So back when Portal was released in 2007 and I had been listening to Jonathan Coulton’s earworm ‘Still Alive’ on repeat for weeks, we decided we should make our own little fan tribute video-clip.
Mostly I think, because Lizbt liked the idea of eating cake.
Well, we shot it yesterday morning – and now I present it to you, dear readers, in all its humble glory!
Yes, it took a while before we got around to it. That’s just the way we roll. Or don’t roll, as the case may be. Or talk about how it would be really cool to roll, but then postpone the rolling for a few months until the conditions seem more optimum for rolling…
BUT just in time to be crazy-excited for the SEQUEL that is expected to drop in a day or two. OR MAYBE EVEN SOONER! Keep playing for those potatoes interweb peoples! (see here if you have no idea what I am talking about…)
Also this marks my first successful HD-video shoot and upload. Do more pixels make it more entertaining? You be the judge.
I do not have this cover. But I think it is one of the most beautiful and perfectly suited covers I have seen in a long while and I shall paw over it happily some time in the future.
Hello Dear Readers!
The title of this post refers to two things. Firstly, this blog is not quite dead, so don’t send flowers. Secondly I am going to post some words about Catherynne M. Valente’s latest book, Deathless.
So without further ado… Actually, there probably will be ado, but I’ll put it after the review in case any of Valente’s twitter followers end up here from a link, and they are anti-ado and just want to read about her book and be on their way.
DEATHLESS by Catherynne M Valente
This is, if wikipedia is to be believed, the author’s seventh published novel. I’ve always thought that seven is an important number in the world of fairy-stories, (second only to three) so the auguries were good before I’d turned a single page.
This work is a modern retelling of the story of Koschei (the Deathless of the title) and the girl Marya Morevna, weaving Russian folklore in with Russian history to create quite an epic story. I don’t know much of Russia or Russian history, other than what I gleaned from high school – and what reading a smattering of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov brings. Nor am I overly familiar with Russian folklore, but I did not find this to be at all a handicap.
I don’t doubt that a little more knowledge might have brought an extra layer of enjoyment to “Deathless” – but as it already stands as one of the finest books I have read in recent memory, and indeed have ever read – this hardly seems to matter much.
It is truly an amazing book. In the words of the inimitable Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”
Valente has taken the richness, both in pleasure and darkness, of Russian folklore, mixed in the brutal politics of Stalinist Russia, the brittle yet unbreakable bonds of love and marriage, added wonders all of her own and stitched them into a story that is by turns both opulent and stark, delightful and heartbreaking. It is a major achievement by an author in full command of her powers.
Which also makes it difficult to describe.
One of the things that struck me is the books juiciness, the tactile sensuality of its prose.The story takes you (quite literally) from feast to famine,and whether Valente is putting caviar in Marya’s mouth or stitching together a soldier to fight for the Red Army, her evocative style means the reader can taste the salt on their tongue, feel the wool in their hands. The language is lavish and rich but leaves enough room for the characters to breathe and the story to stand by itself.
Deathless spans many years and miles, and though the difference between the tone of chapters is very marked - particularly between the opening ones and the last three – there is a driving momentum to the book and it unwaveringly returns again and again to its essential preoccupations – blood, magic, love, clothes and food, the possessor and the possessed, death and undeath.
So there you go. I loved this book and I recommended it unreservedly to one and all.
I’m looking forward to a second read, too. The Firebird in particular, (a creature that Marya hunts down and shoots in the first third of the book), has stayed in my thoughts, as it does for Marya. It is mentioned often in Deathless and I really think there is something profound in the figure of the phoenix. Something to do with death and life, destruction and creation , being two sides of the same coin and how countries, marriages, people, even stories themselves can die and then be reborn -needto be even.
Right, well that is the reviewiest I get. I don’t do stars. But if you want a score I give it Four and a Half Cars With Chicken Legs, out of a possible Five.
Still here? Well as I’ve been away so long and it is nice and cozy in the Wildparticle booth, I might as well tell you a few little things about how I came to read Deathless, and my brief history with its titular character and its wonderful author.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t brought up with any ‘Koschei the Deathless’ tales. I was however practically raised on the manifold works of Jim Henson, and remember vividly one of his The Storyteller episodes entitled The Heartless Giant (a retelling of a Norwegian tale and the second last installment of the show.) In it the heartless giant has hidden his heart so that it can not cause him any pain. That idea in itself was fucking staggering to my already sentimental young self, but I was absolutely captivated when later in the story he describes where he has hidden it…
“Far away is a mountain, and in the mountain is a lake and in the lake is an island and in the church in the church is a well, in the well is a duck, in the duck is an egg and in the egg – is my heart.”
