Reviews: Spiders and Dreams and Rocket Ships

Medusa's WebMedusa’s Web by Tim Powers
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I’m a Tim Powers fan. I will read everything the man writes and eagerly anticipate the next one. That said, this isn’t the book to start with. The plot, as Powersian as ever, involves a brother and sister who stand to inherit the home which belonged to a relative who raised them after their parents passed away some years earlier. The house has connections (literal and figurative) to the golden years of Hollywood and, like all of Powers’ books of the last couple of decades, involves real life figures and events weaved into an intricately plotted web of fantasy and magic.

Here’s the thing, most times, when Powers takes you on a journey, he gives you enough clues to follow along, even if it’s a couple steps behind him the whole way. His magic makes sense and he gives us characters to care about. In this book, though, it feels as if he’s moving too fast, like running down a hill and his feet have gotten away from him. The magic only barely makes sense and the action continues at a pace which doesn’t really allow for any solid character work. As a long time reader, I felt like I was filling in blanks which normally wouldn’t be there, which is a shame, since there’s a lot of rich history to mine.

I’ll still pick up the next one when it comes out, and I’ll probably even give this one a re-read, but in the pantheon, this is a lesser work.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the thing I’m trying to do this year is catch up on reading I should have done a while ago. To that end, I’m hitting some classics, including Shakespeare. And since I believe plays should be performed and not merely read and Audible was offering the L.A. Theatreworks production for free, no time like the present to get into A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The plot follows several different tracks, most centering around various aspects of love and desire and manipulating these to get what one wants. For Shakespeare, it was an original tale and most people, even those who have never seen it, will know certain lines and concepts. What made this version fun, though, was the cast, which included Simon Helberg, Stacy Keach, David Krumholtz, and Glenne Headly. It lived up to its reputation as a funny comedy, and because I was passably familiar with the play, I was able to visualize a number of the sight gags.

Next up, to actually see a production. I know there’s a good filmed version with Kevin Kline and that’s going on my list, but I’d love to see this live.

Ancillary Justice
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A couple of years ago, this was THE book everyone was talking about. It won all the awards and, as a debut novel with a certain unique viewpoint regarding gender, also stirred up quite a bit controversy. The big deal was that Breq, the main character who used to be part of the AI of a huge starship in the employ of the Radch empire, referred to everyone with a feminine pronoun because her society didn’t have gender.

Of course, Breq says several times she often gets it wrong and this causes social miscues. Even when she learns the true gender of another character, Breq continues to refer to them as she because that’s what she does. And yes, it’s an interesting conceit for the book, but aside from that, it’s a space opera melodrama. Would have voted for it to win the awards? Probably not, because mostly it wasn’t my cup of tea. I have a personal distaste for these huge, sweeping books which take place in vast space empires where cows are referred to as “boves” because it’s cool, but at the same time the word “fuck” is still in wide use as are Bucky Balls or Dyson Spheres (it was one of them and since I listened to the book, I can’t go back and find it).

Speaking of the narration, though, I almost didn’t finish because the narrator was so bad for this book. Celeste Ciulla might be a decent reader of other books, she does have other credits, but I had to listen at 1.5 speed to even get a resemblance to normal English cadence. I don’t know if she was trying to approximate a robot voice (which also would have been inappropriate in the context) or this was merely her interpretation, but it almost made the book unlistenable.

Rocket Ship Galileo
Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Again, in my quest to catch up to things I should have read years ago, I’m working my way through the Heinlein juveniles I’ve never actually read. Of course, I knew about Rocket Ship Galileo and how it was the first Heinlein book and the basis for Destination Moon, a film from 1950. The book differs from the film in that the book centers on three teenagers who are conscripted by the Nobel Prize winning scientist uncle of one of them, to help him build and fly a rocket to the moon.

To be perfectly honest, if I had read this in the late 70s or early 80s, when I was a teenage boy myself, I would have eaten this up with no questions asked. And I think the book still works… Mostly. The start of the book, and the various mystery of who wants to stop them, and why, carry a good bit of plot and intrigue. Once they (spoiler) actually get to the moon, though, things take a drastically different turn and at times go from a boy’s own adventure to some morally questionable activities.

All that said, this is a nice road sign to see where Heinlein was headed with these books. A lot of the tropes we’ve come to associate with his young characters are already present. It’s like looking at old pictures – somewhat nostalgic but at the same time happy to see what’s become of them.

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