polutrope: (Default)
I actually just finished a book that I loved unreservedly! or well, I think I had some reserves, but I forget what they were, so that's close enough. The book was Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, which is about - well, it's about New York, and love, and magic, and winter. I can't summarize, and I'm not even going to try. My point is, everyone should go read it. Also A Kingdom Far and Clear, which is a "kid's book" but whatever, it's gorgeous in prose and presentation.
polutrope: (Default)
So this is a total love post. There are not all that many things that can make me turn off the analytic part of my mind. Steven Brust is one of them.

I first read The Phoenix Guards a while ago. Not ten years, for sure, but close. Since then I've read it multiple times; let's call it five. It was the first of his books I read, which, if you, the putative and likely non-extant reader know anything about his world, is a bad plan. If you don't, his world is populated mainly by "elves," who live thousands of years and look down on "humans." I was very confused when his main character was said to be "barely a hundred," to say the least. But even unaware of his world, the book drew me in and made me seek out the rest.

So. Things he does well: Female characters, oh my god. And not just main characters - yeah, Tazendra's awesome, but if you've got one female character in a world that supposedly has gender equality, it doesn't mean much. But there's multiple supporting characters, a mixture of evil and non-evil. Tazendra herself sleeps around and doesn't get shamed for it, has an attitude of unmitigated braggadocio, and just generally kicks ass. Jenicor e'Terics is concerned with her appearance - and a fine blade, which rarely happens. Seodra and Lytra are terrible scheming people in a way that has nothing to do with their gender.

He builds a history for his world without doing infodumps. My favorite historical character is the Empress Undauntra I, who is snarky and smart. Further, there are references to works of art and legendary figures; his world feels real, like there are people and a history in it who aren't directly connected to our main characters.

He has a bad king who is a good person. Well, for the most part. Poor Tortaalik is really just trying to do his best, at least in Phoenix Guards. He's sort of more of a disaster in Five Hundred Years After. But he really is trying to be a good king, but doesn't know how - which is unusual in a genre dominated by wonderful or awful rulers.

Also I love his style. It's been said that people talk too much, but I really like it when people talk, so I'm hardly an impartial judge.

(Also I read Iorich over the weekend as well and it was AWESOME. While I'm sure Vlad wandering around the east finding out about his history is wonderful, we need to get back to the heart of the series - Aliera being cooler than you.

OH GOD what does it say about me that my favorites are Orca, the banking drama, and Iorich, the courtroom drama?)

(Also also I have determined that I probably belong in either the House of the Tiassa or the Lyorn. Although I am a bit of a Dzur when I play rugby.)
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Day II: Least Favorite Book

I don't really have one. That is, there are books which I have disliked, and disliked intensely, for various reasons. I can't stand Toni Morrison, for example, in part because we read her out of white guilt in high school, as far as I can tell. Obviously what she's trying to do is important, but she doesn't have characters so much as points, and she doesn't suit her narrative style to her narrator, and there's at least one scene per book that's there mainly to shock. I realized, in 10th grade, that I couldn't write an essay about Song of Solomon because none of my points would stand, because she wasn't consistent enough. So I suppose you could say that that's my least favorite book. Certainly it has very few redeeming qualities that I can see. But "least favorite" to me implies that you think about it more often than when people ask you what your least favorite book is - I can't think of any books that I think about and think "God, that was awful," unless prompted. And in fact, some of the books that I think about and think "God, that was awful" are highly entertaining, because they were awful. (Shout-out to Karleen Koen's Through A Glass Darkly goes here.)

I have in fact been very lucky, or perhaps very good at choosing things I would like: out of the 30something books I've read this summer, I've disliked maybe five actively* and thought, "oh, this isn't really very good" about a couple more*. But I've absolutely loved a couple, been educated by some, and entertained by most.

So that was more positive than a least favorite book post probably should be, but really, livejournal, what is it about your fatal charm that makes it so...fatal?
*Ugh, Ibid: A Life in Footnotes. Cute idea, terrible, terrible execution.
*The Warrior Prophet: Very rapey, includes the line "his/her skin pimpled"(from fear, cold, etc) about a million times, includes the line "his eyes blazed glory" (at all) but I think twice. In fact, probably due a post.
polutrope: (Default)
God I seriously wish that like, anyone else had heard of K. J. Parker ([livejournal.com profile] dolique, you don't count) because I really think he's my favorite fantasy author for several reasons. (I. research [he makes siege weapons! he can fence! he's a God-damned blacksmith! II. interesting characters. III. Decent prose, because really too few people have it.) Devices and Desires, which I just finished reading, is amazing. Valens and Veatriz are pretty much the only couple I really care about in anything - they write letters to each other, and all of them made me tear up a little bit.

and throughout the whole thing there's impending doom for like everyone (I am taking bets for who dies) and all I really want is the impossible - for Valens and Veatriz to go off somewhere and be happy but seriously because of who wrote it (Mr Parker is not so much with the happy endings, or even happy middles) and because of 600 pages of plot development it's really not going to happen.