Tiny mind blown.
That bit stuck with me as strongly as other passages in The Storyteller like,
“And it happened in a week with two fridays that the cruel king heard of a prophesy. A child had been born reported his spies, a luck child. Poor as penants, rich as snow, the seventh son of a seventh son..” and of course,
“I am a teller of stories, a weaver of dreams. I can dance, sing, and in the right weather I can stand on my head. I know seven words of Latin, I have a little magic, and a trick or two. I know the proper way to meet a Dragon, I can fight dirty but not fair, I once swallowed thirty oysters in a minute. I am not domestic, I am a luxury, and in that sense, necessary…” which has pretty much served as my credo since age eight. But I digress. My point is, the seed was planted. Koschei, or at least his heart-hiding ilk were in the picture.
My next run in with His Deathlessness was contained in the pages of The Sandman. (Gaiman was to my adolescence, what Henson was to my childhood, and in fact I still read all ten volumes every year and have done since 1996.) Anyway, in issue#39 (collected as Fables and Reflections) a peddler woman is taking a boy, Vassily, through the contents of her sack and says,
“…this is the emerald heart of Koschei the Deathless. He kept his life in this heart, but a woman stole it, and he died.”
Koschei is only mentioned in passing in this one panel, but it was enough to get me very interested. In her acknowledgements in the front of the book Valente mentions having Russian folktales told to her by her partner and hearing that Koschei the Deathless is chained in a basement as an incidental detail and this led to the “Hang on WTF?” moment (my phrasing not hers) that became the genesis of her book. Which I empathise with, I had been reading Sandman long enough at this point to know that whoever this guy was he probably had a backstory, but Gaiman just sort of whisked past him and then back he went in the peddler’s sack never to return. (One of the chief pleasures of Sandman for me was that it served as a window into so many other stories, mythologies, characters. It was like a guidebook of the fantastic.) I even went as far as to look Koschei up on the net. Not Google him mind you, this was probably about 1995, so Webcrawler or Atavista would have been the go. But what I found didn’t excite. So I left it there.
Flash forward fifteen years and it is 2010 and I am attending Worldcon. One of the things I am most looking forward to is to hear and see the redoubtable Catherynne M. Valente, as I had loved what I had read of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship Of Her Own Making and then really, really enjoyed Palimpsest which I reviewed on this blog.
I never really posted the follow up story to Worldcon as promised, but the short version is this;
I went, she read from The Habitation of the Blessed, my interest became full on author-crush and then BECAUSE THE UNIVERSE LOVES ME I got to talk to her a bit, we hit it off, we went for a drink or two and now we chat on the interwebs and she is my BFF . (Are you reading this Cat? Hi. Hurry up and come to Continuum already…) And she generously gave me an ARC of Deathless on the proviso I review it (wow, it took me a while *sheepish*) and I got to meet Koschei, who will now for me always be Catherynne M. Valente’s Koschei and that is the way it was obviously meant to be. The end.
And if you’ve read this far, as a reward I present to you the cover of the copy I read…
This is ridiculous. It looks like the treasure maps I was obsessed with making as a kid. The ones you would tea stain and rip and fold up and re-fold. I am surprised the edges aren’t burnt. I mean what is that stain in the top right? Is that BLOOD?
Image for tangentially gaming related purposes, bonus points for guessing the game.
Hi there internets. I KNOW, it has been AGES. And here’s the thing… all of the things I said I was going to post last time I posted? I am not posting those. I mean, I still hopefully will. But not now. Now you get a poem.
I wrote this poem years ago. It was semi-autobiographical. I just stumbled across it last night. Which seems an odd coincidence because the weather here is wild, and I am running again after a long break due to injury. And the poem seems to have turned up again for a reason.
So without further ado…
I decided to go for run.
It was raining some and thundering some more
but I was young and bold and devilmaycare
so be-jogger-ed and sporting shorts
I bounded off into the sweaty night
lightning cheering me on.
my glasses fogged and
the rain having washed away my sense of direction
I was lost in a planned village
for the elderly and infirm.
My shoes filling with water
and my heart with fear
I panicked, gave up
Now as I wait out my remaining days
with biscuits and backgammon
I wonder what might have been
If the moon were a little brighter that night
or my feet
It occurs to me that Performance Poet is one of the many jobs I have dabbled in that I may have omitted to mention on this blog. Perhaps one day I’ll list them all for a laugh. (Along with a photo as me as a department store Christmas Caroler circa ‘89 and then department store Santa circa ‘06, just for a sense of the circular life of ridiculousness I lead.)
