Review: The Storm, by David Drake

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here be No Spoilers

Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative

The Storm follows the adventures of Lord Pal of Beune, a Champion of Mankind. Much like Lancelot’s humble beginnings but a better version of him. A much better version of him. Lord Pal navigates the world, between pockets of what is known as Here and the waste where the Not Here manifests at times. A bizarre world, for certain, but it fits so well.

I’m not quite sure how to explain the book without revealing everything, it’s just one of those books you have to read yourself and come to your own conclusion on what the story is like, how it makes you feel. This is the second book of the series, however it is written in such a way that not reading the first book doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re missing out on something vital. Drake has written this story to make it complete within this book as a stand-alone.

That said, I’ll give my review based on mulling over my thoughts for a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s that complicated. But the story isn’t, which is interesting. David Drake has a way of evoking a certain feel with his writing that has me reeling trying to figure out and analyse it. Drake’s writing is, frankly, beautiful. It’s smooth, if it had a physical texture, and easy to follow. But the voice of the story, the way I hear it in my head, is something I cannot explain.

Favourite Character:

Oh, by far my favourite character is Pal. He’s so real, relateable,humble, modest, and human. And yet, his strength is visible, I don’t mean physical strength either. His will power seems to seep out from the text. A character I truly care about.

Favourite Scene:

I don’t have one specific scene I enjoyed above others, though I thoroughly enjoyed every scene where Pal interacts with May, his consort. The wit, the human reactions, and the squabbles between them are so real and very entertaining.

Favourite Line:

“That seemed to be her standard method of breaking tension. It was a good method.”
– Lord Pal’s thoughts, the context of which you’ll have to read to find out. Trust me, it’s brilliant.

Overall:

The Storm is, by far, one of the most intriguing and different stories I’ve read and I’m honestly not sure how to express how I feel about it. The book definitely has an Arthurian feel and vivid, wild world-building that I’m absolutely enamoured with. I’ve never read science fiction, or any speculative fiction, like The Storm before. Suffice to say, I’m speechless.

I love the world, love the characters, and the plot is solid. I can’t find a fault (which I naturally try to without meaning to), and that says a lot. I am mind-blasted, to say the least. And yet, I don’t know if I love the book or not. I do, but at the same time not really. It’s confusing. I can’t stop thinking about it and find several things in daily life that remind me of some aspect of Drake’s world and characters.

I know, I’m rambling but I can’t help it. Writing this is the most difficult review I’ve had to do.

This story will stick with me for my whole life, I’m certain of it. Which is very rare, only a handful follow me in the back of my thoughts. The Storm is nestled in there alongside Asimov’s The Last Question, Lem’s Solaris, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Okorafor’s Binti; stories that have a profound influence on me.


The Storm, by David Drake, published by Baen Books, is available for pre-order and will be released on 1 January 2019.

Image from Baen.com

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Review: The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here be Mild Spoilers

Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fantasy

What does it mean to be an exile of your homeland, to have the pressure of expectation that you’ll do great things and save your people, carrying a mark that shows everyone that expectation, the promise you never had a chance to make? This is Isten’s life and story and Darius Hinks takes us through a fantastic world to show Isten’s present predicaments, history, and her future in The Ingenious.

But there’s so much more at play in this story than just Isten. There’s a strong sense of pre-destiny for the characters, each playing a vital role in bringing about the end game, possibly salvation. Very reminiscent of Dune‘s plot arc and I love it.

Hinks takes the reader on a perilous journey, through the grim of the ever-expanding city, to the surreal wonders of the consciousness. And it’s exhilarating.

Favourite Character:

By far, my favourite character is Phrater Alzen. He’s relateable, in a way, with his pursuit for understanding, wanting to know the intricate and majestic wonders of the universe, what makes it work. He’s a misunderstood person and convicted by a limiting system of good versus evil, and what constitutes as either.

Favourite Scene:

As much I enjoyed Alzen and learning more about him, the scene with him and the emerald lion known as Mapourak is, for me, brilliantly executed. The confusion and reality sinking in, the detached horror as a result. Masterful writing right there. Vague, yes, but you need to read it to truly capture what I’m referring to.

Favourite Line:

“No one is above death, they cried, not even the Elect. The living walked on, oblivious, and the dead fell back in despair, forgetting what they had learned, sinking into darkness.” – Beginning of Chapter 11.

What Worked For Me:

The world-building is superb! So much familiarity within the story even though it’s a rather unique take on alchemy and fantasy. The nods and hints to, among others, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld concept, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I also loved the slight hints of science wrapped within the narrative that helped make the world seem real.

What Didn’t Work:

I’d have liked if at least half of all the filter sentences were converted into showing and the descriptions of the surroundings lessened to make room for said showing. To give a deeper immersion of what’s happening and how the point of view characters felt, instead of being told how they felt and experienced things. I can understand the choice to tighten the narrative with filters, though seeing Hinks’s writing skill, I suspect he could have easily made it work and kept it as tight as it is.

Overall:

The Ingenious is a wildly fantastic story. Take everything you think you know about fantasy fiction and throw it in the deepest, darkest trash pit, because this story will take you to a new meaning of the genre. Hinks has taken the best of so many favourites and spun them in new ways with his own ideas that just makes the world, characters, and overall story so colourful and inviting.

And the cover art, created by John Coulthart, is spectacular! A fitting depiction of the atmosphere, world, and tone of the story.


 

 

The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks, published by Angry Robot, is available for pre-orders and will be published on 5 February 2019.

 

 

 

Image from Amazon.com

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Review: The Fireman, by Joe Hill

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here Be Spoilers

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Horror.

The Fireman, by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), is set in a dystopian and post-apocalyptic world where the theme is the race for survival of those infected with a fungus called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or more commonly known as Dragonscale, the ‘scale’, or the ‘spore’. The story is told through the perspective of the main protagonist: Harper Grayson (neé Willowes), a nurse who believes in her work despite her own safety.

