Unimportant Sub-Plots: "A Feast for Crows" by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

The thing that astonishes me, continually, is the fans who cannot see it and, in some cases, cannot even perceive that the quality has fallen off disastrously as he got mired in unimportant sub-plots. He reminds me of a story told by one my bosses I used to have a long time ago. This guy was head director. When I started working in that department I found none of the rest of the staff would speak to him because they had decided he was completely incompetent. He wasn't. He was good at certain things but not all the things he had to do (such as managing people) as head director. Work piled up and up and his desk was a vast pile of papers which stuff disappeared into.



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Non-Coherent Narrative: "A Storm of Swords" by George R. R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) - George R.R. Martin

Characters wandering about the landscape, sometimes in circles. Plotlines unresolved while new characters are created and new plotlines set off. In one of them (can't remember which one now) it ends with a strange postscript explaining that the reason that so many previously important characters did not figure is because he could not find space for them in this vast tome, er, sorry about that. I have never seen anything like that in a book series. So why keep creating unnecessary new characters? It looks to me like the series had at one point a cataclysmic ending in view - Ice and Fire, the White Walkers coming down from the North and the dragons coming from the East, no doubt to meet in some Westeros Ragnarok. The trouble is that that doesn't fit well with the idea of a Wars of the Roses type feuding families and shifting alliances and that he got more interested in that.



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Nihilist SF: "A Clash of Kings" by George R. R. Martin

A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

It shows how far fantasy has fallen as a genre if people think GOT is the high water mark, but in truth, the "rot" started with Tolkien and his world building, now everybody thinks that a few maps, a few dragons, and providing the nominal GDP of every region in your world, is enough to constitute a 'fantasy' book. I blame Tolkien for making it sound so easy...In its defense, “A Clash of Kings” is one redeeming mark is that it's not Robert Jordan's God awful “Wheel of Time” series, but that's not much of an endorsement, is it? As for “A Clash of Kings”, what do we have? A Medieval soap opera with some fantasy elements tacked on, war of the roses with dragons thrown in for good measure... There is little of metaphor, landscape, or humor. Nihilism is the keyword here, nasty brutish and short, to say nothing of the rampant misogyny that pervades this book at every turn...
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Lobstered Steel: "A Game of Thrones" by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

In the time that's elapsed since the first book was released Shakespeare managed:

Henry VI, Part 2 (1590–1591)

Henry VI, Part 3 (1590–1591)

Henry VI, Part 1 (1591–1592)

Richard III (1592–1593)

The Comedy of Errors (1592–1593)

Titus Andronicus (1593–1594)

The Taming of the Shrew (1593–1594)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594–1595)

Love's Labour's Lost (1594–1595)

Romeo and Juliet (1594–1595)

Richard II (1595–1596)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595–1596)

King John (1596–1597)

The Merchant of Venice (1596–1597)

Henry IV, Part 1 (1597–1598)

Henry IV, Part 2 (1597–1598)

Much Ado About Nothing (1598–1599)

Henry V (1598–1599)

Julius Caesar (1599–1600)

As You Like It (1599–1600)

Twelfth Night (1599–1600)

Hamlet (1600–1601)

The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600–1601)

Troilus and Cressida (1601–1602)

All's Well That Ends Well (1602–1603)

Measure for Measure (1604–1605)

Othello (1604–1605)

King Lear (1605–1606)

Macbeth (1605–1606)

Antony and Cleopatra (1606–1607)

Coriolanus (1607–1608)

Timon of Athens (1607–1608)

Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1608–1609)

Cymbeline (1609–1610)

The Winter's Tale (1610–1611)

PS. There was no Netflix in those days. Or even an EU which people worked out their inadequacies with, by pretending to hate while not understanding it.


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Painting on a Small Canvas: "Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

"Here's harmony!" said she; "here's repose! Here's what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here's what may tranquilize every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene."

In “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen

Many eons ago I was reading Austen's "Mansfield Park" in high school when the leader of a group of teenagers commented on the "puff with the specs reading girlie books." I paid him no mind at that particular moment. I waited till I could catch him alone in the playground without his bunch of cronies around him. I asked him then if he'd care to repeat what he'd said before. He said he didn't. 

