Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 08:02 on 11-04-2014, Tamara
It might be a question that doesn't matter that much, if the novel was structured to evoke a purely emotional response. Except that I found Deathless too distant to evoke that reaction in me....which is why I got distracted by all the other stuff.

I found it a bit too tricky, or clever, at the beginning, for any real emotional engagement. With the setting and the neat fairy tale-real life mapping and even the "poor little rich girl" of the early soviet experience stuff. (Not necessarily the historical facts, just that it felt like it was couched in the language and style, and particularly sentiments of a contemporary, very western children's or YA story that didn't do much for me.)

But then as the book went on and actually got messier and less logical, and it became harder to simply dress the history or the characters onto the legend, or separate the fairy tale characters from reality, and particularly as the structures of reality and power established earlier began to fall apart and twist around...I have a very hard time putting my finger on why, exactly, but I ended loving the last third or so, and it got a genuine emotional reaction out of me.
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at 06:16 on 11-04-2014, Kit
Topic mashup ahead:

Has anyone else heard of The Wicked + The Divine? It's by the same guys who did the Marvel Now! Young Avengers thingie, which I've had a peek at but not read yet (I'm quite disposed to like it purely on the strenght of their Latina Miss America, who appears in the first pages). I don't know what to think about The Wicked + The Divine - on the one hand, it looks insanely cool, but there is also a faint possibility of a certain problematic cultural appropriation...? I'll give it a go in any case. Maybe I should review it :)

Also, my Wilkie Collins-binge is still ongoing. Now that I've read four (well, three and a half) novels of his, I'm starting to see some connections - it's quite fun to see certain types of characters reused but illuminated from a completely different perspective, or plots that provide the basis material for long, tortuous intrigues in one novel being used as merely the starting point of another. And I think his long-winded sense of humour is growing on me. I NEED HELP.
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at 17:23 on 10-04-2014, Michal
I'm not so much interested in cultural accuracy as with engagement. Valente is obviously trying to say something using Russian fairy tales, I'm just not sure what, exactly, that is. It might be a question that doesn't matter that much, if the novel was structured to evoke a purely emotional response. Except that I found Deathless too distant to evoke that reaction in me....which is why I got distracted by all the other stuff.
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at 08:07 on 10-04-2014, Kit
Hah, couldn't resist the German :) Aaannnd cue the conspiracy theorists (or micro-conspiracy theorists. Or something.). I'm sure we're enough to give them plenty of fodder by now...
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at 08:04 on 10-04-2014, Tamara
That said, I'd love to read a review by someone more familiar with Russian folklore than I am--Poles and Russians have some fairy tales and figures in common, but there are also some pretty distinct differences.

I'm not sure. I guess we could pick things apart for cultural accuracy and whathaveyou, (ala, IIRC from an old discussion someplace, Valente herself does to Adam Robert's Yellow Blue Tibia,) but that just strikes me as a deeply uninteresting way to think about a book. I'm weirdly unfamiliar with Russian folklore despite it, um, er, being my first language (my parents read science fiction to me for bedtime stories and in general are a slight lassaize faire lot when it comes to parenting, I guess) and I did try to look at it without that knowledge while I was reading.

I agree it doesn't add up to any particular coherent mythology, but I still found something there, some underlying anger or grief or something like that, in speaking the war and the violence of the soviet experience.
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at 03:36 on 10-04-2014, Robinson L
Kit: Ein Gespenst geht um auf FerretBrain... ;)

[One translation - courtesy of ptolemaeus - later] Ah-ha-ha-ha, that's terrific.
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at 02:13 on 10-04-2014, Michal
Tamara: Valente is just such a skilled writer in a technical way, I think, that it kind of covers up the gaps in the actual contents.

One review of Deathless described the cumulative effect of Valente's prose as akin to "being beaten to death with an arrangement of dried flowers." I think there's some truth in that, at least in my own reaction to the text. I found this one more accessible than, say, Palimpsest, if only because I actually managed to finish it (which is more than I can say for most of the novels/short stories by her I've tried). But there are still moments when the stylistic flourishes make the text so opaque it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on.

