Summer Reading: vN

Cover vNI’ve just finished vN by Madeline Ashby, and I’ve got to admit that I felt  a little out of my depth reading it, but now that I am finished, I think I should start reading SciFi a little more.

Amy is a vN, a self replicating humanoid robot, being slowly grown to have a more human childhood in her mixed family of human father and android mother. She is five, graduating kindergarten, when her grandmother make’s an appearance, threatening Amy’s mother. Amy reacts promptly and eats her grandmother alive. And with her grandmother lurking in her memory circuits, authorities, among others, trying to catch her, as her mailfunctioning failsafe means she is a danger to society, she is on the run, trying to come to grips with the world and herself.

Apart from the techno babble about Amy’s composition, which I didn’t get at all (I decided I didn’t have to understand), this book drew me in from the start, making it very hard to put down. Amy’s story is engrossing and exciting, and her experiences are vivid and her reasoning clear. I like the supporting cast, I like most of the world building, though too much is hinted at and not explained/shown.

But at some point I began finding it difficult to keep track of things, like I had been skipping pages (which I hadn’t). Things got too technical without prober clarification, Amy’s goals started to blur, and things just seemed out of sync.

Especially the ending frustrated me, and in several ways.

  • The writing itself is very unclear and abstract. I had to reread paragraphs several times and they still didn’t make sense.
  • The storytelling choices baffled me. Shifting POV in the end was incredibly frustrating, as much as I like Javier, I don’t want to read his view on things, I want to read Amy’s, I want to know what it is like for her, I want her reasoning, I want her emotions. (I think Madeline Ashby wanted clear up any doubt about Javier’s emotions, but since I never doubted them, it was totally unnecesary)
  • And the ending itself is frustrating. It feels like Amy in a way reverts back to who she was when the book started, which is just stupid.

Though vN left me feeling more frustrated than good is, I am going to read the sequel, iD, which I hope will be more concise and hopefully give a little more nuanced view of the human/android relationships.

My summer holiday is coming to an end, and though work is now going to cut in to drain away my time and energy I will still stick to my reading plan. Next up is Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice.

 

 

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Summer Reading: Fleshmarket Alley

Cover Fleshmarket Alley

So, I’ve just finished Fleshmarket Alley (my edition is american it seems, and the original title is Fleshmarket Close) by Ian Rankin, which features one of my favorite characters in crime fiction, John Rebus, Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, Scotland. Rebus is a gruff, unpolished, obstinate alcoholic who doesn’t play well on teams, but who underneath it all,  is caring and persistent.

Rebus ‘s old station St. Leonard’s Police Station has shut down it’s CID office and alongside Siobhan Clarke, Rebus has been relocated to Gayfield Square Police Station where no one knows what to do with him, so he is lent out to West End, sent to Knoxland, a high-rise dead-end world, where a man has been found stabbed to death. The dead man has no name, no identification and no witnesses are willing to step forward neither to testify to his identity or to what happened.

Meanwhile Siobhan Clarke has two cases going, a sister of a rape victim, who committed suicide some years back, has gone missing and Siobhan reluctantly agrees to look into the disappearance. At the same time she is curious about the skeletons of a woman and an infant, dug out of the cellar floor of a pub in Fleshmarket Ally. The skeleton of the baby is fake and female skeleton is an old teaching skeleton, that disappeared a few years back from the university’s medical faculty.

This is Ian Rankin at his very finest. Plots weave in and out of each other, there’s a full set of supporting cast to compliment Rebus and Siobhan, who reveal new tidbits about themselves.

A major theme in Fleshmarket Alley is racism/immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and how Scotland treat those who for various reasons seek a new life there. The descriptions of Knoxland are strikingly familiar to what I see and hear daily in Denmark.  Immigrants are unwelcomed, whether they are legal or not, treated with suspicion and a scary off-handed disdain, people’s fear turn right nasty, when it comes to people with different cultures. And the descriptions of how Scotland as a nation treats the illegal immigrants, both as a group and as individuals, in the system and in the old jail Whitemire are absolutely horrifying and sadly recognizable.

Fleshmarket Alley (Close) is a great book, engaging, and thought-provoking.  It is well worth a read, and once I am over my little Summer Reading project here, I think I’ll tuck into the other Rebus books gathering dust on my shelves.

