I’m kinda tired of fantasy. Not that they have all gone bad nor that the genre has any issues or anything like that. I just feel done with it these days, done and bored and annoyed by it. Then somebody mean and thoughtful and gorgeous and intent on taking away my spare time gave me The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, and I was hooked, hooked I say you. So hooked that it made my recommended list, which is something I keep inside my head for when people ask me silly questions like ‘I don’t know any good books, do you?’ or ‘Can I ask you about your relationship to Jesus?’, you know… the usual stuff one encounters in day to day conversation. The Amazon blurb really does live up to its hype that “Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.“
5 Reasons to Read: The Invisible Library
The book just happens to include:
- … a dimension hopping secret agent/spy/thief/librarian person, that is part of an organisation that (appears) to exists solely to collect and protect the most important books (of course, that would be most books but who am I to argue). As a professed bibliophile, I am completely hooked.
- … dragons and fae and magic and airships and our experience is not an all-knowing one where all these wonders are normalised, but one mediated through the main character Irene, whose personality and choices manage to get on both my good and bad sides.
- … funny internal (and external) dialogue that grounds the characters decisions (and indecision) in the most human of all traits; to massively overthink everything and to doubt the selected course of action. Irene is a real person and acts like a real person should or would or could. And then chats about it. It’s wonderful and fun and distracting within the book itself.
- … excellent world building that allows for actions to have actual personal consequences, explanations for why certain events do or don’t have consequences, why we recognise it and why it’s exotic or foreign. It’s explained in-world why we feel at home and why we should get excited about this particular reality.
- … recognisable literary characters which feel like clear homages to their literary lineage without becoming boring, nor does it feel like rehashing or reusing the work of others. The story reads like it’s written by a true lover of books. Since the book is set in an alternate reality London, the potential for future encounters are broad and exciting indeed.
If I should fault it for anything, its the lack of a proper big baddie. The big baddie feels flat and vindictive for no reason (yet), but within the context of a first book suffices to bring about a sense of threat and drama that works without being overplayed or underplayed. The other “real” enemies in the book (no spoilers, I promise) feel fleshed out and very immediate so I can forgive the big bad for staying in the wings for now. I have book two ready to go anyway. It’s my Christmas read. And book three popped onto my Kindle a week ago, so its about time. So as long as your can accept that book one is an origin story, I would highly recommend The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman.
But what do you think? Is The Invisible Library as trite as most fantasy and I’m just a little bit deluded? I might be deluded anyway, I mean who really knows. Let me know!
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Firstly, I must acknowledge that the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn is no longer considered canonical in the Star Wars universe. On the other hand I still read and enjoyed the books and I hope elements will eventually work their way into the new trilogy. Also, if anyone reading this is involved with Star Wars 8, please cast me as a stormtrooper (preferably in a cantina, maybe on some star of death, perhaps opposite Eddie Izzard). Anyway, since the next trilogy is merrily on its way, what better time (that wasn’t right before the cinematic release of episode 7) to delve into what could have been. So here goes.
5 Reasons to Read the Thrawn Trilogy
You get to see…
- … massive starship battles. The two trilogies have shown us the intense spectacles of fighter-to-fighter combat, but actual starship-to-starship combat was reduced to who had the luckiest fighter pilots, most glaring structural oversights and least obvious targets. The Thrawn Trilogy delves deep into Star Wars canon and creates thrilling combinations of physics-based weaponry with careful force-wielding and mighty starships in intensely creative ways. No womp rat hunters need apply.
- … a non-human imperial officer. The Empire, the ever-so-casual-racist Nazi-analog with a bit of British imperialism in the mix, has a Chiss (a previously unseen race) commanding officer. Not only does this create an interesting adversary for the New Republic, but also allows for delving deeper into the empire’s history, philosophy and the flexibility of their morals and ideals.
- … force influencing and application across vast distances. You probably already know that Luke can utilize the force to pull his lightsaber from a mound of snow, Vader can force choke a incompetent officer from between starships and the Emperor can generate actual force lightning to kill, maim and cook his own face, but the actual scale and versatility of the force has only really been displayed in the books and video games. Without giving away spoilers, the way the force is being utilized in the Thrawn Trilogy is not only creative, but hints at how the power was wielded in the past. For interesting and spoilery examples click here.
