re:considering

things read, experienced and contemplated

Read: Peacemaker, by C.J. Cherryh

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Peacemaker is the 15th novel in Cherryh’s Foreigner series, and the last one in this 5th 3-book story arch… and even as I write these words I want to go back and say that this arc really started with book #7 – Destroyer. Which means this specific part of the tale spans no less than nine individual books. It has been a fun ride but with lots of loose ends left dangling.

Peacemaker is the book that FINALLY un-dangled (most of) them. At last.

In Peacemaker we at last settle the Coup. At last our protagonists have found the real cause behind the Troubles. At last they manage to amend it.

At last these people can move on, from on-world politics and into… well, that is an issue for books to come, surely, as Cherryh apparently is working on a yet unnamed Foreigner novel, but just as Bren don’t automatically adjusts to a life were he’s not allowed to meddle with Guild business it feels odd to look back at fifteen full length novels and feel that I’d be satisfied if the ride ended here.

That said Peacemaker is the best Foreigner novel in a long time, even despite some editing errors, one of which feels like a continuity error; I guess the scene was moved on the timeline necessitating a few minor adjustments that never got submitted? However which way the story starts in classic Cherryh mode, with a longish reiteration or build-up basically consisting of a lot of “telling”. But as the story shifts into instantaneous time the tempo picks up and the switches between Bren’s versus Caijeri’s viewpoints are tight, moving the story forward at a fast pace and with tension growing but ultimately ending with a satisfactory conclusion.

In my personal opinion anyone interested in interaction between different cultures, in the workings of different societies, in language usage and culture, in intricate politics and social structures should read something by Cherryh. Because even when the editing, as it sometimes is in the later books, is lacking the story as such, and the way she tells it, is often uniquely good.

If the sheer volume of the Foreigner series feels daunting there are many others to chose from, some of which are reviewed by me. Just click the “Cherryh” tag in the right-hand tag cloud and you can see what I thought of them.

Because you need support a living author who deserves a readership :)

Written by Pella Bergquist

March 24, 2014 at 21:56

Read: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

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A Study in Scarlet is, of course, the first of Doyle’s classic stories featuring what must by now be the most famous detective throughout history – Sherlock Holmes. However, reading the original stories makes one realise that it is the various adaptations of Sherlock that has made his fame – not the written source material.

The story is divided into two parts.

The first part is where Watson makes a new acquaintance, moving in with Mr Holmes. We get to read about his reactions to this Sherlock fellow but we also get an earful about the doctor himself – he returns to England very weak after almost having died from his wound and spends most of his time indoors and in bed. But then one morning, when he is up earlier than usual, he ends up visiting his first crime scene – a murder, in an empty or perhaps abandoned house.

So far so good. But suddenly part one ends and part two abruptly catapults the reader across the ocean, to the US, and to the founding of Salt Lake City. Initially this change of scenes make no sense but then names we heard in part one re-appear and suddenly the motive behind the not one but two murders perpetrated in part one is uncovered; and the reader gets to understand that neither of these evil deeds would had happened if Mormonism had been a more generous and open-minded creed.

As I wanted to read A Study in Scarlet as a crime/detective story I found the first part promising but the second part slow and uninteresting, even as I felt Doyle poured more heart in it, and it didn’t get better, either – the last handful of pages is pure info-dumping, with Mr Holmes telling Dr Watson about the clues everyone had missed: how he saw them, and how he interpreted them. Which makes me wonder if Doyle’s underlying reason for writing this story was to expose what he felt was the errors of the LDS/Mormons, and with the invention of Sherlock pure collateral; originally intended as nothing more than a tool for telling this tale. A tool which then took on a life of it’s own.

Obviously.

A Study in Scarlet has its place in the history of the crime novel genre, and as the point were a legend got started. But as reading material for the 21st century it doesn’t measure up. In my humble opinion.

Written by Pella Bergquist

March 16, 2014 at 21:02

Posted in thought

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Seen: Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch

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This film could had been either a tacky camp over-sweet pastry stuffed with purple prose… or it could be what it really is – a dark beautiful tapestry with pieces of wry humour hidden between the threads.

