The Sword of the Lictor – 4/5
I might be getting a little series fatigue on these books. It doesn’t help the matter that this is the second time I am reading these books. I am doing that because while I have read them before I am trying reconcile my feelings of them with the rave reviews I read online.
The thing I most like about the books is that the world they inhabit feels very strongly like the kind of world I would love to play a video game within, especially a Dark Souls like action RPG with the timeloop/deathloop element from those games. The imagery strikes that right balance of a fallen world in just the most interesting ways. It’s also super dreary and syrupy and soupy in the ways of fallen worlds, especially fantasy ones.
The issue is not with the narration, which I find interesting. For me it’s the plotting and the prose itself. So much of this book takes place in the following way: travelling to a spot, stop to talk for a very long time, recall a singular person or event from a previous book, not really give a lot of context for that event, and then discuss it in opaque ways. Move on to the next one. And well, that ends up getting a little rough.
This book is still along the path. Different from the previous books, or more so from my first reading, I know where we’re heading so it makes more sense overall but still.
A Window into Time – 3/5
This is a novella about a young British kid who fancies himself to be incredibly smart and able (and for the most part he is) who ends up accidentally crossing paths psychically with a man in his 30s and the two end up splitting and sharing memories. This seems impossible according to our young narrator because of the laws of thermodynamics, but yet again, it seems to be happening regardless. The novella begins with him simply trying to figure out what’s going on, but then leads more to a kind of mystery as the man whose memories he shares finds himself in extreme danger from his fiancée’s ex-lover, an unhinged man who seems bent on violence.
As the story moves forward, there’s a lot of character development and scene-setting, and that’s interesting because of how patient the book overall seems. As things wrap up, it probably overstays its welcome a little too long, but Peter Hamilton tends to write very long books, so maybe that’s not a surprise.
It’s a little too convenient that the kid who just so happens to find himself in this predicament is also a kid who is extremely interested in time travel and quantum mechanics perhaps. The tone here is also interesting because at times it’s almost like a Adrian Mole book or David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, but maybe that’s just what British adolescent boys sound when they’re narrating a work of fiction. For a book playing around with a conceit, it does end up being a little richer than I would have guessed it would be.
The White Cottage Mystery – 2/5
This is an early Margery Allingham mystery novel, and she’s not someone I know much about other than being a half generation after Agatha Christie (although beginning her career at a younger age, so their first works appear almost around the same time). This novel is also quite short, which feels about right given how straightforward the general mystery is, at least in presentation.
In the novel, a man is murdered and everyone seems to be a suspect. Maybe the shifty foreigner did it?! Maybe the maid?! Maybe the former felon?! Who knows? Well, I do now because I read it.
It’s a mystery that eventually takes us out of the country to southern France, specifically Menton, which is the last town on the coast before the Italian border. Anyway, like a lot mystery novels especially early ones in careers, this one feels like it’s mostly spending its time getting its feet underneath it more than anything.
The 10th Victim – 2/5
I was trying to figure out why this story felt so familiar, and it turns out that this novel, like a lot of science fiction from the “Golden Era” began as a short story and was expanded as a novel. I have read a big collection of Robert Sheckley stories and so I realized I had read this one before. Robert Sheckley is most known for two stories specifically “Watchbird” is a story in which a surveillance drone program is launched into a society in order to monitor and punish crime, but it begins to misinterpret and then harshly punish noncrimes. It’s from the 1950s and is pretty prescient. The other is “Immortality Inc” which is about the future developing a technology to pull people from the past at the moment of their death for future use. This became the film FreeJack starring Emilio Estevez, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, and Mick Jagger. It even has David Johansen in it. It’s terrible, and I love it.
This novel is about the future again, but where all violence and murder has been eliminated by the process of legalizing it in a way. So long as you agree to be hunted yourself, you can partake in legalized murder, and hunt others like you. If you make it to ten victims (either from hunting or killing your hunters) then you are removed and rewarded. It’s a cool concept and mostly effective. It’s also deeply infected with gross racism and ethnocentrism almost from the first page.
My Name is Lucy Barton – 3/5
I do like this novel and I think the writing is very good, but I wish we lived in the voice and world longer. It feels too short for how much we get.
Lucy Barton is a writer who is going through a medical procedure. This experience is causing her to reflect on various parts of her life. We spend a lot of specific time with her marriage, to her childhood and her relationship with her mother, her father, and her brother, and with her experience with a fellow writer who served in both a kind of mentorship role, but also as a role model which work slightly differently from each other.
For me the writer sections are really interesting, because as much as writers love to write about writing and writers, I am not always sold on what us non-writers (I know none of us is actually a non-writers but you know what I mean) might get from these interactions. Here I think it’s really funny and interesting. Something I know as being a writing teacher and from writing a decent amount, at least semi-privately (as opposed to professionally and/or widely publicly) is how much inborn expertise you end up knowing about writing from the process of teaching and reading tons and tons of others’ writing. The writer who is running the workshop just knows writing (as our author certainly does) and it exudes from her expertise in these scenes in real ways. It also helps if you’ve been in a few writing workshops and with a few amateur writers who think pretty highly of themselves.
I am looking forward to more from this universe.
Gwendy’s Button Box – 3/5
This is the second time I am reading this and while I mostly recall what happened, I think I lost it to time. That’s not a great thing for the book if it’s barely there as far as I think about it. What seems odd about the story to me is that while it it’s ostensibly about one central conceit, some other things happen throughout it that make it seem it’s actually about these other things. There’s an element of causality that the book wants to play around with, but in general it’s actually and anti-causality, in the sense that things happen because of multiple factors and not just one. In this way the story often feels like a kind of play against the Richard Matheson story “Button, Button” as opposed to a riff. The “Button, Button” story is not only iconic in its own ways, what I think a lot of people forget is that it’s actually kind of cheap and unsatisfying. So what is interesting here is that Gwendy gets her button box, but it’s not automatic that it’s doing much or anything in her life by the end.
You can tell where Stephen King steps in to add some brutal violence and description to this story, because we have it in spades here. I am more interested in the second and third novels in this series now that I have reread this one, but I remember feeling at the end of this one originally that I was done with it and ready to put it aside with no issue.
I have to imagine your mileage will vary a lot with a book like this. I don’t care about motivational or self-help writing in any given way. I do like playing around with ideas in literature and fiction first, and poetry second offer me up the kinds of reflective practice I do want in my life. I need to see things play out in someone’s life or in someone’s mind, with language playing around something, to have any kind of transformative or epiphanic experiences. So a series of thoughtful and short and pithy thoughts about life and perseverance is just not for me. If it were, I do think this would be good though.
The Nonexistent Knight – 3/5
This is a little fable-like telling of a medieval knight and other connected knight characters. Our title character is Agilulf, a knight of significant beauty and grace and power and prowess, who possesses all that is needed to be a good knight and hold up the values. The issue is that Agilulf has no body and is literally just an empty suit of armor and a voice, but is otherwise able to to be a good knight. Another important knight who is not what they seem is Bradamante, another valiant knight, who just happens to be a woman. This leads to a kind of love triangle among Agilulf, Bradamante, and another young knight Rambaldo.
It’s difficult not to see some obvious ideas explored in our two nonexistent knights (and what is any knight really). We have the knight who embodies all that is good and right in knighthood, but is not an actual person, has no body or brain or ideas beyond duty, and who ultimately does not really live. We also have another valiant and dutiful knight, who happens to be a woman, which suggests that maybe some of those requirements are so required after all.