Alexia Tarabotti isn’t just suffering from being half-Italian in Victorian England, she also is soulless. Unlike vampires, werewolves, and other supernaturals who successfully changed thanks to an excess of soul, or even having just enough soul like day dwellers, she simply has none. Plus as a preternatural she turns the supernaturals human when she touches them. Obviously they aren’t a fan of that. Except for one particularly persnickety werewolf, Lord Maccon, who is Scottish to boot. And to top it all off a mysterious wax-faced man suddenly seems very interested in kidnapping her. None of this seems particularly civilized.
The Parasol Protectorate series was all the rage when this book made it onto my tbr pile back in 2010. That was kind of the beginning of the steampunk craze, before you could find gears on everything in the costume shop. I can see why this series is popular, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
The world building is wonderful and is what kept me reading. A good steampunk blends history, science, and fashion to make for a semi-familiar but deliciously unique world that’s delightful for history and science geeks alike to play around in. Carriger pulls this off beautifully. The fashion is Victorian with a steampunk edge. The politics are recognizable but with the supernatural and steampowered sciences taking a role. A great example of how well this world works is that in England the supernatural came out and became part of society, whereas America was the result of the Puritans condemning the acceptance of the supernatural who they believe sold their souls to the devil. This is a great blend of reality and alternate history.
The plot wasn’t a huge mystery, which is kind of sad given the complexity of the world building. What really bothered me though was the romantic plot, which suffered badly from a case of instalove. Although we hear of delightful prior encounters between Alexia and Lord Maccon, we didn’t see them. We mostly see him going from hating her to loving her and demanding her hand in marriage. It just felt lazy compared to the other elements of the book. I get it that Carriger could be poking fun at Victorian era romances, but I think that would have worked better if it didn’t have such a Victorian ending. Plus, I didn’t pick up this book to read a romance. I wanted a steampunk mystery with a strong female lead. I didn’t like how quickly the romance took over the whole plot.
Potential readers should take a glance at the first chapter and see if Carriger’s humor works for them. I can see how if I was laughing through the whole book I’d have enjoyed it more, but the…decidedly British humor just did not work for me. It didn’t bother me; I just didn’t find it funny. I mostly sat there going, “Oh, she thinks she’s being funny…..” Humor is highly personal, so I’m not saying it’s bad. It just isn’t my style. It might be yours.
Overall this is a creatively complex steampunk world with an unfortunately average plot overtaken by instaromance and seeped in dry, British humor. It is recommended to steampunk fans who find that style of humor amusing and don’t mind some instalove all up in their story. That does not describe this reader, so I won’t be continuing on with the series.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I recently went to a town meeting on Open Access (OA) and our Institutional Repository (IR). (Universities and colleges have our own town meetings, because we’re basically our own mini-towns). This meeting spurred me on to do a bit of a blog post on OA and IRs. I’ll first give a brief explanation of OA and IRs, including links to some resources for more information, and wrap up with my own thoughts.
OA is the concept and movement within academia that access to academic literature should be free online and free of most copyright restrictions. The idea is that for knowledge to flourish the exchange of ideas should be as free and fluid as possible. Because this is a concept and movement this means that not everyone agrees with this idea. Agreement and support of OA also varies drastically by area of specialty. The sciences are the most supportive of OA, particularly Physics. This is evident by the existence of the website arXiv.org, which provides “open access to 792,606 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance and Statistics.” The humanities are less so. This has to do with the culture of the different disciplines. The sciences are more focused on teamwork and sharing new knowledge as quickly as possible, whereas the humanities tend to be more concerned with ruminating on ideas. The pace is simply faster in the sciences than in the humanities, and OA is more useful in that environment.
Utilizing and supporting OA comes across in a few different ways. There are OA journals, which are free to use, but not necessarily free to submit an article to. To those concerned, the submission fee does not guarantee acceptance of an article. It is simply there to help the OA journals function. Studies on the percentage of OA journals charging a fee vary rather widely on their final numbers. These fees are of concern to faculty members, though, because they can quickly go through grant money that could have been used in other ways just paying submission fees. Although there originally was concern as to the quality of OA journals, OA does not negate peer-review. There are many peer-reviewed and respected journals; the PLOS ones in particular spring to mind, but you can see a listing of all OA journals at the Directory of Open Access Journals. Academics can support OA both by submitting to and reading OA journals, and institutions can support OA by giving articles published in OA journals equal consideration when doing tenure reviews.
