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I sometimes think of things I enjoy doing, just like things I need to be able to do, as skills. Not that the main enjoyment of reading a book is the challenge, but I think *some* of it is. I enjoy reading books where I DO have to work to follow what's going on, even though I enjoy that less often than I enjoy reading books that aren't as hard work.

But that partly means, I'm always slowly getting bored with the sort of books I used to like. Because if you can read the first few pages and say, "right, I bet the tough protagonist talks like an asshole but actually always does the right thing and the female lead flirts with him for some reason and the morally ambiguous manipulators switch sides several times but end up essentially working with the protagonist in the climax even if he doesn't like it", and all that happens, the only bits I'm really experiencing are the bits that *don't* fit into that mold.

And it also means, reading books in a different genre can be *difficult*, I need to consciously practice in order to follow when much more of the book is new to me. But rewarding, because a bit of practice can open up a lot of other books.

And it also means, "how much do you like this book" can vary a lot, "it's good, but only if you're familiar with that sort of thing" or "it's good, but you may have read it all before", can be the norm, not the exception.
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Fourth in the Johannes Cabal series of straight-faced comic fantasy.

Prior to the first book, Johannes Cabal became a necromancer, aimed not at raising armies of the dead, but to scientifically find a method a true resurrection. I love the scientist persona, even as he's a total bastard about caring about the lives of people who he thinks are less clever than him (ie. almost everyone).

In Johannes Cabal, Necromancer he enters into a wager with Satan to run a carnival for a year and entrap 100 souls, in order to regain his previously-sold soul. In the following books, his conscience grows back by inches, just enough to make it bearable to read, but not enough to suggest he was especially empathic before he sold his soul in the first place.

In Johannes Cabal, Detective, he becomes tangled up in the politics of a fictional eastern-european nation, flies in Airships and Entomoptors (insect-winged planes), and reluctantly solves a murder.

In The Fear Institute, he travels to the land of dreams, and closes off some plot threads from the first book.

In Brothers Cabal, he gets tangled up in different Eastern-european politics, a different non-damned Entomopter circus, resolves several plot threads from the previous two books and maybe, maybe, finds a first solid lead about true resurrection.

There are also several short stories where he invariably does something heroic under protest.
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Unsurprisingly, this is really good! It's the whole story of Patricia's life, told in flashback from her nursing home where she is losing her memory. Except that it's actually two lives, in two parallel worlds, which combines badly with losing her memory anyway.

It covers a lot of the social and geopolitical themes of the second half of the 20th century. Nucelar armament. Moonbases. AIDS. Feminism, in several models. Gay and poly relationships.

It's less depressing than I feared: yes, people die, including the protagonist soon, but that's unavoidable for a whole life, to me, the message felt more like "all lives have redeeming features".

The two bits I found most difficult were reading about her marriage in one world to her young love, who, once she's a wife, completely dismisses her as a person, expecting her to do everything, but failing to respect her opinion or competence at anything :(

And when she went into the home and couldn't take her Mac, which she used for keeping notes, and looking up words she'd forgotten, and realised she was going to sever completely the connection a normal life :(

But in both worlds, she has lovely children who become people, and grow up, and it's really touching.
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He-man, recent comic

Randomly from library, yay library. This seems to be a recent reinterpretation which fleshes out the characters and worldbuilding, seeming to be aimed at people who read/watched he-man as children. Adam, a humble woodcutter, is troubled by dreams of being He-Man, and fighting evil overlord Skeletor, and gets drawn into world-wide events.

I like the way it seems consistent with the version I remember, but fleshes it out so the characters seem more like actual characters. I don't like the inclusion of some of the over-sexualised costumes and stereotypical slave-dealing-ness for people living in deserts :(

Death Vigil, comic

This was great fun. Look at the front cover of the collected edition: https://imagecomics.com/comics/series/death-vigil Bernadette is not death, but is, for reasons lost in time, loosely inspired by death, or Valkyries, or something, rescuing people with certain aptitudes from the moment of death to join a semi-corporal organisation devoted to defeating various necromancers and the lovecraftian horrors influencing them.

