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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-11-29 16:36
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The Testaments - Margaret Atwood

The long sought-for sequel, set about 15 years later, to the brilliant "Handmaid's Tale"...

 

... and I'm not sure we actually needed it.

 

Gilead has fallen - and how that came to be is told from 3 points of view: Aunt Lydia, Agnes/Hannah who grows up in Gilead and Daisy/Nicole who learns of her origins after her adoptive parents are killed and is sent to Gilead on a mission for mayday.

 

And while the story that is told is certainly interesting and gripping, there are certain parts that are either repetitive or simply unbelievable (and/or unbelievably naive).

 

The first question is how much of the TV-series "The Handmaid's Tale" is canon. Atwood is part of the series' consulting team, but there are inconsistencies: Lydia's background for example (in season 3 she's a discontent teacher who's sort of disgusted by her own female nature and sexual urges - here, she's a judge till Gilead takes over and she's faced with the choice to either submit or be killed), how Nic(h)ole's name's written, the way Hannah doesn't remember her mother at all (she wasn't so young as to not remember meeting her in season 2)...

 

Anyway, the book taken for itself, Lydia keeps meticulous records of everything that goes on in Gilead and is sort of the person who sets everything in motion once Daisy is finally found. It's she who built the whole aunt-sphere in the first place, she who has dirt on everyone, she who arranges marriages, she who admits girls as aunt-supplicants. Of course, the details almost mentionned in passing are as gruesome as ever: commanders killing their wives, pedophilia, arranged child-marriages, murders, perjury... all just to have all the pieces in their places to finally be able to overthrow this corrupt system.

 

To be honest, once I decided to keep books and TV-series apart, Lydia's story became more relatable. I can distantly see that she doesn't buy completely into the idea of Gilead but sort of positioned herself to be able to act later on when opportunity would present itself. This doesn't make her acts any more palatable or excusable, not at all. But I can see her path as one option out of the pitiful collection she had when Gilead took over.

 

That Hannah and Nicole would serve as the messengers to the final destruction... seems more convenient name-dropping than true plot-driven necessity. Especially the fact that mayday chooses Nicole who just learned of her true origins, learned about Gilead at school or through the refugee work of her adoptive parents... in short, is absolutely not trained to fit in at all in a misogynistic system, making the whole mission sort of a hail-Mary adventure... and then both sisters meeting... it feels contrived and scratches the edge of credibility or cliché. Why would Lydia's meticulous plans rely on such an untested girl? Moreover, using her and simultaneously implying that June eventually escaped and has worked for Mayday raises the question of why she never approached her daughter. Hannah, on the other hand, could have been substituted by any other Gilead-educated girl. And she remains bland to the end.

 

Overall... it was a good book, yes... but it leaves more questions than it answers... questions that didn't need to be raised, not even in the hype over the TV-series.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-02-16 14:43
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Warrior's Apprentice - Lois McMaster Bujold

Never got around to do a review of this book, so I decided to re-read it and amend this oversight.

 

After failing his entrance exams into the military academy and the death of his grandfather, Miles Vorkosigan, 17 years old, handicapped by brittle bones, suffering from (more or less) latent depression, is sent to distant Beta Colony. There he stumbles upon a Barrayaran deserter, a jumpship pilot and a contract to ship cargo - erm, weapons - through a blockade.What follows is, as they say, history. Forward momentum anyone?

 

Coming back to the beginnings of this saga is kind of strange experience: Miles feeling like a failure (and having this feeling reenforced by his grandfather's death and some ill-thought through, and misunderstood, statements of his father's), being rather narrow-minded - well, like a normal 17 year old, I guess. His whole world exists of getting into the academy and impressing Elena, his childhood friend and daughter of his bodyguard Bothari. Stumbling his way through creating an army, dealing with history that's been kept hidden from him, and facing loss and pain broadens his horizons and defines who Miles's ultimately going to become.

 

In a sense this novel concludes the first part of the Vorkosigan series. It puts a preliminary ending to plotthreads set out in Cordelia's Honor, such as Bothari, Elena, Miles's grandfather, the Regency, Vorhalas's family's involvement with the soltoxin attack etc. The epilogue will be found in "The Vor Game" where Gregor'll have to come to terms with his family's past.