OA can be pursued in traditional publishing as well, however. Frequently faculty members do not fully understand what is happening with their copyright when they sign contracts with a publisher. The creator owns the copyright of an item at the moment of creation. He or she does not need to register it. This is not always clear to people because from 1923 to 1963 (in the US) you did have to register your copyright and re-register it every 28 years. Anything published before 1923 in the US is officially in the public domain aka free of copyright. This is why mashups such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can happen. What all this means is that the author of the paper owns copyright until they sign it over to the publisher, and they do not have to kowtow to all of the demands of the publisher. OA advocates encourage authors to return the contract to the publisher unsigned with a SPARC Addendum attached. This addendum gives the publisher some rights over the paper/article/book while retaining some for the author. What this essentially means is that the author retains certain rights over his or her article that most faculty members think they have anyway. Only now it’s legal. For instance, this addendum gives the author permission to deposit their paper in an Institutional Repository or include it in a group of pdfs of publications on their personal website, as long as it is properly cited to the journal of first publication.
A popular way for publishers to support OA while still staying in business, beyond agreeing to SPARC Addendums, is the concept of an embargo. An embargo means that articles are available exclusively through subscription and fees for a set period of time (usually from 6 months to 2 years), and after that point they are available through OA. The qualm some advocates of OA have with this model is that for certain fields of study, particularly in the sciences, the embargo period is long enough that the article will be practically irrelevant by the time it is available openly, thereby defeating the whole purpose of encouraging collaboration and free flow of ideas behind OA to begin with.
So what do Institutional Repositories (IRs) have to do with OA? An IR is a curated collection of all academic publishing, as well as collections such as photographs taken by anthropologists, created by scholars associated with the institution. The IR is the institution’s research portfolio. It’s important for the institution to be able to demonstrate to interested parties the valuable work their scholars are doing. The connection to OA is that the current restrictive copyright contracts publishers send to authors frequently make it impossible to include their works in the IR. The SPARC Addendum addresses this, but an institution can also address this concern by making it a mandate that all scholarly work done while at their institution be deposited in the repository. This gives the author a prior commitment that is usually already covered in the contract. A pioneer in the world of IRs is MIT’s IR: DSpace. Check them out to get a feel for what an IR is like.
So what do I think about all of this? I can understand and sympathize with all three sides (universities, scholars, and publishers). The publishers are concerned that they will go out of business if everything is available immediately in OA. As an indie author, I can easily see how valid that concern is. Frankly if OA does take off the way, say, literary zines have, most journals will go out of business. Yes a few big name zines are still surviving, and most zines also sell a print version and do alright with that, but publishing as we know it must change for OA to take hold. Of course one doesn’t want that in one’s own industry.
I can also understand the dual view scholars hold. Academic journals are peer-reviewed, and while OA journals can be, they aren’t necessarily. OA can seem like a scary free-for-all with no verification of facts or quality. Things don’t always become popular because they’re good. But on the other hand if your audience is other scholars, aka the peer part of peer-review, then it should work itself out anyway. Not to mention the fact that OA journals can mandate peer-review if they want to. Similarly, I get it that scholars usually want to share their work with anyone interested and to that end want to post the pdfs on their website. The problem is, though, if a person can get your article just by googling it and going to you instead of the publisher then we’re right back to putting the publisher who published you in the first place out of business. But if publishing changes the way we think it will, then that would be a moot point anyway.
As far as IRs go, I truly see their value for gray literature. Things like posters from poster sessions, dissertations and theses that are frequently not available or searchable otherwise, etc… but I also think an institution obsessively collecting a copy of everything every scholar has done is a bit redundant. Not that the institution shouldn’t ever broaden to that level of collection and archiving, but since IRs are so new, it might be better to focus in on the gray literature for now.
