liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
[personal profile] liv
Recently read: Too like the lightning by Ada Palmer. I borrowed [personal profile] jack's copy to read this for the Hugos. It's thinky and original, but also rather unpleasant.

I expected to like Too like the lightning a lot. I was intrigued by the hype, and lots of people whose taste I trust were enthusiastic, and I really like Palmer's non-fiction. As it is, I did like some things about the book quite a lot, and felt motivated to keep reading, but also felt considerably repelled and annoyed by it.

It's partly that I'm a hard sell on unlikeable narrators, and Mycroft really is just awful. Not quite Thomas Covenant levels of awful, but extremely unpleasant. I mean, a lot of the plot hinges on him being an (ex) criminal, and we don't learn until about two thirds of the way through exactly what terrible things he did, but even before that I couldn't stand him. He hectors the reader, and manipulates people for dubious ends, and is constantly prurient and can't stop rambling on about his gross sexual fantasies about everybody he meets, including children. I have rarely read a female-authored book so unremittingly male-gazey. I can sort of buy that as part of character creation, and there are lots of other cues that Mycroft is supposed to be an unreliable narrator, but it's far from uplifting to read.

I stuck with it because the world-building is fascinating. I've always dreamed of a world without geography, and TLTL explores a utopia where geography has been abolished by high speed transport. People live in chosen families called bash', and voluntarily affiliate to global groups that suit their mindset, some of which are based on former nations or conglomerates of nations. The most powerful of these form Hives which effectively rule the world between them. I was very interested in the political intrigue between these different Hives and the exploration of the system where everybody chooses their own affiliations and even which laws they follow, rather than just being born into a particular position. I was intrigued by the conceit that, in order to make this work, religious groups are very strictly suppressed though concessions are made for strictly private spirituality. I really wish the story could have been told from just about any point of view other than that of dreadful Mycroft; lots of the secondary characters are really interesting and many of them have nearly as much high level access as he does.

People had warned me that book one of the quartet isn't really a complete story but the first half of a two-volume doorstop. I didn't actually feel too dissatisfied by the not very conclusive ending; there's a partial resolution to the plot hook mystery, and some of Mycroft's backstory, and information about how the ruling classes actually operate while some new mysteries are introduced as well as leaving some open. But I did feel dissatisfied that some of the really cool worldbuilding and exploration of an original utopia gets sidetracked into kind of sophomoric speculation about the conflict between giving everybody free choice and the problem that some humans will use that choice to be cruel. And the device of the unreliable and unpleasant narrator made me question whether the whole thing was just an elaborate sexual fantasy on Mycroft's part, which is even more unsatisfying than 'it turns out it was all a dream'. Or at least his interpretation of everything is through the lens of his own perversions, which I really don't care about.

Even the plot about miracles doesn't work if you have to keep holding the possible interpretation that nobody can actually perform miracles, just Mycroft finds the idea of X character having divine powers hot. Mycroft finds a lot of stupid things hot, such as an exaggeratedly lechy idea of gender role complementarianism. I have a feeling this is supposed to be satire on how our real world society is warped by heteronormativity, but it's a satire that is quite hard to distinguish from fiction that is driven by the lowest common denominator fantasy of young straight men.

I won't be voting for this for the Hugo, though I wouldn't be horribly disappointed if it won. And I haven't quite decided whether I'm going to bother with the sequel.

Currently reading: All the birds in the sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Partly because it's Hugo nominated and partly cos several of my friends were enthusiastic about it. I'm a bit more than halfway through and finding it very readable and enjoyable. Patricia and Laurence are really well drawn as outcast characters and their interaction is great. It feels very Zeitgeisty, very carefully calculated to appeal to the current generation of geeks. The style is sort of magic realist, in that a bunch of completely weird fantasy-ish things happen and nobody much remarks on them. I find that sort of approach to magic a bit difficult to get on with, because it appears completely arbitrary what is possible and what isn't, so the plot seems a bit shapeless.

Up next: I'm a bit minded to pick up Dzur by Steven Brust, because I was enjoying the series but very slowly, and it's been really quite a few years since I made progress with it.

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Date: 2017-06-29 06:17 pm (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
This actually has nothing to do with (this year's) Hugos, I think: I was rec'd Too Like the Lightning quite a long time ago, and it's taken me this long to get the round tuits! I got All the Birds in the Sky because I liked "Six Months, Three Days" well enough and liked the premise, but same thing; this has been on my to-read list for about as long as it's been out.

I'm glad of your review and the warning of an unlikeable narrator. I'm interested to find out now how I get on with Mycroft, too.

Apparently I was the only person to have a luke-warm reaction to All the Birds in the Sky? I didn't hate it, I don't think it's terrible or evil, but I just found it sort of... meh. ETA: Part of the problem may be my low interest in romance plots. ETA2: Also, on further reflection, I don't like the people the protagonists grow up to be all that much; I think they're meant to be loveably flawed? Also, I have some issues with the politics.
Edited Date: 2017-06-29 06:30 pm (UTC)


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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