Next up is vN by Madeline Ashby.

Back in the Flash Fiction Game

So after a few weeks vacation from the whole flash fiction thing, I am back.

As always it is on the behest of Chuck Wendig, who sent us here this time to generate our little story seed. I clicked 3 times, but ended up using the first sentence that came to me. It is as follows:

The story starts when your protagonist kisses a stranger. Another character is a thief who plans to use your protagonist as a scapegoat.

Here is the resulting story:

A Night at the Disco

by Trine Toft Schmidt

The dance floor wobbled delightfully under Ellen’s spinning feet, and the flashing coloured lights made everything she saw blurry. She giggled, enjoying the wooziness that tickled in her brain.

She hit something behind her and came to a stop.  A bloke, dark hair, dark eyes, came into view. He had beautiful lips, slightly parted and without thinking Ellen threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.  He smelled of aftershave and orange and his lips were soft.

“Oy!” He said into her mouth, his breath hot and lemony on her taste buds. She broke off the kiss when he pushed at her shoulders, but kept her arms around his neck.

“Sorry love, I am spoken for.” He unwrapped her arms from his neck, smiling a little. Her heart was thumping rather fast, but fell back into a more normal rhythm when Pippa stepped into view, looking embarrassed.

“Whoa girl, what’re you doing?” She whispered in Ellen’s ears and offered a shrug to the guy, leaning in closer to him so she could shout down the music.

“Sorry about that, she’s a bit drunk, boyfriend broke up this morning and all, yeah? She’s not normally like this.” Ellen stuffed her fingers into her ears and hummed loudly to drown out Pippa and spun around again. When she stopped again the guy had his back turned, on his way toward the bar.

“He smelled nice.”  Ellen raised her hands over her head, ready for another spin. Pippa  rolled her eyes.

“Yeah perhaps, but you can’t go round kissing strangers.”

Ellen couldn’t see why not. It had been a nice kiss and all.

 

 

Jon pushed a gin and tonic over to Ricki as he slid back into his seat, but she just glared at him, crossing her arms across her breasts.

“What?” He had to shout to be heard.

“Who was she?” Ricki’s voice was shrill enough to carry over the music without trouble.

He frowned.

“Who?”

Ricki leaned across the table and stabbed a finger at him angrily.

“The fucking bitch you kissed down there. Who’d you think?”

Yeah, hoping she hadn’t seen that, had obviously been too much to ask for.

“Ricki, I didn’t kiss that girl, she kissed me. If you saw the kiss, then you saw me pushing her away as well.” He held back a sigh. “Please, can’t we just have fun for a change without you going off on one of your jealous rages?”

“Jealous rage? You kissed a girl right in front of me and you want me to just suck it up?” He sighed and enunciated his words carefully, as if talking to someone hard of hearing.

“I Didn’t Kiss Her. Why the hell don’t you trust me?” He paused, saw her draw breath for whatever she was planning to scream at him. “You know what? I don’t want to do this anymore. We are done.”

“Are you breaking up with me?” Her mouth fell open for half a second, then she was back in the game. “No way, you jerk, you don’t get to break up with me. I break up with you.” He turned his head away, didn’t want to watch her drama.

“Fuck you Jon!” She blasted past him, drenching him in her gin and tonic.

Perhaps he should feel sad, or mad that it was over, he thought while his hair dripped gin and tonic onto his shirt, but honestly, mostly it felt like a boulder rolled off his shoulders.

 

Ellen’s ears buzzed from the lack of blasting music, though the bathrooms offered its own cacaphony of voices and laughter. She was leaning heavily against the wall, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. God if they didn’t get a move on she would pee in her pants, and soon! She squeezed her thighs together and Pippa giggled behind her.

“You look like a four year old when you fiddle about like that.”

A lock clicked and a girl with lipstick on her teeth tottered out of the middle stall.

“Finally!”  Ellen pushed off the wall, only to be slammed backwards again, when someone shouldered past her. She caught a glimpse of a girl with black hair glowering at her, before the door thudded shut. She slid down the wall with alarming inevitability, her brain having a hard time keeping up.

“What the…?”

