Review: Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds

First of all I need to state that YES, I did enjoy reading Alastair Reynold‘s Century Rain. But. And that’s a large BUT – a 530 page story that needs 250 (or so) pages for setting the stage, then captures for the rest of the ride, only to end in a dissapointment?

Reading a 530 page story is an investment – I set off time to read, and I want to get something in return. But when I finally closed the covers for the last time I was left with an impression of rather large deficiencies in the plot department, like a lot of nice scenes being patched together.

For the record I’m not averse to idea driven stories. I like the exploration of an interesting idea or three just as much as I enjoy good character development, and if the ideas are interesting enough I can live without the characters developing at all as long as they are believable and well drawn. But when the protagonists starts to do things out of character I’m unimpressed.
Examples of this is when Verity cried while leaving Floyd on E2, when she’s else described as pretty hardheaded, or Floyd, elsewhere described as stubborn, when he don’t want to spend his life without her don’t react much at that same occasion. Also it seems rather shallow of Floyd to suddenly fall for Auger when he has held out all these years, waiting for Greta’s improbable return.

The reason for these inconsistencies are, of course, that romance is only ever hinted at when it helps drive the story – else it’s unessential and not developed. But to make the romance believable when it’s needed as a plot device it needs to be sustained throughout the story. This lack of consistency messes with the balance of the story and takes focus off from the ideas. I’m sure some classical editing would help, as when an editor or alfa-reader suggests things to the author. As now I think Reynold’s rather awesome potential goes underdeveloped.

But I know – as long as his books moves off the shelves and into peoples’ homes no publisher is going to pay for a proper editor. And that’s more a comment on the sorry state of publishing than it is on this book which, after all, was worth the time it took reading it.

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Where a rapist can go free if he offers to wed the victim

In today’s paper edition of DN a small note can be found in the International section. The headline is set to guarantee a small readership – “Karzai sanctions law hostile to women” (Karzai godkänner kvinnofientlig lag). I searched for the online version, but it isn’t important enough to have been published in the web edition.

The law only applies to shia muslims, and maybe that’s why it’s so unimportant. And – let’s not he shy about it – laws and customs like these are abundant around the globe. The extent is rather such that it’s amazing some of us can live in relative freedom. That don’t diminish the horrors of this new Afghan law as millions of women will suffer from it.

An example (and now I’m citing the article) is the one I used in the headline. Another one is that a husband now has the right to deny his wife food as punishment for her denying him intercourse.

A clause that has been deleted said a wife has to make herself pretty and to put on make-up for her husband. It would be worth a laugh only if it wasn’t a fact that somewhere on this planet, in this case in Afghanistan, a group of men think they have the right to demand such of women.

The politician who in some sense led the protests against this law, Shinkai Karokhel, has been faced with death threats and she lives surrounded by bodyguards.

The article says Karzai, the president, is opposed to the law but that political considerations have forced him to accept it. That he sacrifices the women to stay in power.

It’s unworthy of any human being, and unworthy of a society trying to become politic.

Review: Ekot från Amalthea (Reverberations of the Amathea bombing)

Despite the book being swedish language I chose to write my review in english, and the reason is the topics discussed are not isolated to Sweden; rather the opposite – violence as a method to make things happen is as prevalent today as it was back in 1908, when the bombing commemorated by this book occurred.

The first part of the book reiterates the happenings and circumstances of the event. For those who are not familiar with it the political climate back then was harsh, with employers trying to get the most of their ancient rights while the workers started to claim decent working conditions. Strikes were common, and in some cases strike breakers were imported from other countries. In this particular case english workers had been shipped to Malmö, to load and unload ships while the local workers were on strike. Three young workers, all with what today would be called syndicalist leanings but then members of the local socialist club, decided to scare off the englishmen. They planted a bomb on the ship where the english workers lodged. Unfortuneately one strike breaker died, and the man identified as the main instigator – Anton Nilsson – was sentenced to death. He was later granted amnesty, and lived to be 103 years old, still holding on to his original ideas and values.
This first part of the book is fairly uncontroversial, as it often is when you’re looking at events far enough back to form part of history rather than of today.

The second part of the book looks at what is happening today, using the Amalthea bombing as a backdrop or for comparison. This part is more controversial, and different authors offers different views and insights. Some talk about how the trade unions have to revise their methods and views; others talk about what brought this situation; yet others report from the inside of movements that have been branded as ‘violent’ even when the members don’t think they are. What they do seems to agree on is that we’re entering a time of change, of old paradigms being replaced by new one’s, one’s we’re not yet quite sure of what they are.

I’m a bit ambivalent on that part. People who’re part of a movement often think their own time is the height of tension, of conflict. Some of the authors represented in this small volume think so about the 90’s, or the 00’s, just as I thought so about the 80’s, and so on. But however that may be it is clear that it’s the employers, not the employees, who owns the initiative and this book offers some thoughts on that fact. Unassuming, in all it’s modesty, but nevertheless an odd star on a heaven marked by the libertarian hegemony.

(I actually met Anton Nilsson, back in the 80’s. He was still proudly holding on to his and anyone’s right to use violence in the face of oppression. I somehow think he was co-opted, not forced really but not wholly aware of how the radical left used him as a role model, either, parading him as proof not only the young thought violence valid. In retrospect I think it kind of sad.)

Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

We follow homicide detective Meyer Landsman, and we find him when he’s at his absolute bottom; living in a flea hotel, with a drinking problem, and as the world is turning a fellow unlucky is found murdered in another room a few floors down. As the story unwinds we get a waft of that precious 90’s X-files feeling as we zap through a few days on the Alaskan coast, in an imaginary near future where a lot of things turned out in another way, with a small part of that frozen country a jewish enclave.

I really don’t like the hard boiled style of some crime novelists; the fake macho veneer, the affected tone of an author sitting back in his or her insulated life. In this particular case I’m prepared to make an exception, though, because Chabon uses it to good effect and with a steady hand.

*SPOILER WARNING*
What irked me, though, when I was through reading the book, was how miraculous recovery Landsman made from his drinking habit. Not very believable, in my humble opinion.
*END SPOILER*

Maybe not the most revolutionary book ever written, but witty, entertaining and very well crafted. I can recommend reading it.