BooksOfTheMoon

The Psychology of Time Travel

By Kate Mascarenhas

Rating: 3 stars

In the 1960s, four women invent a time machine, but one of them, Barbara (Bee), has a nervous breakdown live on TV and is banished from the group. In the late 2010s, an inquest for an unexplained death brings Bee and her granddaughter Ruby back into the orbit of time travel.

For a lot of this book, I thought it was more thriller than psychology. It’s got that format: short chapters with terse writing that drives the plot forward; but I did eventually realise that the state of mind of the women involved (and the vast majority of the characters are women) was vital to that plot. The chapters jump around to different perspectives and times as it tells the story and the states in particular of Bee, Ruby and Odette, the woman who found the body and who feels a compulsion to identify her, are all vital. Not to mention Margaret. One of the original four scientists, who takes charge of what becomes the Time Travel Conclave and runs it with an iron fist, and moulds (some would say perverts) it to her will.

I probably found the Conclave more interesting than I was supposed to. I can’t help being distracted by questions of procedure: why is the Conclave allowed to exist as this independent entity; why isn’t the government and military all over it (especially if, as is mentioned early on, other nations won’t catch up with the technology for decades); what exactly do time travellers actually do?

As for the whole idea of the Conclave running its own system of “justice” which involves secret courts, trials by ordeal and the possibility of execution, for an organisation that is supposed to be created out of the mid to late 20th century Britain, it seems positively archaic. I can sort of see that that comes out of the psychology/neurosis of Margaret and how she runs the Conclave, but the idea of time travel being so addictive that almost nobody is willing to give it up voluntarily so they go along with her doesn’t really work for me.

Spoiler
Also, I don’t understand why Ruby was tried for Margaret’s murder. She played Candybox Roulette. The bullets went into the machine, but she didn’t force Margaret to stand in the way of it. It was Angharad who had the device reconstructed and put back in Margaret’s way. I don’t understand why Ruby both felt responsible, and was tried for it.

But despite all this, the plot is engaging, the characters interesting and the time travel even, mostly, makes sense.

Book details

ISBN: 9781788540124

A Conspiracy of Truths (A Conspiracy of Truths, #1)

By Alexandra Rowland

Rating: 3 stars

An elderly master Chant (a Chant being a storyteller/sociologist) finds himself accused of witchcraft and is caught in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, with an indifferent advocate. He finds himself caught as a pawn between the rulers of the nation and must elevate himself to player to keep his life and liberty.

This was a decent story about the power of stories and I found it enjoyable, but I don’t think it’ll be hugely memorable for me. Chant (although Chant is a title more than a name, so I feel it should be the Chant, but the book never gives him the definite article) is crotchety and opinionated, with a sharp tongue (as you would expect from someone who needs to tell and learn tales for his livelihood). The politicking early on in the book where he told people whatever it was he thought they wanted to hear and which might earn him some little comforts in prison almost turned me off entirely. Thankfully, this didn’t go the way that I feared, but I nearly put the book down permanently at that point.

There’s a lot to like here though. Women seem to have complete equality with men, serving in pretty much all walks of life. Chant’s apprentice Ylfing is gay, but this isn’t a Thing, but is just accepted as part of life. He just happens to make puppy dog eyes at every cute boy he sees. Chant finds this exasperating but it sounds about right for a teenage boy.

The characters are fairly well defined. Chant himself, obviously, but also Ylfing (a sweet, innocent boy), Chant’s advocate, Consanza, and some of the rulers that Chant is entangled with. They have their own personalities and feel different enough from each other.

The book is very much about the power of story though and stories themselves are scattered throughout the book. Stories are used as metaphors, for comfort and just to pass the time. As someone who loves stories myself, I appreciate that.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534412811
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2019

Binti: The Complete Trilogy

By Nnedi Okorafor

Rating: 3 stars

I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It had such a positive vibe on social media, and won a number of awards, that I was excited to get this omnibus for Christmas. Unfortunately, it just didn’t grab me that much, and I can’t really figure out why. I quite enjoyed the first novella, which had a sort of almost dreamlike feel to it. The killing of everyone on the ship and Binti’s survival feel like they’re being seen from a distance or through water. This means they don’t create as much of an emotional impact as they should.

The short story (Sacred Fire) and the second novella (Home) probably left me the most cold. In the former, it’s clearer that Binti has a sort of PTSD (not unexpected, frankly) and goes out into the desert to try and deal with it. We also see some of her classmates and some friends that she makes. In the latter, Binti decides to return home to Earth to complete a ritual to achieve womanhood, and brings her friend Okwa (the Medusa who had helped kill everyone on her ship) with her, to try and cement the peace treaty between them and the Khoush, the human tribe (country? Empire? It’s never made clear) that they had been at war with. But more importantly, she has to deal with her own family and the rest of her people.

