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Post 81


I also love Girl Genius. Have you tried the novel version? It adds a lot of interesting details, and while there are a few elements that suffer the medium change was handled very well overall.

I've been reading

Post 82

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

I haven't, but I probably shall sometime. Is the writing good quality?

TRiG.smiley - booksmiley - surfer

I've been reading

Post 83


Yes, quite good. By the way, are you interested in mad science web-comics in general because I know several good ones?

I've been reading

Post 84

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

I quite like webcomics, so please do mention some. And feel free to hijack this thread to do so. It's mainly for me to report on the books I read, but I like it when it sparks a bit of conversation.

TRiG.smiley - booksmiley - cheers

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Post 85


After Girl Genius, A Miracle of Science is probably my favorite mad science comic. In the future SRMD (science related memetic disorder) causes some scientists and engineers to gain both great insight and strange compulsions (same spirt as the spark, but very different details). As an agent of the Vorstellen police Benjamin Prester is responsible for dealing with these "mad scientists. The story starts as he picks up a new case and a new partner, Caprice Quevillion an exchange officer from the mysterious Martian Collective.
Narbonic is best described as silly but in a good way. The intro strips aren't that great, but it gets good once the author gains some experience and has had a chance to set up her massive foreshadowing. Probably best summed up with a few quotes:
"Young lady, you fail to grasp the basic principles of mad science. Common sense would be cheating."
—Professor Lupin Madblood
Helen: It's instant, almost painless and comes in a refreshing mint flavor! I've just shown it can turn women into men!
Dave: Huh. When do you find out if it turns men into women?
Helen: About 30 seconds.
Mell: You ate something Helen gave you, didn't you?

Umalat House is also entertaining in a quirky way that deserves an nuanced explanation. I need to get back to stuff so instead just a link

I've been reading

Post 86

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

> These are tales of beauty and of loss, far back in the early days of Middle-earth. These are the legends that the actors in The Lord of the Rings look back on: the heroic age to which they might measure up. The elves have long lives, of course. Galadriel plays a significant role in the story, and Elrond also appears.

So, I promised to say more on The Silmarillion, and then never did. Sorry.

smiley - popcorn

The characters in The Lord of the Rings look back on earlier times. Shortly after leaving Bree, Aragorn sings to the Hobbits extracts from the Lay of Lethian, telling the tale of Beren and Lúthien. In Rivendell, Biblo sings a song he's made of Eärendil the Mariner (Elrond's father). There is a depth of history and legend underlying the narrative, glimpses of times past and heroes of former ages. And much of that legend is found in The Silmarillion.

The Silmarillion is the account of the creation and the heroic deeds of the First Age. It opens with Ainulindalë ("The Music of the Ainur"), Tolkien's creation account. In this myth, the set before the beginning of the world, we see the cosmology of Middle-earth, which is barely hinted at in The Lord of the Rings. There is one God, who first creates the Ainur (demi-gods) and then together they create the world in music. Many of the Ainur descend into Arda (the world) to oversee its development, as laid out in the music they created. The language of Ainulindalë is high and remote: The Silmarillion is the legends and histories of the Elves, but Ainulindalë is set well before the elves came into existence. Ainulindalë could well be read as a religious text. The first rebellion happens in the making of the music, before the creation of the world.

Next comes Valaquenta, the account of the Valar. The Valar are the more powerful of the Ainur, the gods of Middle-earth. This short passage basically describes the pantheon, and also the position of the Enemy, Melkor, who descended into Arda with the other Ainur, but, though powerful, is not counted among the Valar.

These two sections form merely a short preface to the heart of the book, Quenta Silmarillion, the Tale of the Silmarils. This section tells of how the Valar shaped the world and fought Melkor, how the Firstborn (the Elves) and the Followers (humans) arrived on Middle-earth, and their interactions with the Valar and with each other. It tells of heroic deeds in dark times, with moments of hope and of great beauty. It tells, at its centre, the Tale of the War of the Jewels. And, due to the long life of the Elves, it tells of some names we know from The Lord of the Rings. Elrond gets a mention toward the end of the book, but his mother-in-law Galadriel is mentioned far earlier. Her family is central to the narrative.

