Tag Archives: bits

Bits on ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’

I think I can safely assume the premise of the book is clear.

Lincoln led a miserable life. Dead mom, drunk dad, dead kids. This book assumes this was all the work of the US vampire menace. And it works; the guy suffered so much loss that a recounting of the events of his life begs for something greater than mere mortal influence simply to make sense of it. Giving old Abe some stakes (the wooden kind, not the plot kind) and pitting him against the forces of evil feels right.

The book is set up as a story within a story, with some dude in upstate New York being entrusted with Lincoln’s private journals. Naturally, I expected to go back to this fellow’s tale at the end and see how this knowledge has changed his life. This did not happen. Maybe it was vampires.

My rating? 2 Galactic Credits

Bits on ‘A Short History of Myth’

I expected something more granular, I suppose. More chronology than history. My surprise, then, was of the pleasant variety.

When Jess finished Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth, the thin volume which serves at the introduction to the Canongate Myths series, she told me I’d like it. When she re-read it, she found it trite — but then realized that the assertions made therein were so accessible and evident that they had become part of her thought process about the topic. It seemed trite on the second reading because it had been so simply true the first time.

As I slog through the zero draft of the next novel, mythology and myth-making are very much on my mind. Diuran, the protagonist in Rhymer and in this new piece, tries to change his world by telling stories. He builds the future over drinks and campfires. Sure sounded like I needed to give A Short History of Myth a look-see.

As you no doubt have guessed, I found the book to be brilliant.  The argument that contemporary life is miserable since we don’t have myths to guide us is depressingly well-made. But what killed me was the end:

If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight to our lost and damaged world.

In the final pages, Armstrong states that a good novel can serve the same function as a myth, and is the only thing in our modern world which does so. So, we’re all screwed because we live without myth, and the only people who can save us are novelists. No pressure!

 

Bits I learned from The Quantum Thief

Zee mind, she is blown. The Quantum Thief is one of those ‘why do I even bother writing’ books. Memorable characters, wildly intelligent science, solid action scenes, and a well-conceived world. Feel free to troll the ‘nets for reviews – suffice it to say I recommend giving it a read.

The presentation is today’s topic.  We see two points of view for the most part: the titular thief and a detective. Sure, sure. Two plots which have no choice but to collide at the climax. All well and good.

But the thief’s chapters are all in first-person present, and the detective’s in second-person present.  First-person present, I said. “I walk into a bright room and see all sorts of crazy business”.  As opposed to the detective: “Isidore walks into a bright room and sees all sorts of business, crazy and otherwise.”  And definitely not “Jean walked into a bright room and saw some business going on.”

As much of a psycho-noogie as the plot can be, the choice of tense here really sent me around the proverbial bend. The chapters don’t need to be tagged to explain who’s speaking, because the two stories are presented in different tenses. So whose story is it? Clearly the thief’s, but why not the detective’s as well? Why the different treatment?

When a mind can be copied, stored, reinserted into bodies et cetera, concepts of a person’s past and future change. The present tense works here, because all the characters can really say for sure is what is going on right now. Well done.

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A few of the tips I’ve gleaned from other books (see previous posts) are represented well in The Quantum Thief:

 

A good sci-fi universe envisions the end-results of many technologies, not just one.

Nanotech, the mind as software, the cultural effects of MMOs, et cetera. The story could not work without these.

 

Give the reader some new vocab, and make it awesome.

Chock damn full.  Rajaniemi grabs words from Hebrew, Russian, from other lit – from all over the place.  Referring to a space elevator as a ‘beanstalk’ is bloody genius. The bit I’d most like to steal is the use of the prefix “q-“ with any quantum tech.

The setting is a character.

The majority of the story takes place in a city moved along the surface of Mars by giant robots controlled by the uploaded minds of the citizenry, forever running from the self-replicating killer drones which have taken over the red planet’s surface. Come on now.

The Oubliette is obsessed with personal privacy, to the point that every person has a way to completely control who can see or hear them. Shared public memories, open (and closed) spaces, the etiquette involved in just saying ‘hello’ to a stranger — the city’s privacy system is a part of every decision the characters make.

Final note: I  must admit I find the US cover to be totally bitchin’.