Review: Darkover Landfall

Posted on September 22nd, 2017 @ 23:55
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Darkover Landfall (Darkover, #1)Darkover Landfall by Marion Zimmer Bradley

My rating:

Blurb:

Darkover, a planet of wonder, world of mystery, has been a favourite of science fiction readers for many years. For it is a truly alien sphere – a world of strange intelligences of brooding skies beneath a ruddy sun, and of powers unknown to Earth. In this new novel, Mario Zimmer Bradley tells of the original coming of the Earthmen, of the days when Darkover knew not humanity. This is the full bodied novel of what happened when a colonial starship crashlanded on that uncharted planet to encounter for the first time in human existence the impact of the Ghost Wind, of the psychic currents that were native only to that world, and of the price that every Earthling must pay before Darkover can claim for itself.

Review:

Erf. I’ve started re-reading this series, because I remember how much I loved it when I was a teenager… but damn, I didn’t remember this one was so bad. (Or is it because I sometimes used to like shite as a teenager, and that was part of it?)

The story in itself is not uninteresting, all the more since it’s THE origins book in the Darkover series, but the relationships… especially the way women are viewed and treated… Wow. That was one special level of bad.

 

I can sort of accept a patriarchal society, women being treated as wombs, etc. in the more 'medieval-like' novels of the series, because 1) it fits a certain conception of 'dark ages obscurantism', as cliché as that may be, and 2) as far as I remember, in those books, it was often presented as something that isn't so good: while it does remain infuriating, it's part of the conflict underlying those narratives.

Here, though, in a group of engineers, colonists, space crew, scientists, where men and women have similar levels of skills, with gender equality laws on Earth? Nope. Doesn't sit with me. Especially not as soon as pregnancies enter the picture, and give yet another reason for males (and some women!) to be patronising, chalk every reaction to 'she's pregnant', veer towards gaslighting at times (because obviously, the guys in the story know better than Judy Lovat who's the father of her child), and go spouting crap about how not wanting children is some sort of mental illness. Camilla's arc was particularly painful, because, yes, she is being reduced to a walking womb, what's with the doctor even threatening to sedate her during her pregnancy (actually, it does happen once), like some kind of stupid, ignorant being who needs to be locked for her own good. Empowering much, right?

So basically, you get accidentally pregnant (not through any fault of hers—ghost wind was to blame, same for her partner), while you thought your contraceptive was doing its job, you don't want to have a child, but you're denied an abortion. OK. Not cool. In the context of colonists stranded on a hostile planet, that poses an interesting conundrum (= it's obvious that either they need to spawn as much as possible, or they'll die in one or two generations). However, was it really necessary to lay it in such rude and demeaning ways? The Battlestar Galactica reboot has a similar subplot, but the episode about it was at least treated with much more gravitas and moral ambiguity.

It is also important to note that, no, Camilla didn't sign up for this, so treating her as a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum was inappropriate. Putting it back into context: she's an engineer and programmer, she signed up to be part of the ship's crew during the trip, not to be a colonist meant to help populate a new planet. And even in the event of staying on that colony, it would've been in a society where she would've had a few years to make the decision.

 

 

I have no idea if anyone considers this book as a 'feminist' work, but if you do, please stop. This is not feminist, it's patriarchy at its worst: insidious.

[To be fair, I didn't remember this book as being the best in the series either, nor my favourite at all, so I'm still going to try rereading 2-3 others.]

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Review: Good As You

Posted on September 17th, 2017 @ 21:47
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Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride - 30 Years of Gay BritainGood As You: From Prejudice to Pride – 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn

My rating:

Blurb:

In 1984 the pulsing electronics and soft vocals of Smalltown Boy would become an anthem uniting gay men. A month later, an aggressive virus, HIV, would be identified and a climate of panic and fear would spread across the nation, marginalising an already ostracised community. Yet, out of this terror would come tenderness and 30 years later, the long road to gay equality would climax with the passing of same sex marriage.

