November in Review

Books Acquired:
A Brief History of the Celts by Peter Berresford Ellis

Books Read:
The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Stranger by Albert Camus

I am so behind. I spent a few weeks away this month, partly back in my hometown visiting my mum and partly in Hawaii, and I get surprisingly little reading and writing done when I’m traveling. I say surprisingly because it seems like that’s prime reading time for most people, but that never seems to be the case with me. Most of my beach time was spent in the water, and most of my home time was spent working or helping around the house (and playing games). If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that none of the books read in November have been written about yet, so I’m really going to try and catch up in the next few weeks. I’d like to be up to date before the new year.

I think I’m going to join a few reading challenges this year as well, so if you have any that you’re hosting or are just excited about participating in, let me know in the comments!

Movies watched:
Pineapple Express (2008) – Overall mediocre, but it did have a few really hilarious moments in it.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) – A cliche-ridden spy action movie. Silly fun, a bit forgettable, but Kenneth Branagh was really good.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008) – Michael Cera being Michael Cera. It made me want to watch Scott Pilgrim, but I did like it.

Fading Gigolo (2013) – I watched this mainly for Woody Allen, although it turns out he just acted in it and had no part in the writing or directing. It’s enjoyable if you can get over the ridiculous plot.

TV watched:
No series finished this month.

Games played:
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth (PC) – I played through one game of this, and I was a little underwhelmed. After a couple hours the changes felt a bit superficial, but I’d like to have more time with it to see if that feeling goes away. It’s still a Civilization game, so it isn’t by any means bad.

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (PC) – I played through the first game last year (about 15 years late) and loved it. I thought I wouldn’t like this one as much, but I loved it as well. The stories in these games are just fantastic. If you’re a story-driven gamer (or a gamer who takes the time to read a book blog), you’ll most likely love these as well. Really looking forward to picking up Dreamfall Chapters soon and giving the first chapter of that a go.

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More Fool Me

More Fool MeMore Fool Me by Stephen Fry
Published: 2014
Narrated by: Stephen Fry
Length: 09:49

This is Stephen Fry’s third autobiography. Some people would say that is two too many, but I’ll keep reading them if he keeps publishing them. I’ve actually listened to all three on audiobook, despite having bought at least one in dead tree format, because I can’t pass up a chance to listen to his narration.

I wasn’t in love with his second autobiography, The Fry Chronicles, and when I first discovered this had been released, I was worried about the reviews. The star ratings seemed low, and many of the reviews I skimmed seemed disappointed with the repetition of stories from previous volumes. There were also complaints that a long section of the end, an excerpt from his journal, was dull. I’m happy to report that neither of these were issues for me.

Much of the book is spent retelling old tales to catch new readers up, which is a little frustrating for us slobbering devotees, but I found those stories were told in a fresh way. Unless I’m remembering his past books incorrectly, he does approach each story with something new. I never felt like I was reading the Coles Notes of the first two books, as was my worry. The last third of the book is his journal from the mid-90s, which he kept while writing The Hippopotamus, a novel widely regarded as his best work of fiction (which I haven’t read yet). Reviewers seem to hate this portion, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a fun look into his life as a coked-up writer, partying each night and regretting his word count most mornings. Interestingly, Hugh Laurie was also writing his book The Gun Seller during this period, which prompted me to finally pick it up off the shelf and give it a read.

The only thing I couldn’t stand, but was also amused by, was Fry’s abbreviated words in his journal entries, and I can only imagine how awful it must have been to re-read that before including them in this book. I should have kept track, but here are some notable cutesy samples:

  • Natch – naturally.
  • Nov – novel.
  • Dins – dinner.
  • Stues – students.
  • Voddy – vodka.

This resulted in sentences such as ‘Stayed for a voddy, and then to the Ivy for dins’. I’m going to blame the cocaine and move on.

I can’t promise that all who read this will be in love, but I thought it was great. It’s not a bad place to start if you want to jump in having never read one of the previous autobiographies, which I guess is what he was going for, but I’d still recommend starting with Moab is My Washpot.

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The Classics Club November Survey

I thought I’d participate in this month’s Classics Club question, which is actually 50 questions. It turns out that 50 questions is an awful lot of questions. Some might say too many questions, but I felt committed to finish once I’d started. It was a fun exercise, though.

