if anything, is a happy thought!

I will, as usual, return at the end of the month. Until then, keep turning those pages!

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Great Is the Art of Beginning

The beginning is the most important part of a book. It needs to captivate the reader, make them want to know more, go forward, find out. I’ve fallen into the habit of picking up an interesting-looking book at the bookstore and, instead of reading the blurb, turning to the first page. If there is a prologue, I will also see how the first actually chapter begins.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case, I thought I would gather here some great beginnings of books I have read (and own, since quoting becomes harder when you don’t have the material at hand). Some are just the first sentence, some the first paragraph. Some are from prologues, some from first chapters.

“I am the Vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire – these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.”

–       The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”

–       Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework, but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.”

–       Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

“Contrary to whatever stories and songs there may be about the subject, there are only a handful of respectable things a man can do after he picks up a sword.”

–       Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

“Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead.”

–       Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

“As always, before the warmind and I shoot each other, I try to make small talk.”

–       The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

“At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.”

–       The Lies of Locke Lamora b Scott Lynch

“The game was Carousel Hazard, the stakes were roughly half of all the wealth they commanded in the entire world, and the plain truth was that Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen were getting beaten like a pair of dusty carpets.”

–       Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

All of these are excellent books, and if any of the beginning appealed to you, I recommend from my heart that you read the book it is from.

I will return at the end of the month!

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