Eve and Adam has known each other for a long, long, time. One white, celebrating life and its expressions. One black, deeply romantic but also despairing of life and of where humanity has gotten itself. One in a melting pot city, a city of the in-between and of both. One in the ruins of crashed expectations. And both, intertwined.

Sounds pretty pretentious, doesn’t it? And still – it isn’t.

Tilda Swinton‘s character, Eve, lives in the old parts of Tangier, in an old house filled with books. She’s best friends and neighbour with Christopher Marlowe, portrayed by John Hurt.

Eve’s husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), lives a reclusive life on the outskirts of Detroit, collecting vintage guitars and making music using as analogue equipment as possible. He’s a romantic but also an engineer and scientist at heart, and he’s also bitter and dissatisfied with humankind.

During a Skype call Eve realises that Adam is depressed and she instantly gets on a (night) flight for the States, carrying the essentials only – two suitcases of books…

There’s absolutely not an ounce of action: only the quiet angst and passions of the aged and eternal youth – they are vampires, after all – and a silent discussion of what makes life worth living; yet the film keeps the audience focused on the screen.

And I loved it.

I loved it for its play with archetypes; for its use of, references to, and off-handed comments in areas such as music, literature and science; for the photography, for the way the camera makes love with the spaces these creatures are passing through; for the dual feeling of being very grounded yet transient; for the debauchery and the despair; for the raw animalism and the intellectual flippancy; for the hope and love and beauty; for the way it managed to capture the duality and challenge of being, and of being honest with oneself and one’s ideals. And of course I loved it for its humour.

Jim Jarmusch has pulled of one mean feat – a vampire film that brings back the vampire were it belongs: to the outsiders, the poets, the rebels.

Go see it.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m off watching the fire flicker in the grate while swaying solemnly to the slow beat of Pink Floyd‘s Wish you were here.

Written by Pella Bergquist

February 21, 2014 at 20:16

Read: The Exiled Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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The Exiled Blade, the last book in Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Assassini trilogy, was published about a year ago, in April 2013. I had it on pre-order, like all of Grimwood’s books, but for reasons previously mentioned didn’t get around to read it until now.

The trilogy is set up to tell the tale of how classical vampires came to be, and how they came to the particular corner of Europe they are associated with in particular, and start when, as told in The Fallen Blade, a nameless boy-creature arrives in Venice. The boy is soon given the name Tycho and is recruited into the Assassini – the secret police, if you so will, of post-Marco Polo Venice – and is soon embroiled in court politics. The story continues in The Outcast Blade.

I was sceptic on the outset. Vampires and the supernatural and fantastical is not high on my list – rather it is an exception when I enjoy such tales.

The two first instalments surprised me – I really did enjoy reading them, and also I felt Grimwood had matured somewhat as an author: I love much of his work but many of the books are a bit to speculative, I feel, and he has had a tendency to repeat imagery and scenes. With the Assassini trilogy he has continued working with an alternate history setting but this time working with the far past rather than with alternate endings of the latest world war, and with good result. At least in the two first instalments.

Sadly I don’t feel it kept up in the last part. Up until The Exiled Blade interest and emotional investment in the main characters drove the story but with this last part he needed to tell a story, not develop characters. The result is a tale that in parts dragged, in parts were so festooned with fantastical deux ex machina turning points that I soon lost belief in the credibility of the story. The main event, in many ways, is when the half-realised vampire-creature that Tycho is are more or less pressed into making a pact with the actual devil, albeit a pre-Christian one – a pact that essentially makes him into a Dracula creature, and placing him in a castle/fortress high up in the Balkan mountains. The price he pays to keep the heir to the Venetian throne, and the heir’s mother, the love of Tyhco’s life, alive is to live forever, but without her.

The trilogy is not badly written. If you enjoy vampire stories and stories of the supernatural and fantastical, and of 15th century Venice and court plot, all in one package – then this is definitely a trilogy I’d recommend. For me, though, it didn’t entirely cut it.

On to other books!

Written by Pella Bergquist

February 19, 2014 at 19:17

Read: Tumblr’s revised Community Guidelines (what!?)