I did consider briefly that my readership might share the sentiments of my Year 10 English teacher, who thought poetry should only be shared ‘between consenting adults’. Then I thought. WHAT READERSHIP? I know that two people definitely read this blog. And they are not poetry -averse, so that’s settled.
Yeah, that’s right. Things just got Versical, yo. And personal. I post pictures of my cat very soon, Watch my ratings plummet. Perhaps I should attatch a photo of Kat Dennings to the bottom of this post. Worked for http://www.lukemiltonwrites.com/ I believe…
Well folks, it has been a long while. I mean practically half a year ago. Not a post from me, not even a small one to mention who won the Hugos after all my in-depth scoring.
(Yes, I did attend the Hugo Awards – not only that but I met a number of the Hugo-nominated authors and ACTUALLY one of them was just amazing and we are practically BFF’s now. All true. I’ll spill the details later…)
And I’ll be honest, after so long an absence I feel uncomfortable returning with anything other than my A+ material.
SO,IMPORTANT POSTS OF IMPORT TO FOLLOW. The first is right here and now – may I present ME EATING AN ICECREAM (Sort of..)
The book I ended up paying the most amount of $$ for. Ah, the irony.
So. I should start with a disclaimer that this is the second book in a trilogy and I didn’t track down the first one to read. (There was a deadline!) I DID however read a detailed synopsis of the first book, so I was at least familiar with the plot – if not the intricacies of the characters and their relationships.
(Fellow Hugo Reading Racer Lizbt didn’t even read a synopsis and she felt that picking up this trilogy, 2nd book in was easy enough.)
The verdict, did I like it? Short answer? No. Long answer? Noooooooooooooooooooo.
I found it easy enough to get through, and the concept of a benevolent emergent A1 is fascinating – but I just couldn’t get past the dialogue. The characters are likeable enough, and seem well rounded. But then this kind of thing happens.
Character 1 – “That reminds me of an experiment I read about once, and my various opinions regarding, religion, society, same sex marriages and God.”
Character 2 – Really? How so?”
Character 1 – “Well, INSERT AUTHOR’S CLUMSILY SANDWICHED IN LECTURE HERE.”
I mean I know authors have opinions on things. I like to hear their opinions, I don’t even mind if a character serves as a convenient mouthpiece for a writer to theorise or explain something that they are passionate and informed about. But really, some of the ‘conversations’ in this book are just groan-inducing. It is unusual for a book to remind me of B-movie dialog but this one did it. I don’t care how intelligent they are – two 16 yr old girls simply don’t converse the way they do in this book. Hell, two PEOPLE of any age or gender don’t converse like they do in this book.
I’ll admit I am ignorant as to the other work of Robert J Sawyer - from what I gleaned reading his official bio he seems to be a well respected and prolific writer – but frankly I was extremely surprised that a pro was writing dialogue this awkwardly information heavy. On one memorable occasion two hormone riddled teenagers, who the author makes quite clear are inexperienced in the ways of romance, manage to have one of these clunky ‘conversations’ about evolution and consciousness and nationhood all the while fumbling towards their first proper make-out session.
It simply did not ring true. I scoffed. I mean I actually made scoffing noises out loud. And now I am using my personal blog to scoff in an ever-more public way. SCOFF SCOFF! I SCOFF AT YOUR DIALOGUE ROBERT J SAWYER!
(I know! Aren’t I insensitive? If he reads this he will be crushed, poor Hugo and Nebula Award-winning dear…)
So we are done! All the books read and soon I will lodge my electronic ballot. With five whole days to spare.
Thank you for reading along with all my reading, Dear Reader.
Now – all the books must be given a preference from 1 through to 5. I throw this question out to the vast readership of my blog, you out there in internet land, HOW WILL I VOTE?
You read the scorecards, now make the call! 1 through to 5.
If you get it right you WIN a VALUABLE* PRIZE!
Simply comment below as to how you think I will vote. All the books, 1-5.
Those books are, in the order I read them…
“The City and the City” by China Meiville
“The Wind-Up Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America” by Robert Charles Wilson
“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest, “Palimpsest” by Catherynne M Valente
“WWW: Wake” by Robert J Sawyer
Get to it, Readers! I know you are out there, I can hear you breathing!
