- Maggie Stiefvater on literary rape.
- On Book Covers and What Makes Them “Lousy” This is a good follow on to the Lousy Book Covers Tumblr from a few weeks ago
- 25 Hard Truths About Writing and Publishing All of these are true!
- Sex + Power = ? Really fantastic examination of erotic romance with a D/s edge.
- Critical Reviews & Critical Advocacy Yet another wonderful post from Kelly at Stacked.
- E-books, Wonkiness, and Feminism: Some Thoughts on Ruthie Knox’s About Last Night
- Realistic Depictions of Rape in Romance Superb guest post at Dear Author from Rebecca Rogers Maher.
- You’re Not Punk “Punk? Right now, it’s just this thing you tape to the end of another word to make it sound cooler; shorthand for “hip/weird contemporary fantasy”, when that’s actually a pretty good description already.”
- Sleeps With Monsters: Lesbian SFF Romance Was goaded into commenting a recommendation for Katherine V. Forrest’s Daughters of a Coral Dawn. Which is unsubtle lesbian separatist SF that is very much of its time. There are evil men and the planet is called Maternas. I may have to reread.
- The American Case Against a Black Middle Class
- Women in Realistic Outfits Does what it says.
- Micro-aggression, sexism, and cover art Seanan McGuire has some thoughts on this subject.
- Cadair Idris, Jo Walton This made me think of Robin Williamson’s rendition of “The Battle of the Trees” from Songs of Love and Parting. I can’t seem to even find the words online–and the book that Williamson wrote that has the words has been out of print since, well, forever. I have a bound photocopy made for me by a friend many years ago. Sigh.
- Why You Never Truly Leave High School The subtitle cracks me up: “New science on its corrosive, traumatizing effects.”
- Swarming a Book Online Organized one-star reviews intended to negatively affect a book’s sales. I kind of want to read the Michael Jackson book referenced in this article. I have a sick fascination with him.
I have the best friends. No, I do. I recently got a giant box of books in the mail from a friend in Wisconsin filled with mystery novels. Some I’ve read, but mostly they were new-to-me titles and in several cases they were new-to-me authors. I picked through the box and fished out a couple that looked fun. One of them was. The other wasn’t.
The first book, which sported the unwieldy title Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, is by Catriona McPherson, and it looked just the ticket: set between the wars, in Scotland, upper class amateur sleuth masquerades as a lady’s maid in order to protect “her mistress”, who insists her husband is going to kill her. I settled in, looking forward to a good time.
Except not. In fact, it was so not a good time that I didn’t finish it.
I really think if you’re going to do the upper class amateur sleuth thing, you have a lot to live up to—namely Peter Wimsey. That’s probably not fair, but Dorothy L. Sayers made Peter into a credible character, even at his most ridiculous undercover moments, and grew him into someone almost real. That’s a pretty high bar to jump over, granted, and I don’t actually demand my aristocratic amateur sleuths jump it, but I’d like them to at least get somewhere in the vicinity. At no point in the first 90 pages of that book, which was all I could stand, was Dandy Gilver a credible character or anywhere near an acceptable standard.
So if you’re not going to go that route, then you’d better give me a fun romp. That didn’t happen either. Because I found Dandy to be the Most. Annoying. Character. Ever. All very pleased with herself for no real reason, a bit full of herself, and not at all intuitive in terms of the situation as it was presented to her. Plus—if an aristocratic woman is going to pretend to be a lady’s maid, then she needs to actually know what the job entails and be able to do it if she’s going to pass muster with the rest of the household staff. And to do something about her posh accent besides invent some lame excuse about having been “genteel” and “come down in the world”. It’s also a bad idea to boss around the butler—he’s pretty much in charge of things, after all. I mean please, we all watch Downton Abbey. We know how the downstairs hierarchy works. Either the mistress’ household staff was full of the biggest dolts ever who couldn’t see through a really bad disguise or the reader was being asked to swallow a lot of codswallop. Either way, not a good foundation for a mystery. Plus the writing was nothing to write home about, and there was little in the way of backstory presented—it took me ages to work out who the supporting characters are and figure out that one of them was a dog. So, not good.
And hey, I had a whole box of books to choose from, so why stick with something that wasn’t interesting me, right?
Ironically, one of the other books I pulled out of the pile was also partially set in Scotland, also between the wars, and also involved an aristocratic young lady doing housework. Rhys Bowen, however, gets it right in Her Royal Spyness. The main character is Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, aka Georgie, half-sister to a Scottish Duke and 34th in line for the throne. Times are tough in 1932, however, and the Duke’s household must economize, meaning Georgie must do without her allowance. She’s hampered by her position in terms of working and has few options: she can go be a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria’s last surviving daughter, she can allow herself to be married off to a blowhard Romanian Prince she calls Fish Face, or she can find a way to avoid that. To elude those dreary fates, however, she needs money. So she goes to London, gets sacked from a job at Harrods after a few hours, and has to learn to fend for herself with the help of her non-royal maternal grandfather, a retired bobby. Eventually she hits upon the idea of taking up light domestic work—just the stuff she can cope with, like dusting and fluffing—but she has to do it on the sly because she knows Her Majesty won’t approve.