“Stupid cow.” Pippa shouted at the closed door, then leaned down over Ellen. “You alright?” She offered a hand and helped her up.

“Yeah. Did she take my bag?”

“No, she just tore it off your shoulder, it landed on the floor.” Pippa kept a hand on Ellen and bent down to pick it up.

 

Jon was on the way down the stairs, on his way home, when Ricki half ran past him, coming from the bathrooms. She waas grinning a nasty grin, he knew all to well.  Ricki’s up to no fucking good grin. Frowning he watched her progress through a crowd of people forming a loose ring around a dude with glo-sticks stacked up around his arms. Ricki leaned close to him, while he made a fast exchange with a spiky haired girl. A small zip lock bag for a couple of bills.

His hand half way into a pocket, the guy tensed and looked up, first to Ricki, then down himself. He jabbed a hand into another pocket and rummaged about for a few seconds. When he turned toward Ricki, he looked angry, and she smiled at him, pointed to something in the crowd.

Jon followed the line her arm made and saw the girl that had kissed him, making her way back toward the dance floor. When he looked back at Ricki, the drug dealer was crashing his way through his ring of customers and into the crowds on the dance floor. Jon jumped down the steps and grabbed Ricki’s arm when he reached her.

“What did you do, Ricki?” She spun on her heel, barring her teeth at him.

“I gave the bitch a little of what she deserves. Bye Jon.” She pulled out of his grip and started for the exit.

“Ricki, god dammit!” She just made a wild motion with her hand, flinging tiny things into the air. Tiny zip lock bags.

Jon turned and watched the glo-stick guy reach the girl. Without a word he grabbed her by the shoulder, pulled her around and punched her in the face, wild eyed and shouting.

“Fuck.” Jon flung himself into the mass of people, tried to spot a bouncer he could alert.

 

“Ow.” Ellen held the ice pack to her chin and moaned.

“Fuck, I am really sorry.” The dark haired guy crouched down in front of her, repeating his apology for the tenth time.

Ellen tried to laugh, but whenever she opened her mouth hot stabs of pain flickered up her jaw and into her skull.

She wanted to tell him that he shouldn’t worry about it, but instead she just shook her head and shrugged. It was her own fault, Pippa was right, you shouldn’t go round kissing strangers.

For a few seconds he just looked at her, perhaps trying to evaluate her gestures, but then he grinned and held out his hand. When she held out hers he squeezed it, his hand warm and soft, and big.

“I’m Jon.”

“Ellen.” A new sort of wooziness buzzed in her head, making her a little giddy.

“How about I treat you to a bag of frozen pea’s? Maybe a raw steak for that eye?”

Summer Reading: Good Omens

Cover Good Omens

So by ramdom choice, the book next in line to be read in my summer reading scheme was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Now since I haven’t read it before now, I had no real expectations of it, except that it be like the blurbs proclaimed: Funny, eccentric, intelligent, suspenseful and humane.

Its a hard book to describe. It is whimsical and funny, have a wide range of strange, nutty, endearing characters, who are all slowly converging on Tadfield, where Antichrist, in the shape of eleven year old Adam Young, is currently residing.

Adam is going to bring about the end of the world, it has been prophetized by Agnes Nutter, a witch burned on the stake 300 years ago. Adam just doesn’t know it yet. But the motions has been set into gear, the four horsemen are riding, strange things are happening everywhere, such as Atlantis rising, in other words, Armageddon is approaching.

Apart from Adam Young, and his merry gang (called the Them) there’s a wide cast of characters in this book:

Aziraphale, heaven’s main man on earth, book shop owner, enthusiastic rare book collector.

Crowley, of Adam and Eve fame as the snake that tempted Eve, bringing paradise to an abrubt stop. Cool dude, likes earth very much, hell rather a lot less.

Newt Pulsifier, private in the army of Witchfinders, general clumsy guy, don’t do well with electrics.

Anathema Device, witch and occultist, decendant of Agnes Nutter, knows something is about to happen, as she has the only book containing The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter.

Mr. Shadwell, sergant in the Witchfinder Army, general mistrusting of all, especially Madame Tracy next door, who’s rather fond of gentleman company.

