Log et al – Peter Curd

An irreverent peek into the inner rumblings of Peter Curd

Apr

24

Review: The Moonstone

By pcurd

The Moonstone
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading this book for a while now (Kindle says I started in August last year! 8 months!) but I haven’t been reading every week, or even every month. That’s not because it’s a bad story, far from it, or because it’s not a compelling tale, it is, but because I have been pretty deep in a series of audio books and found myself filling time that way. However, the last 40% or so of the story really pick up the engagement, the framing changes, the narrator changes (it’s an epistolary), and suddenly I had to finish it.

The story is considered the first full length detective novel written in English and as a fan of the genre, I was keen to see where it had started. The contemporary setting of the 1840-60s is not a period I know well. Around that time I believe the only authors active in that time from whom I’ve read more than one book are: Oscar Wilde (mostly later (1880-90s)), Jane Austin (earlier (she died in 1817)), Edgar Allan Poe (died in 1849), Jules Verne, and Charles Dickens. I haven’t read any Thomas Hardy, nor any Robert Louis Stevenson, and only one Lewis Carroll. Perhaps this should direct my future “to read” list then.. But, to the point – The Moonstone gave me a very interesting slice of life I haven’t seen before. Whilst the family-centric lifestyle of Austin is here, there is also a good railway service so the ladies of the household can move around. Rachel Verinder catches trains all over the place – I can’t see Elizabeth Bennet travelling this way (and the railway didn’t open until 12 years after the book was written). The servants described so well by P G Wodehouse or Verne get plenty of words, but they don’t have the social mobility of the 1900s yet – they live in house and are hereditary. It’s an in-between time – and fascinating because of it. Whereas Dickens gave a deep view of the underclass and the seedy, Wilkie Collins merely touches on it. Collins’ focus is on the lives of the privileged and those in contact with them.

My favourite narrators were the “head servant” Betteredge and the “adventurer” Blake. Both are key characters in the story and cross reference each other in a very interesting way – something not many stories are able to do. I wasn’t expecting the amount of humour that comes out during Betteredge and Miss Clack’s sections – it’s rather modern and very British. I looked forward to these narrators and found the change of pace quite rewarding. However, none of the narrators were boring and all had an interesting twist on their telling of the story. Their prejudices and world view form the majority of the story – how and what they see in the world is often more interesting than the sub-plots. This kind of social commentary is of course common in 19th century storytelling and Collins’ inclusion in The Moonstone isn’t out of place.

I find myself being reminded in parts of the Jeeves and Wooster series by Wodehouse – even though these books are set (and were written) many decades later, I am sure Wodehouse was inspired by those that came before him – The Moonstone must be included.

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Apr

13

Review: Chorus Skating

By pcurd

Chorus Skating
Chorus Skating by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s done! I’ve finished the Spellsinger series! It wasn’t a hard series to work through, really they are “easy listening” stories, but it felt like a long time.

It’s a return to form after the diversion through the 7th book (Son of Spellsinger), focusing again on the cast of the third 6 stories with a layer of “elderly” creakiness thrown on top. Really though, chronologically the cast can’t be older than their early 40s so the frequent comments on dodgy backs, pained knees, and worn out fingers is a little over the top. Foster himself must have been older than that when writing this book, I hope he wasn’t feeling his age quite that much!

The story follows the same rambling through the country meeting people and solving their problems motif that has been the series staple since the third book, this time focusing only on one sub-plot. This could have been a problem, but for once the new characters (because, of course, bringing back old characters would be far too dull) aren’t all annoying. All of them are interesting, and the majority have a good mix of personality and motivations. It felt a little like he was trying to cram in a few more “tribes”/species to get them off his list, but it was a good variety which added to the plot rather than being entirely fluff.

My biggest gribe is the continuation of the trend towards terrible female characters. Since the midpoint in the series I think Foster went off women, and starting writing awful characters with only two possible guises – the house-proud busybody or the acquisitive wet rag. Even once strong characters from the beginning of the series are not immune, morphing into a totally different person on their reappearance. In this book the problem is multiplied by the number of female characters brought in at once. What Foster was doing, I can’t imagine, but he does manage to introduce a new group with a different background to those we’ve seen before that I became quite attached to. Of course they are all men, since they are well written.