 

But the board is set for part two of the saga: Miles's time in the Imperial service - and with the Dendarii... and finding his way back to his roots in more figurative sense.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-17 15:07
Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Diplomatic Immunity - Lois McMaster Bujold

Once you catch the bug (again), you keep reading... so, still on my reading spree through the Vorkosigan series, and I fear once I run out of books I'll restart from the beginning. *sigh

 

On the return flight from their honeymoon, Miles is assigned to investigate a situation involving the military personnel accompanying a Komarran trade fleet. One officer seems to have gone missing, and another missed the call to duty, his retrieval causing a major incident and all of the involved being arrested on Graf Station in Quaddie space. And something seems to be happening in Cetagandan space.

 

This is my second run through this novel, and I have to say, the situation here is quite the opposite from Komarr. I had good memories of the latter novel, rather lackluster ones of this. But the reread turned the tides quite a bit.

 

First of all, the whole novel is from Miles's PoV, it includes sarcasm, irony and in-jokes (shopping anyone?), this inimitable drive forward, and makes for one coherent story, not bogged down by relationship-issues or angsting over said relationship-issues etc. Just a simple reminder of the Vorkosigan-stories of old, a good old mystery that needs to be solved, nothing more, nothing less. And his inner voice leaves me at times with tears of laughter, and at others with a pensive smile or even a lump down my throat. That's what I'm looking for in books, relatable characters, flawed characters, characters who don't take everything that's happening to them lying down. And how far has Miles come from his beginnings in Warrior's Apprentice to the final few pages of this novel? How far has Barrayar come?

 

Of course, it helps that Bel Thorne makes an appearance and that his character-arc gets some closure. And the deep irony surrounding their reacquaintance, all the changes the characters have undergone since the end of Mirror Dance ("So I've killed Admiral Naismith after all") are meaningful, yet understated.

 

Ekaterin takes a bit of a backseat here. All her contributions (which save Miles and Bel in the end) remain off-screen. But that's okay since we know she keeps her head in emergencies... and quite frankly, she's a supporting character and having her PoV would distract from the ongoing mystery. Armsman Roic again takes over the task of guarding Miles. His feelings of inferiority become a tad repetitive, though, but he's definitely showing some growth into his role by the end.

 

Generally speaking, it's the small things that make this a very enjoyable reading experience: shows of loyalty, things/opinions just expressed with a small gesture, Miles fighting for Bel's life, exasperation all around at Miles's shenanigans etc. It's not the grand stories, the mysteries why I enjoy this series so much. It's rather the connecting subplots (like here the shout back to Cetaganda), the worldbuilding, the 3-dimensional characterization, the slow moments of introspection and realization. The saga might be set 1000 years from now, but it's still dealing with the same basic issues we do every day. Which is what makes is so eminently re-readable (even the weaker parts).

 

So, overall a pretty straight-forward detective story, mixed with old and new friends, a helping of political messes at home and abroad... despite having already read the book before, I was still captivated and at the edge of my seat for the latter half. Pretty good sign, isn't it?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-13 20:26
Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Borders of Infinity (Vorkosigan Saga, #5.3) - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is an omnibus edition of Bujold's 3 earlier novellas, framed by Illyan's interrogation of Miles into the enormous bills the Dendarii Mercenaries seem to accumulate under his command. The framing story is set shortly after Brothers in Arms.

 

Mountains of Mourning (5++++++ stars) - set after Miles's graduation from the Imperial Service Academy, just before The Vor Game

 

already reviewed here - still dearly loved.

 

Labyrinth (3 stars) - set after Cetaganda/Ethan of Athos

 

Miles is sent to Jackson's Whole to extract a geneticist - whose terms are that Miles has to kill the last remnant of an experiment into creating super-soldiers, animal genes mixed with human DNA. But Miles doesn't find a monster, but a frightened, disillusioned girl.

 

The weakest of the 3 stories. Not because of the message, but it seems very compressed. Jackson's Whole and Taura would have deserved a longer introduction, especially because both will turn out to be quite important to Miles's growth as commander and human-being. The way the story stands now, Taura latches on too quickly... I don't know... one tumble in the sheets (well, a stone-cold floor) and she's convinced Miles takes her as fully human? And Miles thinks that the body can't lie? I mean, I'm happy Miles thinks for himself (sometimes too much) and doesn't simply follow orders stupidly - and Taura is certainly worth saving... but... still not satisfied with this story.

 

Borders of Infinity (4 stars) - set right before Brothers in Arms

 

Miles is sent to infiltrate a Cetagandan prison camp. Initially set to rescue one person he ends up organizing the whole camp.

