Monthly Archives: June 2012

Review: The Color of Magic

The first book of Terry Pratchett’s that I read was a desperation buy. This is nothing against him; allow me to explain. I was in LaGuardia airport, sniffling and feeling very for myself because a freak Spring snowstorm had delayed my flight for over 24 hours. As is typical for me, I sought refuge in the obligatory airport bookstore. The books they had were largely unappealing to me. I sat on the floor — all the better to mope — and a little white book with red type caught my eye. It was Good Omens, the epic and hilarious collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I had already finished the novels I’d brought with me from home, so I bought it. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as it became one of my favorite novels and made me a fan of each of the collaborating authors. I finished it the same day I bought it, and I’ve read it at least a half dozen times since. (Actually, this makes me realize that I really ought to have reviewed it on this blog, given my adoration of it. Even without a full review, though, know that I highly recommend it!)

As I said, Good Omens led me to read more of Pratchett and Gaiman’s independent works. Recently, I decided to embark on the journey to Discworld, a fantastical universe of Terry Pratchett’s creation. An impressive 39 Discworld novels have been published as of September 2011, so it’s quite a series. Books in the series have won awards, been adapted for television, and regularly land on bestseller and recommended reading lists. After reading about Discworld, including a theory on an alternate timeline/reading order, I decided to keep things simple and just start with the first book. Thus I arrived at The Color of Magic, which was first published in 1983, before I was even born.

The Color of Magic centers on Twoflower, an endearingly bumbling tourist in Discworld. He is grudgingly accompanied by Rincewind, a failed wizard who only knows one spell and is terrified to use it. Pratchett intersperses the story with background and mythology of Discworld, all of which is just as entertaining and amusing as the main characters’ escapades. To begin with, Pratchett explains that Discworld is resting on the backs of four giant elephants, which are in turn riding on the back of A’Tuin, a gigantic turtle that carries the world through space. There is heated debate in Discworld on as to the gender of A’Tuin, though the rest of the heavenly conveyance is common scientific knowledge. This is a world inhabited by not only humans, but also trolls, elves, nymphs, dragons, sentient plants, and of course, magicians.

Twoflower is from a place very different than the city of Ankh-Morpork, which he decides to visit because he wants to meet heroes and villains, and — if he’s lucky — maybe even get into a brawl. His inclination to seek adventure is a major thorn in the side of his hired guide Rincewind, who prefers to run, hide, and otherwise avoid all types of danger. Together, Twoflower and Rincewind make an otherworldly odd couple. Twoflower is happily taking photos of men who are trying to kidnap him, while Rincewind wearily attempts to fend of the myriad threats that Twoflower’s flamboyant behavior attracts. After being involved in the incident that starts a fire that literally burns Ankh-Morpork to the ground, Rincewind decides he and his charge had better cut and run for the forest, where there is slightly less of a chance for calamitous mishaps. This though, however, just goes to show that Rincewind underestimates Twoflower’s prodigious ability to attract trouble and embroil himself in all manner of sticky situations. Twoflower’s saving grace is his thirst for adventure and discovery; he somehow manages to continually come out on top and even get chances to do things he never imagined he’d be able to do.

The Color of Magic is a perfect beach read, summer escapism and fantasy at its humorous best. Pratchett’s world is one that we recognize from many older, heavier traditions of fantasy and science fiction, but his light tone and sharp wit breathe a new life and buoyant attitude into the genre. It’s a fast read: only about 200 pages. Of course, this is just the first step in Pratchett’s decades-long exploration of Discworld and its inhabitants. I definitely plan to read much more of the Discworld series.

Happy reading!

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Review: The City & The City

China Miéville’s novel The City & The City certainly lives up to its author-given label  of weird fiction. Rest assured, I mean that as a compliment. It’s a little bit paranormal, but totally rooted in the real world. It’s strange, but makes sense in its own way. It gives commentary on many aspects of modern society and culture, without getting pretentious. Essentially, Miéville gives the reader a thoroughly foreign fictional world that is recognizable and relatable regardless of its oddity.

There is no exposition; Inspector Tyador Borlú arrives at the crime scene on page one, kicking off the investigation that drives the novel. A body of a young woman has been found in an alley of Besźel and Borlú is heading up the case. The young woman is initially a “Fulana Detail” (the Besź name given to unknowns, the equivalent to “Jane Doe” in the United States), but Borlú and his partner Corwi quickly turn up multiple names and aliases for her. Their investigation takes many erratic and unorthodox turns, including some clues that come from sources that Borlú can’t even admit to having been in contact with.

