Friday, 1 August 2014

Review: 'Shame' by Salman Rushdie

ShameI read this novel last year for university and it was the kind of book that absolutely frustrated me. There is something about Rushdie and the way he writes that is absolutely fascinating and also a bit off-putting for me. In Shame, those two qualities come together very well and create a story that is absolutely fascinating.
Omar Khayyam Shakil had three mothers who shared the symptoms of pregnancy, as they did everything else, inseparably. At their six breasts, Omar was warned against all feelings and nuances of shame. It was training which would prove useful when he left his mothers' fortress (via the dumb-waiter) to face his shameless future. As captivating fairy-tale, devastating political satire and exquisite, uproarious entertainment,Shame is a novel without rival.
Having to read a novel for school and/or university is always an interesting experience. Either you already know the book and love it and will defend it in class or you have never read it before, never heard of it before and now have to read all its 300 pages in two days. Shame was a novel that was in some ways forced upon me like that. I had tried to read Midnight Children by had been a bit too young to appreciate the sweeping family saga-theme which Indian novels do so well.  In Shame, Rushdie absolutely excels at following a family through the different generations, connecting families and people across. He understands that in families there is loyalty, betrayal and a lot of misunderstandings. He creates character who are not automatically likable yet understandable in how they behave.

Rushdie's writing style is in many ways unique. He writes Magical Realism infused with a very strong external narrator (Rushdie himself, naturally) and this creates a mix that is fascinating. His language is beautiful because he works with language quite explicitly. He writes in English about India despite being Indian and this creates very interesting parallels between the author and the main character Omar. By infusing his novel with all kinds of mythical elements, Rushdie lifts the novel from just one genre and puts it in multiple, if tht makes sense. Shame is both historical fiction, magical realism, family saga, fantasy and more. Although this mix does become confusing at times, it also creates some beautiful passages which really uplift this novel and made the reading experience an overall positive one. Almost all of these passages are related to his characters, who are fascinating. Whether they are women, men, Indian or Pakistani, Rushdie writes characters who feel intensely and through that make the reader feel as well.

However, I had a hard time enjoying this novel initially. Whether this was because of the pressure under which I read it or whether the novel simply wasn't my type, I don't know. But similarly to Midnight's Children, I found it hard to stick with this novel until I was at least halfway through. At that point I was really invested in the characters and felt that the story was going somewhere. I'm a big myth and legend fan, which means I also really enjoyed those aspects of the novel. Sometimes I felt that Rushdie lost himself in translation, which is ironic. His English is beautiful and he is more eloquent than many authors who currently have bestsellers. However, his attempts to translate his culture into English leads to a conflict of loyalty, I think. And it's definitely interesting to read!

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Although I had my issues with this novel there are simply too many beautiful passages and moments in it to not give it this rating. Some of the images Rushdie conjures up through language stick with the reader for ages and are absolutely stunning and for me they really made the novel. The characters are all fascinating in their own way and the mysticism that infuses the novel means that in many ways it can transcend its problems. I would recommend this books to people who are already fans of Rushdie, but also to those who are exploring Magical Realism.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

50 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books Every Socialist Should Read

I saw this post on Tumblr, where someone had reposted a list of fifty Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels which every Socialist should read. The list is compiled by China Miéville, himself a Fantasy author and Socialist. Personally, I am most definitely a Socialist, sometimes even bordering on Communist. Yes, I even love reading Ayn Rand! So I am shamelessly copying this post, credit is not due to me. The original post is from the website Fantastic Metropolis and the Tumblr post is from The Weekly Ansible.


Reposted from Fantastic Metropolis, author China Mieville lays out a list of 50 science fiction and fantasy works he feels every socialist ought to read.
Metropolis is THE sci-fi film every thoughtful socialist should watch, though its ultimate conclusion can be described as fascist.
When I became a socialist I was also studying Sociology and Philosophy academically. I experienced something that seems to be a trend among many (though assuredly not all) folks who delve into these worlds: a sudden loss of interest in fiction.
Over time I only read non-fiction work and discovered something missing. Reading fiction again had a major impact on me, stimulating parts of my brain that had laid mostly dormant (or only experienced anything through film and TV shows). I feel invigorated from diving back in and also feel better equipped to deal with issues as a socialist (and as a sociologist and a philosopher).
I recommend Mieville’s recommendations because he is himself a fantastic science fiction author. There is a fantastic interview with him at the website of the International Socialist Review. He is the author of such fantastic works as The City & the CityKraken and his new book that I’m holding in my hand in eager anticipation, Embassytown. Enjoy!
This is not a list of the “best” fantasy or SF. There are huge numbers of superb works not on the list. Those below are chosen not just because of their quality—which though mostly good, is variable—but because the politics they embed (deliberately or not) are of particular interest to socialists. Of course, other works—by the same or other writers—could have been chosen: disagreement and alternative suggestions are welcomed. I change my own mind hour to hour on this anyway.