Paul Flynn charts this astonishing pop cultural and societal U-turn via the cultural milestones that effected change—from Manchester’s self-selection as Britain’s gay capital to the real-time romance of Elton John and David Furnish’s eventual marriage. Including candid interviews from major protagonists, such as Kylie, Russell T Davies, Will Young, Holly Johnson and Lord Chris Smith, as well as the relative unknowns crucial to the gay community, we see how an unlikely group of bedfellows fought for equality both front of stage and in the wings.

This is the story of Britain’s brothers, cousins and sons. Sometimes it is the story of their fathers and husbands. It is one of public outrage and personal loss, the (not always legal) highs and the desperate lows, and the final collective victory as gay men were final recognised, as Good As You.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

This was a really interesting insight into gay culture in the UK, from the seventies to nowadays: how it shaped itself, the hurdles gay people had to go through, how other people’s views gradually changed…

The book’s chapters follow specific themes, such as TV, AIDS, politics, football or pop music, rather than going in a purely chronological order. This makes for a rather comprehensive view of various areas of British culture, in the light of what being gay more specifically entails. The chapters are also well-segmented, and it’s fairly easy to pick up the book again if for some reason you had to leave it (to go do those pesky things called ‘work’ or ‘sleep’, for instance).

I learnt plenty here: how the introduction of explicitly gay characters in shows like East Enders or Coronation Street was perceived, how their actors were perceived at the time, how it changed with more recent series. Or how specific bands and singers were seen, who became a ‘gay idol’, who remained in the closet, who openly announced it. Or the many people who lost their lives to AIDS—and may not have, if they hadn’t had to remain closeted and more information had been available. Or Clause 28, which I had never heard about until now (not being from the UK probably didn’t help in that regard), and the journey from there to legalising same-sex marriages.

Paul Flynn interviewed quite a few interesting figures within the scope of this book, including Alison (who worked at the Lighthouse, offering end of life comfort to patients dying of AIDS), David Furnish (Elton John’s partner), or football player Robbie Rogers—not being particularly interested in football in general, I admit I somewhat knew that the latter is still a difficult area when it comes to being gay, but I wasn’t sure to which extent.

If anything, I would’ve liked to see more about the AIDS period, and somewhat less about the Kylie Minogue parts, so I guess I’ll have to pick other books for this.

Conclusion: Probably better as an introduction that will give you pointers to what to research in depth, so if you’re already very familiar with the country and period, the book might seem a little simplistic. Otherwise, go ahead.

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Review: Three Dark Crowns

Posted on September 6th, 2017 @ 21:42
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Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns, #1)Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

My rating:

Blurb:

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss.]

This is the story of an island on which, every generation, three potential queens are born: one with the power to poison and resist toxins, the other to command elements, the third to befriend animals and make plants grow. On the 16th birthday, then begins the year during which they have to fight, and only one of them will survive. ‘Fight’ meaning, of course, that the winner can only become so by killing the other queens, a.k.a as her own sisters.

Sounds like a gruesome premise, and obviously this got my attention, especially since two of the queens are complete underdogs, and presented as such from the start (the poisoner isn’t very good at resisting poisons in general, and the naturalist one can’t even make a bud flower, least of all call her own familiar). It’d be too easy for them to just get offed quickly, though, so I expected political manoeuvers and other intrigue moves. Which I got, at least partially, as the poisoners aim at discreetly making their queen look more seducing in order to garner support (get people to like you best, and they’re more likely to try and protect you from the other queens), and the elementalists hatch a plan of their own, with the poisoners in turn trying to divert it…

Too bad the story developed so slowly, and in a way that didn’t even allow to develop the queens’ characters that much. Well, to be fair—it’s not uninteresting, it’s just that, all things considered, the setting was ripe for much, much more intrigue (or to get more quickly to the beginning of the Ascension Year). So 80% of the book read like a prologue. On top of this, a couple of things rubbed me the wrong way; unfortunately, they were things that took up quite some space:

- The style. Sometimes I can do with third person present tense; other times, it just feels weird, and keeps throwing me out of the story. This was one of those times. (I’m really not convinced by that narrative style in anything longer than 20-30 pages, to be honest. Still waiting for a story to fully convince me.)