This secrecy is due to the politics of Besźel — and its neighboring city of Ul Qoma. The two cities occupy the same geographic location, but they operate as entirely separate entities that don’t even acknowledge each other unless forced to do so. The people of Besźel and Ul Qoma are raised to “unsee” the opposite city and its citizens, a psychological training that allows them to ignore foreign happenings, even if they are unfolding right next to them. Each considers the other to be an international city, and the consequences for breaking the invisible barriers between the cities is swift and irreversible. There is a shadowy sort of secret police called Breach that enforces the rules of unseeing with an iron fist, to the point that both Besź and Ul Qomans don’t even like to mention the dark organization. There is also the shadowy possibility of a third city, Orciny. The characters generally consider Orciny to be a folk legend, but Borlú is forced to reconsider his beliefs when the third city becomes a major factor in his investigation.

It takes some time as a reader to fully understand the intricacies of the relationship between Besźel and Ul Qoma, but to me, the interplay between the city and the city was just as interesting as the murder mystery that spans both locations. I really enjoyed Miéville’s language and writing style, as well as the imagery he crafts. The murder investigation is almost secondary at times to the history and politics of the cities; I generally didn’t mind this, but at times it made the pacing drag somewhat. This certainly isn’t a thriller, but it is still an excellent mystery, with plenty of viable suspects and shifting motives. Miéville had me guessing literally right up until the murderer was revealed.

I realize this is a much vaguer description and review than usual, but I think that part of what makes this novel unique and worthwhile is the gradual dawning of understanding and the feeling of working right alongside Borlú to unravel the case. I definitely recommend reading The City & The City, and so I don’t want to ruin anybody’s independent journey through the pages. I honestly don’t think I would have liked it nearly as much had I known what was happening from the outset. My recommendation: dive into the weird fiction world of Miéville. Don’t give up on this novel if it seems slow or nonsensical at points. Read through to the end, because the final twist not only comes out of nowhere, but forces you to continue to reevaluate the events of the novel long after you finish reading.

Happy reading!

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Two reviews coming soon!

I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks, during which I had extremely limited computer access (mostly by choice — who wants a laptop at the beach?). I did, however, keep my access to books very open, of course.

I’ll be posting reviews of The City & The City as well as The Color of Magic very shortly. Just wanted to let you know! Now I just have to decide which of my mountain of books to read next!

Happy reading!

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We Say Goodbye to Another Literary Giant

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, passed away yesterday at age 91. Bradbury, though most famous for his science fiction works, saw a marked difference between the works that he deemed fantasy versus those he called science-fiction: fantasy is about things that would not happen, while science fiction might very well come to pass. Despite critics and readers alike lauding him for his breath of life into the science fiction genre, Bradbury preferred to consider himself a fantasy writer. Whatever category he falls into, however, I genuinely believe Bradbury dominates. His work has been unparalleled for decades, and I imagine it will remain so far into the future.

Bradbury was a prolific author, and much is to be said for his elegant prose, imagination, and often jarringly accurate vision. I’ve only ever reviewed one of his books, Fahrenheit 451, on this blog (read it here), but Bradbury was quite prolific, and not one of his novels or short stories is remotely dull. Two excellent obituaries can be read in the LA Times and the Seattle Times. While he may be overlooked sometimes in the current digitized age, I hope Bradbury knows he and his work will never be forgotten. I, for one, will forever relish the feel of the pages of a book, that smell that is peculiar to newly printed and bound novels, and the lasting enjoyment that comes from reading. As long as there are other bibliophiles like me, we will never let the printed word lose its vitality and importance.

Even in sadness, but especially in Bradbury’s memory — happy reading!

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This is what it has come to.

Only moments ago, my boyfriend looked at me in slightly bemused exasperation and asked, “Is this what your addiction has come to?” He was referring to the fact that after my last post, in which I pondered whether I should lay off buying books for a while, I went out and bought two books. (In my defense, I had a coupon for 20% off at Barnes and Noble that was going to expire in less than 48 hours.) I then hid these books in my nightstand so he wouldn’t find them and get mad.

Then, last night, I bought three more books. (Again in my defense, I was at Bookmans and I had trade credit and I needed some summer reading material. Not that my other 54 books aren’t summer reading material… I just wanted more. Yes, for those of you keeping count, I’m now up to 57 unread books. My “To Buy” list is down to 48, though!)

It seems that until my budget prohibits it, I’m going to keep buying books faster than I can possibly read them. I’m okay with this. My wallet… not quite so much. Really, though, there are much worse ways I could be spending my money.

Happy reading!

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