Iain M. Banks—Use of Weapons (1990)

Socialist SF discussing a post-scarcity society. The Culture are “goodies” in narrative and political terms, but here issues of cross-cultural guilt and manipulation complicate the story from being a simplistic utopia.

Edward Bellamy—Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (1888)

A hugely influential, rather bureaucratic egalitarian/naïve communist utopia. Deals very well with the confusion of the “modern” (19th Century) protagonist in a world he hasn’t helped create (see Bogdanov).

Alexander Bogdanov—The Red Star: A Utopia (1908; trans. 1984)

This Bolshevik SF sends a revolutionary to socialist Mars. The book’s been criticized (with some justification) for being proto-Stalinist, but overall it’s been maligned. Deals well with the problem faced by someone trying to adjust to a new society s/he hasn’t helped create (see Bellamy).

Emma Bull & Steven Brust—Freedom & Necessity (1997)

Bull is a left-liberal and Brust is a Trotskyist fantasy writer.F&Nis set in the 19th Century of the Chartists and class turmoil. It’s been described as “the first Marxist steampunk” or “a fantasy for Young Hegelians.”

Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita (1938; trans. 1967)

Astonishing fantasy set in ’30s Moscow, featuring the Devil, Pontius Pilate, The Wandering Jew, and a satire and critique of Stalinist Russia so cutting it is unbelievable that it got past the censors. Utterly brilliant.

Katherine Burdekin (aka “Murray Constantine”)—Swastika Night (1937)

An excellent example of the “Hitler Wins” sub-genre of SF. It’s unusual in that it was published by the Left Book Club and it was written while Hitler was in power, so the fear of Nazi future was immediate.

Octavia Butler—Survivor (1978)

Black American writer, now discovered by the mainstream after years of acclaim in the SF field.Kindredis her most overtly political novel, the Patternmaster series the most popular. Survivor brilliantly blends genre SF with issues of colonialism and racism.

Julio Cortázar—“House Taken Over” (1963?)

A terrifying short story undermining the notion of the house as sanctity and refuge. A subtle destruction of the bourgeois oppositions between public/private and inside/outside.

Philip K. Dick—A Scanner Darkly (1977)

Could have picked almost any of his books. Like all of them, this deals with identity, power, and betrayal, here tied in more directly to social structures than in some other works (though see Counter-Clock World and The Man in the High Castle). Incredibly moving.

Thomas Disch—The Priest (1994)

Utterly savage work of anti-clericalism. A work of dark fantasy GBH against the Catholic Church (dedicated, among others, to the Pope…)

Gordon Eklund—All Times Possible(1974)

Study of alternative worlds, including an examination of hypothetical Left-wing movements in alternative USAs.

Max Ernst—Une Semaine de Bonté (1934)

The definitive Surrealist collage novel. A succession of images the reader is involved in decoding. A Whodunwhat, with characters from polite commercial catalogues engaged in a story of little deaths and high adventure.

Claude Farrère—Useless Hands (1920; trans. 1926)

Bleak Social Darwinism, and a prototype of “farewell to the working class” arguments. The “useless hands”—workers—revolt is seen as pathetic before inexorable technology. A cold, reactionary, interesting book.

Anatole France—The White Stone (1905; trans. 1910)

In part, a rebuttal to the racist “yellow peril” fever of the time—a book about “white peril” and the rise of socialism. Also interesting isThe Revolt of the Angels, which examines now well-worn socialist theme of Lucifer being in the right, rebelling against the despotic God.

Jane Gaskell—Strange Evil(1957)

Written when Gaskell was 14, with the flaws that entails. Still, however, extraordinary. A savage fairytale, with fraught sexuality, meditations on Tom Paine and Marx, revolutionary upheaval depicted sympathetically, but without sentimentality; plus the most disturbing baddy in fiction.