Harper works at Portsmouth Hospital, New Hampshire, where she meets the Fireman while treating people who have Dragonscale. Although beautiful, Dragonscale is deadly; causing people to ignite and incinerate from the inside out. Due to a chain reaction of incineration, Portsmouth Hospital burns down. Nurse Harper later discovers that she’s pregnant, and a couple weeks after, sees her first black line on her thigh indicating infection. Harper must survive through many life-threatening scenarios, including the one from within.

Harper, along with the Fireman John Rookwood, Allie and Nick Storey, and Renée Gilmonton, fight off not only the deadly effects of Dragonscale but also firing squads, police, and their once community of infected. All to find a sanctuary where Harper can deliver her baby safely and they can live without the constant threat of death.

A curiously good read, leaving suspense and action throughout the chapters that creates the urge to read just one more page before bed. The Fireman has an original take on a possible apocalypse of the world with the potential of its events going horribly wrong all the time.

Favourite Character:

Definitely John Rookwood with his glum, dark humour yet playful demeanour and view of the current predicament of the world. As the Fireman, an image he has taken upon himself through a jest with his late girlfriend, John sets out to rescue and help others with Dragonscale. In a world burning, looking like a fireman is the best way to stay inconspicuous.

John understands the fungus and is able light himself on fire without burning, throw fireballs, and project himself as a huge fire devil. John also creates a phoenix of flame and spore, which Harper finds is more like John than him in his human body.

Favourite Scene:

The fire devil scene, when John, Allie, Harper and a few others went by row boats to rescue two small-time convicts with Dragonscale, hiding from the police. John creates a distraction for the police and firemen by making himself into a large devil, complete with horns, wings and tail. The fire that was John, created enough chaos and smoke, allowed the trapped men to escape to the boats. John even fire-forged a pitchfork during his showing-off of power.

Favourite Line:

“A better name for Dragonscale would be the Nietzsche virus- if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

What Worked For Me:

The concept of an incineration fungus. Combining spontaneous combustion with infection really tickled my nerd-fancy, as well as the (speculative) scientific takes on the ‘scale’ and its abilities and effects.

What Didn’t Work:

The lack of terror put me off. I kept reading and reading, waiting for horror. The essence of horror was there: the infection that makes you burn yourself alive and the psychosis of the people with and without the infection, but there were very few horror scenes happening to the main characters and, in the little that was, the characters seemed to brush it off as odd but not unnerving.

Overall:

While the book was a great concept and a good, easy read, it lacked so much. The potential was bursting through the words for a truly terrifying experience but the story has no dread. The crippling fear of knowing that you could burst into flames at any second, not to mention the horror of seeing everyone around you burn alive from inside, was barely touched. The Fireman read more like a sci-fi drama than a horror, which I still appreciate and it is still a really good book: a book you could read at night, alone in an abandoned mansion during a thunderstorm and still sleep well. It left me dreaming about firebirds and dragons.


The Fireman, by Joe Hill, published by William Morrow and Company in 2016, is available for purchase here.

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

Review: E, by Kate Wrath

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Kate Wrath has built a wonderfully dreadful world in the first book of her series, simply titled E, and it’s huge. The politics, socio-economics, crime versus legality being blurred. E has a fascinating dystopia, hinted with some strangeness not in our reality and those little things have a huge impact on how the world is perceived.

E is slow to start in the character department but packed with action, mystery, and suspense from the get-go. After a few chapters, the characters get much more interesting and the plot gradually thickens. Wrath’s pacing is well done, giving enough of the slow scenes to let the reader breathe before it can become boring, then leaping into another fast scene.

Eden, the narrator, could have been more developed. I would have liked more characterisation in the opening chapter to get to know her early on. Sure, Eden doesn’t remember anything, but she has internal dialogue and that can reveal plenty about her personality. But she grew on me after a while, somewhere around the middle of the story when she starts to get more personality and come alive.

While I enjoyed the story, there were some gripes that broke me out of the flow. One is the sexual tensions and subtle near-action flirting between her and three characters that feels stretched out beyond its capacity. The cliffhangers at the end of each scene becoming tiring and jarring when the next scene starts and everyone’s okay and alive. This may be why Eden feels distant, why I don’t care about her, because I don’t see any resolution, even how remote, to the major shocks presented as the closing of most scenes.

As someone with aphantasia, the excessive detail on Eden’s surroundings, actually anything she sees, is a put-off. It’s just information I can’t do anything with. This is, of course, not something that will be shared with the majority of readers so it’s a rather personal opinion.

I also wasn’t too keen on Eden suddenly, and especially without some reaction, knowing so much about how the world around her works from the second chapter onward. Some of its workings she discovers by actively trying to figure it out but other times it’s just there with no external source. This wouldn’t be too jolting if there were some reactions from her about her re-emerging memories and perhaps also some further reflection on them and their significance.

The story is otherwise really good, and the world-building is captivating. I think I’d have long abandoned the book if it weren’t for the need to find out what’s happening to the Outpost and the other characters, specifically Matt and Apollon. On that note, I really need to read the next book, Evolution, and discover more. Wrath has this feel in her writing that hooks regardless of anything I mention above, and I couldn’t stop reading.


 

 

E, by Kate Wrath, published in 2014, is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Image from Amazon.com

Review: Sick Bastards, by Matt Shaw

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: No Spoilers

Genre: Splatterpunk Horror.

Firstly, before I get into this review, I have to say that Matt Shaw has balls. This world he built is highly controversial, and to publish it as well? That takes guts.

Now, be warned, Sick Bastards is not a book for everyone. Mostly, I’m pretty sure only a few people can handle it. The cover even comes with a warning label. With that said, this review won’t go into the details of the story for two reasons:

  1. No spoilers, and
  2. It’s graphic and I’d rather not risk grossing out my followers, and leave it up to you to decide whether to chance the book or not.

