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review 2016-06-14 09:57
Codex - Lev Grossman
Codex - Lev Grossman

This is just such a weirdly-conceived book.


I think it wants to be a more cerebral Da Vinci Code, but what it ends up being is neither particularly cerebral nor particularly successful as a thriller.


It follows Edward, a hotshot financial lawyer person (I think?), as he's hired by the mysterious aristocratic Went family to catalogue their extensive library. Soon, the Duchess is asking him to find a codex (or, in normal English, a book) in the library which holds the key to some mysterious and terrible secret about the Went family.


There are a few interesting bits - I particularly found medievalist Margaret's speculation about the codex's contents (she thinks it's a fake) fairly convincing. But some of Grossman's history is just plain wrong (Chaucer was the only person reading Dante? Um, not so much, given that Dante was the thirteenth-century equivalent of J.K. Rowling), and the novel is strangely and aimlessly plotted, with Edward spending much of his time playing a computer game that turns out to have only a tangential relationship to anything.


The secret the codex contains is disappointingly mundane, and the ending of the book just seems to continue the theme of overall aimlessness. I don't know why we're supposed to care here.


(Oh, also? Edward's attempts to contact Margaret after their first chance meeting in a library are seriously stalkerish.)  

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review 2016-06-11 19:51
John Dies at the End - David Wong
John Dies At The End - David Wong

A silly and very male horror-comedy along the lines of Shaun of the Dead. Some evil Lovecraftian monsters are planning to take over the world and, in fact, all of the worlds; all that stands between them are John and Dave, two small-town video-store employees.


Perhaps it's the way I read it - in snatched half-hours before work - but John Dies at the End feels very episodic and very non-linear. It begins explosively, with an enormous alien invasion in Las Vegas and plenty of B-movie style casual deaths; and then it enters this strange sort of lull, and becomes much more focused on John and Dave and a slow build of mystery and weirdness with a strangely anticlimactic showdown.


Also, the central romance is really icky: Amy is cpllege age (I'm not sure how old Dave is - I thought late twenties, but that might be completely wrong), he constantly thinks of her as a "kid", but their relationship is definitely sexual. Ugh.


Oh, and David Wong is a pseudonym for a very definitely white internet columnist. There's a reason given for this in the book (which is pseudo-biographical) - Wong is allegedly the most common surname in the world, which apparently means that Dave will be more difficult to trace - but this still reeks of white privilege wanting the advantages of racial minority without, you know, all the racism.  


Not completely terrible - Korrok in particular is quite a cool idea - but not very interesting, and I won't be reading the sequel.

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review 2016-05-30 16:47
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden - Tasha Tudor,Frances Hodgson Burnett

It's amazing how seriously flawed so-called children's classics can be.


The Secret Garden, which seems fairly universally beloved in Britain, sees the spoiled and listless Mary Lennox orphaned in India by cholera, and brought to her uncle's rambling Victorian manor on the Yorkshire moors. She hears Jane Eyre-like crying in the endless corridors at night, and is intrigued by the mystery of the secret garden, a walled garden shut up by her uncle Mr Craven when his wife died (from falling off the branch she was sitting on? seriously? how high was this branch?).


I mean, the book is basically about how much better Yorkshire is than India for the emotional and physical growth of children, which is pretty fucking rich when English children wouldn't even be in India if the British hadn't gone and invaded it. The amazing, hearty, British Yorkshire air essentially transforms the petty and constantly ill Mary (the heat in India, apparently, was really bad for her) into a considerate and healthy person through the Power of Nature (which, they don't have Nature in India? really?).


Oh, and the crying Mary hears turns out to be Mr Craven's son, who has been hidden away in the depths of the house because Mr Craven can't bear to be reminded of his dead wife. He's pale and unhealthy because he refuses to go outside or even to get up, his weakness pathologised by the family doctor who wants him to die so he can inherit the family estate. But from the point Mary finds him onwards, the book slowly begins edging her out of the picture to concentrate on him; she's important only as a way of saving the male line from degeneracy, because Colin Craven isn't worth anything as an invalid. And the book has a horrible, horrible attitude towards mental illness: Mr Craven has been in the grip of something that looks very much like depression ever since his wife died, but Hodgson Burnett puts this down to his not trying hard enough to have happy thoughts.


Gods I hate turn-of-the-century children's authors.