Mary Gentle—Rats and Gargoyles (1990)

Set in a city that undermines the “feudalism lite” of most genre fantasy. An untypical female protagonist has adventures in a cityscape complete with class struggle, corruption, and racial oppression.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman—“The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

Towering work by this radical thinker. Terrifying short story showing how savage gender oppression can inhere in “caring” relationships just as easily as in more obviously abusive ones. See also her feminist/socialistic utopias “Moving the Mountain” (1911) andHerland(1914).

Lisa Goldstein—The Dream Years (1985)

A time-slip oscillating between Paris in the 1920s, during the Surrealist movement, and in 1968, during the Uprising. Uses a popular fantastic mode to examine the relation between Surrealism as the fantastic mode par excellence and revolutionary movements (if nebulously conceived).

Stefan Grabiński—The Dark Domain (1918–22; trans. and collected 1993)

Brilliant horror by this Polish writer. Unusually locates the uncanny and threatening within the very symbols of a modernizing industrialism in Poland: trains, electricity, etc. This awareness of the instability of the everyday marks him out from traditional, “nostalgic” ghost story writers.

George Griffith—The Angel of Revolution (1893)

Rather dated, but unusual in that its heroes are revolutionary terrorists. Very different from the devious anarchist villains of (e.g.) Chesterton.

Imil Habibi—The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (1974; trans. 1982)

The full title is much longer. Habiby was a member of the Palestinian Community Party, a veteran of the anti-British struggle of the 40s, and a member of the Knesset for several years. This amiable, surreal book is about the life of a Palestinian in Israel (with surreal bits, and aliens).

M. John Harrison—Viriconium Nights (1984)

A stunning writer, who expresses the alienation of the modern everyday with terrible force. Fantasy that mercilessly uncovers the alienated nature of the longing for fantastic escape, and show how that fantasy will always remain out of reach. Punishes his readers and characters for their involvement with fantasy. See alsoThe Course of the Heart.

Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

The most overtly political of this anarchist writer’s excellent works. An examination of the relations between a rich, exploitive capitalist world and a poor, nearly barren (though high-tech) communist one.

Jack London—Iron Heel (1907)

London’s masterpiece: scholars from a 27th Century socialist world find documents depicting a fascist oligarchy in the US and the revolt of the proletariat. Elsewhere, London’s undoubted socialism is undermined by the most appalling racism.

Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction (1996)

British Trotskyist (of strongly libertarian bent), all of whose (very good) works examine Left politics without sloganeering. The Stone Canal, for example, features arguments about distortions of Marxism. However, The Star Fraction is chosen here as it features Virtual Reality heroes of the left, by name—a roll call of genuine revolutionaries recast in digital form.

Gregory Maguire—Wicked (1995)

Brilliant revisionist fantasy about how the winners write history. The loser whose side is here taken is the Wicked Witch of the West, a fighter for emancipatory politics in the despotic empire of Oz.

J. Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon)—Gay Hunter(1934, reissued 1989)

By the Marxist writer of the classic work of vernacular Scots literatureA Scots Quair, andSpartacus, the novel that proves that propaganda can be art. This is great science fiction. Bit dewy-eyed about hunter-gatherers perhaps, but superb nonetheless. As an added bonus, it also has a title that sounds amusing today. Check out his short fiction, which includes a lot of SF/Fantasy work.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week -

Harry Potter Moment of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts. I'm planning on having a Harry Potter movie-night tonight because rent is due tomorrow and I need something before then to cheer me up. I have work all day but I will be stopping by the other posts when I get back! This week we're choosing:

Most inspirational moment/passage!

Sure, why not give me something difficult to chose! There are so many inspirational moments in the Harry Potter-saga. I've decided to go for this moment because it's my all-time favourite moment. Although Prisoner of Azkaban is still my favourite film, I loved Order of the Phoenix. In this scene Dumbledore's Army is conjuring their Patronusus (Patronusi?) and it's just such a happy moment and everyone is excelling (except Neville) and using their Happy Memories and it just always fills me with happiness every time I watch it!

So much pride, so much happiness!

What's your favourite inspirational HP moment?

Book Blast: 'Fractured Dream' by K.M. Randall

I'm so excited to be part of the Book Blast for this book! I've got a review copy as well and I will be posting the review for that soon!
'Fractured Dream' by KM Randall
Published by: Booktrope
Published On: June 21, 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Have you ever wondered where fairytales go once they're created?