  1. Share a link to your club list.
    My List of 50 classics.
  2. When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club?
    I joined on March 23, 2012 (wow, doesn’t feel that long ago) and have read 28 (plus one I haven’t written about yet), which puts me right on track for my end date of March 23, 2017.
  3. What are you currently reading?
    I just started listening to The Stranger by Albert Camus and am currently reading A Brief History of the Celts by Peter Berresford Ellis (which isn’t for the Classics Club).
  4. What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it?
    Lock In by John Scalzi, and it wasn’t my favourite of his. The last classic I read was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and I really enjoyed it, more than I thought I would going in.
  5. What are you reading next? Why?
    I don’t like to plan ahead. I usually just grab whatever catches my eye when I’m ready, but I am planning to read another Oscar Wilde play soon.
  6. Best book you’ve read so far with the club, and why?
    Probably Flowers for Algernon. I knew nothing about it going in, and it was a great surprise.
  7. Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list?
    I’m eager to read Down and Out in Paris and London. I love travelogues, memoirs, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I feel like it’ll be perfect for me.
  8. Book on your club list you’ve been avoiding, if any? Why?
    I’ve been putting off Walden. I think I could potentially love it when I get to it, but I’m a bit afraid it’ll be a dry read. I also plan to start adding some of The Russians to the list as well, and that’s a bit frightening.
  9. First classic you ever read?
    My dad read The Hobbit to me as a child. The first I read on my own was either The Fellowship of the Ring or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  10. Toughest classic you ever read?
    I’m constantly surprised with how readable most classics are, so I haven’t had to struggle through many, but I’m a wimp and avoid the obviously tough. The first half of As I Lay Dying made my head hurt, though.
  11. Classic that inspired you? or scared you? made you cry? made you angry?
    The Day of The Triffids really stirred all of those emotions. It’s tense, infuriating, heartbreaking, but also hopeful in parts.
  12. Longest classic you’ve read? Longest classic left on your club list?
    I haven’t really attempted any of the bricks out there, so maybe The Moonstone (from before the list started)? I’ll probably attempt at least one Tolstoy before the end, though, and those are quite large.
  13. Oldest classic you’ve read? Oldest classic left on your club list?
    The oldest so far is The Trial and Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues from around 399 BC. Earliest left are various Shakespeare plays, but I think I’ll read the Iliad and/or the Odyssey before finishing, which are said to be written around 1260 BC.
  14. Favorite biography about a classic author you’ve read – or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any?
    I have Kurt Vonnegut’s biography, And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields, on my shelf. I’m quite excited to get to that, but I think I want to read a few more of his novels first.
  15. Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why?
    I don’t think there is a single classic I’d recommend for everyone, as everyone’s different. I feel like Flowers for Algernon would have wide appeal, though.
  16. Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any?
    I don’t really have many fancy editions of classics, actually. I guess my most cherished would my editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as they’re the same ones my father read to me as a kid.
  17. Favorite movie adaption of a classic?
    Scrooge (1951), the Alastair Sim adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
  18. Classic which hasn’t been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film.
    It feels like most classics have already been mined at some point. Maybe The Kraken Wakes, in the right hands.
  19. Least favorite classic? Why?
    I really, really disliked William Gibson’s Neuromancer when I read it as a teenager. I haven’t revisited it since, so maybe my opinion will have changed after 15 years, but I remember it being so bad that it put me off reading for a couple months. I just hated the writing. He could spend a page describing a telephone, and you would have no idea he was describing a telephone unless he actually used the word ‘telephone’.
  20. Name five authors you haven’t read yet whom you cannot wait to read.
    Margaret Atwood, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevesky, Alexandre Dumas, Franz Kafka
  21. Which title by one of the five you’ve listed above most excites you and why?
    Everyone seems to love The Count of Monte Cristo, so that’s exciting.
  22. Have you read a classic you disliked on first read that you tried again and respected, appreciated, or even ended up loving? (This could be with the club or before it.)
    I was bored with, and didn’t finish, Nineteen Eighty-Four when we read it in high school, but I re-read it a couple years ago and loved it.
  23. Which classic character can’t you get out of your head?
    I often think about Robert Neville from I Am Legend and how his complete world view was flipped on its head. I love that character arc.
  24. Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?
    Probably Bilbo Baggins. He really resonated with me growing up. Also, I’m a bit short, like to stay home, and love the bling. Or Gollum, depending the day.