Now see, if you’re going to write a fun romp, this is how you do it. And it was a fun book. There’s a sexy Irish peer with questionable motives for her (and the reader, of course) to fall in love with, for example, as well as an undercover job for The Queen spying on Georgie’s cousin David, The Prince of Wales, who has taken up with a most unsuitable American woman, nudge nudge. Oh, and a dead body in her bathtub. Which her brother Binky may or may not have put there.
As a mystery, it takes a while to get going, and honestly, I’d have enjoyed this just as much if it hadn’t been a mystery because Georgie is just such an engaging character. She’s spunky, she’s funny, and she’s not full of herself—she’s a typical young woman who just happens to be 34th in line for the throne. Bowen gets Georgie’s narrative voice just right—formal when necessary, delightfully charming otherwise—and tells her story through excerpts from her diaries. This is all frothy and lighthearted, and if the mystery elements tend to rely on coincidences, it’s hard to mind. Georgie has a bit of a Nancy Drew thing going with all the accidents-that-aren’t-accidents that happen to her, but she carries on, determined to clear Binky of the crime and learn how to work the boiler in the house.
Read this one for the characters and the humorous situations and try not to think too hard about the mystery elements—the solution is acceptable, although again, maybe a bit too much coincidence. But it was fun. I intend to add the remaining series entries to my TBR pile as soon as I can. I haven’t found something this outright enjoyable to read in ages.
The amount of story that’s jammed into this piece, especially considering that not only is it short, it’s also all dialogue, is pretty incredible.
Consequently, this post is overflowing with spoilers. Enter if you dare.
The wildcat colony of New Seattle is expecting a shipment of supplies from a ship, the Erie Morningstar. Those supplies never appear. Instead, they get what they initially think is a stowaway.
Malik Damanis is seriously injured and may be infected with something called the Rot. He’s in a tremendous amount of pain but with supplies running low, the colonists are only able to give him the barest amount of palliative care–and they won’t know for sure that he has the Rot until his blood test results come back.
The colony’s administrator, Chenzira El-Masri is a total hard-ass–and has to be. As a wildcat colony, New Seattle gets no support from the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) and is wholly reliant on whatever supplies they can procure from merchant ships–so when their supplies don’t show up their very existence is endangered.
That’s the set-up–but there’s way more information to be had in this story. Damanis tells a tale of the Erie Morningstar being boarded by mysterious people in black, a good number of the bridge crew being killed, and the remaining crew shoved into cargo containers and pushed out of the ship–the walking the plank of the title.
There’s also an impossible decision to be made at the end. While horrifying to contemplate, when put into the context of what the colony is dealing with around limited resources, the decision is unavoidable.
What does this tell us about the overall story? It tells us that there are colonies out there that are unsupported by the CDF–and that they’re on worlds with ecologies that are actively detrimental to human life and that the infrastructure to support these colonies is precarious enough that a single disruption to supply drops may be enough to doom them. It tells us that there is some organization out there–presumably the same one from the first episode–that knows about not only military transport schedules but commercial ones, too. And they are well-financed and able to interfere in potentially catastrophic ways, as well. This all implies a far-ranging plan–although to what ends are still a complete mystery at this point.
So. While this segment does stand alone, it works better taken in context with the first installment even though the setting and characters and even the tone have very little in common with “The B-Team”. It moves the story forward and does so in an economical and extremely well-constructed way that gives the reader just enough to hold them over until next week’s episode.
Be advised that there are minor spoilers to follow.
I had been eagerly looking forward to Peter Robinson’s latest Alan Banks novel, Watching the Dark, for some time. Robinson took a year off from the Banks saga, and I think it was time well-spent away from the character. There have been a number of ongoing and unresolved plotlines in this series for the last few books that I’ve sensed the author wasn’t ready or willing to deal with yet. I’m not sure he’s made up his mind in terms of those issues (the biggest being Alan’s relationship with and to DI Annie Cabot), but Banks himself seems recharged after his enforced literary vacation.
I’ve been reading this series forever, although it’s one of those that I started in the middle—someone years ago said they thought I’d like In a Dry Season, and they were right (I still consider that particular book to be the best mystery I’ve read in the last 20 years). So I went back and started at the beginning. Banks starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill character, but Robinson has given him plenty of personal challenges over the years as a means to develop him into a complex and complicated human being. At this point, 20 books into the series, even Alan realizes he needs to shake things up, get out more, stop living on Indian takeaways and spending every night with a glass of wine and a CD in the stereo. It’s really rare, I think, to get a character to this point on the self-awareness scale, and it’s refreshing.
The Alan Banks series are, of course, police procedurals, but they’re not the tedious sort. Banks is considered a bit of a maverick—he doesn’t always operate strictly by the book, and his methods are considered a little quirky by his superiors. But he gets results, and his team is completely loyal to him. Robinson wisely skips extensive descriptions of the forensic stuff here, which can be tiresome, and gets right into the meat of the investigation, leaving the SOCOs to work quietly in the background.