The Silmarils themselves are three sublime jewels, fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven-smiths, and containing the light of the Two Trees, the greatest work of Yavanna Kementári. They are stolen by Melkor, whom Fëanor renames Morgoth, the Enemy, and the desire for them drives the rest of the plot and many tragedies. The tone is dark for much of the book, and there are many losses, many defeats, many fruitless victories. The most tragic tale is that of Túrin Turambar []. The most beautiful is that of Beren and Lúthien, which was so important to Tolkien that these names were written on his and his wife's graves. Galadriel links the stories, by giving Frodo a phial containing the light from a silmaril, that same silmaril which Beren wrested from the crown of Morgoth, and which later ascended to the sky as a new star, bound to the brow of Eärendil in his flying ship. Many many generations later, as Frodo and Sam climb through Ithilien to the marches of Mordor, Sam remarks that they're still in the same story: the interlinked sagas of the Jewels and the Rings.

Appended to Quenta Silmarillion, finishing the book, are two further narratives. While Ainulindalë and Valaqunta belong together with Quenta Silmarillion, and form a necessary prelude, Akallabêth and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age are different. They are bound together in one work by necessity, but they are of a different mode, purpose, and time. The Silmarillion is the legends and history of the Firstborn, but Akallabêth tells of the downfall of Númenor, the great kingdom of Men. It is a tale of pride and arrogance subverted to evil, of some good surviving out of calamity. The great kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor were founded by refugees from Númenor. (Aragorn was a descendant of the kings of Arnor, and an heir to its throne. When he came into his own, he inherited also the Kingdom of Gondor, as the kings of that line had failed. He was crowned in Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor, as that kingdom still stood, while the Kingdom of Arnor had disappeared entirely. The Shire was a remnant of the old Kingdom of Arnor.)

The final part of The Silmarillion is the story Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. As you may have guessed from the title, this recounts in summary form the narrative and events of The Lord of the Rings, telling the tale mainly from the perspective of the wizard Mithrandir (Gandalf). Actually, it spends more time describing the build-up to the war than the war itself.

Rereading The Lord of the Rings after reading The Silmarillion gives a very different feel to the book. That's not a recommendation to read it first, mind you.

Read Tolkien in the following order:
1. The Hobbit
2. The Lord of the Rings
(If you liked the appendices to LotR, continue; otherwise, stop here.)
3. The Silmarillion
(And this is as far as I've got so far, so I'll take the rest of this list from [].)
4. The Children of Húrin
(This is perhaps another place to stop, but if you're enjoying it, keep going.)
5. Unfinished Tales
6. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
(Again, this is a stopping place)
7. The History of Middle-earth

I actually have read Unfinished Tales, but it was a long time ago, and I don't retain much of it. I've also read The Book of Lost Tales, which is the first two volumes of The History of Middle-earth.

This is the History series, in order:
1. The Book of Lost Tales, Part One
2. The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two
3. The Lays of Beleriand
4. The Shaping of Middle-earth
5. The Lost Road and Other Writings
6. The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 1)
7. The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 2)
8. The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 3)
9. Sauron Defeated (includes The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 4)
10. Morgoth's Ring (The Later Silmarillion vol. 1)
11. The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion vol. 2)
12. The Peoples of Middle-earth

TRiG.smiley - booksmiley - booksmiley - elfsmiley - booksmiley - booksmiley - candle

I've been reading

Post 87

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

Okay. I now have a massive stack of books sitting beside the computer waiting to be written about. And since I'm supposed to be moving the computer over to my new house today, I'd better get on with it.

smiley - popcorn

Terry Pratchett

"He always comes up smelling of roses"

Terry has said that he did so much research into Victorian London, to help him with the verisimilitude of Ankh-Morpork, that he felt he may as well write a novel set in Victorian London. Dodger has all the plot ingredients of a classic Pratchett novel: Dodger is a tosher, a mudlark who combs through the sewers for valuables. He rescues a woman being attacked, and in so doing is drawn into an international incident. It's classic Pratchett stuff, and is also, clearly, a homage to Charles Dickens (who also appears as a character).

