March Reading Thread

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I've read little of Clive Barker's work, but what i have read, i've really enjoyed. Weaveworld is one of my favourites.
I finished The Damnation Game by Clive Barker. First up, Barker is a really good writer. His prose style is a big chunk better than most fiction writers. I was surprised by how much I wanted to read this book, just for his writing. If you want poetic (aka purple) prose done well, he's your man. On the other hand, it's insanely gory. Several characters seem to be reduced to literal pulp by the end. It goes on a bit too long, and the last chunk - where the characters leave the mansion where most of the story happens - feels weaker. Some smaller elements don't quite add up. However, overall this is an excellent grisly horror story, especially since it was Barker's first novel.
Thanks for the detail. This has been on my TBR for some time. I've only read Barker's shorter works, from the Books of Blood as well as Hellraiser, & I agree that his prose is really strong, making everything of his I've come across quite enjoyable. Many of his ideas, even the more odd-seeming ones, are quite intriguing as well. I've hesitated with The Damnation Game primarily for its length--can he sustain the writing & ideas that work so well in shorter form between such thick covers? I think I'll move this up my |TBR list!
Not many books read this month as each one has seemed a bit of a slog and took some getting through.

I duly finished Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (2007). Lots of historical research on show for this book – rather too much at times – with a family coming to London from Dorset and there meeting William Blake, who gives the story its title and its themes of Innocence and Experience. Unfortunately, there’s a complete blank where Blake should be, other characters are little more than ciphers with one sucking all the energy from the novel whenever she appears, and the only person of real interest who comes alive is Philip Astley, the circus impresario/showman, and I can’t help thinking it would have been a far better read if he'd been the dominant character by design rather than by default.

A switch from historical to SF with More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (1953) about the development of a gestalt human, the next step of humanity, formed from individuals who “blesh” and become one though remaining physically separate. A confusing beginning nearly put me off but I persevered, and though I never brought into the whole idea nor was taken with the sociopath whose story is told in the second section (and I really couldn’t credit his mental bouleversement at the end of the novel) I warmed to some of the characters and the writing, and was particularly impressed with the final section of the three where Sturgeon shows a man’s memory returning to him.

Staying with genre I moved onto Sistersong by Lucy Holland (2021). A fantasy set in England not long after the legions have left, with Saxon invasions, Merlin and magic, the land and the King being one and giving each other power, and women as central characters. What’s not to like?! Well, this book. It wasn’t promoted as YA when I picked it up in Waterstones, but it’s clearly written for fangirls who have no interest in or understanding of history or religion (and they certainly won’t get either from this minimally-researched, history-lite, Christianity-is-evil farrago) but who want to read about C21st teenagers whingeing about C21st issues, allowing them to wallow in other girls’ emotions without ever considering what feminism really means. DNF and dumped.

Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller (2020) was the complete antithesis to Sistersong, and undoubtedly won’t get one-hundredth of the attention. A novelised account of the life of Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, poet, alchemist and literary patron, strung together with alternating chapters with an invented servant who becomes her friend, its erudition is obvious from the start with a wealth of detail especially as to C16th & C17th alchemy and herbalism. Unfortunately the research is too often presented en masse and repetitively, in place of a more engaging and believable plot for the invented characters, the use of omniscient in Mary’s chapters creates distance and the writing there is plagued with a certain stiffness, and the decision to try and cram 40 years of both women’s lives into the novel means it falls short of properly illuminating Sidney as a person without ever clearly showing her as the feminist icon she ought to be.

And the last finished novel of the month, I returned to fantasy with What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch (2021), another in the Rivers of London series. Slight, unbearably padded, with plot holes galore and woefully lacking in Nightingale.
I finished The Lay of Sargon by Nick M. Lloyd, otherwise known to us as @FibonacciEddie. This book has a lot to recommend it. But I did find it slow going. I kept at it because it felt like it had a lot to say that I needed to hear.

Here's what I liked:
1) It was highly original in setting.
2) It was highly original in the genre of "First Contact" novels,
3) It felt as though it was somewhat hard SF
4) It was filled with moral dilemmas.
5) It had a surprising, but logical conclusion.
6) It seemed to have some fairly significant things to say about political disagreements, which are sometimes/often one of the basis of wars.
7) I loved the relationship between Joy, a human, and Vince, the A.I. she had a hand in bringing to life. I especially liked how much they were both willing to sacrifice for the good of the other.

Here's what I didn't like so much:
1) I couldn't quite resolve the sides of the center conflict which has been raging for millennium. Each side seemed to have a set of rules that intersected with the other side but differed in ways that were not always clear to me. I needed more historical context.
2) It often felt like Joy was making decisions with a "good" angel on one shoulder and a "bad" angel on the other. --- For me this didn't ring true when there was need for an immediate decision. Humans more often act on instinct, honed over time through experience and teaching, in a crisis more than following a calculated action.
3) I never was quite able to get a handle on what the weaponry was and how it worked. (Probably a result of my not being scientifically sophisticated enough.)
4) I found it a bit incredible that Joy could shepherd an A.I. to sentience that had abilities that technically sophisticated civilizations at least ten times older and far more advanced in every other way than humanity, could not.

If you are in the mood for a story which explores what it means to be guided by principles which are sometimes in conflict with your emotions you will find lots to like in this book.

Avoid --- Not Recommended --- Flawed --- Okay --- Good --- Recommended --- Shouldn’t be Missed
I am about to start True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee (2021) by Abraham Riesman, a biography of the comics guru. It's the first of a few books about people bought for me by my intellectual better half, knowing my nerdy interests. The others are about Ray Harryhausen., the master of stop-motion animation; Kurt Gödel, the great mathematician best known for his Incompleteness Theorem; and Cassandra "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" Peterson, the horror host.

I finished that one and am about to start a fifth nerdy biography I forgot about. This one is The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick (2019) by Mallory O'Meara, all about the woman who designed the Gill-Man.
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