- The romance: Katharine’s… all right, there was a political edge to her getting lessons in seduction, and once you can seduce, I’m not surprised to see romance ensue with someone at some point. But Jules’s took too much from ‘Arsinoe time’. Not that I didn’t like Jules herself, only the guy takes up screen time instead of letting us see the Jules/Arsinoe relationship, which could’ve really shone as a strong friendship, and… let’s be honest, he’s nothing special, the triangle (of course there’s a triangle) is nothing special, and all the fuss didn’t make much sense to me. Colour me callous. Get out, Joseph. You’re an appalling boor.

This said, I was expecting a twist at the end, and there was one, and for once it wasn’t the one I was expecting. So there’s that, and I still want to read the next book to see how the actual Ascension Year is going to unfold (hopefully with more intrigue and less half-baked romance).

On the positive side:

- The characters weren’t too clever nor developed, but I quite appreciated that they weren’t all black-hearted, and certainly not from the beginning. As much as I bemoan the lack of intrigue-action, this kind of story wouldn’t be interesting at all if the characters supposed to kill each other could do so with a flick of a hand without even arching an eyebrow. Mirabella is sweet, and the one who’s least blinded by hate. Arsinoe is very much no-nonsense, knowing she’s very likely to be the first to die, yet not spending her time woe-is-me’ing herself. Katharine is scrawny and weakened by her training, but she doesn’t cry over it, and keeps doing her best and putting her willpower into it. They’re not perfect, oh no; nevertheless, they each have a likeable side.

- Surprisingly, I liked Billy, too. You’d think ‘obvious love interest’, but he was definitely more the good, loyal friend than the charming suitor, and this worked much, much better for me. Also, his (kind of) ballsy move at the Disembarking.

Conclusion: 2 stars. I really liked the last 20%, but I wish more time had been spent on the actual intrigue, with more blood and twists there, and less on the romance.

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Review: Yesterday

Posted on September 4th, 2017 @ 20:02
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YesterdayYesterday by Felicia Yap

My rating:

Blurb:

How do you solve a murder when you only remember yesterday?

Imagine a world in which classes are divided not by wealth or religion but by how much each group can remember. Monos, the majority, have only one day’s worth of memory; elite Duos have two. In this stratified society, where Monos are excluded from holding high office and demanding jobs, Claire and Mark are a rare mixed marriage. Clare is a conscientious Mono housewife, Mark a novelist-turned-politician Duo on the rise. They are a shining example of a new vision of tolerance and equality—until…

…a beautiful woman is found dead, her body dumped in England’s River Cam. The woman is Mark’s mistress, and he is the prime suspect in her murder. The detective investigating the case has secrets of his own. So did the victim. And when both the investigator’s and the suspect’s memories are constantly erased—how can anyone learn the truth?

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I’m not sure I can really call this ‘science fiction’—‘alternate history/contemporary world’, rather?— and for once I find ‘speculative fiction’ is actually more appropriate. ‘Yesterday’ is set in a 2015 world where people, due to a gene getting inhibited when they become adults, lose their short term memories. ‘Monos’ can only retain the previous days, while ‘Duos’ can retain two days… but nothing more. In order to function, people therefore have to keep writing in their diaries, and make a conscious effort to learn the important ‘facts’ that happened to them.

I found this premise quite interesting, especially when it came to setting a mystery in that world: how would an investigator go about their job, link clues together, if they can only rely on written facts and not on actual memories? Because they’re bound to forget to write some details that would then become important, only at the time they looked so trivial they didn’t think them so. This is DI Richardson’s conundrum, as the main investigator in Sophia Ayling’s suicide-or-murder case, since he knows he has to solve this very quickly, otherwise he may miss some important clues. Just like potential suspects will literally forget what a crafty interrogation session could have made them say. All of this, of course, while keeping in mind an important question: are diaries reliable?