What I love is, the way she's just slightly awkward about it. She always plays the role of the leader, but her expression is always just a little bit "Who, me?" And some fun other characters, like the raven who turns into a tyranosaurus, and the new woman who quickly learns how to use her portal-creating power offensively, and the digger who's the first viewpoint character and mostly hits stuff, and the little girl who accidentally fused with a lovecraftian horror but is on the side of the good guys, and her dad's feud with Bernie.

I read the first collected edition, and apparently it's cancelled soon after that. But people recommended Sunstone also by Stjepan Sejic (a lesbian BDSM relationship comic iirc) so I should probably try that.

SevenEves, novel

Neal Stephenson. Fairly readable, good ideas about near-future space-colonisation, which is something I've felt the lack of in my life for a while.

Undertones of "Hard science good, social science bad".

Makes a creditable attempt to have characters. I didn't find any of them as memorable as the characters from Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon or Baroque Cycle (where even if you didn't like the characterisation, I at least found it memorable). But it had a twenty+ characters I could actually describe the difference between, which is a good start. And makes a reasonable-but-not-perfect attempt to have characters who just happen to be female without that being the defining feature of their character.

Shadow Hero, comic

After enjoying severla of Gene Luen Yang's other books, I bought several of his older ones. Shadow Hero is the re-imagined backstory for a golden-age comics hero, the Green Turtle, who did generally super-heroic things, but was by an Asian-American creator, and invariably hid his face in almost every panel. It's speculated the creator had hoped to make him Asian-American, but had been rebuffed, but that he still thought of him that way. Shadow Hero makes up a very touching story showing how a young Chinese-American man blunders into becoming the Green Turtle.
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Poirot, Cards on the Table

ghoti found me an Agatha Christie in a second hand bookstall -- I'd never read any Christie before.

I enjoyed it a lot, it was a good detective story, and hung together well. She recommended this particular one because the murder occurred during a bridge game, and part of it is wondering which person slipped away when playing dummy.

It focusses on which character would have committed a murder, rather than could, and seems constructed to make that point, but is done very well -- the four suspects are consistent in their characters, and their actions do hang together psychologically. Who might do something out of panic? Who would take a bold chance? Etc etc. And the foreward admits up-front that it's a not a trick subverting one of the premises (as in, "this seems impossible -- how" mysteries), but it genuinely is one of the four suspects for the reason established in the first few pages, and the question is which.

However, I also felt that didn't take sufficient account for the possibility that someone might act in a way you don't expect because they knew something that made them more or less desperate, or made the risk seem greater or lesser, than you supposed -- I think that's more common than not.

I'm torn on Poirot himself. He's very vivid, the way he embraces the role of a pompous foreigner, but is really on the ball inside. But didn't seem to have much character himself, no fears or hopes, no loves or hates, (I don't know if there's more in other books).

Probabilistic reasoning

I touched on this above, but when I'm evaluating something, I try to think "how likely is this? how likely is it that my premises are flawed in some way?" Because at some point, the "most" likely explanation is less likely than "you missed something" or "something unlikely happened meaning people were acting at cross purposes somehow".

It's particularly evident in detective books, because it's usually the case you're supposed to take some things on trust, and distrust others, but exactly which is generally established by implication and convention, and if it's not what you expect you can feel cheated. And it's hard to avoid, because setting up a good mystery often involves some unlikely coincidences, which you're not supposed to quibble with too hard, but you're also supposed to evaluate the suspects with an eye to spotting deception.

I find it quite hard to think probabilistically, I can do "but it COULD be this...", but it's hard for me to go to "but probably it isn't", I tend to be too completionist. And sometimes that spots me interesting "out of the box" solutions which turn out to be right. But I can be quite bad at spotting normal "which of these suspects is actually guilty" mysteries, because I find it hard to say "well, it's not certain, but this is the best interpretation available"...

The nature of crime

Sometimes murder is specifically planned -- by someone desperate to silence the victim, by organised crime, etc. And often it's an extension of other violent crime -- a mugging, an argument, etc, where one or both parties kept escalating with no control. And the second is probably more common, but the first might be more common in mysteries.

But this book made me think about it, because the different types of motive for murder the suspects evinced, desperation, or hatred, or whatever. And also wonder -- how much is crime a product of selfishness, and how much a product of short-term thinking? I suspect, a lot of both.
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I have been trying to record at least a few thoughts about books or films I've consumed, but I've got too much of a backlog to think I'll actually do as much as I'd imagined, so here's a brief list.