I still don’t think I can recommend the Spellsinger books to any particular group, or type of fan. They aren’t good fantasy stories, they aren’t good adventure stories, and I don’t think they are good “anthropamorphic animal” stories (although I’m no expert in that genre). I was able to enjoy them though, and this is one of the better ones for sure. I will miss one or two of the characters – but all the best characters left after their respective book never to be seen again anyway so I’m used to that.

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Mar

27

Review: Son of Spellsinger

By pcurd

Son of Spellsinger
Son of Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, it’s from the 90s so of course it has rap. For 6 books Foster has managed not to include any lyrics, giving little treats to those who know the songs and can guess what might happen but now, because 90s, it has to be rap and because (I assume) he’s made up the lyrics himself he can include them in the book. And it’s awful. Not to mention the pseudo-cockney accent of the otters makes completely bizarre rhymes and really terrible wordplay the apparent order of the day.

The story is another romp through the world (in one of the few directions we haven’t been before, naturally) meeting increasingly exotic animals that need to be looked up in an encyclopedia (or Google) before you have any idea what they are and solving problems at a rate of one per chapter.

So, it’s a Spellsinger book. Yes, and apart from the change of musical genre it’s fairly unchanged from the previous 6. The group dynamic is used to good effect and the sense of comradery is more believable here – not least because the group starts out fully formed (for a while anyway) from the beginning. New characters being introduced is another Spellsinger trope and of course we get that too – one of my favourite of the series is introduced. Never to be heard from again, I assume.

After all of the books I’ve trudged through for this series you’d think the eighth one would be the easiest to jump straight into, but the new direction of this part of the series makes it hard. The characters just aren’t as interesting, and plots getting very stale by this point. But I must, I will finish this series – by sheer force of will if I have to!

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Mar

18

Review: The Time of the Transference

By pcurd

The Time of the Transference
The Time of the Transference by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last of the original Spellsinger books and actually I enjoyed it quite a lot. Some of the story didn’t make much sense, and the entire ending is just mad but I came out of it with a positive feeling. The onward marching plot from the first few books is now well and truly replaced with “books in a bottle” where a fresh calamity is created and resolved within one book. This was one of the more believable plots, although some of the sub plots make very little sense – in typical style for the Spellsinger series.

There continues to be a seemingly never ending cast of new characters and species to introduce but for once I wasn’t entire put off by any of the characters.

As a finale of a series it’s disappointing but considering two more books were published I assume Foster felt the same way and perhaps his second chance at a finale will be better.

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Feb

27

Review: The Paths of the Perambulator

By pcurd

The Paths of the Perambulator
The Paths of the Perambulator by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my favourite Spellsinger book so far. The story is a little mad but it has a good premise and allows Foster a lot of freedom to try things out. The titular Perambulator is a well conceived “big evil” character and all the way through I was wondering what beast from Jon-Tom’s world it would be. It made it clear to me what the earlier stories were missing – something that I actually care about!

My biggest issue with this book is a bit of blatant sexism about half way through which is handled quite poorly – there is an attempt to deflect it as being “oh, it’s just his way” but that is then undone by another set of comments later. Perhaps this was acceptable at the time, but it’s unpleasant now.

I overall enjoyed the story and whilst it is definitely not worth reading all the books just for this one (as it might be for, say, the later Harry Potter books) it’s a nice joy to have it appear in the middle of the series as a reward for (suffering?) coming this far.

I’m a big fan of the John Wayne-alike that appears too..

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Feb

20

Review: The Moment of the Magician

By pcurd

The Moment of the Magician
The Moment of the Magician by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story did drag a bit for me. The travelling became the entire story – the actual plot was resolved within a couple of chapters at the end – and left all sorts of holes open.

You know how in a good story there are loads of tangential bits that don’t make sense on their own but then – boom – everything is revealed? Well The Moment of the Magician does the bits, but forgets the boom. None of the odd little side plots are resolved and it just becomes a walking story. Most of the Spellsinger books fit this description but this is by far the most blatant and most unoriginal yet.

The characters stayed a little more fixed this time without new “leads” appearing all over the place, which was nice, and we got some nice scenes with JonTom and Mudge doing things together which threw me back to the first book and happier times (for me, as the reader).

I am running out of things to say about these books, they are all very similar and writing this a few days later I find it hard to remember what happened and what was in the next book (yes, I’ve dived straight into number 5. 6? I’ve lost count) but I could be anywhere or anywhen in the timeline and be equally confused.

They are fun enough but I don’t feel like I’m learning anything!

