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February 2013
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Ninebelow [userpic]
This Year's Reading

#34 Bunker 10 by JA Henderson

This was a recommendation from ajr. At first I was slightly apprehensive due to the presence of a wee schemie repleat with comedy accent. However this turned out to be a pretty awesome new school Boys Own adventure. You could argue that Henderson throws too much into the pot but this is part of its appeal.

I'll tell you what, instead of making diabolical comedies mabe the British film industry could make some 12A action adventure fims with broad appeal.

#35 A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

This is a tedious family argument somehow extended into a novel. It is written in the sort of breezy semi-humorous style you see a lot in the articles in women's magazine but with a slightly darker undercurrent. There is quite a bit about death here because it is also – as the title hints - partially a history of the unhappy past of Ukrania. This stuff is interesting but unfortunately it isn't a very good book.

#36 Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I read this online obviously...

Following a terrorist attack on San Francisco Marcus and his school friends try to resist the Department of Homeland Security occupation of their city. Little Brother is quite explicitly - technically and ideologically - a manual for this civil disobedience. You have to admire Doctorow for producing such a brazen work of propaganda aimed at children.

This does mean it isn't very satisfying as a novel though. In her review fjm notes: "I have always regarded SF as a didactic literature and regarded that didacticism as a good thing." I can't agree. In Little Brother the narrative always takes second place to instruction:

(did you know that it's really easy to fake the return number on a caller ID? There are about fifty ways of doing it -- just google "spoof caller id").
There are dozens and dozens of chunks like that and not just on security issues but geek arcana like LARPing. It is less a novel than an entertaining lecture on Doctorow's prejudices

Plotwise things are broken early on when Marcus decides to keep the fact he has been kidnapped and interrogated by the DHS secret because then reality would intrude on Doctorow's rebellion plot. The politics are fairly cartoonish and the characterisation pretty light (Marcus's dad - the voice of unconcerned America - in particularly.) And in the end the good guys win by being smart and right and having a journalist on their side. It is a curiously old fashioned, even naive, conclusion.


you're probably familiar with my point of view on doctorow, but it's interesting to see that his staggering inability to keep his opinions to himself spills over into his fiction. there's a reason i haven't read any of his novels and this isn't making me keen to.

The last paragraph of Martin's post makes me think he'd simultaneously be the best and worst person ever to write Scooby Doo episodes.

But did you notice Marcus doesn't quite win? I am not sure if Cory did this deliberately, but by ensuring Marcus gets a conviction (however minor) he makes sure he cannot get federal grant aid for college and will be ineligble for most scholarship schemes. Marcus's life, as he has lived it previously, is ruined.

Marcus's life, as he has lived it previously, is ruined.

Well, his life has changed but I don't see that it is ruined. If Doctorow intended the lack of access to a federal grant for college to be a devastating blow to Marcus he certainly doesn't present it as such. He seems much happier as a political activist than as a student.

The compromise between the state and federal government and Marcus's theft conviction seem like lip service from Doctorow, overriding it you get the core SF message that one competant man can make a difference. There is no real cost to his trauma, he learns a bit about himself and his country and then gets the girl, fame, respect and his fantasy job. It is notable that Daryl, who has paid a real price, is only mentioned in a throw away reference in the final chapter (in fact he is really just used a plot token rather than a character for most fo the book.)

Actually I wonder if he just didn't realise. He's Canadian isn't he?

He's a citizen of the world! But yes, born in Canada

If Doctorow intended the lack of access to a federal grant for college to be a devastating blow to Marcus he certainly doesn't present it as such.

Federal grant? bwahahaha. He'd likely get enough to buy his books. For one semester.

(I feel justified for not reading past his introductory screed now.)

Many SF fans like ludicrous tinfoil hat cartoon politics. I thought the politics in The Execution Channel and Farthing, taking recentish things that I hated but clearly many in the SF blogosphere liked, were ludicrous but people clearly like to hiss the villains, so what can you do?!
The previous novel (Someone comes to town, spends a long time persuading local businesses to put nodes of the local mesh network in their shops, then leaves town) is also very didactic, the more ludicrous since the connection between the fantasy novel and the 'guy setting up a mesh network' is remarkably tenuous.

I adored the tractors book - but if you don't like dark whimsy , you don't. i adored the book after too. I would certainly recommend her to anyone who (like me) misses when Kate Atkinson was good.