Daily Archives: June 16th, 2012

Trouble and Her Friends

So… I’ve been meaning to write this review since August, when I read it. I’ve therefore managed to get to it before a year is out, if only just. Which is good. But the reason it’s taken me so long is because there are so many things I wanted to say! … and of course I’ve forgotten most of them. Because that’s the way these things work. I did make a little list of notes as I went, so this is going to be a somewhat disjointed review as I write those notes and try to remember what I meant by them. Bear with me?

Firstly, this is a really really great book. Seriously. I went and bought two or three more Scott books pretty much immediately (the fact I haven’t managed to read them yet says nothing about Scott and everything about my teetering TBR pile). It has plot, it has characters, it has a brainworm… for me, this is like the pinnacle of cyberpunk. This is what it should do. The plot has action and intrigue and nice twisty bits; I quite enjoyed the description of being on the brainworm and participating in the net. The characters are nicely varied, and Trouble herself is complex and sympathetic and compelling. The blurb makes it sound like a techno-western (Trouble as “the fastest gun on the electronic frontier”) and while I’m not entirely sure it works, I think I can see where it’s going.

As I was reading, I had this really awesome revelation about how it connects being a cracker to gender, and how old-school crackers don’t like the idea of the brainworm because it allows bodily experience within (what is effectively) virtual reality or the internet. And I thought – hey, woman dealing with physicality, which men so often don’t do! … yeh, turns out this was by no means something that I noticed all on my own, but something that was in my head because Helen Merrick had pointed it out in The Secret Feminist Cabal… which is the main reason why I wanted to read Trouble in the first place. Oh, so meta. And so dumb.

Anyway, for a book published in 1994 it’s a bit depressing that, in this indeterminate time in the future, women and homosexuals are not still equal. Scott also says some interesting things about inequality and the willingness or desire to have the physical experience: “it was almost always the underclasses, the women, the people of colour, the gay people, the ones who were already stigmatised as being vulnerable, available, trapped by the body, who took the risk of the wire” (p128-9).

There’s also a pessimism in Scott’s thoughts on how society will view the net: with suspicion, is the answer. She imagines fairly rigorous policing of it, both externally and internally (maybe because of that same notion of the ‘wrong’ people hanging out there?); the net is scary, in need of tight controls – slowed down, checked thoroughly – so that mainstream upright society isn’t threatened.

It’s awesome. Cyberpunk and gender stuff and a ripping story. Awesome mix.

You can buy Trouble and her Friends at Fishpond.

Castles Made of Sand

Jones begins this story just minutes after the conclusion to Bold as Love, such that I had to go back and read the last chapter of that book to make sense of this one. Which, to my mind, doesn’t happen very often; it made it feel like this was less a sequel, as such, and more a continuation of the same story. As it should be, I think.

*Spoilers here for Bold as Love*

I loved this novel. A lot. Maybe not quite as much as I loved the first one, because that was all bright and shiny and shocking and new… but it’s love nonetheless.

I still liked the characters. Fiorinda is a bit more grown up and less annoying baby-rock-princess; still vulnerable (if not as much as the boys think) and spiky with it; she’s not my favourite person to read but she is sympathetic. Mostly. Ax, now dictator of Britain in some sense (I found the politics a bit hard to follow, especially figuring out how the rocknroll counter-culture side fit in with the still-existant Westminster government), struggles believably with the difficulties of leadership and relationships. Sage… well, Sage was always going to be my favourite, but/and he gets darker here too. He struggles with love and with science-cum-magic, and with music, too.

The plot… well, it’s hard to go into it without being spoilery, which I would like to avoid. But there are metaphorical dragons that our heroes must confront: some political, especially in the form of neo-Celtic pagans who’ve read a bit too much about maybe-druids and their sacrifices; some personal, both in how to balance one relationship with another and how to balance any relationship with power and expectations. And then there’s the people who are actively trying to bring down this counter-culture, for their own political and personal reasons.

Look, it is wonderful. Not without flaws, and not without uncomfortable bits (those two not always the same); but it’s a fascinating view of the world and explores some provocative ideas for how to make the world a better place. Also, she brings the magical aspect just a little bit more into view…

For a spoilerific and eye-opening (for me) description of this novel, especially as it relates to Arthurian and medieval fantasy tropes, my hat goes off to the Wikipedia contributors for this novel. Well done indeed.

Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess

*Some spoilers for the first Agatha Heterodyne novel/some of the graphic novels*

Yes I am a fangirl. Let’s move on, and firstly talk about the look of this lovely book. I don’t mind the cover – I think it’s appropriate and quite pretty – but when I was reading I took the dust jacket off and oh my, I don’t think I can put it back on again. The hardcover itself is beautiful, with gorgeous gold embossing and little swirls and… it’s just wonderful.

So, the story. This covers, I think, volumes 4-6 of the graphic novels (I may be wrong). Agatha has escaped from Castle Wolfenbach and quite literally falls to earth in company with Krosp, the talking cat. She gets taken in by a travelling circus, after a few adventures, and things proceed from there: more adventures, some science, a little bit of romance, and some interesting characters too. Things are, of course, not entirely what they seem in the circus; and even if that were the not the case, odd things are afoot within Europa so Agatha and her friends are confronted with monsters and other unpleasant people as they travel around. And then there’s the castle with the slightly crazy people…

You probably wouldn’t enjoy this novel without having read the first one. If you’ve read the graphic novels, then you know exactly what happens here already. For me, I read the graphic version long enough ago that I’d forgotten many details, so it was still highly enjoyable. Additionally, I think the Foglios are adding more detail in, especially in terms of back story for some of the more minor characters – and for Europa, and the places visited, as well. I am still a word-reader at heart, and much as I love the graphic novels I don’t think I yet have my eye ‘in’ – I’m sure there are details I miss in pictures that I easily grasp in words. So, it works. Actually I think the main indication that this novelisation works is the fact that it makes me keen to go back and read with the pictures, because I do love them.

Another reason I enjoyed this novel is that the Jagermonsters feature. A lot. Which makes me happy. Also, it so passes the Bechdel test. There are women who are warriors, and schemers, and costumers, and mechanics, and while men feature in their discussions they’re not the sole focus. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

More graphic novels: Birds of Prey and Castle Waiting

Perfect Pitch

I am beginning to see that not reading these in order may indeed have its drawbacks. This set appears to be the start of the Birds of Prey proper, with Huntress unconvinced that she really wants to be a part of it and Batman making a rather unexpected appearance (well, unexpected for me; I know nothing about Bats in comic-world). It also spans the Infinite Crisis… thing… about which I know nothing, except that a year is skipped and all of a sudden Black Canary is off doing weird things in a nameless Asian jungle while the mysterious Shiva is scaring the pants off people in Gotham.

In terms of plot, occasionally hard to follow for someone with little to no backstory, and also not a nice continuous arc like the previous Birds of Prey (Dead of Winter) I read. The art was usually pretty fun, although I did feel uncomfortable with some of the shots of Black Canary and her kicks. It’s nice to see a group of women working together with no arguments about who gets the guy (well, ok, some arguments, but ‘getting the guy’ in this case means ‘kicking the guy’) – they’re by no means perfect, and there is some dysfunction, but it makes sense. So that’s definitely a plus.

Castle Waiting

Starts off with only a slightly off-kilter telling of Sleeping Beauty – I really liked the focus on the fairies/witches at the start here and moves into the castle and surrounding area essentially becoming a refuge for people who have nowhere else to go, or nowhere else they want to be. The reader arrives via o

ne such, a pregnant woman who later gives birth to a rather… peculiar… baby. But for me, this set of stories is really all about the bearded nuns.

Yes, bearded nuns. Never did I think that someone could have the sympathy, and the art, to draw very attractive women with beards, but such is the accomplishment of Linda Medley. This order of nuns is begun by women escaping an unhappy fate and continues to present just such a chance for other unhappy women. There are many things I loved about the bearded women, just one being that the idea of a man loving one of them was perfectly natural – they are by no means freaks to anyone in the book except those who are clearly immoral/unpleasant/otherwise non-relateable anyway. There’s a nice variety within the bearded women community – the beards and being female are about the only thing they have in common, except that a few of them have also experienced being in the circus. If for nothing else, Medley won me as a fan for this aspect.

She does win me for other reasons: the art is delightful without being distracting or overwhelming; the numerous sub-plots are nicely woven, and I love that the knight in armour is actually a horse.

I look forward to reading more.