- The girl with all the gifts by MR Carey. (c)2014 MR Carey; Pub Orbit 2014; ISBN 978-0-356-50015-7. I'd heard some of the hype about this one and wasn't sure I wanted to read a zombie thriller at all, but rachelmanija's review convinced me. It's an example of I don't normally like X but done really well, because rachelmanija explains that:
the specific emotions of horror – fear, dread, horror, disgust – aren’t ones I usually enjoy. But there’s another emotional state that horror can evoke, which is something akin to Aristotle’s idea of catharsis. It’s horror as transcendence, where terror and horror are also beautiful and awe-inspiring.So anyway, given that my reasons for not liking horror are similar to rachelmanija's, I reckoned I might find this book to be a good exception to that rule in a similar way to her, and so grabbed jack's copy.
I found the book absolutely unputdownable, and it more than rewarded working through the gory and squicky details. It's not a book that avoids the body horror aspect of zombie books, the horror is extremely vivid, but it's a book that in my opinion gives enough payoff to make it worth dealing with those elements. I do somewhat agree with other reviewers that the middle section is the least exciting part, because it involves a fairly stereotypical motley band of survivors on the run from zombies, and it's pacey and well-characterized but not especially original. But I loved the set-up and the way that clues are provided to the reader about how the background works even while most of the narrative sticks with Melanie's limited viewpoint. And I absolutely adored the ending, I won't spoil it but it's really doing the Pandora myth very well, it's both devastating and uplifting at the same time, and it fits with all the characters but to me came as a complete surprise.
I think you have to not think too hard about the world-building; it doesn't really make economic sense that 20 years after the zombie apocalypse things are as functional as they are on the base. There is a fair amount of biology and child psych technobabble which is not egregiously awful but also doesn't hold together if you examine it too closely. Particularly the reveal about the nature of Melanie and the other kids seems implausible, but I was very willing to suspend disbelief because it just works so well on a story level.
I didn't like Dr Caldwell as yet another evil scientist character, who cares so much about her professional reputation (even in a post-apocalyptic world where there is no meaningful academic structure to have a career in) that she loses sight of all morality. Seriously, people, caring about establishing the facts of what's going on by careful, rigorous experiments does not equate to not caring about suffering or other human ideals. The narrative does try to give Dr Caldwell some sympathy, but just doesn't succeed as well as with the other archetypes, the kind-hearted but flawed teacher, the brutal yet noble sergeant and the cowardly private. It felt as if Carey could imagine a soldier, a professional killer who can't afford any sentiment, being a rounded person with feelings trying to do his best in an awful situation, but couldn't imagine a scientist who is willing to do unpleasant things in order to further human knowledge as having any motivation beyond being unnatural and amoral.
- Ms Marvel: No normal by G Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona. (c) 2014 Marvel Characters, published 2015 Marvel Worldwide, ISBN 978-0-7851-9021-9. This has been getting some buzz recently, including a Hugo nomination in a category the puppies didn't bother peeing on. And I kind of liked the idea of a Muslim teenager from an immigrant background getting superpowers. I borrowed it from jack because I had a little downtime and didn't want to get into a long novel.
I found Ms Marvel absolutely adorable! I really loved the teenage girl interaction with her family, the conflicts between the Pakistani parents and the American-raised offspring. The art is really pretty, especially the title pages but throughout, and the characters all have really expressive faces. I especially loved the background details, the shop windows and the passers-by and the made-up brands and newspaper headlines and so on, just lovely lovely worldbuilding. I think the gimmick of having a non-default superhero character works pretty well; I enjoyed Kamala's gradually working towards an outfit / appearance that suits her, realizing she doesn't necessarily need to have blonde hair to be a superhero, and settling on an outfit that is somewhat modest by superhero standards but definitely not a stereotype of Muslim dress. I liked the way that Kamala is specifically from New Jersey and her parents are specifically from Pakistan, they're not just generic "Muslims", and that there are other Muslim characters whose lives are informed by religion in different ways, with more nuance than just fundamentalist versus secular. I wasn't so impressed by the way that stuff related to Muslim or Pakistani culture is footnoted, rather than allowing the reader to pick up meaning from context. I love the way she's definitely a geek, and lives in a world where superheroes are real, but there's not too much self-consciousness about being all meta.
I was kinda bored by the actual superhero antics, though. I mean, this is the first five episodes and it's clearly meant to establish the character. But I didn't really care a whole lot about The Inventor or his minions, I was much more interested in Ms Marvel's character development. Which is probably why I am not normally a superhero fan...
Currently reading Like everybody else in the internet, the famous MeFi thread on Emotional Labour. I haven't found it as mindblowing as some people because I already knew that emotional labour existed, and I agree with the commenters in the thread that this is basically a second-wave style consciousness-raising exercise about what used to be called wifework, but that doesn't mean it's not valuable. It's also the case that the MeFi thread is an absolute masterpiece of moderation; the mods have kept 1500 comments directly on topic, and kept out nearly all the annoying derails where people try to prove that feminism is wrong or unnecessary.
Long thread is long, so here are some round-ups I've seen where people have made helpful comments and extracted what they think are the best comments:
- siderea: This changes everything
- staranise: a huge watershed moment in internet feminism
- kaberett: Comments I particularly adored
- elf: Life-changing stuff in there
Up next Faute de mieux, probably The three-body problem by Cixin Liu. I've seen very mixed reviews of it (I've skimmed them to get impressions without spoilers); some people think it's amazing classic / hard SF, some people think it's really innovative because it comes from a different culture than the American-centric one we're used to, some people think it's awful both writing-wise and scientifically. I'm kind of intrigued by it and it's another I'd like to consume before the Hugo results are announced. Plus I already have it on my ereader and I'm heading back to Keele today and might not have time to pick out something else instead.
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