  25. Which classic character do you most wish you could be like?
    Most of my favourite characters have some pretty major flaws that I wouldn’t want, but I’ll say Bilbo Baggins again. I may relate with him superficially, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more of his spirit and survival instinct.
  26. Which classic character reminds you of your best friend?
    Gandalf, but I’m focusing mainly on height here.
  27. If a sudden announcement was made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” on a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? Or, would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why?
    Trouble With Lichen by John Wyndham. It felt like the story had just begun.
  28. Favorite children’s classic?
    The Hobbit, obviously. Starting to repeat myself now.
  29. Who recommended your first classic?
    My dad, he was a big influence on my reading growing up.
  30. Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature. (Recommends the right editions, suggests great titles, etc.)
    I don’t think I have a single major source of recommendations. I read a lot about reading, so I draw and compile my recommendations from many sources.
  31. Favorite memory with a classic?
    My dad doing Gollum’s voice while reading to me as a child.
  32. Classic author you’ve read the most works by?
    John Wyndham.
  33. Classic author who has the most works on your club list?
    William Shakespeare.
  34. Classic author you own the most books by?
    Arthur Conan Doyle, I think. Or Kurt Vonnegut.
  35. Classic title(s) that didn’t make it to your club list that you wish you’d included? (Or, since many people edit their lists as they go, which titles have you added since initially posting your club list?)
    I add as I go, and I’ve been adding more science fiction as I go. Despite being a big nerd, I hadn’t read much science fiction, and I’m really enjoying the classics of the genre.
  36. If you could explore one author’s literary career from first publication to last – meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication – who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven’t yet read, since you can’t do this experiment on an author you’re already familiar with. :) Or, which author’s work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way?
    I’ve already read quite a few Kurt Vonnegut novels, but it seems like his might be fun to read in order of publication. It sounds like he gets a bit bitter at the end of his life, so it might be interesting (or depressing) to see that transition.
  37. How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy?
    Right now only two, but I’m sure a few more will pop up.
  38. Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish?
    I haven’t come across one yet. I tend to finish most novels, even if I hate them and really should drop them. The only novel I’ve left unfinished since starting this weblog is The Sleeping Dragon.
  39. Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving?
    I wouldn’t read a novel that I’d expect to dislike, but I did think I’d have a hard time with Heart of Darkness and I really loved it. I think listening to the audio version, with Kenneth Branagh’s great narration, really helped.
  40. Five things you’re looking forward to next year in classic literature?
    I don’t really have specific goals. I just want to read more from my favourite authors and continue exploring the classics. I’d like to read a classic biography or two as well.
  41. Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?
    Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler. It’s on the shelf.
  42. Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?
    Ulysses. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever read this. I feel like most people read this for pride rather than enjoyment.
  43. Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club?
    I was slowly getting into the classics before joining, but it really gave me a push to keep reading at the start. My reading has changed quite a lot since joining.
  44. List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. What makes you love their blogs?
    Literary Exploration, The Oddness of Moving Things, Beltwayliterature, Entomology of a Bookworm and Avid Reader’s Musings. I should probably explore more of the member’s sites, but these are a few of which I currently subscribe.
  45. Favorite post you’ve read by a fellow clubber?
    I live in the now when it comes to reading weblogs. I don’t have a specific post that comes to mind. Sorry.
  46. If you’ve ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience? If you’ve participated in more than one, what’s the very best experience? the best title you’ve completed? a fond memory? a good friend made?
    I’ve considered a readalong, but I enjoy reading at my own pace.
  47. If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why?
    A re-read of The Hobbit or The Chrysalids.
  48. How long have you been reading classic literature?
    First exposed to it as a child. Read what was assigned in high school. Started reading them for pleasure a few years ago.
  49. Share up to five posts you’ve written that tell a bit about your reading story. Reviews, journal entries, posts on novels you loved or didn’t love, lists, etc.
  50. Question you wish was on this questionnaire? (Ask and answer it!)
  51. Where do you keep track of your books? I use Goodreads. Feel free to add me as a friend on there.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being EarnestThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Play premiered: 1895 (St James’s Theatre, London, England)
Pages: 76