Besides the prose, the more I ponder the, uh, folkloric substratum of the story, the less satisfied I am with it. Especially the superposition of Slavic fairy tale figures like Koschei or Baba Yaga onto a framework that I don't think gels very well with the source material. There's no organizing principle of a Czar of Life/Czar of Death behind any Russian fairy tales that I know of. Koschei is just a dude, y'know? Being familiar with the story of Marya Morevna somehow makes the ending of Deathless make even less sense...so while there are isolated moments I found quite beautiful, the whole doesn't quite cohere. That said, I'd love to read a review by someone more familiar with Russian folklore than I am--Poles and Russians have some fairy tales and figures in common, but there are also some pretty distinct differences.
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at 00:52 on 10-04-2014, Kit
Gosh, how many of us are on the site, at this point?

Ein Gespenst geht um auf FerretBrain... ;)

Also, I almost picked up Deathless just one day before it got mentioned here - maybe that's a sign? Now that I'm in the US I wanted to take the opportunity of shopping for reasonably-priced books in English without relying on Amazon (baaahh), but I don't know if I should give that one a try.
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at 00:36 on 10-04-2014, Robinson L
Tamara: Sleepy Hollow is silly, frantic fun, but also has just enough built political subtexts to not exhaust my interest after three episodes the way this sort of thing usually does, although I did lose attention by the end of the season.

I really enjoyed the first season of Sleepy Hollow; it's fun adventure with likable, well-written characters (many of whom are black), and there were some huge twists towards the end of the season that I completely failed to see coming.

I probably won't watch Reign, though, unless my sisters get into it and pull me along with them (which is how I get into most TV shows, including Sleepy Hollow).


Michal: Matthew Reilly is writing epic fantasy now.

Oh my, that is something, now. Should make for quite a spectacle.

Even so, I'll probably wait for the audiobook. Or the review/podcast discussion. Hopefully the latter, as it'll most likely give the best parts of Reilly, and a hilarious commentary to go along with it.


Kit: this has nothing to do with the previous discussion, parts of which have been delighting my little anarcho-marxist heart

Gosh, how many of us are on the site, at this point?


Tamara: There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.

I feel like that's one of Rowling's strengths in general - eminently readable to large numbers of people, even when the content leaves something to be desired.
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at 11:54 on 09-04-2014, Tamara
I gravitated to the premise of the Casual Vacancy because - while uninteresting in itself - it sounded totally like Rowling playing to her strengths, and that sharp eye she has for pettiness, hypocrisy and dark comedy...and it really lived up to it. I thought the wrap up ended up being a little neat, but getting there had some fantastically vicious moments. (I'd rank it above the Galbraith book, which is surprisingly nicer to its characters and setting. I'd have though she might have a few choice observations for the world of small-time celebs and papparazi, but she seems to hold back there.)
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at 11:41 on 09-04-2014, Arthur B
I liked The Casual Vacancy too. Oddly (or not) neither of them are, like, totally brilliant, and neither are my usual thing, but I finished both books in one sitting, which isn't something i've done in a long, long time. There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.

I gave The Casual Vacancy a miss because I just found it deeply uninteresting as a premise, but as I've said previously I'm a partisan for Galbraith and thought the first one was the best and most readable Rowling since Prisoner of Azkaban. Between that and TROLL MOUNTAIN the publishing world is making me very happy currently.
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at 11:32 on 09-04-2014, Tamara
Valente/Deathless - I quite enjoyed it when I read it, but as time has passed I have an increasingly hard time in figuring out what it was exactly it was that I like about it. Valente is just such a skilled writer in a technical way, I think, that it kind of covers up the gaps in the actual contents. Did that story make any sense? Did it say anything interesting? I honestly just don't know, I just know it generated a whirl of thoughts and emotions, and that's not necessarily a mean feat at all.

Rowling - Oh, good, the new Galbraith book is coming out. I liked the first one. That's all i've got on that.(I liked The Casual Vacancy too. Oddly (or not) neither of them are, like, totally brilliant, and neither are my usual thing, but I finished both books in one sitting, which isn't something i've done in a long, long time. There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.)
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at 11:03 on 09-04-2014, Arthur B
Lynn Shepherd fires some point-missing smack talk in JK Rowlings' direction, heaps of angry rebuttals (including one from Anne Rice) miss the point as well.