And yet it isn't a classic Pratchett. None of it quite works. For a start, the dialogue doesn't sparkle. It's flat, and the humour is forced. And the same, actually, could be said of the characters.

smiley - booksmiley - sadface

Castle Rackrent,
Maria Edgeworth

This is quite an important book in the history of English-language novels. The first edition was in 1800, and the novel, set in Ireland, was probably the first "regional novel" in the English language, and so paved the way for the later historical novels of Walter Scott and others. Or so says the scholarly introduction. (See that 0-19 at the beginning of the ISBN? That means Oxford University Press.)

The scholarly notes are tricky, because of the authorial conceit of being an editor herself. The story is told by Thady ("Honest Thady"), the elderly, and absurdly loyal, steward to the Rackrent family. He tells of various landlords he's served: all of them treated their tenants terribly, for various reasons, but all of them Thady reveres. Thady's account is supplemented with footnotes and an opinionated "glossary" by the "editor", Maria Edgeworth. This means that the actual scholarly notes of this OUP edition are listed as a "Commentary".

The book is in two parts. In the first, Thady talks of his time with the drunken Sir Patrick. After writing this, Maria Edgeworth was persuaded to expand the story. In the second half, there's the tight-fisted Sir Murtagh, the "handsome rake" Sir Kit, and finally Sir Condy, whose lack of business sense eventually lose the family the house. These really form separate novellas. There is some sense of plot: Thady is talking about his landlords, not his own life, but we do get some glimpses of his son growing up, with a shrewd sense for business, and no loyalty at all to the Rackrent family. And at the end, this comes to its inevitable conclusion, with a move wherein James Thady breaks his father's heart.

This book is very interesting, as the back cover says, from a historical and sociological perspective. As literature, it leaves something to be desired. There's no real plot, as such, and the prose is actually a bit boring in places.

smiley - booksmiley - tea

The Hobbit,
J.R.R. Tolkien

Rereading The Hobbit so soon after rereading The Silmarillion has an interesting effect. When Elrond reveals that Orcrist, the sword Thorin has found in the troll horde, was forged in Gondolin, my reaction was almost an audible "Wow". There are many glimpses of times past in The Hobbit, but they're all so subtly done that you perhaps wouldn't even notice them if you'd not read other books in the series. And that's definitely intentional.

Another thing I love about this book is the language. In the opening chapters, it's light, breezy, and fun. By the climax, at the Battle of the Five Armies, it's taken on an epic tone. But the change was so gradual over the course of the novel, and at each point suited the story so well, that I, at least, never noticed it happening. It's in the background. Perfectly done.

smiley - booksmiley - elf

Ana Mardoll

This book is new enough to have an ISBN-13 in the back cover, with the ISBN-10 version nowhere visible, but for some reason it's been covered over with a sticker giving the ISBN-10 version only, with no spaces or hyphens. Never mind. Either works.

Ana Mardoll blogs about many things, including literature, at This, her fist novel, is a retelling of The Beauty and the Beast. (The title, she says, is an ugly word for beauty.) She wrote an analysis of the original French fairytale as an Afterword to her own novel, and also published it at That might give you an idea where this book comes from. In Ana Mardoll's telling of the tale, there are many likeable characters, and many flawed characters. And some of the flaws preclude a perfectly happy ending. It just couldn't work like that.

There's some lovely family interaction, particlularly between Marchetta and Fiorita, Bella's half-sisters. And the author's notes are also interesting reading.

Pulchritude is published under the CC NC-ND license, and is also available in eBook format. (I personally dislike eBooks, because of reasons, and bought this one in paperback from my local independent bookshop. They had to order it in for me, but I'm used to that.)

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The Lord of the Rings,
J.R.R. Tolkien

Ah me, ah my. It's a masterpiece. An imperfect masterpiece, granted, but a masterpiece nonetheless. It has moments of great beauty, moments of humour, light and dark. It truly is "a story maginificently told", as the New Statesman review quoted on the back cover says. And it's a long time since I last read it.

The Lord of the Rings is far more approachable than The Silmarillion. It's far more immediate in its telling: it has the form of a novel, not the high far-off remoteness of legends of the Eldar Days. There is tragedy in the book, and an inexorable sense of loss. Whatever the outcome of the war, the world will change, and much that was good will perish. I sometimes wonder whether my early reading of this book has informed my outlook on life, actually. It may have done.

