Book Reviews (1)

Three Parts Dead – Max Gladstone

Part of the Craft Sequence, which I’m going to get more of because this was dank. It’s a fantasy legal thriller with an inventive contract-based magic system, Craft, tied into a richly developed world.

The fire god Kos, god/power source of the city of Alt Coulumb, has apparently been murdered. New Craftswoman Tara Abernathy has to work the case and resurrect him with the help of a chain-smoking priest, Abelard, her new boss, Elayne, and Cat, a magic cop addicted to having vampires suck her blood.

Fast-paced, highly imaginative, a very clever work with great characters and an intriguing setting.

Among Others – Jo Walton

Mori got crippled and lost her twin sister while stopping their mother’s black magic scheme. At boarding school it begins to seem that her mother’s at it again, while Mori spends the time she isn’t dealing with that or in classes reading so much sci-fi – more than she could possibly be managing while attending lessons and, presumably, sleeping sometimes – that the book’s meta-ness reaches meme tier proportions. (Yo dawg, heard you like books so I put a book in your book so you can read about reading while you read…)

The diary format lends itself well to establishing her likeable character, the ‘magic as seemingly insignificant actions leading to chains of coincidence’ thing is handled well, and the fairies are interesting enough as truly alien figures that they really ought to be featured more. It’s not exactly fast paced, which is fine, but maybe Mori needs another hobby. When she joined a book club I was torn between feeling glad for her getting bookish friends and groaning ‘crap, there’s gonna be even more books in this book!’

Kill All Normies – Angela Nagle

An interesting but flawed look at the growth of the far-right online, viewing it as a reaction against the left. Nagle does a good job sketching out the key players – 4chan’s /b/ and /pol/, the Manosphere, alt-light figures such as Milo, and the alt-right. She makes some neat observations on the right adopting traditionally left approaches – irony, leaderless online movements, subversiveness – in the attempt to cause political change via cultural change, c.f. Antonio Gramsci.

Less solid are her arguments regarding ‘Tumblr liberals’, an alternative for ‘SJWs’ she coins to refer to those with a politics based on identity and ‘the emotional injuries of systemic cultural prejudices’. She makes valid – straightforward – points about the toxicity of some callout culture and the need to address material conditions and class rather than solely identity and so on, but this doesn’t mean those darn ‘SJWs’ don’t also raise actual problems for real people!

The ‘snowflake student’ stuff here feels a bit reactionary, as do other dodgy takes. And while internet culture was a worthwhile thing to investigate, there’s limited grounding in material events.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Hecking heck. This is good, folks.

IJ is a thousand-page behemoth with some obscure words and a lot of its content in tiny font as endnotes, but it’s not excessively hard. It’s immensely entertaining and about a lot of deep stuff: depression, addiction, criticism of reflexive irony as evasion of real human feeling, etc. In plot terms, it involves a halfway house for recovering addicts, a tennis academy, Quebec’s wheelchair assassins, and the search for ‘Infinite Jest’, a film so entertaining that people will sit watching it on a loop until they die in ecstasy.

I guess some of the pretentious vocab could be made normal English (why ‘aleatory’ when ‘random’ would do?), and the Wardine and yrstruly bits are grating. Some sections are a struggle to slog through, the chronology might be confusing, but have faith in DFW and it will be rewarded.

This has feels, laughs, big ideas. The challenge absolutely pays off. It’s an extraordinary picture of the human condition and a deeply profound, unique work of fiction.

Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit

A couple of essays on feminism, with the title entry being the one that led to the coinage of the term ‘mansplaining’. Solnit’s a convincing writer with some sharp touches of humour, raising a number of gender issues with stark clarity, consistently coming back to the right of women to be heard, taken seriously, to have a voice, to be free to participate on equal terms.

Some of the book is more obscure – the essay on Woolf, and ‘the spider essay’. They do connect to her general message, but I found them a bit more ambiguous and less strongly rooted in specific events than the others.

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

A girl goes missing on holiday in a small village. This sounds like the start of a murder mystery or something, but don’t expect a thriller. This is a slow burn without much in the way of conventional plot, kept going by poetic prose bringing to life a wide cast of characters, the natural landscape, and the village’s social dynamic.

Each chapter swoops through a year in the life of the village, starting with the search party having ‘gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do.’ The way everything unfolds, the deft touches painting each personality, the passing of the seasons, the twists and turns in intertwined lives, makes this a successful un-novel-like novel.

Who Rules The World? – Noam Chomsky

Wow. Reading this made me realise that, among various other things that feel obvious in retrospect, Obama wasn’t so great, US foreign policy has been even worse than I thought, and Israeli policy… yeah…

Chomsky basically just barrages you with facts and quotes – ‘the US/Obama/Israel/etc did this bad thing’, often adding, ‘this is them openly saying why they did it in terms not out of place in a Bond villain monologue’. This does all get repetitive, with the plus side that some of it has lodged in my memory through iteration. After a while, there was noticeable deja vu. Chomsky also isn’t the most engaging writer in the world, although he can be delightfully bitter and sarcastic.

I have no idea how Chomsky remembers so much stuff. His work here is an eye-opening deluge of deeply disturbing information, all of which should be much more widely known.