Joe’s Book of the Month very first book club meeting is officially underway. So I’ll kick things off by weighing on this months selections: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, and Excessions by Iain M. Banks.
Let me begin by saying I’m a big Terry Pratchett fan. This is the sixth book in the Discworld series I have read and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as, say, Mort or The Light Fantastic, Pratchett’s trademark wicked wit and humor are on full display here. Every page offers up, if not a giggle, then an outright laugh and, as a read, the book is great fun.
I was less enamored with some of the fantasy elements (which I found confusing). There were times when I wondered: “Why did that happen?”. The obvious answer was “Because that’s the way this particular aspect of fantasy works in this book” – and that brought to mind the science fiction vs. fantasy conversation I once had with Rob Cooper. Coop found fault with some fantasy authors’ unwillingness to operate within established parameters. In other words, whereas scifi has to be more or less grounded in the types of developments a story can take, fantasy has the freedom to go anywhere the author chooses/imagines and, as a result, the developments in the plot may seem more convenient or strange than logical progressions. I’m reminded of one of the Harry Potter books in which one of the story’s mysteries is resolved by attributing the seemingly inexplicable happening to some magical device the reader has never been privy to before. Yes, given the world Rowling has created, it is very possible for such a device to exist, and yet its late introduction (particularly as a means to solving a mystery) feels all too convenient. There’s nothing quite so egregious in Hogfather. Still, I found myself in want of an explanation for Teatime’s fall, disappearance, and then later reappearance at book‘s end. Anyone want to field that one?
As is always the case in the Discworld series, Pratchett introduces some wonderfully colorful characters, from the downright frightening assassin Mr. Teatime (pronounced The-ah-tim-eh) to the literal-minded and wholly lovable Death. The situations in which they find themselves are fun and frenetic and the story progresses at breakneck speed, but there were moments when I felt it progressed a little too quickly. For instance, after setting up the plot to off the Hogfather, we skip ahead to the fait accompli, leaving me to wonder how the hell did they do it?
Some questions, yes, and, in my opinion not, as clean a narrative as some of the other books in the series, but highly enjoyable nevertheless.
I’d like to start this review by apologizing to any and all first-time readers of Iain M. Banks who decided to take the plunge with Excession. Not that it’s a bad book. Quite on the contrary, in fact. However, it’s nowhere near as accessible as some of his other works like Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, and Use of Weapons (if you can juggle the time lines in the latter). Excession is intelligent, inventive, and, at times, very convoluted. In some ways, one can draw parallels between Pratchett and Banks in that both authors are accomplished at offering up two levels of enjoyment in their respective narratives: the story itself and the way the story is told. With Pratchett, it is the humor of the written word (the puns, dialogue, etc.) that wins me over. With Banks, it’s the ideas (the individual ships and their respective AI personalities, the gender-switching possibilities and its effects on relationships, the mind-bending cultural differences of an alien race [racquetball anyone?]). Yes, all authors present said levels in their writings, but I would argue that no one pulls it off quite as deftly as either Pratchett or Banks. In the case of Excession, the mystery surrounding the singularity, while interesting, quickly takes a back seat to the characters and even the somewhat confusing conspiracy by elements within the Culture to manipulate the Affronters into declaring war takes a back seat to wild imaginings and, well, just plain cool concepts Banks throws out at us.
A good book though a challenging one for a first-timer to the Culture series.
I’ll weigh in with more thoughts as the week progresses. Anyone else read ’em?
Oh, congratulations to Paula who was the first person to comment after the 500 000th visit to my blog. She wins an unofficial vial of sand (and if possible, one that Joe Flanigan will tread upon) from our season finale The Last Man. So include your email address in your next post, Paula, and we’ll take it from there.
In my quest to watch every new Fall show this season, I sat through the premiere of Gossip Girl. Serves me right I suppose. As Alex pointed out: “Dude, you’re not their target audience.” Too true.
Today’s pics: Lulu models her Winter gear. The dogs laze about. This month’s book club selections.
Today’s video: Click on the date to check out the Trio set. What have they gotten themselves into?
Chocolaj writes: “Why do you think Scifi (and whomever else calls the shots on whether you guys have a season 5) does not take into consideration the online communities, convention attendees, DVD/iTunes sales and other craziness exuded by fans everywhere?”
Answer: SciFi makes its money from advertisers, and advertisers are only interested in the number of eyeballs on their commercials. DVD/iTunes and convention attendance records don’t interest them much.
Rosie writes: “Why wouldn’t he, being from a parallel universe, be in the same situation as that other Carter in SG-1’s Point of View?”
Answer: The varying effects of Entropic Cascade Failure are dependent on the proximity of the parallel universe and the time crossover elements exist in an AU.
Anonymous #1 writes: “ Let me rephrase it: How do you like Dean Koontz’s writing?”
Answer: I read Phantoms some 20 years ago and enjoyed it.
Vikitty writes: “Regarding the ratings, it doesn’t matter if us Canadians watch it or not right? Because we don’t get SciFi?”
Answer: Even though they don’t influence the SciFi ratings, international fans play a major role in convincing MGM to produce more episodes.
WingedPegasus writes: “(1)Will we find out more about Michael’s bug army in season 4?
(2)Are there any “light” episodes in season 4? I think Harmony might be one, are there others? (3) Will Teyla’s baby be born before, during, or after “The Last Man?” (You could just say no comment if it’s a spoiler. I don’t want to ruin anything.”
Answers: 1) Oh yeah. 2) Harmony is the only one that comes to mind. 3) No comment.