Saturday, 29 January 2011

FTW by Cory Doctorow

Interesting "Young Adult" novel which combines a good story with a political tract. Doctorow uses a story set in the near future world of mmorpg gold farmers to share his left of centre views on globalisation and the exploitation of workers. There is a tonne of economic theory in there too. Even if you don't entirely agree with Doctorow's political stance it is still a pretty good read. It is also interesting to see gold farmers as heroes for a change given the fact that they are more ussually spoken of with derision by many mmorpg gamers and bloggers. Chinese players in particulary are subject to a considerable amount of racist abuse because of the gold farming issue. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Mistborn: the final Empire byy Brandon Sanderson

 A new fantasy series for me and a very enjoyable one. Brandon draws a masterful picture of a segregated society with an enslaved underclass who are kept underfoot by an unthinking nobility. The whole structure is held together through the godlike powers of a malign immortal ruler. The book tells the story of a revolution plotted by a rare defiant group of downtrodden ska (the underclass) who wield the magical powers of Allomancy and art supposedly denied to their class. .

It is good stuff and a great read.  The necessary magical system  (Allomancy) is a bit over explained to my liking but that is a personal preference. Fantasy requires some form of magical power and you can either make it all a big unexplained mystery (as was popular with earlier writers like Tolkien) or you can try to classify and categorise the whole business turning it into an invented science. Sanderson has very much gone for the latter.

I am looking forward to the remaining two volumes in the trilogy. The only reservation I have is that if the rebellion succeeds then segregated society that formed such a core feature of the setting will collapse. I wonder will Sanderson be able to make the world which replaces it as interesting to read about.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Northern Lights Trilogy by Philip Pullman

I actually red the first volume of this trilogy more than ten years ago when I picked it up at a newstand before boarding a transatlantic flight. I guess I was initially taken aback when I realised that it was actually a kids books but the more I read of it the darker the story became and I quickly realised this was superior children's fiction - in the same league as Harry Potter or maybe even better.  It took me a decade to get around to reading the next two books but 11 year old daughter is a complete book worm so when I saw a single volume collection of the trilogy on sale in a local book fair I thought:" Why not?. If I don't like it she probably will."

As so much time had passed I started again with book one and kept reading to the end. I really enjoyed the series for its imagination, for its writing and for its sheer audacity  but ... I don't know whether I want my daughter to
read it or not. It is a great great story but it is also an extremely subversive one. The whole plot of the book is actually about overthrowing God. The Christian Churches are very clearly portrayed as the bad guys. It is actually very cleverly done with many references to Christian mythology.

Its not that we are a particularly devout family. To tell the truth I probably don't believe any of that stuff myself but my daughter is at a very young very impressionable age and she does still believe. She might enjoy the book immensely but then again it could confuse her or upset her. On the other hand I am not big into censorship without explanation so if she expresses an interest in the book I will discuss it with her and if she still wants to read it I can be on hand to talk about the ideas in the book if required.

Oh and as for the books themselves: The first volume (Northern Lights) is the tightest and best and sadly the storyline gets a little too unfocussed in the final volume (The Amber Spyglass) but nevertheless the trilogy should really be read as a single work and taken together it is a genuine masterpiece.