To start this review, I need to open with a premise. The content of the story is for the sake of fiction, the character development, and the plot. This is good to remember if you decide to read the book. This is not a story for readers to insert themselves or their moral standards onto the character/s. And, just as a disclaimer, the events and devices used in this book are not condoned or acceptable for real life. Yes, you’re probably getting an idea of this already from just this introduction.

Content aside, the story is great. Shaw has his characters nailed to a T. Well-developed and with proper character arcs we get to see throughout the story. The non-linear approach was an excellent decision in how to tell the story, giving flashbacks of important events to the narrator’s life from the moment he woke up in the house—with no recollection of anything prior.

Shaw also masterfully weaved curiosities in the form of details about the world and the scenario that carries the reader through with the mystery. The planes the sometimes fly overhead, the clear skies and green grass, the birds. How did the characters get there, what are those things in the woods, and what exactly happened to force the characters into such a situation?

It’s a gruesome life.

And an unpredictable story. The build up to the climax and resolution is excellently crafted. While I suspected what the truth was from about part three, I wasn’t exactly confident. Horror has a tendency to either go directly they way you think or not at all. So it was satisfying knowing I suspected right. All the signs were there but the way Shaw weaved them had me suspicious even further that they were only red herrings.

What set me off sometimes from the story was a little bit of authorsplaining (which isn’t so bad, honestly), the repetition of certain facts, and the purple prose. These are, of course, purely my own reader preference and they don’t necessarily detract from the story itself. The big repetitions are clearly used as a device for the atmosphere and tone of the latter parts of the story, though I’d have preferred if they gave new information of the same scenes instead of the word-for-word repeating.

I usually read the Author Notes or Afterword of a story I enjoy to glean some insight into the mind of the writer, and in this book it is definitely recommended to do so. This is the first time I’ve read something from Matt Shaw and, suffice to say, I look forward to reading his other works. It’s such good writing, I devoured the book in under a day. One, non-stop sitting.


 

 

Sick Bastards: A Novel of Extreme Horror, Sex and Gore, by Matt Shaw and published in 2014, is available to purchase here.

 

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

The Illusion of Pacing: A Study of ‘Anne of Green Gables’

Book Reviews, Literature Studies

For purposes of this study, page numbers refer to the placement of text according to this epub with images copy of Anne of Green Gables from Project Gutenberg.

One of the important devices writers use in literature is that of pacing—to deliver the story according to a perceived timing of the sequence of events 1. The pacing of a story affects the tone of the work by suggesting to the reader that a scene is attached to a certain feeling. Whether it progresses quickly to suggest an action-packed event, or slowly to suggest the seriousness of a scene, pacing allows the reader to live the story through various ups and downs, much like real life.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of pacing, I will take a look at ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M Montgomery for how she utilises the device throughout her story. Specifically, I will look at how she delivers the illusion of pacing to keep the story flowing despite its slow progression of the plot.

The Book

The story follows the life and adventures of an orphan girl, Anne, and her new life at an estate called Green Gables. The characters in this book are very well developed and, while it isn’t one I particularly enjoyed reading for personal preference, the plot is solid and complete with character arcs. Nevertheless, a writer can always learn something from other writers.

The pacing Montgomery uses is subtle at first read. Such is the deception of the illusion she uses throughout the narrative. Jumping in to dissect the story, the progression of the plot itself is noticeably slow. Despite the many scenes that occur through the story, the time it takes for the reader to navigate from one scene to the next is stretched out.

Montgomery uses characterisation to fill in the time gaps between scenes. This is the illusion of pacing she works into the story to manipulate the timing perception of the reader. Much like a stage magician distracts with one hand to pull off a trick using his other, Montgomery distracts from the plot by getting the reader invested in the character Anne and her vivid and wild imaginings that take place frequently.

The Illusion

In using a lot of description in her opening chapter, Montgomery establishes the general pacing of the book by mixing action and suspense to keep the reader curious and invested in the story. This established pace right in the opening sets up the perception from the beginning and that perception becomes expectation for the reader.

Once the first sequence of suspense reaches its climax, Montgomery introduces the reader to the whimsy of the character Anne. From the moment Anne meets with Matthew Cuthbert, her adoptive father, the nature of her character is revealed. At first, Montgomery holds back, as fitting with the character, to ease the reader into the persona Anne has. This introduction is done with fears of abandonment and quickly consolidated with the relief to the contrary. The emotion Anne shows through her dialogue on page 11 makes her resonate with most readers, which opens the potential for the reader to attach themselves to her.

“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.
          “Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like.

Shortly after, Montgomery introduces the reader to the fleeting imagination of Anna on page 12, wasting no time in establishing the sort of person the character is. The large amount of dialogue showing Anne’s imaginings begins to distract the reader from the plot. By vivid imagery and thoughts, the reader is taken to a fantasy world within the mind of the character. Through this escape from reality of both Anne and the reader, the pacing perceived and established in the beginning is maintained although the plot itself stagnates.

From page 12 through to the end of the chapter on page 18, Montgomery affirms the characters Anna and Matthew along with the development of their interpersonal relationship. From the opening line to page 11, several events occur to progress the plot, but on pages 12 to 18 there is no plot progression aside from the journey toward the setting’s location: Green Gables. This method of distraction is used throughout the book, most prominently in scenes where the characters move through the world.

World-building

In my focus for the study on pacing in Anne of Green Gables, I turn attention to the world-building Montgomery has and how it comes into play with the pacing. With only the imaginings of Anne’s dialogue, the illusion of pace would be far too quick for what was established in the opening and what the reader expects. To remedy this, Montgomery uses world-building in between the dialogue to slow down the pacing. Her technique of using world-building to affect pace further grounds the illusion of a steady pacing of the story as set from the opening chapter.

