Review: The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

What do you do when a favourite author suddenly challenges you by writing in the exact genre you detest? When I belatedly found out Jon Courtenay Grimwood had The Fallen Blade, an alternate history vampire story, out my choice was easy – to read first and judge later. My aversion to certain genres or sub-genres rests largely on empiric evidence, after all, and every thesis need to be challenged every now and then ;-)

First perhaps some words on why the “belatedly” in above paragraph. The book was published in January last year. Normally I am holding an eye to the “upcoming” list at my local dealer (SF Bokhandeln) but this list is partitioned into SF, Fantasy and Horror. Of these I only ever check the SF one on something approaching regular basis but by chance I glanced over the Fantasy list recently and found JCG was to publish a new novel in early 2012. I followed the link and realised the 2012 release was a “part 2 of 3”. I was aghast at having missed a release from a fave author and hurried to the physical bookshop the very next day, to get part 1, which is The Fallen Blade.

To me the book was a pleasant surprise. We follow the nameless boy who doesn’t really know who he is or where he’s from. His voyage takes him through Venice’s upper and lower levels – some of which is closer to each other than one would think…

While still relying on classic JCG archetypes – the outcast who doesn’t understand who or what he is, a real place but an alternate history, upper crust politicking, and a dedication to describing texture, look and smell that makes most scenes an inner eye visual explosion – the writing feels more mature, as he is in his natural element, for once. And then I’d never call his other books immature. It’s just that he seems to have, step by step, distanced himself from his cyberpunk and very Gibsonian background far enough to finally do something that is more wholly his own. And this despite this latest book being in a genre that I would not hesitate to call over-exploited and tired.

A definite recommendation for anyone who enjoys the voice of Jon Courtenay Grimwood. It would seem the trilogy format suits him so much better than the standalone novel. Definitely looking forward to the next instalment.

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White space – the absence of br… sorry, books?

For a while the family has been looking at other places to live. We’re reasonably comfortable in the flat we’re in but feel the neighbourhood – the county – is not our preferred social context. Rather the opposite, in fact – we have nothing in common with people who think that being moneyed equals a free card on behaviour and that laws are for the poor.

Anyway, in the course of this search for some other place to live I have looked at a gazillion of photos depicting the homes of other people. And you know what? Most of these homes are totally devoid of books!

I am not so deluded as to thinking everyone has thousands of books in their homes. But perhaps fifty wouldn’t be too bold?

Apparently it is. Because a huge lot of people doesn’t seem to own any books. And I mean ANY books. At all. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Walls full of empty white space!!!

Here’s some ideas why this is so –

People who read and discard
Yes,  they exist. I know people who is like that. People who read and read and read but once a book is read it is given to charity or sent to the dustbin or passed on to someone else. So they don’t accumulate any books.
They do have books laying around, though, so aren’t truly bookless.

People who have moved to ebooks
ebooks are convenient. They doesn’t use up space, and they are extremely portable. So this could be why the visual absence of books. But as ebooks haven’t had much impact on the Swedish market – yet – I find it unbelievable that so many people should had discarded all their paper books in favour of ebooks.
But it IS an option.

People who doesn’t read
So, I do know they exist. But so MANY?! Perhaps they are cold rationalists, denying the “false” joys of the fictional novel? But then they ought to have non fictional works. Alas, they don’t. Perhaps they find reading hard? But many of these flats seems to be lived in by people who have incomes in the higher regions or they should not be able to afford either them or the designer furniture they display.
Do they get their mental challenges from the tabloid press and the teen-blog squad that writes about the woes of the designer handbag life?
I simply don’t know.

A mystery.

And a scary one.

A teacher I once had said “an empty desk is an empty brain” – she was about as keen on tidying up her workspace as I was. In other words – not at all. And I think that sentiment apply across a wast dimension of media and storage spaces, books and walls included.

Of course this is very judgemental of me. But I can’t help it. I just can’t.

Review: Story of Human Language, by John McWhorter

I had, for a long time, heard a lot of good things about The Teaching Company’s The Great Courses. The format sounded interesting, as many many of the topics, so one day I decided to check them out. I did, and was favourably impressed with everything, with one small exception – the price!

I do understand that these things costs an awful lot of money to produce. Unfortunately buying a course for something between US$200 and 400 is not within my ordinary book-buying budget. I was still interested enough to find different options so one day I started to search the national Swedish library catalogue. No luck.

The case was laid to rest. Until one day when I heard about Story of Human Language. I was piqued enough to search for it and found it at a staggering discount – “only” about US$50! A 36-lecture course on language, for the price of a non-fiction hardback. I just HAD to get it.

So get it I did. And was rewarded.

There’s no way a layman like me can look at a course like this and judge its content from a scientific viewpoint. But to me McWhorter did his very best to try to present and represent the differences and disputes that necessarily exist when theories are built on assumptions rather than facts. But whichever way this is it is still a delightful lecture series to listen to because McWhorter has a good voice and is clearly enthusiastic about his topic, generously telling stories about himself coming up short when trying to make himself understood, or showcasing misconceptions he has held.

He starts out easy, laying out the basis by means a layman can understand, before taking off discussing more complex issues. As a Scandinavian I thought it especially interesting to think on his discussion on how Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are treated as distinct and separate languages while some English dialects are even more separated from each other… while still being perceived to be one language.

So – fun, educational, and a pleasure. I actually found myself trying to conserve the experience, to make it last longer, feeling a bit disturbed over the fact that there would be one day when I had no more lectures of his to listen to.

Highly recommended.