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I realise this is not for everyone, but I actually think Tumblr‘s revised Community Guidelines well written, especially considering its wide and diverse audience. Getting people to read, understand and care about this kind of document is normally not that easy but Tumblr not only makes the guidelines easy to read; they also show that they understand who their core users are. Witness -

“Be a regular human. Don’t put tags on your posts that will mislead or deceive searchers. For example, don’t tag a photo of your cat with “doctor who” unless the name of your cat is actually Doctor Who, and don’t overload your posts with #barely #relevant #tags.”

This also goes for their Terms of Service, which includes the sage advice -

“One thing you should consider before posting: When you make something publicly available on the Internet, it becomes practically impossible to take down all copies of it.”

So – well done, Tumblr!

There are many out there who would do well to follow their example. But hey – many of those service providers probably aims at obfuscation, to get away with outrageous terms, so why should they?

This is not to say I in any way condone everything published under the Tumblr guidelines. But that is a whole another story :)

Written by Pella Bergquist

January 28, 2014 at 20:09

Considering: Star Trek

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During the past year I, as already mentioned, didn’t manage much reading. I did, however, manage to watch the latest addition to the Star Trek universe – Star Trek: Into Darkness – at its theatrical première here in Stockholm back in May.

The film as such is what it is – a modern remake and retake, shifted into the new alternative universe of J.J. Abrams‘ Trek. Some people doesn’t care about Star Trek at all but of those who do a significant part is irked by the new version, variously for it being untrue to canon, the fake physics of the new basic premise, or for just being… you know – not the Original.

My personal take on the changes Star Trek has gone through over time is that I accept them.

I am a bit too young to have experienced the Original Series in real time. Born in 1966 I was too young, had it aired on Swedish television back then… which it didn’t. When (some) of my classmates started talking about Spock et company during the mid-70’s I was hooked on Space 1999, and besides – reading, not watching, was my thing, and my torch was my best friend (for under cover reading at night).

No, my real love for Trek started with The Next Generation, at which point I started to seek out both TOS and the films. This was back in 1994, when Swedish television started to air TNG, and by that time TOS had started to look much like at least early TNG look today – a bit… cheap. The special effects development, the art of prop making, and, later on, HD TV and big screens at home, has conspired to make made-for-TV stuff look exactly as mass-produced as it was. The effect was as detectable in the 28 years that had passed between 1966 and 1994 as it is in the 26 that now has passed since 1987.

Of course, the real appeal of Trek is not in the special effects but in the message: the possibility of a brand new future, a future of hope, of a humankind who have managed to grab itself by its lapels and drag the collective out of the slums and poverty, out of war and hate. Saying no to fear and bigotry and yes to rational thought, to science and curiosity and respect. Saying yes to dialogue as the only valid way to solve a conflict. And proposing an area were there still was things to discover.

It is my belief that those were the core values that made Star Trek what it was.

Later versions of Trek, such as Deep Space 9 and Voyager, stepped down from those ideas and values. Dilemmas was more often solved by general ingenuity than by speaking to people, and plots centred on making an issue of what might happen when idealism meets greed for money and power.

Hollywood seldom invents or goes into the breach – what it produces reflects the sentiments, norms and dilemmas of the time. It so follows that the subsequent versions of Trek reflect the way society changes. Star Trek has survived over 47 years. That in itself is an amazing feat, testament to the appeal of the original vision. But the spirit of the mid-60’s, or even the late 80’s to mid-90’s, is not the spirit of the present century. And much as I’d love a slow-moving dialogue-driven show championing values such as equal rights, respect for the other, and rational thinking, in the post-9/11 world that has been almost impossible. Post-9/11 Trek stumbled, just as human rights such as freedom of speech, thought and expression took a serious tumble. Discussing moral dilemmas wasn’t on. The world became black and white, no grey zones, no zones for intermingling and exploration.

The last instalment set in the original universe – Enterprise - descended into territory already claimed by so many others, territory brilliantly owned by, for example Babylon 5 (another show that I followed religiously when it aired), and thus was lost.

Was the Trek enterprise failing? Yes, I’d definitely say so. At least it didn’t attract new followers. Enter Abrams and the New Trek.