The manner in which Montgomery presents her world-building is precise. She includes parts of it only when it matches and is relevant to Anne’s dialogue or to give the suggestion of movement of the characters in the world. By including the world-building in this way Montgomery keeps from further distracting the reader, which would break the illusion of pacing that both the dialogue and world-building maintain.

Conclusions

Montgomery only uses the methods of pacing illusion, as described above, for parts where the plot progresses much slower than the rest of the story. This implementation is usually in between action scenes where the plot’s pacing returns to the established and expected speed of the opening. While an excellent device for characterisation, the illusion of pacing as used in Anne of Green Gables ensures two things:

  • the reader is always kept entertained, included, and invested; and
  • the story never loses momentum or becomes dull.

Anne of Green Gables is a story planned around the focus of the reader, using complex characters, character arcs, and precision pacing to fulfil the purpose of entertainment. Without the illusion of pacing Montgomery employs through Anne’s imagination and the world-building, the plot would fall flat and lose the reader’s interest. Montgomery has constructed the scenes in such a way that compensates just enough for the stagnating plot to distract the reader and keep us unaware—at least initially—of the change in pacing.


 

[1] https://literarydevices.net/pacing/

Review: A Star-Wheeled Sky, by Brad R. Torgersen

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Mild Spoilers Here

Genre: Military Science Fiction

A Star-Wheeled Sky begins with a full and proper space-opera setting, in the ship called Daffodil. In a couple of pages of the prologue, we quickly get the gist of the factions at play, a rough idea of humanity’s progress in expansion in the galaxy, and the sense of the alien through the Waypoints. A hole lot of of essential world-building that I, for one, thought was executed well.

Shortly after, we’re introduced to the characters Zuri Mikton, Garsina Oswight, Wyodreth Antagean, and Golsubril Vex, and later a few more. And the conflict rises from the worlds, this great mystery of a new Waypoint that just showed up. The narrative shows this isn’t normal and, considering they’re in the midst of a war, not good. Torgersen uses several of his various characters to give another piece of the world and the puzzle through their eyes as the story progresses toward the climax, blending in the information almost seamlessly.

Favourite Character:

By far, the character that I enjoyed reading the most was Elvin Axabrast. He’s complex and well developed. Hard on the outside but soft within. He sees life simply but is also able to acknowledge the various complexities that are attached to daily living and history. The strong silent type here works and it’s because he’s a war veteran with a family attached history he’d rather everyone not say anything about. I was delighted when he got his own chapter from his point of view and got more of a feel for his personality.

Favourite Scene:

The scene I most enjoyed, though there are many I wanted to pick, was the part near the end of Chapter 16 when Captain Loper revealed how Wyodreth used to be as a young adult. This scene resonated as the most relateable and as an important message for people to think about. In the scene, Loper’s reveal gives Wyodreth a new perspective on his preconceptions of the Lady Oswight. The point wasn’t that she’s young and new to adventure, trying to make her own mark in the universe and being bossy in the endeavour, but that people should consider others and reflect on their own behaviour, thoughts, and past in order to see the other person’s perspective and try to understand them.

Favourite Line:

“I’ve forgotten more in my time than you could ever hope to know in yours. And that’s depressing, you understand? Why go through the trouble to teach yourself something, when you’ll have to decide to eventually to let it all fall away again later? Took me at least a couple of centuries to figure that out.” – Lethiah.

What Worked For Me:

I particularly enjoyed that space battles weren’t instantly full-on contact, taking several hours from detection of the enemy to reaching firing range. The feeling of “silence” during the battles is believable and appreciated, and Torgersen’s pacing is wonderful.

What Didn’t Work:

It could have been a more immersive story if I didn’t have to break out of the flow every now and then from the authorsplaining or repetitions of information already revealed. Of course, I read the ARC and this might be corrected in the final print version.

Overall:

I experienced disorientation each time I had to pause reading to tend to real life mundanes. It felt like I was ripped from hundreds of lightyears away back to Earth in a few minutes. As much as it has it flaws, I found the story hyper immersive. When I realised I was half-way through, I didn’t want it to end.

A Star-Wheeled Sky is like some mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Battlestar Galactica series (remake). All-in-all a riveting and enjoyable military sci-fi story packed with action, suspense, and mystery. Though I am disappointed with the lack of resolution at the end. If this is the first in a series, it might not be so bad and what I’d expect of a cliffhanger ending. That doesn’t hold in a stand-alone book for me. I do hope there’ll be sequel.

And to top it all off, Alan Pollack’s artwork for the book’s cover is spot-on true to the scene it’s based on and brilliantly made.


 

 

A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad R. Torgersen, publishing under Baen Books, comes out in December 2018 and is currently available for pre-order.

 

 

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

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Forgotten Pearls: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Book Reviews, Forgotten Pearls

Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of literature across the globe is that of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, a story reproduced over and over through the past two centuries in all forms of media. Frankenstein is also an integral part of science fiction, being the first sci-fi story to be produced and distributed in the modern age and kicking off a movement that soon after gave birth to all sorts of weird and wonderful sub-genres.

From science fiction to biopunk and strange fiction, Shelley’s Frankenstein has it all.

Of course, with any iconic meme, Frankenstein and his creature have both been portrayed untrue to the story. First being the confusion between who Frankenstein is, and second through how Frankenstein’s creature looks. In the many adaptations, there has been poetic flair inserted and this explains the pop cultural view of the creature and story of Victor Frankenstein.

Speaking of which, the prose in which Shelley wrote her book is highly poetic. Perhaps due to the language norms and literary mannerisms of the late 19th Century.

A Bit About The Book

Frankenstein is a story about a young ambitious man, so enthralled with the natural sciences that he ventured toward the answer of life itself. In his studies, he discovered it then set about working to create his own life. His tedious labours of wiring all the parts of a body together paid off on the night he used his answer to bring his creature to life.