Set in Ireland, about a member of a small town who shoots a very nice priest in revenge against the church for allowing another priest to abuse him when he was a boy. Well done, I don't know if the portrayal of Ireland is good or horrible, the subject matter is very uncomfortable.

Firefight, Brandon Sanderson

The sequel to Sanderson's overly-specified novel about anti-superheroes. It continues the same strengths (worldbuilding, consistency of superpowers), and flaws (characters, emotional satisfaction). It fills in backstory from when powers were first discovered and some major heroes and villains were scientists who'd hoped to use them for good. It progresses the plot. Overall, it felt a bit flat, but gave me a lot of good ideas and I'll definitely read the third one.

planetary comics

A collected series of comics about an alternate history where an alternate-version of (roughly) Fantastic Four are villains who control most of the world, and the Planetary organisation which does... various stuff. It's beautiful, glorious, in showing "here's a cool thing, here's ANOTHER cool thing, here's a cool character, here's an even cooler character". Lots of it stuck with me. It doesn't try for much consistency in worldbuilding, which disappoints me, even though it might have been incompatible with what it does well.

Beauty and the Beast

Judith finally showed me another of the Disney films I'd never actually saw. It's really pretty good, both in a good story, and a good overall message: Gaston creeping on Belle is a great portrayal of a socially-powerful person imposing unwanted romantic attention on someone, enough that it's really obviously creepy, without descending into torture-porn.

The Beast is scary without being creepy in the same way, and it's clearly shown that he's doing a bad thing by kidnapping Belle even if it isn't completely her fault, and him saving her life redeems him, not her.

I'm also quite amazed at the Beast's animation, that he's beast-like enough to be menacing, but humanoid enough to be plausibly romantic with Belle.
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Wolf of Wall Street (film)

Read more... )

Bitter seeds (novel by Ian Tregellis)

Read more... )

Hard spell (novel randomly picked up from the library)

Read more... )

Bittersweet summer (YA novel)

Read more... )
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Will Supervillains be on the Final?

Manga-style comic written by Naomi Novik and draw by Yishan Li, about a girl who goes to superhero school, has more natural power than most people, but has difficulty fitting in, and is affected by the ongoing fallout of ex-superhero and ex-supervillain politics.

I love this genre, and it's a pleasant example of it, I really enjoyed it, though it doesn't add a lot I haven't seen before. It's fairly short, and I was sad to see promised follow-up volumes haven't appeared.

First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

This is exactly the sort of book I like, about someone living their life over several times, getting tangled up in the plots of other people in the similar situation, someone screwing up the timeline and causing future cataclysm, and fight between time travellers.

It touches on themes I find interesting in this sort of thing -- how much you meddle with time, and what happens? do you care about the lives of people you know are going to just come alive again? And it uses its premises on what does and doesn't allow an immortal to return well in crafting the overall plot. I would have liked more "now lets try a do over with more information" a la Groundhog Day/All You Need is Kill, rather than descending into standard-ish thriller territory, but it's still good.

Spoilers )
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Seanan McGuire's superheroine short stories, feely available online although the format is a little inconvenient. These are really fun, if you like that sort of thing at all they're well worth reading. Thanks to ghoti-on-lj for reminding me they exist and I should read them!

They're short and a bit tongue in cheek which suits SM's style well. Being a superhero has been branded, standardised, commodified and marketed by some firms, one of which now has an near-universal monopoly. The heroine, with her "animating stuffed animal powers" flees from her old employers, and doesn't find a quiet life.

There's a little bit of what I especially like, of exploring powers.

As with most of McGuire's stories, something about the consistency or worldbuilding just aggravated me, but much less so in these funny, human, and short stories.

Pendragon Protocol

These urban fantasy books reminds me a little of rivers of london, London-based procedurals about an organisation affiliated with the british state but not technically police or intelligence services, who are modelled after reincarnations (sort of) of the knights of the round table.

The main character is an established knight who gets in over his head when internal politics starts happening.

There's lots of "exploring the basic concept and how it turns out to be more complicated than people think", which is done well. It's a bit more complicated than "reincarnation of", it's a bond that can change, but that's enough to sell the idea.

