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Reading post #10

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 25, 2009 by brbslicingapple

I have been getting back to my favourite genre in literature – science fiction – and decided to read one of its most famous examples, namely Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I’ve just read the first part of the trilogy.

Foundation speaks about a future of humankind, scattered over the Universe, united by the Empire, which is its centre and its heart. But when scientists have worked out the unavoidable fall of the Empire, Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian, founds a Foundation to preserve the culture, technology and art of the old Empire. While Seldon must wrangle with the means and requirements to begin this organisation, his successors must also deal with the problems that await in the dark periods of an almost feudal Universe.

The book has a lot of political intrigue in it, to the extent that I’m constantly amazed by how smart Asimov’s characters are and how very tight the plot and suspense are (it’s almost like reading a crime novel. Except there’s less murder and more Space.) Asimov manages to manipulate the story wonderfully and it was very interesting to read.

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Reading post #9

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 by brbslicingapple

I finished reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde today.

It certainly gave me a lot to think about, and it was written very well. Even though the novel is not very realistic, it portrays a rather reliable picture of the times in which Wilde wrote this particular piece.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is about vainness, corruption and the compromises one might make for the pleasures one seeks. The main plot is that Dorian Gray, a young man, meets a very interesting gentleman who sets him off thinking about his own youth and beauty. The painter who introduces them, finishes the last piece he was working on. Dorian, who sat for the picture, exclaims that he wishes he would never get old. And that happens, naturally. While the picture gets older, he (in his appearance, at least) doesn’t age a day. And while he commits his life to the vile pursuit of pleasure above all else, the picture becomes uglier and older by the day. This scares Dorian, of course, and scares him not into destroying the picture or looking for help, but enables him to become even more corrupt. Dorian stoops so low as to visit places people of his standing rarely do, and eventually escalates into murder (whether it’s direct or indirect) and ends, of course, in a tragedy, when Dorian finds out he can no longer repent.

This piece of work is heavily tinged with ideas of Aestheticism – a belief that everything of worth must have beauty in it, rather than practical use. Wilde has a particular style as well, which is very lengthy and descriptive at some places, while sparser at others, and I found it a pleasure to read.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic novel and one that has had a great impact on culture as a whole (I was listening to a song that mentioned Dorian Gray just earlier) with its implied themes of homosexuality, although more with the overall themes of hedonism and the cost of everlasting beauty, as well the corruption of one’s youth.

Reading post #8

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 13, 2009 by brbslicingapple

After reading Hesse’s Demian I decided to go for some more light-hearted literature and ended up reading real teen fiction, namely Sue Limb’s Zoe and Chloe: On the Prowl.

This book follows the adventures of the two main characters – Zoe and Chloe – mainly trying to find some boys to go with them to a charity ball. For the whole duration of the novel, Chloe and Zoe get into a lot of trouble and face some interesting problems (as is typical in teen literature) like Chloe raising money to help her poor sister out of debt (which she brought on to herself, naturally) and Zoe dealing with a heartbreaker. Oh, and they also start a life-coaching service just to meet more potential dates. The book has a happy ending, of course, though perhaps not one the reader might be expecting.

The book is written in an often comic and very over-the-top style, which I enjoyed very much. Even if the book is of a more light nature, it encorporates several darker themes (it just deals with them in a way that is more closer to the natural tone of the book). It’s a wonderful and quick read, and provides many funny mental images for the reader as well as a lot of laughs.

Reading post #7

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 12, 2009 by brbslicingapple

I read Hermann Hesse’s Demian, paying it more attention that I usually do while reading. Demian is about adolescence and self-realisation. It is one of the best books I have read about that particular subject, and one I can identify with (if not on all levels, then at least more than most Young Adult novels.) Demian not only uses very clear and understandable plots, it makes itself look dignified and not at all fragmented while possessing a lot of influential ideas from notable persons such as Carl Jung, which is also a really great thing about this book.

The book is subtitled The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth which just about sums the book up. The main plot is about Sinclair’s daily struggles with the two realms, of which he has to choose one. Whichever one he decides to live in, the other comes up haunting him. One is the difficult world of religious and moral purity – a child’s realm – with no sin; the contrasting world is of corruption, mysticism and ultimately too adult for the main character, who longs for a life with elements of the both worlds.

The story begins with Sinclair’s description of the two worlds, while he is firmly stuck in the more childish, virtuous realm. As the plot progresses, the more important scenes are all ones that make Sinclair doubt his real place and the purpose of the two realms – having a bully take advantage of him, forcing Sinclair into the other realm; meeting Demian, who makes him question the wisdom of God, but allows a deeper look at the ideals that Sinclair hold within himself (and of course saves Sinclair from the taunting bully Kromer); becoming a drunkard and a nuisance at the boys’ school until he finds a strange foreign god and a new master who keep his ideals and hunger for spirituality satisfied. When he has gained the knowledge from all these experiences and met all these people, he can finally begin courting his ideal of love (and what does one desire more in one’s heart than love?) as well as meeting Demian again and gaining a group of fellow-minded companions. Sinclair’s doubt is finally subsiding, when suddenly war is being declared. The ending is quite sad and poignant, with Sinclair losing the one most important to him.