But the young Victor Frankenstein regrets his decision when he succumbs to a fever and his creature appears to him. After recovering from his illness, with the help of his good friend Henry, he receives a letter informing him of the loss of his younger brother. Victor realises, upon arriving, that his creature was real and not a dream, and responsible for the murder. This and the events proceeding initiate Victor’s determination to hunt down his creature.

When he does, we get an account from the creature about his life up until that point, whereafter the creature gives Victor an ultimatum to build him a female companion of his own species. Frankenstein’s creature is no monster save for in appearance, and he’s a richly cultured person with a strong will and developed mind.

This story is too large to sum up in a few paragraphs and still do it justice so I will leave it at this: Frankenstein’s creature resigns to the uninhabited parts of the world in repentance for what he’d done. And Victor? Well, some people just refuse to change.

Review

Shelley’s use of poetic language makes this a difficult read for people of this century, but in no way does it detract from the story. On the contrary, the language pulled me in and I was immersed in 19th Century society. I felt like I had travelled back in time. Her use of letters to characters being the structure of the narrative made immersion challenging at first but soon after, I was trapped in the story. And this was a re-read. It says something about a story if, despite having read it a couple of times before and knowing the story like the back of your hand, you still get so enthralled with it and plunge head-first into imagination from the first sentence.

Frankenstein’s story is full of emotion and the characters are continuously developing, right up to the last line. Not only the main characters, but all of them. From Elizabeth to Safir, each character is fully fleshed out with a rich story of their own. What captures me the most about the story is the dichotomy between Victor and his creation. There’s no clear “good” or “bad” guy, and interestingly, the protagonist is neither.

There’s just so much readers can take away from the story and something in it for everyone and almost every circumstance, from the personal to the political.

Versus Contemporary

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a stark contrast to the literature, of any genre, of today. The formal English and poetic structure of the prose speaks to the era it was written in and, subsequently, dates the book. Although the prose is very clearly to the point, the messages inside the narrative are subtle in comparison to the literature of the 70s and 80s, for instance, where social critique was blatantly delivered.

Continuing on the mention of dated language, it may make Frankenstein feel distanced and inaccessible to readers of the 21st Century, especially with language constantly evolving.

Nevertheless, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is by far an essential read for everything it provides to the reader and the messages within being applicable still through today and probably into the future.


 

Have you read Frankenstein? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Did I miss something or have you perceived things differently? It would be interesting to read and discuss the different experiences people get from the book.

Read More in the Forgotten Pearls Series.

Inception: A Study of Greg Egan’s In The Ruins

Short Story Reviews

INCEPTION


Greg Egan is one of the hard sci-fi authors I always enjoy reading, and picking one of his stories to study was something I intended to do for a while. I believe that taking a good look at the work of authors you love as well as those you aren’t familiar with is beneficial in learning—through reading—to become a better writer.

The short story I chose isn’t something published in the mainstream, but is still a great piece of writing. I’m referring to In The Ruins, which is available to read on Egan’s (weird) website.

I recommend first reading the short story before continuing here so that your mind can be blown and your brain itching like someone got in there (as mine was when I first read it). Reading it will also put a lot of the points I make into context and, in this way, help with understanding this particular writing device of inserting thoughts into the reader’s mind.

Reading it beforehand isn’t compulsory, however, and you’re welcome to follow along without doing so. As I said, I recommend it. If you do wish to read it first, please note that comprehending the science isn’t necessary so don’t worry about it. I didn’t entirely understand some of it, either.

Discussion

In the short story In The Ruins Egan uses knowledge as the focus of the reader’s attention, sending them through a problem that gets solved as it leads the reader along a journey with the main character. And the background of the story is that of a satirical and dystopic look at a future world—one of anti-intellectualism.

“Dance, rap or stand-up?” Emma asked the slender girl in front of her in the queue. It was a joke: dance, obviously.

“Physics,” the girl replied.

“Er—” Emma gestured at the sign on the door. “Obviously. But what mode?”

At first it may seem that the background critique on contemporary society Egan delivers is the inception I’m referring to, but the obvious focus can just as well be used for the incepting thought as anything obscure or subtle.

Was the critique the inception of thought, or was it the knowledge?

“You think this has no applications?” Ghada was amused. “It might strike you that way, but it’s not the case. Describing the figure that these velocities form is one route to a deeper understanding of any inverse-square force — including the electrostatic force in an atom. With a bit more work, this problem offers a short cut to the energy levels of hydrogen…”

Interestingly, Egan uses info-dumping in the dialogue to distract from the obvious focus of the knowledge. Of course, with his choice of knowledge—math and physics—many readers may be immune to the power of suggestion employed in this piece, and probably not follow the story entirely. This will instead make the social critique of the background stronger than it would be if the focus remained with the knowledge. In this case, the inception comes in through the humour Egan uses to deliver the critique of a not-all-that-far-fetched possible future.

Glory days? Emma was indignant. “You do know that twenty million people live-streamed the makeover episode of American Poopy-head?”

“Yeah, that sums it up.” Ghada laughed sadly. “The only way for a scientist to be halfway palatable in your culture now is through a kind of ritual self-abasement…”

Observations

As with Egan’s short story, info-dumps can work if they’re executed well. In The Ruins seems to use them deliberately for the purpose of distraction and inception. The inception in this case is to get the reader to focus on the math as the characters explore it and eventually reach a point in which the main character’s arc develops and resolves.

Through the distraction and immersion, the reader unknowingly learns something new—math and physics—as we follow along to the climax as resolution. The use of visuals for the math also caters to the immersion and allows the reader to follow the incepting device with ease.

Take-Aways

The inception device isn’t exclusive or unique to science fiction and can be found in many genres, and it can be delivered in varying degrees like in Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild. How a writer incepts an idea into someone’s mind is generally their own preference. Some use red herrings while others use intricate sub-plots that tie together—better analysed as the Hansel and Gretel move in leaving breadcrumbs everywhere.