I love the dialogue in The Picture of Dorian Gray, but I started to drift during those few chapters in the middle that were all description. It makes sense then that I’d love Oscar Wilde’s plays, and I thought I’d start with his most popular work.

Would you be in any way offended if I said that you seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection?

This is an absurd comedy that revolves around two couples, their marriage proposals, and false identities. The readers (or audience members) are always aware of the truth, and the fun is in watching how everything plays out. The plot is lighthearted and clever, poking fun at the values held dear in Victorian society, but what really shines here is Oscar Wilde’s wit, and the plot serves its job to deliver that wit perfectly.

The subtitle for the play is A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, and that’s what’s so fun about it. Unlike Dorian Gray, where similar attitudes were shown to have dark consequences, triviality is fully embraced here. Marriage in particular is treated as a whim, while things like cucumber sandwiches and journaling are taken quite seriously.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

As fun as this play is, it gains notoriety as being the beginning of Wilde’s downfall. It was during one of these performances that he was publicly outed as gay, a criminal offence at the time. This led to his incarceration, from which he was eventually released impoverished and injured. The injury led to fatal meningitis a few years later. It’s a tragic injustice that such a great writer was ruined because of his sexual orientation.

I plan to read the rest of his plays, and I think I’ll seek out the film adaptations as well. He’s hilarious, and I love his use of the language. Every line of dialogue was a pleasure to read.

I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.

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October in Review

Books Acquired:
Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Books Read:
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
More Fool Me by Stephen Fry
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I read more than I bought, so I consider that a good month. I also really enjoyed the books I finished, so that’s an even better month. There are quite a few unread Pratchett novels on my shelf already, but I like to read them in the order they were published for the most part, so I thought I’d pick up Jingo to unblock my Discworld progress. I then immediately got distracted by other books and didn’t get to it, but it’s good to have anyway.

Movies watched:
Fury (2014) – An unrelentingly bleak look at a tank squad’s life at the end of WWII. Great acting all around, but it was a little hard to connect to the characters without knowing them before this period in their lives. It would have been an amazing episode of a Band of Brothers type series, but as a singular story it was a bit rough to take. My girlfriend broke down midway through and started giggling at people dying. She may be forever changed from this experience.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Wes Anderson’s films are just fun to watch. This is what you’d expect, to be honest, but in a good way I think.

Zombieland (2009) – We re-watched this on Halloween, and I’d forgotten how good it is. The acting is great, the action is fun, and it hits both the funny and heartwarming notes perfectly.

TV watched:
Sherlock, Season 2 and 3 – I watched the first Sherlock series ages ago and forgot that they carried on with it, so we watched the next two this last month. It got better and better as it went on. I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next series to come out, which according to IMBD is in December 2015. Quite a long wait, sadly.

Arrested Development, Season 1 – I’ve heard for years how great this show is, but it never really grabbed me. We’ve been slowly watching it over the last few months when we are looking for something short during dinner. I’m liking it more now that we’ve hit the second season, but the first season was a bit mediocre.

Games played:
Shadow of Mordor (PC) – I loved this game. The story wasn’t bad, it started out strong actually, but the highlight was the gameplay. It was just a blast to play and offered a lot of freedom for the player. A lot of games present themselves as an open-world where you can decide what to do, but once a mission is started you’re guided by hand. This game felt open in a way that I hadn’t experienced (in an albeit limited capacity).

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I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Published: 2013
Narrated by: Archie Panjabi (introduction by Malala Yousafzai)
Length: 09:55

When Malala was first up for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, I saw an interview with her and was amazed at how strong a speaker she was for her age. I got goosebumps listening to how passionately she spoke about women’s right to education. It’s felt obvious right away that she was someone who, given the time and resources, could really make a difference. She didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize that year, but she was the co-recipient this year, which is fantastic. The more exposure she gets the better.

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.

For those who don’t know, Malala Yousafzai grew up in the Swat valley region of Pakistan and was in her early teens when it was taken over by the Taliban. They pressured women to give up their right to education, among other basic human rights, and Malala continually spoke out against them. It’s clear that her father was a great influence on her, as he had very progressive views and dedicated his life to education by opening and running the school Malala attended. One day on the bus to school, months after the Taliban were supposedly driven from the region, a young man stopped the vehicle, boarded, and shot Malala in the head.

The bullet traveled down through her cheek and into her shoulder. She was moved to a hospital in Birmingham, England and after some time recovered with only minor nerve damage on the left side of her face. She is lucky to be alive and has since been campaigning, winning dozens of honours, for human rights. In trying to silence her, the Taliban gave her the attention of the world. There’s little doubt in my mind that she’ll be someone who will inspire a lot of positive change in her lifetime. She’s a great role model, not only for young women, but for youth and adults of both genders.

Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country – this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.

This is both her and her father’s life story. It’s not only a great look at life in a terrorist-occupied country, but it also gives a taste of life in a regular Pakistani home. We tend to only see the fundamentalists in western media, so it’s nice to see a more positive side of Islam. Malala seems to be able to balance a love of her religion and culture while still seeing the problems. She also shows insight into how people can end up in the extremist groups – using lies, conspiracy theories and fear-mongering on uneducated people, using their faith to manipulate them, can make them do the unthinkable.