Overall though the change won’t really happen until institutions start accepting OA publications in the tenure process. Until that point all scholars must publish in traditional journals in order to secure tenure. It seems to me that the power is really in the hands of the universities. The universities must decide: what do we want true scholarship and academic achievement look like in the 21st century?
Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press. Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job. So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
Dark fantasy is one of my favored genres, but unfortunately not a ton comes out in it in any given year. So when I saw this title available on NetGalley, I just had to snatch it up. I’m glad I did, because it’s a truly enjoyable read.
The basic plot uses a trope of dark fantasy–a creative outsider comes to a town where bizarre things supposedly happen then starts to document them happening. The twist here is that the creative type is a photographer, so the art form being used is photography. This was an incredibly refreshing way to approach the topic. Each chapter opens with a description of a shot that Dean will get at some point in that chapter. It’s fascinating foreshadowing, and also Gropp shows real talent in describing photographs of both the fantastical and more ordinary varieties. The descriptions also talk about more technical aspects of photography, and these show up within the story too (such as lighting and shutter speed). Describing instead of showing the photographs was a choice that I at first was not certain of but I ultimately appreciated. By not reproducing the photographs, Gropp leaves quite a bit of the mystery up to the reader and doesn’t spoil whatever images the reader has already established within her own mind. But the descriptions are also so well-done that the impact of seeing one brief moment in this surreal world is still rendered. It’s a unique and well-done choice, and I’d recommend this read to people based on that creative storytelling aspect alone.
It’s also great to see a story centering primarily around 20-somethings. Often literature tends to stick to YA (teens) or jump right over those of us who are in that truly young adult phase of our lives and into 30-somethings. Although the primary focus of the story is what precisely is happening in Spokane, conflicts frequently faced by 20-somethings come up within this framework–what to do for a career, do you give up on your dreams and settle down into a cubicle or not, when and with whom should you settle down, should you settle down at all, when should you respect your parents and their experience and when should you stand up to them, etc… Long-time followers know that one reason I enjoy genre literature is it addresses these real life issues within the context of the fantastic, and the good ones do it integrated and in a thought-provoking manner. This book achieves that.
The main character also is bisexual, while being primarily interested in a woman. It was so awesome to get to see a bi male main character and have it be presented as just a part of who he is and not a big deal at all. Although there is certainly a need and a place for the coming out tales and stories where the character’s sexuality is a central issue, it is also nice to see glbtq characters where that is just one aspect of who they are and is not dwelled upon much. It is just a part of who Dean is.
As for the central plot–what is happening in Spokane–I admit that I hoped for slightly more answers than we ultimately get. Readers looking for nicely tied up endings or even a hint at an answer will be left wanting. I enjoy an ambiguous ending, but I also felt that perhaps the plot could have been a bit clearer. In particular, without giving anything away, I felt that the scenes revolving around the hospital while powerful left me feeling a bit like perhaps even the author doesn’t really know what’s going on in Spokane. Perhaps that is the point, but it did leave me feeling that the plot was not as up to par as the world building and characterization.
Overall, this is a wonderful addition to the dark fantasy genre. Gropp gives us a unique main character and also utilizes writing about photography in a creative manner. I highly recommend it to fans of dark fantasy, particularly 20-somethings and those with an interest in photography.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers!
Just a couple of quick blogger and writer related updates for you all this week.
First off in very exciting blogger news, you all may remember me telling you about the new initiative called Bookstore Book Blogger Connection, which is all about connecting online reviewers and reviews with brick and mortar bookstores. Welp. I popped on over there to check in on how things are going and lo and behold there were some photos from a bookstore showing off their new displays with book blogger quotes, and my recommendation for Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner was one of the two shown off!
Not that this isn’t cool enough already, but what moved it up a level in the squee factor is that this is from a bookstore in the Netherlands! The American Book Center to be exact. And they look pretty damn cool. There’s something that’s just extra-exciting about being part of a bookstore that isn’t even in my country. So thanks, guys, for sending the shots to the Bookstore Book Blogger Connection website. You gave this blogger warm glowy feelings, and I do hope the display helped introduce more readers to the awesomeness that is John Brunner’s writing.
