Monday, January 28, 2013

Dodger - Terry Pratchett

I was disappointed because I was expecting Discworld, and this isn't Discworld, it is the fictional story of Charles Dickens' inspiration for Oliver Twist, mainly for the character of the Artful Dodger. Also, it is a YA novel, so it's a bit shorter than you might expect, except that it is printed in a slightly larger font, on slightly thicker paper, so the book is about the same size as Snuff.

Once I readjusted my expectations, I quite enjoyed this. Dodger is a great character, and I did appreciate this being set in the real world rather than in Ankh-Morpork. The fantasy setting of the Discworld lets Pratchett point out a lot of things that are wrong with our society, but Dodger doesn't need the fantasy setting, because it has a historical setting, and I think the book is more powerful for having that historical setting. Especially in a novel targeted at young adults, it is great to have a book which references some of the cultural history - the story of Sweeney Todd, the origins of the London Peelers, the different layers of society, and some pretty significant research into the state of London's poor.

Overall a great book, and now I want to go read Oliver Twist with a fresh perspective.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Snuff - Terry Pratchett

The latest Discworld book, starring Sam Vimes. Usually one of my favorite Discworld characters, but somehow I didn't love him quite as much in this book as I usually do. Possibly because this story was a bit bleak, and I wasn't always sure he was going to survive...and I was sometimes worried that something horrible was going to happen to Sybil or young Sam. Possibly I will enjoy this more when I re-read it one of these days, but I was definitely a bit anxious - especially because the villains in the Sam Vimes books are truly bad and don't tend to stay captured. Also, Vimes has become a rather powerful character, so in order for things to actually threaten him, they need to be extremely dangerous.

On the other hand, there were many things I absolutely loved about this story - Willikins is a fabulous character and gets into the action a bit more than usual. The goblins are just wonderful. Vimes figuring out how to deal with the Summoning Dark is pretty fascinating too. Possibly my favorite aspect of the Vimes books nowadays is the fact that young Sam & Elli are the same age, and Pratchett has taken to publishing some of the books Vimes reads to young Sam - and so I've been reading them to Elli. We're currently reading "The World of Poo" and Elli seems to find it every bit as entertaining as young Sam, although thank goodness she isn't even a little bit interested in starting her own poo collection...mostly just in giggling every time the word poo comes up. Then there's Sam's relationship with Sybil, which is just wonderful. Every love story should end up this way, in a marriage where there is a huge amount of mutual respect. And the fact that they both go about changing the world in their own totally different, yet very complementary ways.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Long Earth - Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

I'm always nervous about collaborations between a beloved author and one I've never heard of before, but as usual I should just trust Terry Pratchett to know what he's doing. Also, I appear to be living under a log to never have heard of Stephen Baxter and now intend to go hunt down his other novels.

The idea behind The Long Earth is that there are a possibly infinite number of alternate versions of Earth, each only as far as a thought away. Up until very recently only a very few people were able to step between them, but now the schematics for a "Stepper", a device which allows one to step between worlds, has been published on the internet, and suddenly everyone is Stepping. Except for the few who can't. Also, iron does not move between worlds for reasons no one understands.

Joshua Valienté is a "natural stepper", and unlike those who need a device in order to Step, he doesn't get nauseous as he steps from one world to another. This makes him an ideal companion for Lobsang, either a sentient computer or a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated inside a computer, who plans to travel as far across the long earth as possible. There are a few other characters who stay closer to home, allowing us to see what happens to society when people can step pretty much anywhere they please. What happens to crime when theft is unbelievably easy, but there is enough space and resources for everyone? What happens when your gold supply becomes effectively infinite? Why farm when there is enough space for everyone to enjoy a hunter gatherer lifestyle?

The social implications of The Long Earth are fascinating, but by far the most interesting bit as far as I was concerned involved the alternate versions of Earth. The landscape changes slowly as Joshua and Lobsang travel farther from Datum Earth, and this does appear to be the only version of Earth which produced humans, but there are other sentient beings out there which are likely the basis for our legends of trolls & elves. But it is the landscape itself that I find the most fascinating, the unfolding of different possibilities.

Overall this felt like an introduction to the concept of the Long Earth, setting the stage for an infinite number of possible stories and I'm very interested in seeing where Pratchett & Baxter take this. Step Day is a singularity with huge potential, and it wouldn't surprise me if other authors wanted to come play in this particular sandbox.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

I saw a preview for the movie, and then when I saw the book sitting on my friend's desk I couldn't resist borrowing it. It is a fascinating book, largely because of the style in which it is written. It consists of 6 short stories, each split in half. You get the first half of each story in chronological order, followed the the second half of each story in reverse order, so that the 6th story which happens at the furthest point in the future is uninterrupted. The most fascinating thing about it, for me, was that in each story following the first, the main character discovers the previous story in some form or another.

Several people I spoke with found the 6th story very frustrating to read because of the language it is written in - set in the far future, English has changed rather a lot from what we use today. It definitely slowed me down, but I really enjoyed the social implications of the language - you can infer a lot about the history of a society based on its language, and Mitchell did a beautiful job of creating the language.

For me, the most frustrating thing was not really understanding what the whole thing was about until the very last page when finally things came together in a way that was incredibly satisfying. I think that in order to enjoy this fully, I need to sit down and read it over again - it would definitely go faster the second time, but I'm not sure I loved the characters enough to be willing to do this. Certainly not right away. Although I'm definitely tempted to go see the movie, which is apparently much easier to follow if you've already read the book.