Again, it's quite British based. Mentions of oxbridge colleges, non-white britons, class warfare, uneasy tensions between idealism and the establisment status-quo which are not handled perfectly, but better than many books.

Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Squeee! This is really good, I'm glad she tried writing something after Temeraire. Definitely read it.

Agneieszka, a young village girl, is unexpectedly chosen to serve the wizard called The Dragon who is lord of the valley, the greatest wizard in the country but retreated to this rural seat to take responsibility for holding back the ominous encroachings of the wood.

Lots of different sorts of magic, well world-built. Focus on Agneieszka rather than soldiers and experienced wizards, without idolising her. Realistic tensions between people with generally well-meaning goals but selfish or short-sighted or otherwise naturally imperfect. Peels back the world to slowly to reveal where the wood came from, etc, etc, in a way that most books save for the tenth sequel.

I like the way there's a distinction between an informal, intuitive sort of magic and a rigid formalised academic sort of magic, but unlike many books, it's not massively gender-essentialised.


A film about a british muslim man who finds out he was adopted and born to a jewish family. It could have been excruciating, but Liv recommended that it was surprisingly touching. And captures a feel of british jewish society and british muslim society imperfectly but better than most films. It is embarrassing, but more towards the Evelyn Waugh/Monty Python end of the spectrum than the Adam Sandler/Reality TV end of the spectrum -- I found that a bit difficult, but it was clearly sympathetic to all the characters even when they were acting out badly. And it was really funny in places.

It fits my heretofore unmentioned heuristic "watch every film which features Leo Rosen's Joys of Yiddish" :)

(As usual I own most of the books but rented the film.)
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Lord of Light used to be one of my most favourite books. Set on a world populated by a one-way colony ship from Earth, people acquire various scientific-flavoured magic powers and set up as Hindu gods, bolstered by body-transferring equipment which makes gods immortal and humans reincarnate according to the gods interpretation of the karma and caste system. Many other things parallel Hindu traditions, such as energy beings on the planet playing the role of demons.

The story is the story of one who overthrows them. It's fairly short but dense, feeling like classic epic fantasy of a main character who is Really Special. But the whole thing of gods striding about, being overthrown, and discussing theology really appealed to me.

Now I can see a lot more of the problematic aspects as always happens with books I used to love :(

I'm also interested in what I saw and missed in the worldbuilding. It's suggested that the crew were originally Christian, and mostly seem to not care much about any underlying truth to the religion other than the one they've made themselves, but the main character (and the author?) hints that although he appropriates Buddhist teachings for his own purposes, he thinks there's more to them, and one of the characters remains Christian, and opposes the gods hierarchy to bad effect.

However, it seemed the culture was originally Indian (the name of the ship was "Star of India"), and people seem to have typically-Indian body types. And I wonder, is it only a few of the crew who came from a Christian culture? Or the crew were, but the passengers weren't? Or the Indian culture was completely artificially induced by the gods?

ETA: The first paragraph of the wikipedia entry is awesome: "Zelazny's close friend and fellow science fiction/fantasy author, George R. R. Martin (who later reused the names "Lord of Light" and "Sam" for major characters in A Song of Ice and Fire), describes in his afterword to Lord of Light how Zelazny once told him that the entire novel sprang from a single pun (or spoonerism): Then the fit hit the Shan."
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Contrary to popular rumour, my love for mechanistic magic systems isn't all-consuming. I love stories where people exploit the system, stories about ideas -- old school science fiction about the possibilities of technology that hadn't been realised; everything by Greg Egan and Ted Chiang; HPMOR; much of the magic and plots in Brandon Sanderson's books. Ender's Game.

But I also love stories which work as stories. And I love the one good idea that suddenly works, even, or maybe especially, in magic systems which are more magical and less mechanistic.

But I think a lot of the fun of the story is lost when the reader doesn't have the knowledge to know what matters and what doesn't. Most stories have some things which are supposed to not be known to the reader, at least in theory. And most have some things which ARE supposed to be known to the reader.

A story where the hero is rushing to prevent something, and the audience know it won't work the way she intended, or don't know if it will work the way she intends, is told in a different way to a story where audience know what she's trying would work, but don't know whether she will be able to achieve it.