In writerly news, I got to participate in Ang’s blogoversary over on Eastern Sunset Reads. She gave Waiting For Daybreak her top rating of four paws (out of a possible four), saying, “I was expecting Waiting for Daybreak to be a book mostly about zombies and fighting them, but what I found was more a journey into a survivor’s psyche. I don’t know what was scarier, the zombies or being in Frieda’s mind.”
I also was able to contribute a guest post to her blogoversary where I talked about her theme for the month on where a love of reading came from for me. My guest post is quite personal, and I really enjoyed writing it. Big thanks to Ang for inviting me to be part of her special month!
Although my blog tour is not still going on, book bloggers are always welcome to request review copies of both my novel and my novella. I appreciate any and all signal boosts. :-)
That’s it for the news for this week! I hope you all have completely awesome weekends. *waves*
Jack Halloway–disbarred lawyer now contracted prospector on the planet Zarathustra–just wants to collect his massive amount of money from discovering a large sunstone vein. He seems to be doing fairly well at finagling ZaraCorp into giving him the sizable portion of the profits that he totally deserves, but one day some local creatures that he dubs Fuzzies invite themselves into his home. Small and cat-like, only with hands, the Fuzzy family quickly endear themselves to him. When he shows them to his ex-girlfriend, a biologist, she starts to suspect that they are sentient. And sentience would mean a cessation of all mining on the planet. What’s a morally ambiguous guy to do?
I picked this up for three reasons. 1) It was on sale at Audible. 2) I read John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream and found it hilarious. 3) It’s narrated by Wil Wheaton. It is certainly an entertaining read, but I must admit it was not quite up to the level that I was expecting from a Scalzi/Wheaton collaboration.
This book is interestingly a reimagining of a YA series written in the 1960s (starting with Little Fuzzy). I have not read the original but I can tell you that this is not a YA book. It is definitely your more general adult scifi. Scalzi explains this as a tradition in scifi movies and tv shows that he thinks should also be carried out in books.
Scalzi’s writing is humorous, although, with the exception of the first couple of chapters, not to the laugh out loud level found in The Android’s Dream. I particularly enjoy how good he is at giving personality to non-human characters, such as the Fuzzies and Jack’s dog. The first half of the book is hilarious and well-plotted, complete with adorable aliens, a dog who can trigger explosives, and velociraptor-like native creatures to add to the danger factor. The second half of the book, though, falls into this void of courtroom proceedings. I know some people enjoy reading that, but it felt so stark and lacking in life compared to the much more fun first half that included things like the Fuzzies making sandwiches from Jack’s limited Earth supplies. I’m not really a courtroom procedural reader myself, and frankly the two halves of the book almost felt like two separate books entirely. I’m not sure what else could be done, though, since the basic plot is proving the sentience of the Fuzzies, which given the parameters of the world that this takes place in, can basically only happen in the courtroom.
As an animal rights advocate, I appreciated the basic storyline that just because you can’t hear creatures communicating doesn’t mean they don’t have relationships and caring amongst themselves. I wasn’t a fan of the way that sentience was determined with such a human bias or that killing a Fuzzy is only considered truly heinous if it is established that they are sentient. I would have preferred an ultimate conclusion rejecting speciesism, rather than the quite conservative focus on proving the human-like qualities of the Fuzzies.
Wil Wheaton’s narration was great for the first half of the book. It’s Wil Wheaton. If you’re not sure if his acting style is for you, just look up his scenes in The Big Bang Theory. I found his narration very similar to his appearances there. My one complaint is a bit of a spoiler, so consider yourself warned. His voice for Papa Fuzzy really grated on my nerves. It was just so….blech. And not adorable Fuzzy-like. Otherwise though, he’s a good match for Scalzi’s work.
I don’t often comment on the cover, but I must say that I don’t think that this cover does the book justice. I particularly dislike it when a cover tries to draw out an alien creature that frankly comes across as much more adorable within the book. Also, even the background of the planet itself doesn’t look right.
