The Stardance Trilogy (#1-3)

By Spider Robinson

Rating: 3 stars

Of the three books in this omnibus volume, I definitely enjoyed the first the most. That one seemed to have the same sort of ethos as the Callahan’s stories, and the same sense of empathy. I felt that that got somewhat lost in the other two volumes and in particular, I found the protagonist of the second book somewhat annoying and difficult to relate to.

The idea of dance and art more generally was quite central (it being the Stardance books, after all) but I’ve never really been able to appreciate dance to a particularly high level. In particular, I’ve never found it particularly expressive of abstract concepts, something which is quite central to these books. I guess that’s a failure of imagination on my part, though.

It was slightly uncomfortable having Chinese people be the villains across all three books. Admittedly, they were all members of the same family across time, but still, it felt a little uncomfortable to read, but it still felt a little off.

If I were to score each book individually, it would be 4 stars for Stardance, 2 stars for Starseed and 3 stars for Starmind.

Book details

ISBN: 9781416520825
Publisher: Baen
Year of publication: 1997

The Unreal and the Real Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 5 stars

I liked the second volume of Ursula K Le Guin’s self-curated collection of short stories better than the first. This volume contains her more overtly SFF stories, which are definitely more up my street than the Literary stories of the first. Le Guin’s writing remains beguiling and a joy to read and these stories have the combination of character and plot that I prefer over focus on just character. Favourites include the Hainish stories, particularly The Matter of Seggri, a classic SF what-if story asking what would happen on a world where women vastly outnumbered men; Solitude, where a field ethnologist takes her two young children to a pre-contact planet where the adults are split by gender and rarely talk to one another; The Wife’s Story is a different take on the werewolf genre; and, of course, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Call it a fable, a warning story or what you will, it’s a beautiful, and immensely chilling story. Not a word is wasted and it remains with the reader long after the last page. It makes us question ourselves, and I have the haunting feeling that I wouldn’t have the strength of character to be one of those who walks away.

So, a marvellous collection and both worthy addition to a fan’s library and an excellent jumping-on point for those new to Le Guin’s work (I include the first volume in that as well, to get the full range of her writing).

Book details

ISBN: 9781473202863
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins

Rating: 5 stars

Hartright is a drawing master who gets engaged to tutor two young ladies in an out of the way part of the country. Before long he is wrapped up in the mystery of the titular woman in white and must find out the secret of Sir Percival Glyde, the finance√© of one of his charges, before it’s too late.

I loved this book. It’s a fast-paced thriller (despite being over 600 pages long, it never feels like it dawdles) with some lovely characterisation. I’ve been told by someone in the know that Wilkie Collins was parodying some of the more overwrought gothic romances of his time. I didn’t pick up on that, but even without having the additional layers of knowledge, there’s a lot to enjoy about this book.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Glyde, and his friend Count Fosco, are the villains of the piece. But while Glyde is merely an upper class English thug that you can can’t throw a stone in Victorian literature without hitting, Fosco is something else entirely. He’s a marvellous creation who exudes charm and quirkiness, with a dedication to his pets, whilst having a very intelligent, ruthless core. He’s also believably flawed, and his interactions with Marian Halcombe are both delightful and flesh-crawling. That’s the mark of a good writer right there!

I think that the aforementioned Miss Halcombe is probably my second-favourite character, after Count Fosco. She’s intelligent, witty and not the kind of woman to go around swooning at a moment’s notice (not something you can say about her half-sister, Laura, who is to be married to Sir Percival).

So a rocking thriller with some great characters and a mystery that extends throughout the book. The structure, with multiple narrators also feels very modern and I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone who has a modicum of an attention span.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099511243
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Year of publication: 1859

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