Its a fun and entertaining book, but it didn’t really sweep me along. It took way too long to read, simply because I couldn’t keep my focus on it. And while it was funny and whimsical, it was way way too wordy. Too many witty plays with words and conceptions, too many pokes at modern day life, tele marketers, road systems and such. A little less poking fun and a little more attention to the main characters, who I would have loved to get to know a little better, would have made the story much more entertaining. There are a few parts of the books, that could have been cut, to make it a little more engaging.

Next up is Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin

 

 

 

Summer Reads: The Pelican Brief

 

Yeah, so not going to read this again.
Yeah, am so not going to read this one again.

Ok so I finished the Pelican Brief yesterday, and have a few thoughts on it. In my last post I said that I remember reading it like it was going to catch fire, and that I looked forward to rereading. Well, I guess the twenty years that have passed since I bought and read it first time, has changed me considerably, because this time around I honestly thought it was stupid. Not bad per say, just incredibly stupid.

The plot is all legal/political thriller, supposedly centering around Darby Shaw, who has miraculously come up with the one true theory about who and why two supreme court justices have been murdered. She writes a brief (The Pelican Brief of the title) and it gets passed up in the system until it’s in the hands of the president. From there the brief causes all kinds of mayhem, starting off with her lover being killed by a bomb that was meant for her. So Darby is on the run from everybody and only trusts two people. One gets killed and she turns to Gray Grantham, star journalist on the Washington Post. With the promise of the scoop of the century, comparisons are made to Watergate, they help eachother untangle the mysteries of the story, which is more about getting the story confirmed so they can print the paper, than it is an investigation.

There are so many clichees in this story it is mind bending. The political games, the inter agency wars of FBI and CIA, the total corruptness of lawyers, the superiority of the arab hit man, the mad crazy scramble for oil and riches, but the stupidist thing in this book is Darby Shaw. Billed as a main character, she is hardly more than a token woman in the story. Apart from a few single scene occurences, she is the only woman in the story with a story line, every bad guy, every politician, every other main character with a small or big part of the story is male.  Whenever there is another woman in the stor, they are obstacles to overcome. Secretaries who are overly protective of their bosses, a female registrar who is suspicious and glaring, students who has to be tracked down, a widow who isn’t quick enough to overcome her dazed grief to reveal the clue she is holding.

Darby herself is of course beautiful and brilliantly smart,  and on the run from pursuers she manages to foil at every god damn turn. BLA BLA BLA. But it is the way the men, who chase/help/protect her, see her that is truly vomit inducing. Not one man in the book, who lay eyes on her, either in person, or in a photograph, does not  comment in some way on her long long legs, her hair and whatever womanly traits she has stuffed into an oversized sweater. Villans and heroes alike, all admire her amazing beauty and turn to blithering idiots around her.

Gray Grantham is of course her new love interest. Again, it is all about the fatherly protectiveness she awakens in him when he meets her, her vulnerability, her immense beauty and her dazzling smarts. It boggles my mind how I, first time around, saw this as romantic and great, because it is really stupid. It is stilted and unbelievable as hell. When you see the story from Darby’s POV she is afraid, scared, hyped up from running and mourning the loss of her lover. She doesn’t seem to be overly attracted to Gray, though she feels safe with him around. Gray is of course attracted to her, even though most of their conversation is about how she bosses him around. Grisham really writes men as single minded bastards.

One incident stood out particularly well as really weird behaviour in this regard.

Darby has finally made it to Washington after having been chased out of New Orleans and New York. Gray is being followed and bugged and following her orders, moves into a hotel, so he can escape those watching and listening. They meet up at a small Inn.

She was sitting at table thirty-seven, in a dark corner of the tiny restaurant when he found her at exactly nine. The first thing he noticed was the dress, and as he walked to the table he knew the legs were under it but he couldn’t see them. Maybe later when she stood. He wore a coat and tie, and they were an attractive couple.

This is a man who is chasing down the story of a century, and the thing on his mind is her legs and her dress. Come on. The story continues:

He sat close to her in the darkness so they could both watch the small crowd. The Tabard Inn appeared old enough to have served food to Thomas Jefferson. A rowdy crowd of Germans laughed and talked on the patio outside the restaurant. The windows were open and the air was cool, and for one brief moment it was easy to forget why they were hiding.