 

Again a story that could profit from expansion because again Miles convinced those disillusioned prisoners who are merely existing instead of living, entirely without hope, that there's someting worth living for, a future worth fighting for. Bujold doesn't pull any punches describing the situation there. The Cetagandans are complying with the interplanetary charta to treat PoW... but only literally, reality is quite another thing entirely. You actually feel hope and even sanity leak from you while reading this story. In the end even escape isn't a victory to celebrate.

 

Curiously, this prison escape also marks the beginning of the end of Admiral Naismith - even if Miles only later learns that fact years later (in A Civil Campaign).

 

Overall, 3 stories definitely not to be missed in this saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-06 17:18
Post von Karlheinz von Hasnain Kazim
Post von Karlheinz - Hasnain Kazim

Untertitel: Wütende Mails von richtigen Deutschen - und was ich ihnen antworte.

 

Als Journalist der Zeitschrift Der Spiegel ist Kazim täglich mit Massen an Reaktionen auf seine Artikel konfrontiert... Er ist der Meinung, dass er nicht alles, was ihm an Hass und auch absolutem Blödsinn entgegen"gekotzt" wird, einfach stehen lassen kann. Und so tritt er in Dialog mit Leuten, die ihn oft lediglich wegen seines Namens und Aussehens rassistisch beschimpfen, diffamieren oder bedrohen. Denn:

 

Meinungsfreiheit bedeutet nicht Widerspruchsfreiheit.

 

Und genau darum geht es. In Zeiten, wo Likes in den Social Media bestimmen, was man zu lesen bekommt, und Widerspruch sowie gegenteilige Ansichten dementsprechend schnell ausgefiltert werden, sind viele nicht mehr gewöhnt, damit umzugehen. Das Spektrum an informierten(!) Meinungen verarmt zusehends, und intelligenter öffentlicher Diskurs findet so gut wie nicht mehr statt. Das ist die eine Seite.

 

Die andere ist die Verrohung der Sprache, der fehlende Filter zwischen Hirn und Mund/Fingern. Ich kann mich erinnern an die Anfänge meiner Online-Zeiten: Da gab's eine sogenannte Netiquette, an die man sich zu halten hatte in den verschiedenen Newsgroups oder Foren. Davon ist aber weit und breit nichts mehr zu sehen. In welcher geistigen Umnachtung man sich auch befindet, man postet oder mailt, beschimpft oder droht mit sogar strafrechtlich relevanten Taten. Ein Hinterfragen des Tons findet nicht mehr statt, geschweige denn der Wortwahl. Fürchtet man sich vor Konsequenzen? Gibt es überhaupt Konsequenzen? Scheinbar nicht.

 

Es ist salonfähig geworden, rassistische Dinge offen und unter eigenem Namen jemanden an den Kopf zu schmeißen... ganz im Sinne von: Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein. Jeden Tag sieht man dies in der politischen Auseinandersetzung. Es prescht jemand aus der 2. Reihe mit einer rassistischen Äußerung nach vorne. Vielleicht wird die Aussage noch zurückgenommen, aber das ist vollkommen unwichtig. Denn die Samen sind gesät, das nächste Mal wird der Aufschrei leiser sein, bis er verstummt und die eigentlich unerträgliche Aussage einfach Alltag wird. So geschieht es in der Flüchtlings- und Migrationsdebatte seit 30 Jahren in Österreich.

 

Je nach Ausgangskommentar entgegnet Kazim nun entweder sarkastisch/ironisch, fallweise durchaus spöttisch, sehr oft aber auch sehr sachlich und erklärend. Wie darauf dann vom Kommentarautor reagiert wird, ist mitunter entlarvend...

 

Jedenfalls halte ich dieses Buch für eine Pflichtlektüre für alle, die auch nur halbwegs offen durchs Leben gehen, sich in Social Media bewegen oder in Foren partizipieren. Ich muss leider gestehen, dass mein Frustrationsplafonds sehr rasch erreicht ist, sodass ich es nach 1-2 Tagen wieder aufgebe, offensichtlichen Unwahrheiten, die stupide nachgeplappert werden und auf denen trotz Gegendarstellung insistiert wird, entgegenzutreten. Daher Hut ab, Herr Kazim!

 

Für Stoff zum Nachdenken und Diskutieren ist jedenfalls gesorgt - und das kann einer Gesellschaft nur gut tun.

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