The story revolves around four characters’ narratives and diaries: Claire Evans, a Mono ex-waitress who married a successful Duo writer, but struggles daily with her feelings of inadequacy compared to her husband’s ability to remember more; Mark Evans, whose career as a writer isn’t so satisfying anymore, just like his marriage, and who’s tempted to veer towards politics… and mistresses; Sophia Ayling, a woman with the rare ability to remember everything… including tiny little slights that built up into hatred and a deep desire for revenge; and Hans Richardson, the inspector determined to crack the case in one day, but who also harbours secrets of his own.

In itself, it was a fast-paced enough read (everything happens over 24 hours, after all), and one that kept my attention; the plot twists were easy enough for me to guess, yet at the same time I still wanted to see how the characters themselves, with their limited day to day memories, would go about making sense of everything that happened to them.

In the end, though, the memory limit proved to ask more questions than it provided answers, making the world building kind of… shaky? The society depicted here seems to have been built on the short term memory problem as if it had been here from the start. But while I can see how modern technology (paper diaries, then iDiaries—hello, parallel world Apple that I thought interesting in spite of being a little too obvious) would allow people to function, it makes one wonder how science and said technology developed in the first place: at some point, how was writing invented, if people couldn’t remember what they did two days ago, and couldn’t put it in written words? For me, it would’ve been more credible if the genetic shift had happened later in history—well, maybe it did, but the story doesn’t tell.

The ending, too, left me sceptical. I see what the author did there, but it felt too convoluted and resting on chance events (or perhaps, should I say, on a stroke of genius on one character’s part, but what led to it seemed too much like a convenient plot device?). Also, I would’ve expected the inspector character to make less blunders—either that, or other characters bearing on him for making them, because in the end there were no real consequences.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. It is an entertaining first novel, I just wished the memory loss premise had been exploited better.

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Review: Lady Mechanika vol.2 – The Tablet of Destinies

Posted on September 1st, 2017 @ 21:17
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Lady Mechanika Volume 2: Tablet of DestiniesLady Mechanika Volume 2: Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez

My rating:

Blurb:

After a young friend shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep, Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything to come to her aid. They embark on a globe-spanning trek filled with ancient artifacts, secret societies, and scientific curiosities, but Lady Mechanika is eventually confronted with an impossible decision: the life of her friend, or the fate of all humankind.

Set in a fictionalized steampunk Victorian England, a time when magic and superstition clashed with new scientific discoveries and inventions, LADY MECHANIKA chronicles a young woman’s obsessive search for her identity after a mad scientist’s horrific experiments left her with mechanical limbs and no memory of her past.

This volume collects the entire second LADY MECHANIKA story, The Tablet of Destinies, along with a gorgeous cover art gallery.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A slightly different take than in the first arc (which I read last month): this time, the story follows Mechanika from London to mysterious ruins on the African continent, following the trail of an old researcher who’s being forced to decrypt strange tablets under the threat of seeing his granddaughter killed. It’s not exactly the same kind of theme, and although some aspects were a bit cliché (of course the bad guys had to be German), I still appreciate it because… hey, let’s be honest, I do like myself a good old Victorian/early 20th century adventure with archaeologist-like people, secret societies, and, yes, in small quantities, even German bad guys. ;)

On the other hand, this volume didn’t bring anything to the bigger story hinted at in the first instalments (Mechanika’s origins, the history she shares with Commander Winter, the Engineer…), and I admit I would’ve liked to get a few more hints. It also keeps playing on the evil bad guy/female enforcer tropes, which, well, why not, but I hope this kind of dynamics will change later.

The drawing style remains detailed, with vivid colours that get more muted as they adapt to the various atmospheres of day and night. There’s still a lot of eye-candy, however this time I felt it took slightly less precedence depending on the scenes and panels (seriously, huge boobs and perceived sexy poses aren’t necessarily as exciting as they sound when it comes to depicting heroo-types characters… or, well, any character at all). And perhaps there were a few less walls of text, too? I read it in public transportation so I didn’t pay as much attention to that aspect I had noted in the first volume, to be honest.

Conclusion: The storyline remained entertaining, though definitely on the cliché side, and I can only hope this won’t last; nevertheless, large boobs over corsets notwithstanding, I liked the artwork.

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