He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan’s problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls.

Every time western countries retaliate with violence, more terrorists are created. Every bomb dropped is bait and fuel to use when recruiting members in these organizations. Stomp out a dandelion and watch those seeds spread across the lawn, as they say. The answer isn’t conflict, it’s education. Unfortunately that takes generations of work, and we want a short-term solution, but there really isn’t a short-term solution to terrorism. Individual citizens need to know enough, and be aware enough of the world beyond their home, to defend against manipulation. That can only happen in a society where education is available to all people, which is exactly why groups like the Taliban bomb schools and stop people from attending.

It feels like the shift towards a better future is already in motion, but it is slow-moving. Hopefully people like Malala and her father can help that along.

Here is Malala:

And here is her father’s TED talk:

I’d really recommend everyone read this.

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A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle In Time (Time Series, #1)A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Published: 1962
Length: 211 pages

I remember occasionally coming across this in my father’s book collection when I was young. I nearly picked it up to read a dozen times, but I always chose something else. It has a really pulpy cover, so I just assumed it was an old generic fantasy novel. I mean, there’s a Zardoz-esque floating head and a winged centaur on the front, what was I supposed to think? It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I discovered this is a young adult science fiction classic and is apparently beloved by many.

It’s a shame actually, because I think I would have really liked this growing up. Its protagonists are essentially genius children, which is something I always dug as a kid. One of the characters is a five year-old who speaks as if he’s thirty. The adventure begins as two siblings and a friend are whisked away in the night by three angel-hobo-witches in order to find their father. He went away years prior for a secretive government job and had lost contact with the family. They discover that he was experimenting with interstellar travel by way of tesseract, which in this novel is a phenomenon that allows the space-time continuum to be bent in a way that allows instantaneous transportation across the universe, known more popularly as a wormhole in our world, and is described to be structured like the mathematical tesseract (which I’ll pretend I totally knew about already).

It’s interesting reading young adult novels from this era. Have Space Suit—Will Travel was written a few years before this, and it had similarly advanced concepts and science in it. Maybe I just haven’t read recent young adult science fiction, but it feels like they expected more out of kids back then. A kid could read this without understanding the concepts and still enjoy it for the adventure, but would they even attempting to describe the science these days? Would that be removed if it was deemed to be a risk to sales? When I initially considered this, I was comparing these novels with the likes of Twilight, but maybe that’s not fair. I’m sure there were young adult novels similar to Twilight back then, and there are probably novels similar to this now, but they don’t seem to be what’s popular.

L’Engle shoehorned a lot of religion in this little book. It’s not just in there allegorically, characters are sharing bible quotes and asking to have the Book of Genesis read as a bedtime story. She doesn’t hide it in the text as some might. It’s just kind of peppered in, and the characters don’t tend to harp on about it too much. I’m curious if she starts to preach more in the later books, though.

She does start the novel with “it was a dark and stormy night”, which I was pretty excited to see. It’s one of those clichés that you don’t actually come across in the wild very often. I enjoyed her style of writing, and the plot and concepts were fun, but I’m not sure if I’d read the whole series. I have the next one on the shelf, so I might read that and see from there.

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Chew: Omnivore Edition, Volume 4

Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4 by John Layman
Illustrated By: Rob Guillory
Format: Hardcover Comic
Collects: Chew #31-40
Published: 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 272 pages

Finally, the fourth omnibus of Chew has been released. The wait between these editions can be torturous, but at least there’s no chance of getting burnt out on them. Not the ideal way to read through a series, but I actually don’t mind too much. I like having an annual release to anticipate, and these oversized editions are just too nice to ignore.

I’ve really liked the last couple of books for the humour and the creative ideas, particularly around the invention of new powers, but the plot was all over the place. They were a series of fun cases and subplots, but there wasn’t an obvious main thread to follow, no end goals. I have a hard time getting through any media that is too aimless – open-world games, short story collections, monster-of-the-week television series. Even if they’re well done, I tend to lose interest if it doesn’t feel like I’m progressing through a story.

Layman has taken all of the elements built up in the first volumes and has started to piece them together. There is an obvious end goal, an inevitable showdown, in sight now. The humour is still there, although mixed with some tragedy, and the stakes are building higher and higher.

This is still a great series and it looks to be getting even better.