“Where’d you get the dress?”

“You like it?”

“It’s very nice.”

“I shopped a little this afternoon. Like most of my recent wardrobe, it’s disposable. I’ll probably leave it in the room the next time I flee for my life.”

OH MY GOD. This is a woman who has been tried murdered at least twice, a woman who has been running scared for a couple of weeks and this is the dialogue Grisham makes them have? Talk about her dress? And Darby doesn’t slap Gray down for it?  No she just basks in the glorious attention of a man.

A little further down the same page:

“I’d like to wire some [money] from my bank in New Orleans.”

“We’ll do it Monday. I think you’re safe, Darby.”

“I’ve thought that before. In fact, I felt very safe when I was getting on the boat with Verheek, except it wasn’t Verheek. And I felt very safe in New York. Then Stump waddled down the sidewalk, and I haven’t eaten since.”

Now, here is a woman who is talking about her fears, about how she’s been chased, and she gives off a vibe of uncertainty, fear is getting to her, she is loosing appetite. Guess what Gray chooses to say.

“You look thin.”

Not as a man who is concerned for her well being. As a compliment, as if by talking about her fears and their causes, she is just angling for compliments. Her reply does nothing to persuade me to think differently:

“Thanks. I guess. Have you eaten here?” She looked at her menu.

This is probably the most stupid piece of dialogue that I remember reading, ever.

Its safe to say that I don’t buy into the whole Gray/Darby lovestory. There is a token mention of her former lover here and there, but it’s just not plausible that within two weeks, Darby can go from mourning her lost lover to being in love with Gray Grantham, not on top of everything that takes place around her. It is stupid. Darby starts out as a strong willed character, but I when I turned the last pages I had lost most of my respect for her.

I think if Grisham had written the book, making Darby a guy it would have turned out much more plausible. He could have cut out the love portion of the book and avoided writing from a woman’s POV. It would probably have been a better book for it.

So, I guess The Pelican Brief is a book I don’t need to reread again. I wonder if I reread The Client or A Time to Kill, would they let down as well. I hope not because I really liked those books.

 

Summer Reading part 2

A few weeks back I sketched a plan for my summer reading (here) and since my summer holiday starts tomorrow, I have finally made it through the dust and cobwebs to pick out a few books to start off on. And they are:

 

Cover Fleshmarket Alley

I have read many an Ian Rankin book, but I only own a few in hard copy. I randomly picked this one, and I don’t, contrary to my claim in the above mentioned post, remember the plot of this one, I do remember descriptions of said Fleshmarket, and that I thought it was quite spooky.

Cover Town Like Alice

I associate Nevil Shute with my grandparents, I can close my eyes and be transported right into their livingroom when I think of this book. I think I must have been 12 or so when I first read this. Besides Bryan Brown in the TV mini series was HOT back then.

 

 

The cover of The Danger by Dick Francis

Dick Francis is another writer that I first read at my grandparent’s house. His stories are nowhere near being noir, in fact they are rather lightweight, but they were always entertaining. This was also a random pick.

 

Cover Pelican Brief

John Grisham started to tire me around the time Painted House came out, but this one I remember reading like a it was going to catch fire. I really look forward to re-reading.

 

Cover The Rowan

Anne McCaffrey introduced me to the magic of fantasy with Dragonsong and Pern, but the Tower and Hive series, starting off with The Rowan, always held its own. The strong-willed women and the romance drew me in when I was a teenager and as you can see, this book has been read more than once. I think I will save this for last, because I know when I first get started I am going to swallow the rest of the books.

 

Cover Good OmensI’ve had this on my shelves for a few years, but I have actually never gotten around to reading it. (If you want it back Bette, you’ll have to wait :)) So I haven’t got anything to offer as recollections go. I’ll let you know what I thought of it.

Cover vN   And lastly a book I just borrowed at the library, mostly because Madeline Ashby has had guest-posts on both Chuck Wendig’s blog (here) and on John Scalzi’s (here), talking about iD, her new book, which sounded intriguing. Since iD is the sequel to vN, I need to read it first.

So that’s the list for the time being. I will return with thoughts as I finish the books. Have a nice summer!