Overall, this is a witty piece of scifi with adorable alien creatures that call to mind websites like Cute Overload. I recommend it to fans of scifi who also enjoy some courtroom proceedings in their reading.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers! It is finally fall in lovely New England. If I was forced to pick, I’d choose fall as my favorite season, although winter would come in a very close second. I might not feel this way in other areas of the US where there is no leaf changing or crisp autumnal weather or orchard season. But here all of these awesome things exist, so yayyyy!
Things I love about Fall, in no particular order:
- Cooler weather, which means I don’t immediately look like I ran a 5k when I step out my door
- Fall fashion, particularly knee high socks! And denim jackets! And getting to wear my hair down periodically!
- Also my hair no longer looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket.
- Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. (with soy)
- Fall leaves
- Kicking fall leaves
- Hiking in the woods
- Hot chocolate
- Spiked hot chocolate
- Giant pots of tea
- The perfect weather for snorgling
- Did I mention pie?
- Squash dishes
- Slow cooker season!
- Long hot baths
- Related: horror everywhere. Oh how I love horror.
- Cinnamon and nutmeg in everything
- CIDER for the love of fsm, I almost forgot cider.
I had a long weekend this weekend, which was partially a reward to myself for making it through what I have been told are the toughest two months in medical academic libraries’ calendar year and also partially to spend some time with my bf who just got back from a two week trip abroad. :-) Many things on this list were covered, including pumpkin spice latte and pie. We made an apple pie together with apples we got from the orchard ourselves, and it was amazingly delicious. Special thanks to my daddy for sharing his pie crust secrets.
As for the blog, you may have noticed that my most recent read was actually four books in one, and you really should check it out particularly if you are a scifi or 1950s American culture fan. That slowed the reviews down a bit, but I have this new rule where I won’t kick myself over my book numbers being lower because I read a long book (or two. or three!). Big books shouldn’t be left on the sidelines purely for being big. ;-)
Happy weekends and happy fall, all!
The Library of America collects together great pieces of American literature into themed books. This can be anything from an author, to writing on aviation, to the Harlem Renaissance, to transcendentalism. Clearly this is a collection of classic 1950s scifi, in particular covering the time period from 1953 to 1956. The books included in the collection, in order of publication date, are:
The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (1953)–In the future the entire world runs on the basis of consumerism, and ad men have risen to the top of the heap, above even the president. Courtenay is one of these ad men whose agency is assigned colonizing Venus. Soon, Courtnay finds himself in a battle of minds and more with the Consies–the Conservationists who want to save the people and the planet from consumerism.
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (1953)–A village idiot finds himself caring for twins with teleportation abilities, a precocious little girl with telekinesis powers, a baby with Down’s Syndrome, and a boy who he found near to death on the street. What they can accomplish together could change the entire world.
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955)–After nuclear war destroyed all cities and broke down society’s ability to depend on technology, the survivors turned to the Amish and Mennonites to learn a new way. Now everyone is following a simple lifestyle religion of one variety or another but there are rumors that somewhere is a place called Bartorstown that still follows the old, sinful ways.
The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson (1956)–A married WWII vet with a young daughter discovers that he is shrinking by 1/7 of an inch a day.
This is my second Library of America read, and I think I’m officially addicted. There’s something delightful about burying yourself in a topic or theme of American literature complete with useful notes that are not overwhelming but still give you enough background knowledge to come away with more than just the joy of reading the books but some understanding of the time period and genre. Since this collection gathers up books written by different authors, I will review the books individually but first I want to say that any Library of America book is always worth your time. Just be sure to choose a topic or author that interests you.
The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
This was my favorite book in the collection by far. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that it is basically Mad Men IN SPACE. What is not to love about that?! In addition to that, it can sometimes be difficult to be sucked in by older scifi because even if the theme or ideas it addresses was new in its time, I’m from a later time and have heard it a million times already. This book somehow manages to be unique in spite of all the books about a future awash in consumerism that I’ve read. I think what gives it the unique edge is the dual focus on advertising and the conservationist movement. Also the relationship between the main character and his doctor wife is progressive and refreshing. She is smart, her own person, has her own career and ideas, and she is still depicted in a positive light. Also the idea of a trial marriage is essentially the couple living together before getting married, which was surprising to see in something from the 1950s. It also manages to be witty while addressing hard-hitting issues. It’s the perfect scifi.