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review 2016-05-30 16:12
The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart
The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart

Luke Rhinehart, psychiatrist, bored and unhappy with his life, hits on the idea of using dice to live his life, writing out lists of options and rolling a die to find out which one he'll go with. Sometimes the decision is as trivial as what to eat for breakfast; sometimes the die dictates what role he'll play at a party; sometimes it directs the whole course of his life.


It's utter crap, but occasionally quite enjoyable utter crap, watching as the dice get ever more out of control and Luke's old life spirals ever further down the drain. Rhinehart (a pen name for George Cockroft) cooks up a psychiatric theory for the dicelife based on the idea that it frees multiple repressed selves; I actually found this mildly intriguing and conveniently difficult to argue against, as it effectively sidelines any conventional idea of what truth and morality and personhood is. The apparently arbitrary nature of the decisions the dice make for Luke also lead to some genuinely suspenseful moments.


The one major beef I have with the book - the reason I wouldn't recommend it - is its frankly misogynistic outlook, especially with regards to rape and consent. The first dice decision Luke makes is to go downstairs and rape his neighbour Arlene. Which he does. And Arlene enjoys it, because she's a bored and unsatisfied housewife who needs some excitement in her life. And this is presented as completely OK. And what the fuck, book, have you not heard the words "rape culture"? (Probably not, actually, as this was published in 1969, but it's still shitty.)


There are several other instances where Luke coerces and manipulates women, often vulnerable women, patients and experimental subjects, into sex, and again, this is all completely OK on the basis that they're expressing repressed minority selves.


No. Noooo. Please go away, dice man.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-02-18 20:39
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline



Also, many swears and ranty bits.


* * *


Ready Player One is such a pile of shit that I just have no idea what to do with it in my brain. Also what to do with the fact that everyone seems to be hailing it as the Second Coming.


It is 2045. The world is broken because of global warming. Much of the human race spends most of its time in OASIS, the biggest simulation ever built, in order to escape Real Life. The creator of OASIS, Halliday (I don't know what his first name is and I don't care) coded a set of puzzles into the game before he died, with the first player to solve the puzzles becoming heir to his gigantic fortune. Oh, and Halliday was really fond of 80s pop culture (because, I suspect, Ernest Cline is really fond of 80s pop culture), meaning that the whole human race is now reliving the 80s because the Easter egg is such a huge prize. (Because, you know, that's how popular culture works.) Enter Wade, Easter egg hunter ("gunter", Cline calls them) and general teenage nerd. The rest of the book plays out exactly how you would expect.


What is so fucking enraging about this book, in fact, is not the infodumpy, Occam's-Razor-violating, hipster-namedropping world-building, or the utterly predictable plot; it's engaging enough to overlook these issues and just go along with the story. No, what made me want to throw Ready Player One out of the train window (I read it on the train) was its arrogant, fucking oblivious erasure of everyone except the main character (who is white, male and straight).


Cline goes to actually offensive lengths to make sure we know that everyone on Wade's A-team (oh, don't you know, white boys who save the world always have an A-team. See also Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore) is a POC or a woman or gay (in one case, all three) solely so that his main character can demonstrate his Enlightened Acceptance of All Humanity. (All white male authors: please note that not being racist or sexist or homophobic is, like, the least you can expect in a decent human being; it does not make your character a fucking god.) An actual sentence from the book (Wade has just realised that a person whose avatar is a white straight male is a gay African-American woman in real life): "I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation." WELL WHY THE FUCK DID YOU MENTION THEM THEN.


Understand: these non-player characters have no kind of actualisation, no personalities, no selves beyond what the plot requires. They are there solely so that the white male character can approve of them. The female characters exist for the male gaze: we know that Aech, the gay woman mentioned above, has large breasts; we know that Art3mis, Wade's crush, has a "Reubenesque figure", whatever the hell that means. Art3mis also has a birthmark in real life, but she needs Wade's reassurance that "I think you are even more beautiful in real life" before she can be happy about it. Similarly, when Aech comes out to Wade, it feels like the narrative is telling us to wait for Wade's approval, his acceptance, before we can accept Aech.


Fuck that shit.


Oh, and also? Art3mis fucking hates Wade for like the whole book (for good reason; he stalks her and invades her privacy at every opportunity), but as soon as he wins the Easter egg she's all like "You're my favourite person" and snogs him because HE HAS WON THE GAME AND SHE IS HIS FUCKING PRIZE, obviously.


Fuck. Off.

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