I found the story quite uplifting in parts, and liked it very much since fiction about adolescence (in both compulsory reading as well as the reading I have done for my pleasure) tends to try too hard to be realistic, and I can’t take it very seriously. I can really identify with Hesse’s understanding of growing up, though, and that makes this book a bit special for me. (Sorry for the very unbiased review.)

I have no idea what I’m going to read next.

Reading post #6

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 6, 2009 by brbslicingapple

I’ve just finished reading The best of Marion Zimmer Bradley, which is a collection of short stories with sci-fi elements. There are a total of fifteen stories, and subjects ranging from alien invasions to time travellers to more realistic representations of life on Earth.

Most of the stories haven’t got much to do with each other, except for the sci-fi or fantasy setting, although there are some major themes that cross over stories like romance, death, fighting for some moral purpose and looking into the depths of the human mind. Bradley also has a knack for portraying relationships that are not romantic, perhaps even the opposite, as well as coming up with very innovative ideas and giving them a clear shape with her writing, which varies in quality, but is mostly entertaining to read. Most of her stories have a strong plot, and she also conveys the idea of feminism in some of them.

An admirable point would be the ideals she presents for the human race – in one story she creates a kind of Utopia, which is seen as the antithesis of Utopia in the main character’s point of view until he learns of caring about the little things; Bradley can also present the idea of mass hallucination with the added twist that the real world, which is exactly like ours, is the illusion, and the unreal world of people’s relaxation imaginations turns out to be the real one.

I think I’ve only read the Mists of Avalon (parts one and two) by M. Z. Bradley before (and these were the Estonian translations), which weren’t as likeable as these short stories, but then again, I read these recently and her Avalon series several years back, so it’s not really comparable.

Reading post #5

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2008 by brbslicingapple

Today I finished reading Naomi Novik’s Empire of Ivory. This is the fourth book in the Temeraire series, and did not disappoint.

The book starts where the last one left off, with Captain Laurence and his dragon Temeraire trying to get back to Britain. Of course, once they’ve reached home, they discover a mysterious epidemic has weakened the British Aerial Corps, with some of the dragons already dead.

Fortunately, Temeraire is resistant to the virus, and Temeraire, his crew and some other friends from the Corps go off to the wilder parts of Africa in search of whatever it was that made Temeraire immune, when they sailed past there on the route to China (this was in the second part of the series, I believe). They will have to find the antidote in a hurry, though, since the forces of France are very close to finding out the whole British Corps have taken to the illness.

During the book, the band of aviators manage to actually find the antidote to the virus through a series of disappointing tries, they also manage to get kidnapped and witness the colonies on the continent get razed and looted in the final part of their journey.

They return to Britain triumphant, but then news reaches them that the British government has sent a sick spy deliberately to the enemy in a try to infect the French troops. Since I don’t want to spoil the ending, I’ll just conclude with saying that Captain Laurence and Temeraire had to make a very hard choice in the end, without much compromising their principles regarding murder or treason.

The book was very exciting to read, I especially enjoyed the vocabulary of the author (given that the novel takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, the use of words sounds very authentic) and of course the lovely descriptions of Africa. Novik truly has a way of portraying characters as compassionate and easy to identify with, and the book was really a pleasure to read.

I’ll most likely read the sequel whenever I get a hold of it, since the book ended at a very interesting turn of events. Next I’ll probably try to tackle the Marion Zimmer Bradley book and after that, well, I’m sure I’ll find something.

Reading post #4

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November 26, 2008 by brbslicingapple

I just finished Naomi Novik’s Black Powder War (this is a lie; it was actually some days ago) which was a very exciting book.

In this book, Captain Will Laurence, his crew and his draconian companion Temeraire return from China to the British Isles. However, things do not go as planned and their last-minute change of plans includes stopping in Istanbul to collect dragon eggs purchased by the British government as well as fighting against French forces in Prussia.

Since this is a series, there are looming shadows from the last book, such as the dragon that swore to destroy everything and everyone that Temeraire loved or the mysterious lack of communication from the British aviators.

The book has rich and compelling storytelling that carefully entwines fantasy and historic facts together to produce a wonderful piece of literature, portraying different cultures (such as the Turks or the Prussians) as well as different species (like dragons) without making them seem caricatures.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable read and good entertainment. I’m already half-way through the next book in theĀ Temeraire series.

(I also read a small portion of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, which was surprisingly readable for medieval literature, so I was pleasantly surprised. But I doubt my attention span will last the entire duration of the book, so I’m not even going to attempt it.)