But if you screw up your worldbuilding, your audience won't know which. It's supposed to be obvious because "that's what the physics says" or "because they discussed that on p87" or "that's just how this sort of story works"? OK, fine, if that's ALWAYS right. If your book is ALWAYS consistent with the physics, and has examples to show it, then fine. If not, your audience doesn't know to trust you and probably won't. Likewise, they discussed it -- are the characters usually right about this sort of thing, or are they USUALLY undermined by some deus ex machina?

It's not important to be consistent with the real world, it's important to be consistent with your audience's expecations. Which in many ways is a lot harder. Being "slightly more consistent with the real world than your audience expects from similar books" is a good way of doing that, but not the only way.

To steal an example from John Scalzi, if the climax of you film involves a character dying in a tragic way by falling into lava, that's a bad moment to suddenly introduce a whole bunch of new rules no-one saw until now. I think even Scalzi would lose his suspension of disbelief if the character fell into lava and turned into purple mosquitos. But to everyone who's spend 5 minutes thinking about the density of rock, "falling into lava and sinking" is just as ridiculous. And yes, most people don't know that, so the story is fine for them. But Scalzi's point was that the moment of "suspension of disbelief" is arbitrary and varies between people. And my point is, that's sort of true, but more, that moment is determined by the consistency and trust the film has built up to that point, and the genre conventions of previous similar films.

Sometimes that's really unfair, because you want your book to be judged without those expecations. But there's not much you can do about it, except work to undo them or accept people familiar with them won't get your book as much.

This is why I keep caring about films which blatantly break worldbuilding they've previous established. If there's skyscrapers in your fictional Washington DC, that's stupidly untrue but doesn't break your story -- it's not realistic, but everyone will understand it's the sort of thing you get in cities. But if a tiny seaside village has lots of random skyscrapers, people will expect it to be a plot point because it's the opposite of what they expect.

In fact, I love magical magic systems. In some ways they're easier because they can do anything. But in many ways they're harder, because what's possible has to be determined by "what feels like it would be possible" which can be personal and hard to establish -- it needs a combination of shared expectation, and subtle world-building that doesn't invite people to pick at it.

But this is why I hate it if people say you shouldn't care about this sort of plot hole. I'm not saying you should care. But if you accidentally know that (for instance) different websites are run by different computers and no single program can alter them all, it's really hard to enjoy a plot based on the opposite assumption, because you literally don't know what's going to be possible and what isn't...
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Once Upon a Time, Series 1

Borrowed from ghoti and family. Thank you!

I saw the pilot ages ago and thought it could get a lot better or a lot worse, but when I mostly saw it, it got a lot better! The basic premise is that an evil queen's curse sends all the fairytale characters to a town in the real world without their memories. Each episode forwards the plot in the real world, while also filling in the backstory of one or more of the characters from before the curse.

The backstory parts are amazing. They take the basic story outlined in the first episode and add more and more history to the characters, that never undermines what was previously established, but for all of the characters adds a lot more detail that make them a real character. Especially the evil queen, and even more so, Rumpelstiltskin, played amazingly by Robert Carlyle, they become so rich, multilayered characters.

I don't even fault the magic! Despite mostly being "make it up as you go along" style of consistency, it's usually plenty clear what you need to know, and rules like "true love can break any curse" are explored like the three laws of robotics, not ignored, but returned to and expanded.

Unfortunately, I wasn't as sure of the real-world plot: I loved the characters and the setting, but it felt like the plot was treading water a bit to get everything else to catch up. Even when dramatic things happened, it felt like it had to keep propping up a status quo where Regina was mayor until the end of the season.

I know lots of friends loved it (with some caveats), I'm interested to see how season 2 goes at some point.

King and Joker

Has been on Liv's shelf for ages and ages, and I liked the sound of it, but it was now until I finally read it.

I enjoyed it a lot. It's an alternate history where the british royal family were more like the dutch royal family, reduced in prominence, and establishing the little domestic relationships of the central family and the people close to them, framed by practical jokes that become more serious and turn into a murder mystery.