5 out of 5 stars
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
This book in contrast was dull and borderline offensive, repeatedly, throughout. Sturgeon utilizes lyrical prose to the extent that the plot suffers. He gets so caught up in making the language beautiful that the plot gets shoved to the side, and the reader is left wondering what, precisely, is going on. The book is divided into thirds, and the first third is the most confusing of all. Sturgeon repeatedly changes perspectives between different characters with no rhyme, reason, warning, or even signal. There’s not even handy squiggly lines letting you know you’re into a new section. This improves a bit in the final two sections of the book, but only a bit. The borderline offensiveness comes in with three of the characters. There are twin girls who can teleport, and beyond their teleportation skills their most identifiable characteristics are: 1) they never keep their clothes on and 2) they are black. They of course are referred to as “Negro” or “colored” throughout the book, which is better than the baby with Down’s Syndrome who is described as a “mongoloid,” and never even is given a name but is simply referred to as “Baby.” The crux of the idea–that people come together with different psychic abilities as the next step of evolution–is creative and interesting, but the execution is dull and drags.
3 out of 5 stars
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
It’s not an unheard of idea for a post-apocalyptic society to revert to less technology-laden ways of doing things, but the execution is certainly unique here. Many people are fascinated by Mennonite and Amish culture, and this takes that culture and adapts it to a scifi, post-nuclear future. It is definitely engaging. The plot is strong and consistent. I was particularly impressed with how Brackett shows the passage of time when nothing necessarily happens, such as when the main character spends a few months laying low and helping with the crops. Motivation is clear, and the setting is well-done. I was disappointed though with the very narrowly envisioned role for women. It makes sense that women would be put into traditional roles in the groups modeled after the Mennonites and the Amish, but even the most progressive group presented in the book still seems to think women can only cook and clean. It’s disheartening. The male main characters spend their time striving for knowledge and indeed the point of the book seems to be about the need humans have to acquire knowledge, but it also gives the impression that this should only be embraced in men. The one female character who shows any similar leanings is fairly quickly quashed back to the home. I found this extra disappointing since this is the only book in the collection written by a woman. The rest of the read is enjoyable and imaginative though.
4 out of 5 stars
The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
This book feels the most formulaic of the bunch, perhaps because this trope has made its way so solidly into scifi. Some person finds something about themselves slowly changing and they can’t do anything to stop it. Toss in the ant-sized person, and it struggles to find anything unique to say. I’m no expert, so perhaps this was the first book to have this kind of plot, but the fact remains that there’s nothing that makes this one stick out as special. In fact, as a child of the 90s, I found myself repeatedly thinking that Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was more engaging and less fatalistic. I am sure scifi purists would argue in favor of this book. It’s Richard Matheson (of I Am Legend fame). It has an exciting plot and addresses gender norms and what makes a person feel like a man in an interesting way. But I found it to largely be an average product of its time with an expected plot and the usual nuclear catalyst. I also found the ending to be a bit of a cop-out, particularly since it’s evident that Matheson meant it to be inspirational, and I found myself rather unmoved. It is clearly a classic for a reason–representative of its times, strong plot, interesting themes–but I did not find it to be particularly engaging.
3 out of 5 stars
This is an interesting collection of 1950s scifi that clearly shows what scientific advancements had people thinking and concerned, primarily nuclear war/weapons/power but also the newly highly commercialized culture, as well as possibilities in psychiatry. A couple of the books fall short of being truly entertaining in modern times, but they are still interesting to anyone who enjoys the history of scifi. Additionally, The Long Tomorrow could easily become a sleeper hit today with the current interest in “bonnet” books. Without a doubt, though, the book that stands the test of time the best is The Space Merchants. It is unique, engaging, and has a thought-provoking vision of the future. The collection itself is primarily recommended to scifi fans or those with an interest in 1950s American culture, but The Space Merchants is recommended to all.
4 out of 5 stars