The old adage you can't judge a book by its cover surely applies to the title as well. What's next? Nick Hornby's "About a Boy" should only appeal to paedophiles? "Animal Farm" to sheep-shaggers (or more accurately pig-shaggers). Such immature, hating comments belong in the 1970s.



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Pollyanna Principles: "Dhalgren" by Samuel L. Delany

Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany

“Really? Samuel Delany has written "unreadable garbage"? Would you care to share with us the precise nature of the stories or novels which qualify as such, or have you not, as I strongly suspect, actually read any of his work? I presume this is the same Samuel Delany who has been a professor of English and writing at numerous American universities, who was named a GrandMaster of the field? The author of "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones", “Babel-17” and “Nova”? That Samuel Delany? Or is it instead the case, as I suspect, that you have allowed yourself to fall foul of the cliché that if it's SF, then by its very nature, some of his work must be bad?”

That’s, more or less, how I answered someone who commented on the novel’s review back then.



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On Preterition: "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon

I think I found it difficult in the sense of its denseness in fact. Well, I find it hard to answer the “difficulty” question with much certainty; I'm equivocating. I don't love it all equally no, that's not the case. There are parts that I prefer immeasurably to others however, simply because I prefer I'm not sure whether that persuades me that it would be 'better' in some sense without them. I don't have the figures for specific chapters with me but I do know that Joyce added a lot to some of the later chapters - from Oxen of the Sun to Ithaca I think - meaning that the manuscript expanded in proof. I think you notice this as you read it, right?



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Popcorn Cack: "Angels & Demons" by Dan Brown

Angels & Demons - Dan Brown

I read the first few chapters of “Fifty Shades” (maybe because I want to write romance and erotica, and I need to keep tabs on the competition...lmao) and found it to be just as laughable as readers warned me, but I have to admit I have a soft spot for Dan Brown's popcorn cack. I've reread a few of his books because I found them entertaining, just the same as I've re-watched the first Avengers movie several times. It's nice to switch your brain off and enjoy some mass market nonsense every once in a while.



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Pile of Unmitigated Shite: "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James

“There was a lady reading this on the train back from work. I couldn't help but comment to her, "The paper version? That's a bit brazen...I thought this was secret Kindle phenomenon?" She laughed. Moments later she flirtily replied, "I couldn't find the hard back." Stressing the word 'hard'. That made me gulp and suddenly I realised she had gained all the power with that one reply. As we approached the tunnel at Rossio, I noticed I was aroused and was feeling profusely hot. Obscuring my bulge with my back pack, I made for the on-train toilet. The automatic door took an eternity to open. I stepped inside. As I turned to close the door, I drew breath as I realised I had been followed to the toilet by the lady reading the dirty book, and what's more there was another three ladies clutching their Kindles, jostling for a feel of my bulging trousers...”

Do you think I’ve got what it takes to be an erotic writer...? Maybe I should quit my day-job.



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Access Denied Prototype: “Valis” by Philip K. Dick

VALIS - Philip K. Dick

Is Phil Dick talking about regressing back to former time periods, or the much more radical notion of previous structures existing in the sub-strata of reality and emanating forward, like the notion of ancient Rome, a proto-fascist state, The Black Iron Prison of VALIS, falling forward through history. I think for Phil Dick - sensing these things - was no mere matter of psychological themes. And in the exploration of these realities one thing is clear - the date doesn't matter. A smug talking refrigerator door is about everyday oppression. It is humorous but it represents the shadow. Have you heard the automated checkout robot at Woolworths? "Unexpected item in the bagging area." Combining elements of stern accusation and exasperation. So he had it right, now everyday objects talk to us, and form part of an oppressive regime who's intent is to shackle the soul.



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Non-Predictive SF: “Clans of the Alphane Moon” by Philip K. Dick

Clans of the Alphane Moon - Philip K. Dick

The actual potential, some of it realized already, of science is mind boggling & dizzying, and SF and TF both provided dazzling and wondrous possibilities to people's minds, especially young people's minds. When Phil Dick was writing there was a great deal more wonderment, and a great deal less expectation, in TF. Although there is more wonderment now in one sense, in that science and technology are making the stuff of SF real almost as fast as SF or TF writers can imagine it.