Some people have criticised The Lord of the Rings for having too simplistic a morality: The Dark Lord is evil, no questions, no confusion. I think they're wrong. First, the book does, at times, wrestle with what it truly means to be good or evil: Sam's thoughts about the dead Corsair soldier in Ithillien are a case in point. Secondly, "Which side is good?" is not the only important moral question. The Lord of the Rings spends most of its time working on another moral question: Once you know what is good, how do you steal yourself to do it? And that too is an important question to ask, and to answer.

Another flaw of the book is how very very male it is. There are some excellent female characters (Arwen, Galadriel, and Éowyn), but they never meet within the pages of the novel. (Galadriel is Arwen's grandmother, and they do spend a lot of time together, but not within the text.) Or maybe this isn't a flaw of the book: a male-dominated novel is not a bad thing *in itself*. It becomes a bad thing in the agregate. A larger flaw, to my mind, is the idea of the inheretance of the blood of Núminor: a race of men of far greater potential (either for good or for evil) than other men. Add to that the heir to Isildur, the long-lost king coming home to rule. In Aragorn's case, he'll make a good ruler, and all will be well, but the idea itself offends my democratic sensibilities. (Could a High Fantasy democracy work? It would be interesting to see the attempt made.)

smiley - booksmiley - elf

Neil Gaiman

What is Neil Gaiman's trick? I would find it very hard to say what it is, exactly, that makes this book (and others of his) so special. The plot of Stardust is, in its form, quite similar to that of many folktales. There is humour, and the language is modern. And yet the book is serious, and lovely, and in places dark. It has some very likeable characters, too (and some excellent villans).

smiley - booksmiley - star

TRiG.smiley - surfer

I've been reading

Post 88

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

And more!

Bad Pharma,
Ben Goldacre

"How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients"

I'll be honest: this book shocked and horrified me. And it was meant to.

Ben's previous book, Bad Science, did contain criticism of pharma companies: particularly in the realm of "medicalisation". This book expands on that, but also adds a lot more: companies hiding evidence; medicines regulators failing to regulate, and being secretive; academic publishers in cahoots with the pharma industry; and lots more. The book is filled with anecdotes about specific bad events, but Ben Goldacre is at pains to point out throughout that these are merely illustrative examples, and that the entire industry is just as bad.

An excellent strength of this book is its frequent calls to action: if you are a doctor, you can do this; if you are a medical student, you can do that; if you are involved in teaching medicine, you can do the other; and if you have no direct connection with medicine, you can do these things.

Some of the material from this book is also available as TED Talks, and on the Bad Science blog.

smiley - booksmiley - scientist

Why Are You Atheists so Angry?,
Greta Christina

That ISBN should have two more hyphens in it, but that's the way it's printed on the book.

I love Greta Christina's blog, which I've been following for some time now. She never lets her passion and righteous anger get away with her; never lashes out against the wrong targets. And she's an excellently clear writer: she's either teaching me something new, or she's expressing my own thoughts more clearly than I can myself.

Good book.

smiley - booksmiley - angel

In Great Waters,
Kit Whitfield

So now Random House (0-09) is messing with its ISBN formatting too. I've seen Penguin (0-14) doing this, printing ISBNs as (0-141), but this is the first time I've noticed another publisher do it.

The Independent review quoted on the front cover calls this "A powerfully intelligent novel". It is. This is Kit Whitfield's second novel. I've also read her first, Bareback, and talked about it earlier in this conversation. I found In Great Waters a little slower at the beginning, and in fact started it more than once, but I think that may have been just me. Once I got into it I was hooked. This reimagining of European history is excellent, and I found myself entirely drawn into the world of the novel.

Like Bareback, it's difficult to categorise. Fantasy, I suppose. Excellent, anyway.

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I've been reading

Post 89

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

When the filthier tripped on the previous post, I assumed it was the title of Kit's first novel that set it off. It wasn't. It was the subtitle of Greta's book. I had to try several times before I worked that out.