The case is an interesting one: DI Bill Quinn is shot with a cross bow on the grounds of a charity-run rehab center for police, so right away I thought “hmm, takes some nerve to shoot a cop on the grounds of a building that is theoretically crawling with them.” The center itself plays no other role in things, as Banks, while searching Quinn’s room there, discovers compromising photos of the victim tucked in a book and realizes Quinn had problems elsewhere. This seems to be confirmed when Banks’ boss foists Joanna Passero onto him (and onto the reader–Joanna is a bit much, honestly). Joanna is with Professional Standards, the branch responsible for ferreting out “bent” cops or those who cut corners and don’t follow correct procedure. It seems there have been rumors for some time of a cop on the take in Yorkshire, and Joanna thinks Quinn might be her suspect.
Banks and Joanna don’t hit it off, and things are complicated by the return to duty of Annie Cabot, Banks’ former lover and current partner on the force. Annie has been rehabbing after being shot on a prior case, and the team seems to think that Joanna is also there to see if she’s really fit to return to duty. No one’s very nice to Joanna as a result, and Banks resents her getting in his way while he goes about trying to figure out who wanted to kill Bill Quinn, and he suspects she can’t help but assess his every move–understandable, given her job.
The personnel issues here are an interesting way to ratchet up the tension, and Robinson throws another twist into things when it appears an old case Quinn was unable to resolve may be at the root of his death. The investigation eventually leads to a second body, that of an Estonian journalist working undercover on a story involving human trafficking, and eventually Banks and Joanna leave Annie behind to work some angles in Yorkshire while they head to Tallinn, Estonia in search of answers to who might have had Bill Quinn in their pocket and why.
As mysteries go, Watching the Dark is top drawer, if a bit slowly paced. Robinson is always great with the plot twists, and if things slow down a bit once Banks gets to Estonia, he makes up for it in the details of a place most of us are unlikely to go anytime soon. The solution is satisfying as well, although the resolution of the tensions between Banks and Joanna seems a bit vague. She finds her answers about Quinn, but her sudden desire to get out of Professional Standards and into Homicide, while understandable, seems a bit easy.
And suspicious. Robinson has avoided resolving the relationship between Banks and Annie for a number of books now, and he really needs to do something about it. It’s hard to not wonder if Joanna will appear again soon in the series, her wonky marriage over, to cry on Banks’ shoulder and allow the author to continue to avoid dealing with the Annie-Banks problem.
That’s really my only complaint, though. Robinson is otherwise as reliable as always in terms of plotting and scene descriptions (he has this knack of detailing a scene through a character’s eyes without listing a bunch of details—you get a clear picture of how things are without even being aware of it), and Banks continues to grow as a character—no mean feat 20 books into a series. The secondary characters are well-drawn, right down to the most insignificant of them. And I liked that Robinson got Banks out of Yorkshire for a while, too. A fresh environment always helps to air out a long-running series.
Hey! It’s our 100th post here at the Radish! And we still have lots of things to say! Whee!
And to celebrate, how about some more Julian May? (At this point, I know I’m about the only person who cares about these books and I do not care!)
The second half of Intervention is The Metaconcert and things are much darker in what, at the time, was the future but is now the past. That’s sort of the awesome thing about these books–the intervention part of things takes place in 2012.
My main complaint about this book is that there isn’t enough drunk Uncle Rogi or enough scenes with aliens–there’s a lot more political maneuvering amongst the various human factions and honestly, I find it kind of boring. I’d rather read more about the Remillard family–even about super-perfect Denis–than about politicians in Washington.
On the other hand, this book is episodic enough that if one section isn’t very interesting then there will be another one shortly.
The book ends with the Intervention–that is, all the aliens showing up to say hello and it feels really anti-climactic for some reason. I’m not sure why–possibly because I was really disengaged from most of the story. I don’t know.
Uncle Rogi continues to be awesome, though. And I did enjoy the bits with the evil operants and I wanted to know more about how Kieran O’Connor’s mind worked–especially in light of his relationship with his daughter and with Victor Remillard. Shannon O’Connor’s death is also extremely suggestive of things that will go down in the next set of books…
But one thing that strikes me as a fundamental flaw is this: for all the talk of the need for operants to be non-violent and to use peaceful means to achieve their goal of acceptance among the population, there is not a single mention of the civil rights movement in the US which was also a movement that was essentially non-violent. Or Indian independence from Great Britain, also a movement with a strong non-violent component. The only non-white players are literally inscrutable Asians or a Tibetan monk who ends up a martyr. It just doesn’t sit right with me–and I know that’s not the story May was wanting to tell, but the sheer white man-ness of this story gets to be a bit much after a while.
So these two books are a useful bridge to the Galactic Milieu series, but I don’t know if they’re really worth reading outside of that context–I think that if I didn’t know that there were three more books to come that I wouldn’t have bothered finishing the second half of Intervention. It really just didn’t work for me. More drunk Uncle Rogi!