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Good Back-in-the-Day-SF: "Telzey Amberdon" by James H. Schmitz

Telzey Amberdon - James H. Schmitz, Eric Flint

A lot of very readable and entertaining SF is grounded in Clarke's observation that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A character who pops what looks like an aspirin tablet into what looks like a microwave and then retrieves and eats a vindaloo is behaving as realistically as I am when I order a pizza. If the character then steps into a time machine, he or she needn't know any more about how it works than I need to know what really happens when I turn on the lights. In fact, I'd worry about the success of a book that said "Gwen's knowledge of farming and baking enabled her to eat a pizza, and since she understood the principles of electrical transmission, she was able to eat it with the lights on." If anything, I think that too many SF books try to explain made up science that their characters, if real, would probably just take for granted.



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Plot Twists Galore:"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

Poor old Dan Brown. He does get a bit of stick. They say he writes silly, brainless stories told in a way appropriate for telling silly, brainless stories. With three thousand or so plot twists. In fact, my friends say, one cannot even call Dan Brown's novels stories - they're just collections of plot twists. By the end it really gets (unintentionally) hilarious - one twist and then another and another AND ANOTHER AND ANOTHER!!!, and you feel like a cat trapped in a washing machine. But fortunately unlike the cat you have the power to stop the ludicrous infantile spinning and just drop the book.



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The De-fanging of Menfolk: "The Woodlanders" by Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders - Patricia Ingham, Thomas Hardy

Another Hardy character to rival Sue Bridehead in emotional complexity is, I feel, Grace Melbury in The Woodlanders. Grace is the young country girl sent away by her vain and ambitious father to be educated and refined and when she returns we see how the natural order of a small rural community is irrevocably turned upside down as a result. Hardy explores the impact of education and money on Grace and the way these influences affect those around her. Grace is forced by her control-freak of a father to marry the middle-class philanderer Edred Fitzpiers, and thus reject the young local man whom she had expected to marry - the taciturn woodlander, Giles Winterbourne, who 'looked and smelt like Autumn's very brother'. Grace's marriage to Fitzpiers is a disaster which leads to the normal order being drastically altered. 



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Newton Made Easy: "Newton's Principia for the Common Reader" by Subrahmanijan Chandrasekhar

Newton's Principia for the Common Reader - Subrahmanijan Chandrasekhar

"If a body impinge upon another, and by its force change the motion of the other, that body also (because of the equality of the mutual pressure) will undergo an equal change, in its own motion, towards the contrary part."

In "Newton's Principia for the Common Reader" by Subrahmanijan Chandrasekhar 

As a math and physics graduate back in the day, I applaud some of the Physics Professors choices when it comes to choosing the best books in Physics, and I also decry a lot of the works on that supposed imaginary list as being, in the grand scheme of things, quite trivial. I too would have assumed that importance and even profundity - if I dare use such a potent word - would carry some merit for non-fiction works, but, alas, i was quite mistaken it seems. To try to be fair though, as I said elsewhere on this blog, I think that the main problem for the arts and humanities mob is maths. As in their cluelessness about it. It completely underpins the natural sciences, and has to be mastered to at least some extent.


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Mythical Agents of Destiny: "Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon - Richard K. Morgan

“If they want you, sooner or later they’ll scoop you up off the globe, like specks of interesting dust off a Martian artefact. Cross the gulf between the stars, and they’ll come after you. Go into centuries of storage, and they’ll be there waiting for you, clone-new, when you re-sleeve. They are what we once dreamed of as gods, mythical agents of destiny, as inescapable as Death, that poor old peasant labourer, bent over his scythe, no longer is. Poor Death, no match for the mighty altered carbon technologies of data storage and retrieval arrayed against him. Once we lived in terror of his arrival. Now we flirt outrageously with his sombre dignity, and beings like these won’t even let him in the tradesman’s entrance.”

In “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan

Cyberpunk, a historic sub-genre that was out of date by the time most people had started using Windows, cool! That said, Gibson was better than ever with the near future Blue Ant trilogy, and Stephenson is off doing whatever caught his attention, before hopefully returning with some more Shaftoes and Waterhice, I mean houses. That said, Gibson's “The Peripheral” offered some fascinating directions, but were too interesting for that hoary old sub-genre title. I've always thought of the Altered Carbon books as SF pulp really and the TV version just confirms it for me.



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