Inception in inception, or just a suggestion? Either works if the writer can get into the heads of readers and tickle their brains while delivering a satisfying and complete story. The point of the inception device is to further ensure the story is memorable.

After all, a reader who remembers is one who will return.


What did you take away from the story? Was the inception effective, and if not, do you think it could have been executed better? If you know of other examples of this device employed well, share it in the comments. I’d love to see more of it and I’m always up for reading great stories.

Forgotten Pearls: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Book Reviews, Forgotten Pearls

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With a little nudge from my friend Jasmine, I will be getting into more book reviews and studies of literature. She already started the Forgotten Pearls book review series and I will be joining alongside her in exploring great literature of the past. As she says “because good writing transcends time.”

Jasmine covered The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin that ventures into social science fiction, so I will be going over Le Guin’s fantasy side with the first of her Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea.

A Bit About The Book

A Wizard of Earthsea was first published in 1968, and had taken Le Guin around a year or so to write1. The book won the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award in 1969 and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1979, and it has become a staple in fantasy literature since.

The story focuses on the young wizard-in-training Ged and his journey to becoming a full-fledged wizard. Ged faces challenges that have been placed on him at too young an age, partly through his own actions, but he perseveres and overcomes these as he grows.

The book is a coming of age story but it transcends age, and it is just as good a read for a teenager as it is for someone in their 30s or 40s and so on.

Review

As masters of writing are wont to do, Le Guin bends the rules from the get-go by starting the story with a narration style that introduces the protagonist, Ged. She uses this device to hook the reader in and, retrospectively, make us want more of the story by the end of the book. A wonderful tactic for a series. While difficult to achieve, Le Guin nails the effect by giving clues of Ged’s future in the series without spoilers or revealing too much.

She then weaves into the “present” time of young Ged shortly after, without breaking scene, and dives us right into the story to learn about him. Le Guin’s characterisation of not only Ged but all of the characters is something to be in awe of. While reading, I was quickly invested in what happens to everyone shortly after they’re introduced in the story.

Even caring about the antagonist, who is rather otherworldly. Le Guin is able to make me care about the shadow, and not in the sense of hoping for Ged to defeat him. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Using the device of third-person limited, and subtle deep POV, Le Guin lets the readers get into the head of Ged to see his thoughts. This makes for an immersive story that was difficult to break out of (for adulting things like sleeping at a proper time).

I couldn’t put it down until I finished lapping up every word. Including the very short bit after the end of the story.

As someone with visual aphantasia, I find overly descriptive worlds tedious to endure. It is information I can’t do anything with. Le Guin doesn’t do this. She incorporates just enough description of Earthsea to bring the setting to life without going full Tolkien (never go full Tolkien). With the accompanying maps, following Ged’s travels around Earthsea is easy, interactive, and it further grounds the reader into the world.

Action, brotherly love, despair, horror, and victory are in full swing in A Wizard of Earthsea. A rollercoaster of emotions and events that lead closer to Ged’s final victory over the shadow. And what a twist that scene is! I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Le Guin’s pacing in the book is brilliantly executed, mixing the fast scenes with the slow ones seamlessly. And each scene surpasses the peak of the previous, building naturally to the climax after which a slow resolution gently brings the reader down from an adrenaline rush to settle in the completion of the character arc and story-line.

Such a satisfying ending.

One that left me pitying the shadow as well as Ged. It’s a bitter-sweet ending to the first book of the series that further shows Ged’s character. I absolutely love that Le Guin uses the conclusion for more characterisation rather than plot, and it is masterful.

Versus Contemporary

The language Le Guin uses in A Wizard of Earthsea is very easy to read, intended for the Young Adult audience. With this choice in reading level, the book fits nicely with contemporary writing. There are little differences between then and now in writing within this book, mainly the folktale-telling style of the narrative, but they don’t detract from reading in this day and age of what to expect. A Wizard of Earthsea is time-fluid in the writing style and fits well with contemporary fantasy. The themes she incorporates are still being used today, making the story familiar to new readers.

As it was then, it is still an essential read for fantasy, perhaps even more so now. At least, in my opinion.

Have you read A Wizard of Earthsea? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Did I miss something or have you perceived things differently? It would be interesting to read and discuss the different experiences people get from the book.


1. Le Guin, Ursula K.; Wood, Susan (1980). The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. Pg 29-30. London, UK: Ultramarine publishing.

Forgotten Pearls Book Review Series

Book Reviews, Forgotten Pearls
A series of book reviews on vintage literature, the forgotten pearls of the modern age.
Read the introduction to the project.

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Humanising the Character: A Study of “The Metamorphosis”

Book Reviews, Short Story Reviews


For purposes of this review, page numbers refer to the placement of text according to this copy of The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka.

With the previous review, I looked at how P.G Wodehouse delivered social critique through his novel Something New. A short short by Franz Kafka is my focus for this review on how literature can influence and be incorporated into writing—making better writers through reading.

I will look at Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis—heralded as his masterpiece. The story does not disappoint. In the short story, there are many valuable take-aways for writers: building suspense, keeping the reader’s fascination, and characterisation to name a few. But for this review, I will look at the most prominent aspect of The Metamorphosis—how to humanise the character.

Kafka employs various characterisations—what makes a character real—for his main character, Gregor Samsa. Among others, the characterisation includes the development of his relationship with his family, his changing attitude toward life and lifestyle, and Gregor’s submission to the situation he’s in. The most alluring and important characterisation employed is that of humanising Gregor, who is no longer human.

The Character

Gregor Samsa is an ex-military traveling salesman who has taken it upon himself to support his family—himself, his sister, and their mother and father. He worked long hours, often abroad and away from home for months at a time, to increase his income and thus the status of his family and their lifestyle.

This was, of course, before the story begins with him awakening to discover that during the night he has been transformed into a creature likened to a beetle.