I'm not getting into the debate about "oooh, you're so entitled" because that often descends into Randroid belittling of people on the grounds that they aren't billionaires and are pointing out the golden opportunities given to others but denied to them. But the question Shepherd's points prompt in me is: has Shepherd been in a brick-and-mortar bookshop lately? Because whilst Rowling does get a prominent push, she's far from a dominant presence in my local Waterstones, and you could forget her adult fiction even exists most of the time. (It's slightly different now because her next Robert Galbraith book is coming out soon, but even then the push consists of a number of prominent posters and a single display of the previous Galbraith book, which is about what you'd get if any other top dog author were bringing something out.)

It isn't as though Rowling is churning out volume after volume after volume of stuff; her pace of publication is, if anything, fairly modest. Unless half the authors on the shelves are other Rowling pseudonyms I'm not seeing that she's crowding anyone out from any publishing niche other than "current top-selling author", and by definition that's a niche only one author at a time can occupy and 99.99999% of all authors can never seriously expect to occupy.
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at 21:14 on 08-04-2014, Michal
Speaking about conversation fodder, I would love to talk to someone about Deathless by Cat Valente, mostly because I still haven't sorted out whether I liked it or not and have some major reservations about certain aspects of the narrative. (It also occurs to me that this would also make great material for podcast, and I host one, so anyone interested can reach me here and we can possibly work something out).
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at 09:27 on 08-04-2014, Tamara
Adrienne, would you talking a bit about what the issues are? Not with regard to Valentine in particular, just seems like good fodder for conversation :-)

With the Mechanique novel, at least (can't speak to the short stories) it is a collapsey sort of setting, but it's all so vague and kaleidescopic it didn't really feel like a post-apocalyptic novel to me. I'm not a huge fan of them, mostly because they always seem either terribly contrived (ala Hunger Games) or, to get back to Stephenson once more, a bad excuse for dumb, first-person-shooter aesthetics and תו לא.
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at 08:51 on 08-04-2014, Adrienne
(I should clarify; when I say "have an issue with", in this case I mean "am likely to be traumatized by", not "find morally or otherwise problematic".)
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at 08:41 on 08-04-2014, Adrienne
Tamara,

No, what I have serious issues with is post-apocalyptic settings of a particular sort, and as far as I can tell the Circus Tresaulti lives in one.
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at 23:41 on 07-04-2014, Kit
Maybe I should try Reign...

If you are even slightly invested in historical accuracy or in period costumes, prepare for a staggering, brain-melting amount of utter WTF (think of it as Gossip Girl set in a sort of alternate history Valois court). But it's actually good fun to watch in a completely silly way, especially if you've got a Genevieve Valentine-esque mental voiceover running parallel to it, like I do :) And their Catherine de'Medici is excellent.
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at 22:25 on 07-04-2014, Arthur B
Matthew Reilly is writing epic fantasy now.

Excellent, just have to shove him in the direction of Black Library and soon he will arrive at his natural home...
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at 21:24 on 07-04-2014, Tamara
Sleepy Hollow is silly, frantic fun, but also has just enough built political subtexts to not exhaust my interest after three episodes the way this sort of thing usually does, although I did lose attention by the end of the season. Maybe I should try Reign...
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at 17:21 on 07-04-2014, Kit
Genevieve Valentine singlehandedy got me to watch two incredibly cheesy shows (*mumblemumble*Sleepy Hollow*mumble*Reign), simply because her reviews were delightful and I wanted to know what was going on. I've read a couple of short stories and liked them, but maybe I should give Mechanique a try!
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at 11:18 on 07-04-2014, Tamara
I'm sure it wouldn't traumatize you! Well, I think...I mean, it has a little bit of a horror aesthetic, I guess, but it's much more melancholy and surreal than anything really nasty. Unless you have serious issues with fear of falling or non-linear storytelling, possibly.
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at 10:29 on 07-04-2014, Adrienne
Tamara,

I would love to read Mechanique, but unfortunately as far as I can tell (from reading a couple of Valentine's short stories set in the same milieu) it would traumatize me a LOT. I do point my friends who like steampunk at it, though. Agreed that she needs more love as a fiction writer.

But gawd, do I love her criticism, both the silly and the serious. (She does these fabulous bad movie reviews over at her blog that are pee-your-pants funny.)
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