This I had real trouble with: these people are so mired in tradition and desire for home that they viewed any attempt to leave as a betrayal, and a selfish move on Binti’s part, and one that meant that no man would want to marry her. I snorted out loud at that one. I understand a love of home, but to deny someone their desire to learn seems almost perverted to me, and left me feeling very cold towards them.

The last story, Night Masquerade had the most plot to it and was probably the one I enjoyed the most. Having just discovered that she has alien DNA in her (well, more alien DNA than she thought) Binti has to use her utmost skills as a master harmoniser to bring peace between the Medusae and the Khoush before her people are trampled underfoot by their war. And also discover the secrets of her edan.

I think one of the things that irritated me about the book was that Binti was too special. She was, by the end of the first story, a genius mathematician; a master harmoniser; a Medusae ambassador; wielder of the edan. And then by the end of the whole series she’s more than that again. It just felt a little too much. And I thought the reveal of the edan while being funny was a bit of an anticlimax.

Book details

ISBN: 9780756415181
Publisher: Daw Books
Year of publication: 2019

City

By Clifford D. Simak

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of eight short stories in the same setting, connected with a framing story that describes the stories themselves as legends that Dogs have passed down throughout the years about the decline and fall of the mythical species known as Man.

Simak sees a future where first humanity abandons the cities in favour of small, rural communities and later flees Earth for new forms on Jupiter, leaving only a small remnant behind, that is too intimidated by their forebears to create anything new, content to pass on their legacy to the Dogs.

There is continuity in the stories through the Webster family that recurs at pivotal moments, and of the robot Jenkins who serves the Websters. It’s a melancholic sort of book, dealing as it does with the end of humanity, but one with hope that our successors, the Dogs that a Webster uplifted, will be better than us.

The idea of the rugged individual or small community rather than the close living of cities feel decidedly American to me, especially the America of the middle of the 20th century. Having read other of Simak’s works, this love of country life above that of the city is a hallmark of his work. Personally, I really enjoy city life, which made the premise of the first story (which sees the end of the cities) difficult to accept, but once I got past that, the decline of humanity was easier to accept.

The stories are very Golden Age SF, with hardly a woman in sight and, apart from one that was set on Jupiter, all very much rooted on Earth. Simak contrasts Man’s desire to look outward and reliance on technology with Dog’s more introspective intelligence and finds us wanting.

A quietly retrospective book, tinged with melancholy, whose ideas will linger in mind after you put the book down.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575105232
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2011

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

By John Cleland

Rating: 3 stars

I must confess that when I picked this up (on the basis purely of a positive review I’d read), I knew it was supposed to be risqué but I was convinced that a book written in the middle 1700s couldn’t be that risqué. I was wrong. Fanny has a homosexual experience within the first dozen pages and goes on to meet and enjoy men in pretty graphic fashion fairly soon afterwards.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised, it’s not that people haven’t been having, thinking, drawing, talking and writing about sex since the start of our species, I just wasn’t expecting it in written and published form in this period.

The book is in epistolary format and can be quite frustrating at times, with lots of long, run-on sentences and nested clauses (not helped by the Gutenberg text I was reading having quite a lot of typos). I sometimes found it difficult to tease out meaning from them. But if you can work through that, it’s enjoyable enough. While not explicitly naming genitals or acts, your euphemism vocabulary will certainly grow, and it can be quite fun spotting the more outrageous metaphors.

I also like that although there’s a moral at the end where Fanny disclaims her past, it’s not a moralistic book in that nothing bad happens to her. She’s allowed to enjoy sex and still get her happy ending.

Book details

Year of publication: 1748

The Folk Tales of Scotland: The Well at the World’s End and Other Stories

By Norah Montgomerie, William Montgomerie

Rating: 3 stars

This was an interesting collection of folk- and fairy-tales from across Scotland. Most of them are very short, only a few pages each, which hardly leaves any space for characterisation or plot development. There’s a lot of repetition within stories as well – the power of three crops up again and again where the hero must do things three times to get the effect. I imagine this works better in the oral tradition than written down. There are also variations on well-known stories (including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin) and lots of very traditional roles (princess offered in marriage as a prize for the hero recurs often).

But it’s interesting to read older versions of some of these traditional stories to see how they’ve evolved over time and where there are seeds for other stories. It’s also nice (if somewhat surprising) to see several stories featuring Finn McCool, who’s more closely associated with Irish mythology.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841586946
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 1956

The Clyde: Mapping the River

By John N. Moore

Rating: 3 stars

Like its predecessor, Glasgow: Mapping the City, this book is meticulously researched and does exactly what it says on the tin. It consists of various maps of and around the river Clyde, providing different insights to the river valley and firth. The maps are organised by theme, with early historical maps of the river coming first, followed by sections on navigating and improving the channel, military-related maps, agricultural and commercial maps, those indicating the bridging and fording of the river, tourism and leisure, and finally, mapping around the towns along the Clyde.