Not only is humanising the character an important aspect of the story for the sake of the reader, but an important aspect for the character Gregor himself. Throughout the story, we’re reminded of how dearly Gregor holds onto his past human-self and the slow slipping of it as he tries to come to terms with what has happened to him—his metamorphosis.

More notably, the reminders of how important the humanity is to Gregor are shown in pages 134-135, and again prominently on page 141.

He had indeed been so near the brink of forgetfulness that only the voice of his mother, which he had not heard for so long, had drawn him back from it. Nothing should be taken out of his room; everything must stay as it was; he could not dispense with the good influence of the furniture on his state of mind… ~Page 141

The Family

In contrast with the humanity Gregor holds onto, his family no longer acknowledges nor contemplates the existence of the humanity still within Gregor. This perception is evident in many parts of the story, including within the following quote:

His sister no longer took thought to bring him what might especially please him, but in the morning and at noon before she went to business hurriedly pushed into his room with her foot any food that was available, and in the evening cleared it out again with one sweep of the broom, heedless of whether it had been merely tasted… ~Page 150

Though this perception is blatantly crude, it is one acquired through the months of hardship Gregor’s family endure emotionally and financially as a result of his metamorphosis. Prior to this event, his sister, Grete, was hospitable and hopeful of some retained humanity within Gregor or a chance that he may revert to his human-self.

… she had in fact perceived that Gregor needed a lot of space to crawl about in, while on the other hand he never used the furniture at all, so far as could be seen… ~Page 142

While this quote of the narrative does show Grete’s consideration for Gregor’s humanity, it also alludes to her thinking of him as the creature instead—much in the way a person would show consideration for a pet. The humanising of character falls onto Gregor’s reception of Grete’s perceived kindness, where he remarks on the importance of the furniture in keeping his human-self grounded and alive, as quoted from Page 141 above.

Humanising

Kafka shows the humanising of Gregor’s character all through the short story, placing emphasis in certain parts—such as that on page 141. Using the Deep Point-Of-View device of third-person limited perspective, Kafka constantly reminds the reader of Gregor’s humanity through internal thoughts and perceptions.

Along with the thoughts, emotions ground the reader into believing that Gregor is a human being, with only the slightest of reminders that Gregor is actually now a creature when Kafka mentions Gregor’s legs and later placing more focus on the apple his father threw at him and has thus burrowed into Gregor’s soft-shelled back.

Conclusions

In Franz Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis, the author shows how to place characterisation onto non-human characters and the importance for the reader in doing so. Humanising the character provides grounds for the reader to relate to the character. This characterisation serves to suspend belief, which is particularly important within works of fiction.


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Deciphering the Message: A Look at P.G Wodehouse’s Something New

Book Reviews, Literature Studies


For purposes of this article, the page numbers referenced correspond with those of the ePub (without images) obtained from Project Gutenberg’s library.

Within many works of literature, social critique is prominently on display under the medium of storytelling. P.G Wodehouse’s Something New is one such work and the focus of this review. Through analysing the book, I take a look at how the critique is implemented into the narrative and delivered in a manner that did not detract from the story itself—lending an added emphasis to the events of the plot that occurred.

For the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.
~Marshall McLuhan “The Medium is the Message”, 1967

In the case of Something New, the medium is literature, as conveyed through comedy—in the form of satire. This medium focuses on the message of critique of the socio-economic status of the early 20th Century across two countries: the United States of America and the United Kingdom. It delivers the critique through perspectives of the upper, middle, and lower classes.

For this review, I focus on the views each class had in regard to the others. This focus also looks at their perspective toward the current state of socio-economic status, life, and the world. I consider this perspective and the critique Wodehouse delivered in the book by showing the views of each class toward the others as well as the views on women at that time (in the 1910s when the book was written).

Regard to Life

Throughout the book, the reader is exposed to various perspectives concerning the Other, and these views show a clear distinction of socio-economic classes—the distinction being prominent in the USA and UK during the 1910s and continuing through both World Wars as a strong remnant of the Industrial Revolution.

Upper Class–Earl of Emsworth

He was as completely happy as only a fluffy-minded old man with excellent health and a large income can be… He was possibly as nearly contented as a human being could be in this century of alarms and excursions. ~Page 26

Despite the average man he seems to see himself as—ignoring any privilege that afforded him this view—Lord Emsworth thinks himself as humbled by his content life. He struggles to fathom the need for the worry he acknowledges the rest of the world has. From his perspective, life is an unnecessarily worrying world and he considers himself spared from trivial matters and disappointment—spared from the rat race of the rest of the population.

It is possible that, lacking the initiative to make his way down the long aisle and find a table for himself, he [Lord Emsworth] might have stood there indefinitely, but for the restless activity of Adams, the head steward. It was Adams’ mission in life to flit to and fro, hauling would-be lunchers to their destinations. ~Page 21

Wodehouse spares no subtlety in critique on the upper class throughout Something New, showing their disregard for the life of the Other. The perspectives of the Honourable Freddie (Lord Emsworth’s younger son) and Mr. Peters (prospective father-in-law to the Earl’s younger son, Freddie) are of a similar nature.

Middle Class–Ashe Marson

The Wanted column of the morning paper is a sort of dredger, which churns up strange creatures from the mud of London’s underworld. Only in response to the dredger’s operations do they come to the surface in such numbers as to be noticeable, for as a rule they are of a solitary habit and shun company; but when they do come they bring with them something of the horror of the depths. ~Page 56

Ashe Marson views the lower class as creatures that reside in the shadows and metaphoric sewers of London. He sees himself as above them. Marson shows some form of sympathy toward the lower classes, but only to distinguish himself from them. Through his apparent sympathy he sees them not as people, but as entities unlike himself and those of his status.