See! Middle initial again. So, what’s it to be? Wild M. Particle, Wild B. Particle III, W. B. Particle Jnr ? A difficult choice…
*value may be sentimental rather than fiscal, immediate Lizbt’s and their immediate families are ineligible. (What, the heck, you can enter if you want M1K3Y…)
I was excited about this book, as I had read several chapter’s of Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (soon to be published and all but the last chapter up to read free here!) and enjoyed them immensely. This book turned out to be quiet different in tone – much more adult – though similarly packed with gorgeous sentences and fanciful creatures and inspired locales. I was absolutely delighted however, to discover that Fairyland is in fact referenced in Palimpsest. (Though from her website I have gleaned that Valente didn’t actually begin writing Fairyland until Palimpsest was already in circulation – and readers were continually asking her about the book within the book, if it existed, or if she had made it up in which case could she hurry up and write it please…)
My excitement as it turns out was entirely justified. This is a fantastic (in every sense of the word) book - much of the prose I found so sensually evocative I felt as though I was transgressing some un-named social convention by reading it on public transport. Picture me, your humble reviewer, coming across a particularly vivid (and frequently carnal) passage and loosening his suddenly uncomfortably tight neck-tie to let out some literary steam – like a bowler-hatted Upstanding English Gentleman reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover on a tube train in the 60’s – and you get the idea.
I will be re-reading Palimpsest – I don’t know that the plot really demands a second reading, as it is relatively uncomplicated, but there are some descriptive passages that I simply must dip my fingers into again – one serving was not enough.
It is getting increasingly difficult to decide who to vote for!
Next up WWW:Wake by Robert J Sawyer.
Middle initial, see? Clearly I need to get one if I want to get published.
So I am falling more than a little behind in the Hugo Reading Race, two books left to go and not a great deal of time to read them. I had also hoped to read all of the short stories and novellas too if possible – though that goal may prove too ambitious at this stage.
Anyway, here is the latest, and boy did I get stuck on this one. It wasn’t that it was a chore to read, I just kept stumbling along all sorts of other material and found myself devouring it instead. Magazines, online content, comics, other books. Anything other than the novel in question. Which leads me to the novel in question -
Trade Secret – I actually do a draft copy of these scorecards. That is right, what you have been seeing are the 2nd, neater versions. (As I may have mentioned previously on this blog I grip writing implements like an ape unfamiliar with the tools of man, and the resulting writing gets pretty illegible I’m afraid…)
I enjoyed this book, I mean what’s not to enjoy – zombies, airships, lots of characters with a legitimite, environmentally-based reason to dress like they are at a Steampunk ball. So yeah, I liked it. I did not love it. I’m not going to buy it, and I couldn’t see me ever picking up a copy that was laying about for a re-read. We had a nice time but it is not coming up for coffee, and I will not be calling it in a day or two.
A few reasons. It did not surprise me. I mean, ever surprise me. The closest there was to a plot revelation was a something that I had already assumed was the case a few chapters in. Not much really happened, I mean there was set pieces galore and plenty of furtive and adventuresome travel through a condemned and forgotten alternate-Seattle but I found it all a bit claustrophobic, the story never really took flight for me. (Also – I found the geography a complete mystery. I admit following such things is not my strong point but as far as I could tell it was all just “Up, we need to go up!” and “The only way out it down, try to head down!” If you say so….)
My next difficulty I can practically copy and paste from my earlier Wind-Up Girl post – I did not care about the characters. The mother and son duo I was supposed to be rooting for? Meh. Ezekiel was a brat, and Briar wasn’t much better. Am I just supposed to like them because they have cool names? I mean there names are cool, I am not arguing – but what were there defining characteristics? Briar was what… feisty? Good with a rifle? Ezekiel was.. 15? Pissed off all the time? As for the rest of the characters -with the notable exception of Lucy – they all seemed to a succession of broad chested men with different shaped helmets. The few villains of the piece were very sketchily drawn. Dr Minnerecht I found uncomfortably cliche, he may as well have steepled his fingers and given an evil laugh or two as he trotted out the obligatory ‘you are my guests, enjoy my plush hospitality but you cannot leave speech’. (His right hand-man-lieutenant-type initially seemed quite interesting, but his role proved to be cameo-sized.)
The last thing that I found underwhelming, (and feel free to argue here) was the lack of any kind of levity. I didn’t crack a smile throughout the whole book. I mean sure – the world of the novel is a pretty grim place, but since when did that stop a chuckle or two? Personally I think if the author was shooting for any kind of ‘adventure-romp’ tone, adding a touch of black humour might not have been amiss. But apparently the people the Blight-gas didn’t turn into “rotters” had their funny-bones boiled away. (Along with their libidos it seems… but don’t get me started on that.)
All right. Only two books left, on to Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valentewe go!
This cover is about as Steampunk as you can get without featuring actual steam. Actually, the right lens of her oh-so-hip-with-the-kids brass goggles looks a little steamed, so there you go…
Like Richard III, except without the tyrant. No wait – there is a tyrant in this book. Two in fact, depending on how you choose to look at it.