It's been eight years since Story Sparks last had a dream. Now they're back, tormenting her as nightmares she can't remember upon waking. The black waters of Lake Sandeen, where her Uncle Peter disappeared decades before, may hold the secret to Story's hidden memories, or a truth she'd rather not know. On a bright summer afternoon, Story and her two best friends, Elliott and Adam, take a hike to the lake, where they dive into the cool water and never reemerge. What they find is beyond anything they've ever imagined could be possible, a world where dangers lurk in the form of Big Bad Wolves, living Nightmares and meddlesome witches and gods.

Now Story must remember who she really is and somehow stop two worlds from ultimate annihilation, all while trying not to be too
distracted by the inexplicable pull she feels toward a certain dark-eyed traveler who seems to have secrets of his own. The fates of the worlds are counting on her.

KM RandallAbout the Author

As a girl, K.M. always wished she’d suddenly come into magical powers or cross over into a Faerie circle. Although that has yet to happen, she instead lives vicariously through the characters she creates in writing fantasy and delving into the paranormal. When K.M. is not busy writing her next novel, she is the editor-in-chief of a blog covering the media industry, as well as an editor with Booktrope Publishing. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree in English-Lit from Nazareth College of Rochester. K.M. lives in Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region with her husband and her extremely energetic little boy. Fractured Dream is her first novel.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Tuesday Intros & Teaser Tuesdays - 'The Oversight' by Charlie Fletcher

The Oversight (Oversight Trilogy, #1)Woe is me, I'm working all day. At least working lots means I get money with which I can buy books. It's not like I need money for anything else, right? Thankfully I'll be going back to France with my mother for a week mid-August, but there'll be a lake then, rather than mountains. But Tuesdays are not days for nostalgia but for teaser-sharing! So here we go. Tuesday Intros are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading. This week I'm sharing The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher, which I haven't started yet but will as soon as I come home tomorrow.
Only five still guard the borders between the worlds. Only five hold back what waits on the other side. 
Once the Oversight, the secret society that policed the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their numbers can be counted on a single hand. 
When a vagabond brings a screaming girl to the Oversight's London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled - but the girl is a trap. 
As the borders between this world and the next begin to break down, murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow. 
This gothic fantasy from Charlie Fletcher (the Stoneheart trilogy) spins a tale of witch-hunters, supra-naturalists, mirror-walkers and magicians. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all.
'The natural and supranatural inhabit the same world, intersecting but largely unseen to one another, like lodgers who share a house but keep different hours, only occasionally passing on the narrow stairs. They do not speak the same language, their customs are different and their views of the world and the laws and behaviours that govern it are wildly and mutually opposed.It is only when they bump shoulders that they take note of each other, but when they do so, arcane and infelicitous things till happen. Because of this, it is necessary that the tight spaces where such friction may occur are governed by rules, and that those rules are policed.' p.1
I like the slight world building that is going on here. Fletcher makes it quite clear it is set in our world, but that there is something there that we don't know about. I'm intrigued.

'Inside the double doors the footman crossed a small anteroom to another door. This door was ironbound with a lattice of metalwork, and in its centre was a wide ledge and two letterboxes, marked IN and OUT. A tray was positioned under the OUT slit, standing ready to catch whatever paper was pushed through it.' p.86
Perhaps I didn't choose the most exciting teaser, but I thought it was a great piece of descriptive writing, so I decided to share it anyway. I know really want to know where this door open to!

I think I've teased myself now! I can't wait to get back home from work and start reading this one! I so desperately want to be part of a secret magic police society in London, I can't even tell you!

Review: 'Moth' by Daniel Arenson

Moth (The Moth Saga #1)I have read a range of Daniel Arenson's books (such as Blood of Requiem and Wand of the Witch) and I have loved all of them. Which is why I was incredibly excited to read the first book of the The Moth Saga. And all of my hopes were answered, this is another good one.