- … Admiral Ackbar and actual political intrigue. I personally always wondered about Ackbar; what kind of fish-man was he and how does he fit into the New Republic. As a commander and tactician he was always degraded to “It’s a trap!” memes, so the trilogy does a great job of fleshing out the character and implementing him in the plot, in a manner that makes him look both competent and complicated, but also powerful.
- … an empire on the backfoot. The Empire was a colossus, a power encompassing dozens of star systems, massive fleets of starships and super weapons, able to subjugate entire planets and wipe out rebellious activity swiftly and efficiently. Except here they’re not so great, not anymore. In the Thrawn Trilogy they have the strength and the manpower, but unlike the movies, there is a strong chance and hope for new life in the galaxy. There is no Deathstar analogue, no click-a-button-to-win weapon, no droid army.
Other reasons to read the Thrawn Trilogy include the development of the relationships between Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, more interesting clones and droids, and the knowledge that these books are completely untainted by the prequels. Unless George Lucas somehow re-released them with extra scenes and better special effects.
But what do you think? Have you read The Thrawn Trilogy?
Did you like how Jar Jar Binks rose through the ranks to be the empire’s most feared assassin after coming out of hiding on Coruscant?
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The following recommendation may contain minor general spoilers about themes and ideas disclosed in The Circle by Dave Eggers, but only if you haven’t read the blurb on the paperback or actual real-world news about Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, YouTube, etc. supposedly spying on their users. With that said, here we go.
I really wanted to write that The Circle simmers in the back of your head, waiting, just waiting for you to have an epiphany six months later. But unfortunately it doesn’t. What it does is, it slaps you on the cheek yelling its message into your unsuspecting face, channeling the essence of 1984, with a dash of social media and a pinch of paranoia. Of course we sometimes need that, especially with a topic like this one.
5 Reasons to Read The Circle
The book plays with questions like
- … could the Circle/Google go bad? We’re not talking about nefarious plans to put satellites with death rays into orbit, or sequencing and disseminating smallpox via email, but rather a slow, comfortable descent into the warm blanket of surveillance and totalitarianism. A thousand small cuts to our privacy and freedom that all make sense at the time.
- … is privacy is a form of theft? The Circle puts forth the idea that privacy means withholding information from others (about yourself, other people, the world, knowledge); and keeping secrets is in essence a form of theft, akin to stealing something that rightfully belongs to the world. We have a right to know to everything about anything. Or do we?
- … is total transparency desirable? A question that probably cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. In politics, police work and other public sectors people that are entrusted with our representation, our safety, our health, and are watching over our society as a whole, should have transparency. They deal with public matters of public concern. I feel it is desirable to have as much clarity as possible, as that is the only way to ensure that these individuals indeed do as they are sworn to do. On the individual level, the question becomes more murky. Would e.g. total transparency have prevented the attacks in Paris and Brussels?
- … is total transparency a matter of choice? Suppose we have total transparency forced upon us, should the individual have a choice? Should they be able to opt-out? And if so, could they do so without penalty or the shadow of suspicion? Services like Facebook are opt-in and provide a service that requires voluntary transparency to a user-defined extent that is never complete or perfectly honest, as we are still the arbiters of our own feed. But if what if we weren’t?
- … is total transparency inevitable? There are movements in the real world (similar to ones mentioned in the book) that have us move towards more transparency, both on a mandatory governmental and a more voluntary private level. Is this movement inevitable? Will we lose our right to a private existence?
Albeit these questions are important and morally challenging, I found the book a bit simple and too straightforward. I remained unsurprised by how characters reacted, how Mae’s character arc played out; throughout the story the message (or warning) is obvious and heavy-handed. The book leans heavily on what-if scenarios and presents its case as a slippery slope fallacy. Criticism aside, I enjoyed the book and it will be getting a physical counterpart to my Kindle version at some point. Next to my SeeChange/SenseCam, as suggested in the book.
But what do you think? About the book, about Google/Circle, about transparency and the loss of privacy? Let me know!