TRiG.smiley - whistle

I've been reading

Post 90

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

And now I've got the computer installed in the new house, tidied a little (I'll have to tidy a lot more before I'm able to get into the bed tonight), and am posting two more books. Yikes!

smiley - yikessmiley - popcorn

Penelope Mortimer: My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof

I enjoyed this. It took me a while to work out what the author was doing, but it was good. The actual plot of the novel is fairly simple, but the protagonist, Muriel Rowbridge, is anything but. She's a journalist, a cancer-survivour, and a constant note-taker. And many of the hurried notes find their way into the pages of the novel. Some make more sense than others.

Muriel is trying to write, trying to hold onto her job, trying to find again a sense of self she had pre-cancer, and trying to work out what it means to be a woman with only one breast.

This book is beautifully, beautifully written.

smiley - booksmiley - goodluck

C.S. Lewis: Perelandra (The Cosmic Trillogy)

I said that Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet wasn't really sci-fi. This, the second book in The Cosmic Trillogy, doesn't really even pretend to be sci-fi, for all that the bulk of the action takes place on Venus (Perelandra). Our hero, Ransom, went to Mars by space-ship, but was transported to Venus by angels. And that was a deliberate change: "When I knew better," Lewis said, in Of This and Other Worlds, "I had angels take him to Venus."

Lewis's depiction of Perelandra is vivid, and beautiful. This, actually, is something he's good at. The floating islands on the ocean planet are a lovely touch, though I suspect a "hard science fiction" author would scorn them. That's okay. Lewis wasn't writing "hard" science fiction, and should not be judged by its standards.

The actual plot is ... lacking. What transpires on Perelandra is a loose replay of the serpant's temptation of Eve. A very loose replay, deliberately so: the point is made a few times that the same thing won't happen twice, so on this new world, the temptation will take a different form and be offered in a different manner. Ransom's place in the story is a role which never occurred in the Biblical narriative: he is to be the wise counsilor, suggesting obedience. And, carefully, the woman is never named: she is the woman, the Mother, the Queen, just as Eve was on Earth, but she is not Eve.

The plot of a woman wavering between two councillors is well enough told, as far as it goes. No doubt it's more interesting if you take the metaphysics of it a bit more seriously (and a bit more literally) than I do, but even those readers who belive the Biblical narrative will have mixed opinions of Lewis's take on it. For Christians, of course, everything must ultimately come back to the crucifixion. That happened on our world because Eve failed (the New Testament actually blames Adam, but Lewis mentions only Eve, as is traditional for Christian theologians). Had Eve not fallen, the crucifixion would not have been necessary. And so something wonderful (and painful) would not have happened, but something more wonderful would have. And the same applies, in potential, to this new world, to Perelandra, newly inhabited.

The book gets more and more theological as it goes on, and I have little to say about the ending of it.

A final word on nudity: On the trip to Malacandra in Out of the Silent Planet, the three men are naked in the spaceship, because it's uncomfortably warm. That was all. Nothing else to it. In this book, the nudity seems to be ontologically important in and of itself. This seems to be something to do with sexual purity, or something along those lines: not finding nudity shameful is somehow meaningful in Lewis's theology.

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I've been reading

Post 91

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

Common Sons, by Ronald L. Donaghe


A gay novel set in rural USA in the 1960s. And wow but it's real. There are many characters, all sharply distinct, none stereotypes. The religious struggle is dealt with in a very realistic fashion. It's the first in a series, and I may try to get hold of the others. It's very well written, and I love the style of it.

One minor nit-pick: Sometimes storytelling is done in dialogue which takes the form of two characters discussing something they both already know. Reminiscing. To be honest, this doesn't really work. But it's only a couple of times in the whole book, and it's not too annoying.

Good book.

TRiG.smiley - booksmiley - rainbow

I've been reading

Post 92

TRiG (Ireland) A dog, so bade in office

The Weight of Water, by Sarah Crossan

This book calls itself a novel, and I suppose it is, though it has the form of a poetry anthology. The protagonist (and the "speaker" of the poems is twelve-year-old Kasienka, rechristened as Cassie by her teacher when she arrives in England from Poland. This book is beautiful, and I read it in full last night.

I bought it yesterday, actually, in spite of my attempt to put a moratorium on book purchases. Not my usual style of reading, but I'm glad I did.

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