In English trains the tipping classes travel first; valets, lady’s maids, footmen, nurses, and head stillroom maids, second; and housemaids, grooms, and minor and inferior stillroom maids, third. But for these social distinctions, the whole fabric of society would collapse and anarchy stalk naked through the land. ~Page 65

Later in the story, Ashe Marson ignores the existence of the lowest of the lower class and the plights of those in poverty. He also regards himself as among the members of the lower class, while maintaining a distinction between himself and those of lower socio-economic status. This distinction is a separation of the Self from the Other.

This disdained and disassociated view of the lower class is continued through the perspective of Joan Valentine, while also displaying her view of the upper class activities as trivial and materialistic.

Lower Class–Mr. Adams

Unlike the other characters mentioned, Mr. Adams only features in one scene in the book. This scene, while establishing Lord Emsworth’s character and setting up his present frame of mind, focuses on the character of Adams. His appearance in the story is restricted, not developing further like the other characters. Adams’s inclusion in the story is a means through which Wodehouse displays the order of society to further critique the classes and their perspectives.

You would never have thought it, to look at him when engaged in his professional duties, but Adams had built up a substantial reputation as a humorist in his circle by his imitations of certain members of the club… The Earl of Emsworth ambled benevolently to the door, leaving Adams with the feeling that his day had been well-spent. He gazed almost with reverence after the slow-moving figure.

“What a nut!” said Adams to his immortal soul. ~Pages 23-26

Mr. Adams takes to mockery of the members of the upper class—his position as steward at a club for the senior members of the class affording him the material with which to indulge in the mockery. His mockery is a means of entertaining himself and those around him. In regard to the upper class life, Adams displays contempt and disassociation from himself—and those who share his status—for the members of a higher status.

Adams refrained from expressing an opinion, but inwardly he was thrilling with artistic fervor. Mr. Simmonds eating, was one of his best imitations… To be privileged to witness Lord Emsworth watching and criticizing Mr. Simmonds was to collect material for a double-barreled character study that would assuredly make the hit of the evening. ~Page 23

All through Something New, this mockery of the upper and middle classes is presented through the perspectives of the characters situated in the lower class, particularly among the servants of the upper class.

Observations

Wodehouse alludes to several forms of critique of social issues, ranging from sensitive topics to the more commonplace daily life troubles. Through these comments, he shows the differences and similarities of views and habits across socio-economic status.

After looking at the critique of the classes, I explore two other observations in the book and consider the medium of this delivery and the effect the manner of the deliver has on the message of the book.

Sexism

Sexism and the oppression of women in the socio-economic classes remain a prominent issue, though less obvious with class distinction today than in the early 20th Century. Throughout Something New, Wodehouse presents the reader with blatant sexism through dialogue of his characters, representing views of people in that time to deliver his critique on oppression. This is especially noteworthy as the book was written in a time when women’s rights were being fought for on a large scale.

Without quoting a significant portion of the book, I narrow the argument to two quotes that best display the sexism Wodehouse perceived and criticised.

“You are much too real a person. What a wife you will make for a hard-working man… I shall be fagged, disheartened. And then you will come with your cool, white hands and, placing them gently on my forehead…” ~Page 37-38

This is a narrative by George Emerson, a middle class lawyer, to Aline Peters during his attempts to court her. The dialogue highlights the views of men concerning women and their idea of a woman’s role and purpose in life as that of servitude to the male portion of society. Wodehouse further remarks on this through Aline’s thoughts on George’s attitude and again on a general critique of the “superman” mentality of young men, which can be seen in the following quote.

… he tells me it is perfectly infernal the way these women carry on. He said sometimes it got to such a pitch, with them waving banners and presenting petitions, and throwing flour and things at a fellow… ~Page 151

The quote above is a recollection of a conversation from Lord Emsworth with another of the upper class about the movement toward establishing voting rights for women. The disdain of the thought that women would be able to vote was shared by Lord Emsworth. In using this narrative, Wodehouse comments on the inconsideration of the Other—in this case being women—through the lack of acknowledgement toward the struggles women endure within society.

The Medium

Something New, as the book is named in its first publishing, delivers critique through the text using the medium of humour to mask it. This medium allows the reader to absorb the critique—the message—without triggering a defence mechanism that may lay dormant and waiting to protect a person’s worldview. Wodehouse executes this mission with intentional precision in his writing.

Expanding on the critique through humour, Wodehouse’s title bears a greater impact within the body of the work. The plot in Something New circles along the trivial pursuits of the characters, which brings them together for the climax of the story. In the pursuit of wanting something new, something fresh, the characters engage in unspoken rivalries, social form, and competition to achieve their desires. When the story comes to a resolution, the characters settle into the stagnation and repetition of life, but with less contempt for the ordinary that seemed to plague them before.

This contradiction with the title is further emphasised through the recurrence of the title within the narrative, providing a subtle reminder to the reader of the goal of the characters and the pursuit of it as the plot progresses.

The title Something New appears on pages 10 and 11 with the discussion between Ashe Marson and Joan Valentine about the mundanes of life. The conversation is mentioned again on page 62 at the climax of the story when the former desire for something new has come to realisation. On page 42, where the title appears again, Lord Emsworth discovers in his pocket the object that is the main drive of the plot and the events within. This appearance serves further to highlight both the character’s present condition and the otherwise dull happenings of his daily life.

In the course of the plot, and through the events that occur to the characters, something new is presented that changes their situation at that moment. And yet, what appears to be change isn’t anything new after all.

Conclusion

P.G Wodehouse utilises the medium of humour as a means to deliver the message to introduce awareness of issues within society. While the topics within Something New are still an issue today, the division between upper and lower classes was far more distinctive in the book, and the burden of both classes rested upon the middle class. By ignoring the upper class and placing more strain on the lower, the class gap is driven further apart.

As shown through Wodehouse’s delivery, social critique is best delivered subtly in the medium. The subtle delivery puts less focus on the message and, instead, uses the medium to carry the message through the work. This method allows the reader to think about the issues without forcing them to have an immediate opinion that would cause them to become defensive and potentially block out the message.


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