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Five Books - Qualified Perceptions
Five Books

Fearful Symmetry (by Morag Joss)
Not at all a bad novel. A very bad mystery. No, that's not quite right. The mystery itself isn't bad, and the tradition for the local police to disregard all attempts at detection and clue-finding is a long-established one. But it drove me crazy that the policeman who kept saying "Now, now, don't worry your head about those 'clues', it's obvious what happened and I will listen to no theories otherwise" was a viewpoint character! The goofy local opera plot was not bad. The breaking marriage and illicit affair is both convincing and painful to read. But any time the main characters talked about the murder mystery, it annoyed me terribly. Two and a half stars, having subtracted a full star for the poor form of the police detective.
The Claidi Journals (by Tanith Lee)
Tanith Lee has a very different flavor for me than most other writers. Like her books have been translated from another language, or from another era. I'm not sure. At one point, the main character is travelling through the desert, and takes cover from a sandstorm. The sand blows fiercely and then dies down, as the eye of the storm passes over. In the gale, a ruined city has been uncovered, with broken arches and graceful arabesques now visible. Then the rest of the storm passes over, and the city is covered again by a huge sand dune. Then the characters go on. It is just a thing that has happened, and passed away again. Things happen in Tanith Lee stories - not events that drive things along, they're not pushing the plot, they're just leaping about nearby as the plot rolls haphazardly along. Or maybe they're chasing the plot. It's hard to tell. Three stars, but they're not in any sort of numerical order or anything.
Nine (by Jan Burke)
I have been much more impressed by the author's series of Irene Adler novels, but this wasn't very good. (Mild spoilers follow) The premise is that a small conspiracy is capturing and killing all of the members of the FBI's ten most wanted list. Off screen, such as when they're doing most of the capturing, the group is incredibly competent. They have a clever trick that gets them a source of leads, but even so, I have to imagine that the top ten fugitives are pretty cautious. They have masterful linguistic abilities, not just speaking lots of languages, but also in the accents of their choice. On screen, they're goofy and amateurish. One of them can't strangle a tied up guy without screwing it up. Another is oh so very pleased with himself for looking like James Dean, strutting and preening, until he notices that one of his colored contact lenses has fallen out. A third puts someone in a deathtrap, dangling upside down at the end of the rope, but then loses his temper that the guy bumpsa into him when he's swinging back and forth. This is the great powerful conspiracy? And it turns out that the main bad guy is motivated by being pissed that the cute girl didn't go out with him in high school. Hint: "Our babies would be good-looking and smart. What more could you want?" is not a good pick up line. I nearly think the target audience for this book is disaffected teenagers who are contemplating shooting up their schools. They'd appreciate both the offscreen competence and the crazily immature motivations. One and a half stars.
The Prydain Chronicles (by Lloyd Alexander)
Some of the things we loved dearly in our childhood prove to be utter dreck when revisited; some of them still shine, golden. Prydain, I am pleased to find, is the latter. Lord of the Rings is about perservering against all odds (because I wanted to be Sam) - Prydain is about sacrificing the thing you hold most dear because it must be done. They're both good fantasy themes, but the latter is at the heart of the characters I love most. Somewhere inside every angst plot I've ever thought up is Fflewddur Flam, watching his harp burn.

It's a little odd to read it all in one volume - it's a hefty book, some eight hundred pages, so it feels like it ought to move a little slowly. But no, it's really five books, so things move at a breakneck pace. Eight pages in, the Horned King is on stage, chasing the pig through the forest. Gurgi is just as endearing as I remember, and thank God, Eilonwy didn't sniff or call Taran a wool-head even once. Five stars, the small bright twinkly kind that you wish upon, and not the large and far away sort made out of plasma.
Migration (by Julie Czerneda)
Book 2 of Species Imperative, of which Survival was the first. I liked the first book pretty well, and (as many second series books are) the sequel isn't quite as good. It starts a little slowly, with academic politics, but picks up when the aliens arrive. The two main aliens remind me a lot of the two aliens in Lilo and Stitch, but also are nicely alien. That section is probably the best; once the setting moves to the alien consulate, enough more characters are introduced as to make things a little muddled, and some of the more central characters fade off stage somewhat disappointingly. Czerneda does some nice hanging of guns on the wall to use towards the end, though she's not very subtle about it. There's a big Revelation towards the end that could be spotted a mile away (because the pre-revelation version of things just makes no sense), but most of the characters (including the allegedly smart ones) spend a lot of time putting their heads in bags of denial about the whole thing.

A small rant: the main character muses "Had the aliens truly left? And what did 'leaving' mean to beings who could make their own transects through space at will?" What a goofy thing to wonder! What does 'leaving' mean to people who have cars and can drive back after they've left? What does 'leaving' mean to people who can walk? It means going away, whether or not you might return later. It means the exact same thing that 'leaving' does in any other context! Sheesh! Three and a half stars. I still love her aliens, even if I quibble with her plotting.

Fearful Symmetry and Nine are free to good homes. The rest are MITSFS. So no useful borrowing here, but I can lend you the Skinner or something else good to make up for it. :)

Current Mood: cheerful cheerful

2 comments or Leave a comment
From: desireearmfeldt Date: August 28th, 2005 04:42 pm (UTC) (Link)


I haven't read those in a long time... I always had a suspicion they might not be as great to an adult reader as they were to a kid. But perhaps not. :)

Gurgi's mannerisms are the reason my mother refused to read the Prydain books aloud to me. :) (I was reading them myself anyway, but my parents read to me long after I could read on my own.)

The thing that's particularly poignant about the burning harp is it's a sacrifice made by a character who spends most of his time being comic relief. (And I notice that one sticks with you more than the sacrifices made by the more heroic characters at around the same point in the plot.) :)
From: readsalot Date: August 28th, 2005 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Prydain

I also haven't read those for a long time--it's good to know that I can try them again at some point. I tried other books by Lloyd Alexander after I'd finished those, but somehow the magic just wasn't there.
2 comments or Leave a comment