All I want is someone to talk about this with, besides the ether of the internet.
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
Hi, my name is [livejournal.com profile] polutrope, and I have an insomnia problem. That's boring. What I do with all those extra hours, on the other hand, is fascinating.

(It's "read. a lot, and not all that discriminatingly." also play browser games.)

My last book was Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson, and it's the second fantasy novel I've read in a year. Various reasons: I've been spacy and not reading, actual school work, Sophocles setting up his language specifically to bother people 2000 years later, but mainly because nothing looks good. It's all spunky heroine this and stoic, but troubled anti-hero that, which is dead boring.

I picked this up in the fall and never had time or inclination, but it's really worth it. The style is readable, if nothing to write home about, and much better that most things. (I made the mistake of showing one series to my dad. Totally ruined - grammar mistakes on every page, really, and also the characters kind of sucked.) Speaking of characters, they're not great - the wife of the leader of the rebellion¹ was killed by the bad people, and our heroine is plucky, but not in an annoying way, and the non-evil nobleman could be the main character of a Georgette Heyer novel. They're likable, though, if not particularly deep.

But the world-building! He's actually thought of logistics²! There are world-differences that are integrated into the plot and aren't just "hey look they ride on giant birds and not horses this is totally not generic medieval Europe fantasy #18893. See giant birds! also they have a fantasy name in a fantasy language."

And a magic system that makes sense! god yes. It's genetic, which bothers me³, but even that's plot-related. There's a source for it that makes sense, and it's very studied and compartmentalized, which i.s great compared to all the nebulous "believe in it" magics out there.

From the blurb for the second book on Amazon, it seems like he's actually going to deal with the consequences of winning* and having to rule a huge empire with former slaves at the head, which no one does, and makes me really happy. I wanted to do it, in fact, and then realized I had no idea how.

Also the last fifty or so pages are awesome.

¹that sentence would be much better if English had a genitive.
²lots and lots of slaves.
³I think someone mentioned the way fantasy novels tend to romanticize royalty and The Right Birth; it's partly that. My magic system would be learned, like music or math, and like music or math one could be better or worse at it. The problem, as always, is a source. "Just take it out of the air" makes me snicker, and "Look within yourself" is painfully cliché.
*this is not a spoiler. it is a foregone conclusion, and no one's going to read it anyway.


Dec. 15th, 2008 01:00 am
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
My plan for break is to cook a new thing every day. Now, since I am much better at conceiving grandiose plans than at carrying them out, this may or may not happen. However, I've started out strong, and today (12-14-08; please disregard date of posting) I have made chocolate pepper cookies.

They're very easy and very rich, and although many people are skeptical about the pepper when first they hear of it, it makes a good counterpoint to the chocolate. This comes from someone who would willingly pick each fleck of pepper off her food, if she thought it could remove the stain of that spice.

(Also, having listened to your voicemail, I love you very much, [livejournal.com profile] dolique!)
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
I have clearly gone completely insane, but I think it's in a good way, or at least a way that's relevant to my major.

A couple of people and I are doing a production of Hippolytus in the original Ancient Greek: we've got most of our cast and have possibilities for the two people we don't have; we have professorial support for the idea and for the reading; we have texts; we have ideas for staging; and last but not least, we have funding!

When we went to the head of department (who is also our Vergil professor, Feeney) he said essentially that he'd been waiting for someone to do something like this the whole time he'd been head.

We're going to have a chorus and try to get music, and Professor Katz can help us with pronunciation, and it's going to be painfully awesome. And a lot of work, but I think it's manageable.

(We were waiting outside Professor Feeney's office, and we heard that he was talking with our prospective Theseus. We waited for him to come out and cornered him, then told him about the plan. He agreed. So now we only need Phaedra's nurse and Hippolytus himself.)

The only downside to this is that it means I can't take five classes next semester, but oh well. I've been told it's a bad idea in any case.
polutrope: (the lady of shallot)
Hugo von Hofmannsthal is amazing. Not necessarily for the conclusions of his stories: sometimes they let you down, but only because the atmosphere that he builds up leads you to expect something great. And even when the climax is unsatisfying, there is something worthwhile in all of them.

My favorite first sentence, for example: "The sparrow hawk which the boys had nailed to the barn door was twisting horribly toward the the oncoming night." Or the last sentence of a fragmentary story: "And I touched the hand of the woman who was no longer my lover to wake her up and take her down to the dead woman who lay downstairs, her pale face heavy with beauty and mystery."

I end this with a quotation from "The Lord Chandos Letter":

It is that the language in which I might have been granted the oppurtunity not only to write but also to think is not Latin, or English, or Italian, or Spanish, but a language of which I know not one word, a language in which mute things speak to me and in which I will perhaps have something to say for myself someday when I am dead and standing before an unknown judge."


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