If you want to know who Mister Charles Curtis Easton is then read the book!
So, Julian Comstock.
I really liked it. I had more than that to say I think, back when I finished the book and filled out the scorecard about 3 WEEKS AGO. But for some reason no post was forthcoming. Maybe it was because my Co-Hugo-Racer Lizbt has already read all the damn books and soundly thrashed me weeks out from the deadline…
So here we are.
*SPOILER* (Though not a major plot point)
The footnote, the bit that all my asterisk’s were referring to is the fact that there is a book within the book that features an octopus on the cover despite not actually having an octopus in the story. And as you will note, the cover for this book has an octopus on it despite the fact that there is not really an octopus – though of course in one sense there is because there is the book with the octopus on the cover that doesn’t have an octopus in it. RECURSIVE! I love it! (And considering that I had randomly decided to include the IS THERE AN OCTOPUS? question on the scorecard I was rather excited…)
Tangent- I always loved that bit during the conclusion of the “The Goonies” when Data says “The Octopus was very scary!”, it just seemed so wonderfully mad that he was embellishing their adventure and lying about an octopus when the truth of what they had been up to was already so fantastically unbelievable. Then 18 years later I watched the deleted scenes from the DVD release and discovered there WAS AN OCTOPUS, only the creature effect was so woeful that they had removed it from the finished film. True story.
I am on to “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest now, and enjoying it so far. My progress is not very swift though, so don’t expect another post for a week or so at the very minimum.
N.B I have decided to go back through the previous posts and added scans of the book covers for you. Because I love you. Yes, you.
I do so hope the next author’s name is easier to spell.
The previous Hugo entry, “The City and the City” by China Mieville took me three days. This volume, Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl”, took me thirteen. Admittedly it was a little longer, but not considerably so – hence the Pageturnability of ‘3′ on the scorecard above.
Lets get to it then! Did I like this book? Well, it was certainly filled with some original ideas.
I found the world of the book quite fascinating. Set in a not-too-distant future Bangkok, global warming has raised the levels of the oceans, the US Empire is no more, carbon fuel is depleted and manually wound springs are what people use for energy. Biotechnology and GM foods have wreaked havoc with the worlds animal and plant-life and ‘calories’ are the most precious of commodities. The prose is rich and descriptive and I never felt less than genuinely immersed in a foreign, but tangibly plausible and detailed, time and place.
The setting gets a big tick then. My problem really, lies with the characters and to a lessor extent, the plot.
My primary gripe with the characters is that there were too damn many of them.
Don’t get me wrong- I believe a book this length can have as many people in it as the author needs to tell their story, but almost half-way through I found myself groaning every time a new ‘central player’ was revealed. It just began to seem increasingly unlikely as I went on the that all of these admittedly interesting people were going to have time to contribute to the story or interact with each other in any meaningful way before I got the last page. And for my money, they didn’t.
My second problem with the characters was the deal-breaker, and to be honest probably would have prevented me from even finishing the book if it weren’t part of this Hugo Adventure – I did not care about ANY of them.
I mean they weren’t all despicable or entirely unlikeable but I just didn’t empathise with any the scheming lot enough to care what happened to them. Who was I supposed to be rooting for? Anderson, the Calorie-man? Because he was WASPish and therefore easy identify with? (For this white-boy reader anyway) Hock-Seng the paranoid refugee? Jaidee the idealistic bully? (Don’t even get me started on Kanya… what a void of a character…) Or was I supposed to be interested in Emiko, the Windup Girl of the title? Well I wasn’t. (Sure, some horrible things happen to her and she has some serious abilities but suffering and ninja-speed do not a protagonist make…)
Essentially, it just boiled down to the fact that I didn’t care about anyone in the book, so found it hard to really get excited as the plot (eventually) started to pick up the pace and Shit Went Down.
I don’t think any of the Hugo Adventure will be bad as such, and I’m not suggesting this one is without some serious merit - I mean presumably they were all nominated as the best the year had to offer in sci-fi for a reason. But here is hoping that whichever story I pick up next isn’t quite such a chore to get through…
Ok. Two down, four to go.
Next up – “Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America”
Is it just me, or is putting ‘astute social commentary’ not really setting a potential reader’s mind aflame with a desire to read the book? Maybe it is just me, maybe other people read ‘astute social commentary’ on the cover and are all like “Oh man, this author is totally going to use their imagination and rhetoric to examine some kind of social issue and maybe even try to promote change through a effective allegory. Strap me down, man. Shit is about to get real!”