They say the world used to turn. They say that night would follow day in an endless dance. They say that dawn rose, dusk fell, and we worshiped both sun and stars.  
That was a long time ago. 
The dance has died. The world has fallen still. We float through the heavens, one half always in light, one half always in shadow. Like the moth of our forests, one wing white and the other black, we are torn. 
My people are the fortunate. We live in daylight, blessed in the warmth of the sun. Yet across the line, the others lurk in eternal night, afraid... and alone in the dark. 
I was born in the light. I was sent into darkness. This is my story
Something you sadly don't see a lot is a book that actually tells a story from both sides. Every book has its conflict and every conflict has a "good" side and a "bad" side. However, it depends on who you ask who the bad guys and who the good guys are and authors tend to lose track of this while immersing themselves in their protagonists. Not Arenson. He chooses characters from both sides of his world and tells us their story. This means that as a reader you have quite a lot to lose, no matter which character you root for. They, both of them teens, find themselves at war and having to face some seriously hard times. More about those hard times later. I enjoyed both sides of the story almost equally, which means that as the book progressed I got more and more engrossed in how the two sides would meet. It also means I'm terribly excited for the next book, although this book's ending would have been a terrific ending for a stand-alone.

Similarly to his other books, Arenson is brilliant at world-building. Just the concept alone was mind-blowing. If the world did stop spinning and we had a side of darkness and a side of light, this sounds like a possibility. Both sides of Arenson's world have very specific cultures but then even within those there are distinctions which is another example of how realistic fantasy is as a genre. Arenson's book beautifully brings modern struggles forward and does so through his variety of characters. There are opposing religions, kings facing uprisings and children who just want their fathers back. It all makes for an incredibly engrossing read that strikes very close to the heart.

Arenson's writing is incredibly readable and I mean that in the best possible way. His writing flows, whether it's exposition, description or dialogue. Talking about description, Arenson has some of the best. Whether he's describing a world of darkness with a culture that has traces of Japan, or whether he's describing a very English life on the sun side, the descriptions are vivid enough to come to life right in front of you. This brings me to the end of the novel which is a lot darker than the beginning. Whether I would recommend this book to children depends on how resistant they are against violence. However, none of it is gratuitous, which makes all the difference. His characters are never vile for the sake of it, but because they are part of the story. As such, it is still shocking but not in an abhorrent way.

Another think to check out is Daniel's website, and in particular the page for Moth. This book is an interactive one, to a certain extent. Not only can you find maps and art work there but also music. I loved listening to the music while reading the book, so take some time to explore. Also, if you join Daniel's Mailing list you get to chose one of his books as your welcome present, the options for which includes Moth!

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

I loved this novel and didn't want to put this down. Arenson excels at world-building and his characters are truly a joy to read. He not only manages to spread the awesome equally across the gender but also across the border and even if it was only for that, this book is a real must read for fantasy fans.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Trailer

Guys, there is a trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and it is absolutely amazing! And it is so for multiple reasons. This is the Deathly Hallows Part  for the Tolkien fans in the sense that this is probably the last film set in Middle-Earth that we will get. As such, this trailer strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and sadness. This is just going to be a quick rambling post, so don't expect to much of it. Take a look below before I explain:

By using the song Edge of Night, sung by Peregrin Took in The Return of the King film, Jackson quite consciously throws us back to that movie and how it ended. This post may become spoilerific from here on, so be warned!

As we all know, Rotk ended happily in the sense that evil was defeated and good ruled. As such it was the perfect happy ending to the terror in which Middle-Earth found itself at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Now, in The Hobbit we have quite the opposite. The world was good, Bilbo had nothing to worry about and Sauron was defeated. By comparing these two trilogies against each other so clearly, Jackson reminds us that the ending of The Battle of the Five Armies can only be bad because we have to get to a Middle-Earth in which Sauron is back and almost none of the characters who form our current companionship survive.

As such, the glimpses of the different armies fighting each other, of Thorin and Bard fighting, of Gandalf and Galadriel opposing the Necormancer, are all there to remind us that after this film a time is coming in which these different groups will be more divided than ever. There is a reason a Fellowship is needed, because after this everything breaks apart. We see a similar thing happening with the Original and the Prequel Trilogy in Star Wars. The Original trilogy had the benefit of a happy ending, away from Empire and the Rule oft he Sith. The prequel Trilogy on the other hand had to end up with the Empire.

Now, this all sounds very doom and gloom-ish but that is because Jackson has perfectly understood the use of the Fantasy genre. Fantasy reflects modern and human thoughts and feelings by raising them up to a fantastical level. The Battle of Five Armies shows how the current political and economical situation pits people against each other. I guess the only positive thing we can take away from this is that although we might have to face a time of darkness, there will be a Fellowship afterwards and a happy ending.