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Trouble With Lichen

Trouble With LichenTrouble With Lichen by John Wyndham
Published: 1960
Length: 204 pages

John Wyndham is one of my favourite writers. His novels are beautifully written, and his stories feel fresh and innovative, despite being written half a century ago in a genre that is always building and expanding on itself. Unfortunately, Trouble With Lichen wasn’t my favourite of his. I still enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold my attention the way his novels typically do. I am making my way through the entirety of his bibliography, so I guess it’s inevitable that I’ll come across a few of his novels that fall a bit short for me.

The premise is fascinating. Biochemist Diana Brackley finds, by accident, that traces of the lichen she was studying was able to prevent some milk from spoiling. Upon further investigation, she is able to extract from it a drug that slows the aging process. What’s really interesting is the implications that arise from this discovery.

To begin with, there is a limited amount of the specific species needed to produce the drug, so the treatment could only go to those able to pay the premium price. So now society is faced the threat of even greater class boundaries, the rich living three times as long as the poor. What if everyone was able to access the drug? How would the world fare if everyone suddenly lived for two and a half centuries? How much unemployment would there be if no one was retiring and freeing up jobs? How would we deal with sudden overpopulation and everything that comes with that – feeding them, providing them timely healthcare, educating them, cleaning up after them? It would be such a quick and unanticipated change that it could very well leave the world in ruin.

Knowing that releasing the drug to the public could cause havoc, Diana Brackley decides to start administering the drug in secret to powerful women in the community to try and build a group that could someday inspire a feminist movement, the thought being that they’d be able to accomplish and learn so much more in their lifetimes. This would allow them more time to make a difference once they were in a position to do so. A strong sympathetic feminist as a point-of-view character in a 1960 science-fiction novel is somewhat unexpected and a nice surprise, and while her plan is morally unnerving and a little off the wall, it does come across as well-intentioned.

Wyndham poses the questions in this novel, but he doesn’t really try to answer them. The story takes place when all of this change is just beginning, which makes it feel like an introduction to a larger story. It’s a great start, and I appreciate how he leaves the reader to puzzle out the potential outcomes to the possibilities he presents, but it left me a bit unsatisfied.

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The Scar

The ScarThe Scar by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Published: 1996 (2012 translation)
Translated By: Elinor Huntington
Narrated By: Jonathan Davis
Audio Length: 15:17

I started listening to this just after I had finished playing The Witcher 2. It’s a game in a series based on The Witcher books by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski and developed by CD Projekt RED, a Polish game studio. It was a great game, but the main character is a uncharismatic misogynistic bore that women inexplicably throw themselves at. The main character in The Scar, Egert Soll, is very similar to this at the beginning of the novel. I, rather narrow-mindedly, was beginning to think this was an eastern European hero trope, but I’m happy to say that Egert ends up being a much more interesting and complicated character.

At the beginning of the novel, Egert is brash and unlikable. A high-ranking member of the city guard, and the best in town with his sword and throwing knives, he can essentially do no wrong. He has the respect of the men in the city and the lust of the women. This all changes when a scholarly woman comes to town and fails to be impressed with him, a small hit to his ego that sends him on an unfortunate path that ends with a scar across his face and a curse that renders him a complete coward.

The story takes place in a fully realized fantasy world, and has some great bits of action, but is mainly a story of a man trying to overcome and live with crippling anxiety. It’s somewhat slowly paced, but I never felt impatient with it. There are also some improbable plot developments, but they always felt natural. The characters really grow and change while you read. It’s a personal story in a traditionally epic genre, and it’s just really good story-telling.

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I found the writing, and Jonathon Davis’ reading of it, really beautiful. There’s always the worry of a bad translation when picking up a novel from another language, but I thought this was translated from its original Russian brilliantly. I unfortunately didn’t keep track of the passages that really stood out for me, but the writing throughout the novel was both succinct and lyrical, and I was mesmerized from the very beginning. There was something new (to me) in the style, and I wonder if it’s a common rhythm found in Russian literature. I have shied away from The Russians so far in my reading, so I unfortunately wouldn’t know yet.

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko are a married Ukrainian writing couple, which boggles the mind somewhat. I think the only other co-operative novel I’ve read was Good Omens, and I don’t think Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman were married at the time. The Dyachenkos have written dozens of novels together, so it seems to really be working for them. I’m not sure how many are translated to English, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for them. This book is apparently the second in their Wanderers series, but it felt like a standalone novel. If I had to guess from the series title, the only thing connecting the two books is a mysterious stranger referred to as the wanderer who plays a key role in the story but isn’t involved much in it.

Recommended for anyone looking for an atmospheric and psychological fantasy story.

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