It’s been a while since I recommended a book. I have been reading. It’s true! See… The widget over there doesn’t lie. Unless it missing, in which case I blame WordPress. —->
Books are being consumed and considered with much enthusiasm and enjoyment. However when I finish a book, I want to make sure I mulled it over sufficiently before recommending it. Like did I enjoy the writing? Did I learn something interesting? Did I enjoy any of the characters or rooted for the bad guy? And for non-fiction, was the book educational? Do I feel more knowledgeable? Or does it make me want to ask more questions? Would it help others?
Then I read The End of Night by Paul Bogard, and had my mind blown by something I’ve noticed for years without actually putting it into words. Where did the darkness go? No, not this one. Or this one. Come on, yo know what I mean. Where did the night go. So here we go:
5 Reasons to Read – The End of Night:
You get to know why…
- …your childhood sky isn’t the same now. I grew up close to Copenhagen with all its faraway luminescence. It was a constant reminder of how bright a city can be, but I was still be able to see quite a few stars. I remember lying on the local hills seeing hundreds of stars twinkling gently above me, with the only (known) obstruction being the local mosquito population descending onto my fragile body to feast. That was 30 years ago. When I visit home today I see very few stars, and almost no mosquitos. The northern star is quite visible and a few pinpricks of light that might be stars, or might be an aircraft landing at Copenhagen Airport. Urban development and a copious approach to street lighting has pretty much wiped my childhood sky, and possibility of lying on a grassy hill and taking in the cosmos.
- …you don’t really need or want all this light. Why do we need all this light? The book demonstrates clearly that we are not necessarily safer with all this light, in some cases are even far worse off. The human eye is capable of seeing, understanding and interpreting visual cues with very little light, so the addition of more and more lights is superfluous at best, and a massive waste of energy at its worst. The evolution of street lights is addressed in the book, comparing different types of street illumination (flame vs electric for instance) and its effects of the visual appreciation of the world. And that the types of light, direct vs indirect, flame vs incandescent, illuminates the world radically differently. Did you know that there is a type street light that is known as a cobra light?
- …light is wreaking ecological havoc. From messing with the rhythm of nocturnal animals, disorienting birds and flying mammals, to disrupting human health, light is far from harmless. Light causes real world damage to living beings and it’s not being addressed. The human cost for people working at night and living in areas with heavy illumination are cancers, higher levels of depression and a generally lower quality of life. And unfair slants towards the poor who are forced to take up jobs where that’s necessary.
- …darkness does not equal fear. The dark, in our modern civilised world, holds very few actual dangers, besides not being able to see a rake in the grass, or that corner table that’s a magnet to toes. Which, once your eyes are adapted (unless you build you home to hurt people), you rarely need to fear anything. Sure, street lighting is needed when people are out and about, fires are needed to keep wild animals at bay; in places where snakes/spiders/Australians are a real concern, you need light to make sure they’re not about to crawl up your nose. Tactical lights are needed to blind the occasional perp during heroic rescues, but for day-to-day living the darkness holds few real dangers.
- …that darkness should be considered a human rights issue. Or more accurately, the night sky. I personally never considered the night sky to be something I had a ‘right’ to, because it was always a background to something else. It’s just there, above me, doing nothing much but inspiring the people who actually take the time to look at it. I like to think that seven year old me got something out of it, even if I can’t quite remember the details. Whether it was considering the existence of other civilizations out there, or just enjoying the beauty of a twinkling star. And all I got as a kid was a smoggy, hazy view, but in places where it’s truly dark the night sky can be mesmerising.
And there we go. The book also reads well, has interesting facts about bats, and may have informed some of my future travel plans.
But what do you think? Have you read The End of Night? Do you agree or disagree with the authors conclusions on light pollution?
It’s time to share some reading suggestions. So enjoy this new segment “5 Reasons to Read” where I will promote various works I think has something special to offer. Kicking it off with The Dresden Files.
Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is an excellent take on the contemporary fantasy genre. The series takes the classic fantasy elements and mixes it with Chicago’s gangster mythology and adds a John McClane-esque protagonist. Jim Butcher combines complicated plots with deep moral philosophy, gut wrenching violence, dark humour, sex and a celebration of geekdom in one excellent series. Add a dash of brimstone and a sprinkle of quasi Latin and you’re good to go. Continue reading 5 Reasons to Read – The Dresden Files