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Feb

4

Review: The Day of the Dissonance

By pcurd

The Day of the Dissonance
The Day of the Dissonance by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

STILL nothing is happening in these books.. why am I so dedicated to finishing them! I don’t know! I just know they go past quickly and I’m happy.

Yet. More. Characters. I’ve already forgotten who was in the first book, the entire menagerie of a troop that counts as the cast of these stories blurs into one. There is the fighty one, and the other fighty one, then the mouthy one, the reluctant one, and the wise one. I wonder if Foster picked out of a hat who would fill each role before writing the books. Still, the world building continues to be good, there were one or two events in this book that actually impressed me – I couldn’t help visualising a few of them as the descriptions, whilst simple, really help get across detail rapidly. It’s a definite skill of Foster’s, and I think it comes from his screenwriting experience. A scene unfolds cleverly and succinctly and before you know it, the action is roaring ahead.

I couldn’t stop myself starting on the 4th one immediately after finishing this one, which, as before, is my entire recommendation. Also less animal sex in this one, that’s nice.

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Jan

25

Review: The Hour of the Gate

By pcurd

The Hour of the Gate
The Hour of the Gate by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well I was right, this is the second half of the first book. I have no idea why they were separated, they aren’t even that long! 600ish pages combined.

It just roars along as a story though, the pace is high all the way through making it a very easy story to get caught up in. The characters don’t expand much, and the world building is enhanced only by a few new animal types being introduced. This left more time for plot.. but most of the book is concentrated on travelling so really all we get is more of a travel documentary of a strange land.

I immediately started into the third book so I suppose that tells you something, but really I’m still not impressed. There is less hidden racism in this story than the last and the characters begin to feel more alive.. but I still don’t understand why there are 8 of these books!

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Jan

13

Review: Spellsinger

By pcurd

Spellsinger
Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads pops up the question “I would recommend to:” when you fill in these reviews and I usually start there whilst my review forms in my head. Today, however, I really can’t decide if I would recommend this book or not. First, because of what it would say about me and my tastes (such as they are!) and second, because of what it would say about this book.

I really dislike that it’s half a story – without giving spoilers, the book leads up a big plot point that hangs over into (at least) the next book – and this isn’t clear from the beginning. I dislike being duped into reading more of a series, even if I would probably have done so anyway.

I dislike some of the framing, not so much the “world of animals” but the “xx creature is xx type of person” lazy writing style. It’s not used as a complete crutch, but it is a little annoying.

I do enjoy the characters, each has something unique about them which rounds out the group, although new characters keep being introduced right up to the final chapters – my first clue the story wasn’t going to resolve itself was a new main character around the half way mark – and my attention (and care) is split a little too far I think.

The nebulous evil introduced on the first pages is fairly well done, not too hard on the fantasy tropes, and would serve a good few stories (there are 8 books I think..).

One early scene has the human avatar character watch (with rapt attention) a strip tease performed by a mustelid – this isn’t to say the entire book is one big animal-human romp, but if you’re put off by that I’d stay clear.

Overall it was quite fun, and I have dived into the second book straight away but I can’t help feel like I’m being forced to rather than wanting to.

Oh, and the “I would recommend to”? I’ve left it blank. You’d better make your own decision.

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Jan

3

Review: Caliban’s War

By pcurd

Caliban's War
Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I stopped reading this over Christmas but not because the story is bad, because I was listening to the audio book and not commuting as normal. When I got back into it in January I devoured (with my ears) the last third – the ending is fast, exciting, and much more like the first book. This part of the series is slow in my mind, there was a lot of characterisation and scene setting which definitely at times took away from the pace of the story. The plots are well intertwined and the suspenses created by the swapping between characters were well executed and (almost always) worth the wait.

The saga of James Holden and his crew continues forward and the politics of the Sol System continue to be the main focus of the overall story – with an ominous threat at the back of everyone’s mind – told through a variety of different perspectives ranging from high politics to grunt soldiery. I enjoyed the new characters for the most part and hope many of them continue into the next book. The main driver of the plot was.. dull, unfortunately. I think Corey wanted something believable, human, and easy for the audience to latch on to but to me it took away from the wider story, the human story being faced by everyone. I’m sure you could rewrite the plot to change the MacGuffin and it would change nothing of substance. I did sense some foreshadowing though so it may turn out to be important later – but I don’t bet on it.

Overall a good story, I will definitely dive into the next one after a suitable pause.

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