I do echo Liv's caveat that although well done, it's aggravating that the spanish and scottish dialects are spelled phonetically :(

Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick

I have very fond memories of this as it's a book I picked off Liv's shelf when I was visiting her in Stockholm, when I wanted something interesting but not too mind-stretchy (I think the previous I read was Ted Chiang :)) It didn't have a big effect on me at the time, but it's grown on me a lot in retrospect.

A family are exiled to Earth from a great city in a parallel fantasy world, arriving in a refugee camp. It takes the metaphysics as read and concentrates on the characters and their relationships to each other, and in learning to settle into American life. It's easy to get into, but carries you away with a lot of love for the characters, the trade-offs in adapting to a new culture, and the background mystery of the original crime which is slowly resolved.

Apparently she has written some other things, which I didn't think to look for before: I have ordered her collection of short stories.

Ms Marvel

Apr. 21st, 2015 02:00 pm
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About a nerdy muslim girl who gains the powers of captain marvel (iirc). It does right all the things you'd hope it does right -- showing the positives and negatives of living in a non-Christian religious family in the USA, being sympathetic and non-judgemental while also showing the problems internal and external; showing a young protagonist coming to terms with unexpected powers and how to keep them secret; beginning to introduce a nemesis.

All the things I thought I wanted. But I'm not that hungry for more -- I felt that even though it was very good, it didn't add a lot I didn't already expect, so it didn't suck me personally in, even though I love it for being a much more modern "introduction to superpowers" story I could recommend to people without apologising for it.

ETA: A friend asks, what's the best way of reading recent mainstream comics digitally?

ETA: And almost all of the books I review, I own in paper format, and am eager to lend to people, whether you're following one of the awards, or come on it years later and say "do you still have..?" I realise, most of the time, it's more hassle than it's worth, but you're very welcome if you'd like!

More books

Apr. 18th, 2015 07:34 pm
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Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Lovely setting, lovely magic, I loved the characters for the first third where they were finding their feet, but then found it hard to stay engaged, hard to care about what happens. I'm starting to think I love Kameron Hurley's writing in theory but I often lamentably don't enjoy her books as much as I want to.

Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey (aka Mike Carey)

Woodpijn originally recommended this here and I mostly agreed with her, and with the comments on bookatorium. Read woodpijn's review for a non-spoilery recommendation if that's what you want.

However, I hadn't realised when I thought "oh, that sounds interesting" that it was a new book that would show up in book award lists. That made more sense when I realised M R Carey was Mike Carey, the author of the lovely Felix Castor london exorcist urban fantasy books.

It's different to his other books -- it reads like a mainstream slightly-literary novel that happens to have a slightly scifi-nal premise, but is pretty good.

I also agreed with comments that the first two chapters with Melanie being taught and working out what's wrong were extremely strong, and the rest of the book, while good thought-provoking and enjoyable didn't take those bits as far as I'd hoped.

Other films, I don't have much to say about

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Whip It
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Ptc joked that authors kill off an average of three major characters -- most kill none, but one is George Martin :)

Which got me thinking, which author has really killed off the most characters? I want to say "named" rather than "major" so it's more objective. In which case you maybe want two categories: authors who kill off a whole world at the end of a book; and authors who kill off the most named characters -- but still have plot going on afterwards.

Who are the obvious candidates?

ETA: With thanks to Mark for the link and to seekingferrett, the current frontrunner is the Illiad with 254 :)
ETA: Apparently GoT beats it out with 293!
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"A key, an egg, an unfortunate remark" by Harry Connolly

Like Miss Marple urban fantasy! The protagonist has gone through her adventurous years ages ago and settled down to be an eccentric society lady with strong pacifist leanings, trying to broker a peaceful status quo between various supernatural creatures and the mundane world. And hires her nephew as a driver and general assistant. Like many fantasy novels, but from the point of view of the mentor, not the apprentice :)

Harry Connolly wrote the Twenty Palaces series which didn't quite click for me, but I loved for the way the characters felt more real -- Ray, who spent his life unemployable, stealing cars and petty crime, before being drafted unwillingly into the service of a magician, one who is genuinely ruthless and creepy, but much better than most of the others. And it felt like all the things were wrong were wrong because that was how the world really was, but you could maybe fix them, rather than "here's a status quo, and here's someone gratuitously evil who disrupts it for no reason". But they didn't sell that well. And he's released the first book in a fantasy trilogy I kickstarted but haven't read yet, but a bonus was this novel which was really fun.