Obviously, I’m most interested in those maps that focus on Glasgow (and there’s some overlap with the previous book in that regard) and the maps from elsewhere along the river, especially the military ones (which tended to be quite technical) were less interesting. There’s also less scope for interesting sociological maps in this book, although it still manages to include maps relating to sewage disposal (I didn’t know that for many years, waste would be loaded on to barges in the Clyde and driven out to be disposed of out where the firth meets the sea) and the orchards of Lanarkshire.

There’s no skimping on the physical artefact either. Although slightly too large to hold comfortably, the large pages mean lots of detail in the glossy full-colour maps. I’d recommend having a magnifying glass to hand as well, to zoom in on the detail as you’re poring over the immaculate reproductions.

So not as personally interesting to me as its predecessor, but still an excellent resource on the cartography of Clydesdale and the firth of Clyde.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780274829
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 2017

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition 2

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

After losing her first love Yugo, Alita abandons her old life and throws herself into the sport of motorball, rising up the ranks pretty quickly. She challenges the reigning champion, Jasugun, to a match, and in the course of that, she learns more about her past.

I didn’t find Alita hugely likeable in this volume. After the fairly bubbly personality from volume one, she goes full emo here, as she abandons Ido (even ignoring him when he comes looking for her), wanting to forget her loss. Ido finds new family with the trusting young woman Shumira and her brother, who he helps when he has seizures.

I’ve mostly never felt that the characters in this series are sexualised. Even when Alita isn’t wearing clothes, she’s very clearly more machine than person, and the images (to me) don’t feel sexual. Which is why a full-frontal nude scene of Shumira in the shower felt so out of place. As well as feeling unnecessary, it felt entirely gratuitous and not required for the plot at all.

Some of the action scenes are still difficult to follow, and I thought it got confusing towards the end. I’m still not entirely sure how the fight between Alita and Jasugun played out. But there was some tantalising back-story in there, and the art does remain pretty, quite distinctive and very evocative.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365996
Publisher: Kodansha America, Inc

The March North

By Graydon Saunders

Rating: 3 stars

I got this book recommended to me by a friend as the opposite of grimdark fantasy. I enjoyed quite a lot of it, but I did have some trouble with it at times. For a start, I understand the book was self-published, which is all very well, but I do feel like the author could have done with an editor at times; many passages felt obtuse and I had to read them several times before I had a decent idea of what they meant. Something else that I found grating was the deliberate refusal to provide genders for characters. I have no problem with this in principle, but please use constructs like “they/them” or one of the other sets of adjectives. Repeatedly using the characters’ names in a sentence to avoid he/she just felt clunky. It also didn’t help that Saunders is very fond of archaic or jargonistic language. I’m really glad that I was reading on a Kindle, so I could consult the built-in dictionary (which I found myself doing more frequently than I would have liked). Expanding one’s vocabulary is all very well, but it did start to feel like hard work at times.

Speaking of hard work, Saunders really throws you in at the deep end and leaves you to sink or swim. There’s no hand-holding going on here. We start with a military man of some kind expecting (sorcerous) visitors to his area and rapidly go on from there to repealing a military invasion from another country. What the Commonweal is, what a Standard-Captain is, or the focus, or the Shape of Peace are things you’re left to figure out for yourself. There’s no harm in making the reader work for their story, but this, combined with the editing issues I mention above mean that it took a while for me to get through this book. I still don’t know if I’ll go on to the others in the series.

But despite that, my friend was right: I did enjoy the shape of this story, in which an egalitarian, democratic nation exists in the midst of its more traditional fantasy neighbours. Where extremely powerful (basically immortal) sorcerers, who used to behave like Dark Lords in the past, agree to bind themselves into the nation for the greater good. In a world filling up with strongmen and “leaders” whose only goal in power is to stay in power, it’s good to have examples to look up to.

Book details

ISBN: 9780993712609
Publisher: Tall Woods Books
Year of publication: 2014

Rivers of London Volume 7: Action at a Distance

By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Brian Williamson

Rating: 3 stars

A funeral is an occasion for Nightingale to suggest that Peter Grant do some reading in the Folly archives, and what he finds sheds a bit of light on his governor’s mysterious past. This is quite a slight story, but it’s nice to see a bit of what went on with the Folly in the years before Peter, when Nightingale was the only official wizard in England. This sheds little light on the time during the War, which is sort of the period that I’m most curious about, but a post-war event.

This story, set mostly in 1957, and touching on the Windscale fire that was the turning point of the British love affair with all things nuclear, is interesting and fun, but I’m sort of disappointed that Nightingale didn’t get to take on Fischer properly. We’ve seen magician to magician battles so rarely (the Faceless Man is about the only worthy opponent that we’ve seen in the books, and he couldn’t come close to touching Nightingale in a fair fight) that it felt like a missed opportunity.

The main artist of the series has changed with this volume, losing some of the distinctive “cartoon-iness” of the series. The replacement is decent and workmanlike and, no doubt, I’ll get used to it, but I do miss Lee Sullivan’s work.

So a fun story, all in all, but not essential, and not as much a delve into Nightingale’s psyche as I might have hoped for.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785865466
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2019

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