A lot has been made about the improbability of the time travel plot device that shifted this incarnation into an Alternate Universe. But really. Warp speed, anyone? All kinds of faster than light travel are highly improbable, which sets almost all science fiction well into the realm of the impossible. Which to me makes the objection in itself laughable if not bigoted. Either you accept the basic concept or you don’t. Either reject FTL or embrace it, with all its plot-side consequences. Or – what about the growth-spurt the Genesis device incited in both Wrath of Kahn and Search for Spock? What about the time travel of Voyage Home?

But beyond the fake physics New Trek also depends on lots of special effects, lots of action, and slap stick-like drama. What about that? Wasn’t that anathema to Trek?

No. It wasn’t. Core to Trek was the moral dilemmas and how to approach them. Teaching methods for managing conflicts of interest, and to accept them as conflicts of interest and not as good versus bad, right(eousness) versus wrong. But it’s also about adventure and hopefulness.

I do like both Star Trek The Movie and Star Trek Into Darkness. Is it Trek? Well, if DS9 and Voyager was, then I think these should count, too. The Movie conspicuously lack in the moral dilemma department (the “message” in that one would perhaps be to bring hope to juvenile delinquents, lol) but Darkness has some – violation of the Prime Directive is a classic, the needs of the many versus the need of a friend, and even a “bad” guy can have valid motives behind his choices. Then, of course, the bad guy turns out to be singularly self-interested, and quite vicious about it, too. This is nothing new, this happens in quite a few episodes in at least TNG  and the movies prior to Darkness. So even if I personally would like to see the bad guy turn out to be someone you can talk to this didn’t happen often historically and likewise will not happen often now or in the future.

Darkness also sets the famous Five Year Mission going, much thanks to Spock’s insistence on Federation law and principle – had Kirk gone in and nuked Kahn they would had had a war on their hands; instead now they have conflict and death but ultimately reason prevails, and peace.

Maybe the story is told in a way uncommon to Trek. But ultimately Trek has to exist in this world; the expense of making it must be justified or it won’t get made. For many perhaps form is more important than the survival of Enterprise. But if this new incarnation can continue to provoke insights in its followers I have no problems with the form.

Because let’s face it – it’s a series of TV shows and movies. In a world of vicious egocentricity anything that shows success through collaboration and through utilisation of each other’s differences is a good counter-balance.

Even if it’s made by a black-and-white Star Wars fan-boy. And even if I am reviled by the aggressive commercialism surrounding present-day Trek.

Written by Pella Bergquist

January 5, 2014 at 20:58

Posted in review, thought

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Read: Protector, by C.J. Cherryh

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Originally I read Cherryh‘s 14th Foreigner novel Protector as it was first released, in April 2013, but a casualty of my accumulated life stress, meaning I didn’t remember much of it, I decided to return to the book now when things are starting to balancing out again, leaving me the energies needed to process things outside my immediate personal sphere.

First of all I might need to say that I am partial to the Foreigner suite. Often riddled by bad proofing, not to mention inconsistencies to the tale, I still enjoy them hugely. They form an anthropological foray into unknown and strange lands, offering up a chance to reflect on what is human, what is culture, what is conditioned, what are we – watching humankind through a mirror. Or is Bren, the main human protagonist, a prime exhibit of Stockholm Syndrome?

Be that as it may, well into the suite, into book fourteen, bridge book in the fifth trilogy about the human paidhi and his adventures amongst the atevi, those questions are left behind; any reader who still follows the series is probably, like me, invested in the characters and how they fare, taking the rest for granted.

This time Cajeiri, 8 year old heir to the aishidi’tat, finally gets at least a part of his birthday celebration – his friends from the ship is finally down on the planet visiting. Meanwhile the tricky situation with renegade Assassins’ Guild is nowhere near a conclusion. Events in Protector, though, might speak of a solution coming up? It would be about time – it has been seven books now of upheaval down on the planet; four since Tabini was reinstated… Not that I am complaining. Foreigner is like a favourite TV series and I’d be happy for it to go on forever (even as I’d like Cherryh to write something new in her Compact space or Alliance-Union universe suites as well) ;-)

A worthy instalment in the series and I really REALLY wish for the concluding part of this trilogy  – Peacemaker, announced for April this year – to be out sooner rather than later.

Written by Pella Bergquist

January 5, 2014 at 00:23

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