I loved the embracing of an omniscient narrator who just describes what people are thinking whenever it's interesting, not only when the protagonist is listening (which becomes relevant later in the book).

"Interior Life" by Katherine Blake

A book about a housewife who daydreams an unexpectedly realistic fantasy world, including a seer Lady and her maid. But I love it for including lots of the actual challenges of taking people away from the harvest to fight Darkness, and supply chains, and whether the people you put in charge have any experience or leadership skills or not. I loved how it felt much more real than many fantasy books.

It switches back and forth between the two worlds seamlessly, which I found confusing at first but fast got used to.

I was left thinking I wanted more, but it was interesting.

Thanks to rysmiel for indirectly recommending it.


A film about a washed-up guy who decided to become a super-hero when his wife leaves him. It veers between parody, a little bit of fun, and too much "ok, this guy just beat someone graphically with a wrench wtf". It's like, yes, in the real world, being a vigilante is more often like murder than like self-defence, but the film doesn't seem to condemn it, or endorse it, just mixes it in with some light humour and leaves it sitting there. I get the feeling it's a sort of in-joke film to people who know more about the film industry or something? But I didn't really get it.
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I've recently fished some old recommendations out of my "to read" bookmarks folder. Unfortunately, I don't remember where they all originally came from. I think quite a few from forestofglory (and some from rmc28?) -- thank you for filtering recently-published short stories through to me!

Monkey King, Faerie Queen by Zen Cho

This was lovely! Sun Wukong the Monkey King accidentally visits the court of the Fae. I don't know enough to say, but it seemed to really capture the well-meaning but mischievous and competitive spirit of the Monkey King, and fit neatly into the existing stories about him. I wouldn't have thought it was possible to combine the Faerie Queen and Sun Wukong without the story just falling apart into inconsistency but it was really good.

Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

I've been hearing more about Ken Liu from author-type blogs this year and have felt overdue in actually reading anything by him. IIRC he has a novel out recently, Grace of Kings (?), and also translated Three Body Problem, one of the first major Chinese science fiction novels to be translated into English, which was vaguely old-school in a good way and up for lots of awards this year.

This is about a young man whose mother was Chinese, "bought" and brought to America by his father, and folds magically-animated origami animals for him, and his complicated relationship to his Chinese heritage.

La Santisima by Teresa Frohock

A family, mostly teenage siblings, their different personalities and relationships, their increasing inability to pay for necessary medical costs for one sister, an icon of La Santa Muerte, death, who watches over those everyone else has abandoned. And the attempt to cross the desert to earn enough to give them a chance.
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Book: Secret Water

One of the later Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. I remember enjoying S&A and swallowdale a lot, and having mixed feelings about a lot of the middle ones, but liking this one. I loved the feeling of setting forth to explore in a realistic but constrained sandbox.

Alas, unsurprisingly, the Racism Fairy has left some deposits in it since I last read it. Much about cannibal tribes as seen by explorer-obsessed children of the time :(

Ender's Game

A fairly faithful adaptation of the book. I was surprised how much of the original they managed to keep. The space battles didn't feel appropriately tactical -- more like just a mass of spaceships thrown at each other -- but the bits in the command centre and battle school did feel right.

And how different it is when you're looking from outside and see Ender as a child, rather than looking out through his head and knowing why and how he does the things he does. The times ender physically attacks someone are lot more gruesome when you see a child doing it, I'm a lot more shocked by that now :( :( :(


Studio Ghibli did a very good adaptation of The Borrowers! It didn't completely grab me, but it was often beautiful and usually true to the book in spirit even when the details were changed.

It was also a very strange thought to see it in a partly contemporary setting. That we're very close to the point where someone upgrade their mobile and drop the old one with a broken screen behind a filing cabinet where a borrower might be able to inch it into a mousehole... And maybe, maybe not, at the point there's a usb charger small enough they could splice it into the mains under the floor. But if so, that changes the story completely, it's no longer them isolated apart from families in the same house, they could sit under the floor and IM other borrowers on the other side of the world!

If they can find a way of finding each other without tipping humans off :)