bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I kind of didn't want to read Disrupted.

I heard a lot about it because it takes place right around here, so it was getting a lot of press in the regional news; some of the reviews were also getting sent around a certain part of my social circle; namely, the part I developed when I worked at a hip and dysfunctional marketing tech startup in Boston. It was not HubSpot, but many of the things I was seeing in the reviews being sent to me sounded quite familiar.

I was partly curious to read it, but also sort of figured that since I'd already lived through a brief and disastrous tenure at a chic marketing startup, I figured that actually reading the book would mostly just give me unpleasant flashbacks and impede my attempts to let go of the whole thing. I am already pretty bad at letting go of grudges, so I figured I shouldn't actively sabotage myself.

Enter my mom, who, having had two children lose jobs at super trendy Boston-area startups in the space of about a year, ordered the book and read it, apparently to see if these places really are that unnavigably volatile or if her children are just stupid. Then she told me I had to read it. At this point, curiosity got the better of me and I started reading it, although I refused to actually borrow it and have it in my possession; it stayed at her place and I read it there.

My feelings on this book are mixed. Basically every shitty thing Lyons writes about HubSpot rings true to me, either from my own reading about the way the economy has gotten disastrously fucked, especially for young people; from my own lived experience working at a similar company; from stories I've heard from other people who work at similar companies (including other reports of people having a shitty time working at HubSpot; apparently they're TERRIBLE to their female web devs); and, in the latter half of the book, from dealing with and witnessing the behavior of gaslighting assholes whose main tactic is to stun you into compliance with WTF-ery so off-script from normal human behavior that you just can't figure out how to react to them.

So when it comes to strictly factual, reporter-y things, Lyons is stellar. He does a fabulous job of laying out how these "new economy" companies spin themselves as being Great Places to Work with tactics that sound good but actually screw people over — like "unlimited vacation time," which is code for "you don't bank PTO so when we let you go we don't have to pay you any banked PTO" (thank God the place I worked didn't do that one, at least), or giving people lower wages in exchange for stock options that vest in five years, when the tenure for most workers — especially lower-level ones, who are most likely to think that "stock options" sounds impressive and grown-up, and who probably don't realize that their salaries are being lowered to supposedly account for this because most industries have depressed entry-level wages ridiculously already — is half that or less, meaning that most workers will simply not receive this part of their supposed compensation. Shit's enough to make you vote for Bernie Sanders.

Unfortunately, Lyons seems to have a severe cognitive disconnect between the stuff he reports on and his ability to understand exactly the same things when they are going on in his immediate vicinity — or, heaven forbid, to him — and there are times when it really hurts his reporting. Much review ink has been spilled pointing out that Lyons is clearly kind of an asshole, and it is true that he is playing the Cranky Old Man Journalist role to the hilt — an archetype I personally find to be in a weird halfway territory between relatable and insufferable — but my issue with his general cranky asshattery is not really that it is unlikeable, but that it prevents him from being able to get more than surface-level observations about the general weirdness and shenanigans going on around him. In short, he styles himself as an anthropologist, but he's definitely the sort of anthropologist that is why anthropology as a discipline has so many issues and so much incomplete information. What he doesn't manage to do is go undercover, which I think would have provided a lot more insight and depth into how anyone but Dan Lyons actually feels about any of the shit that goes on in these companies.

More specifically:
—Lyons points out the lack of diversity and the labor exploitation at these companies, but mostly just seems to use these stats as a club against companies to reinforce that they suck. He doesn't demonstrate any sympathy for the people hurt by practices like insta-firing or sexual harassment, or even interview them. This is a sharp contrast to the beginning of the book where he loses his own job and spends about two chapters illustrating at great length how destabilizing and scary it is, even though he gets notice and severance and all that stuff, and tries to negotiate for things like "just" staying through the end of the year (several months away at the time). While he's happy to point out that it's mean for HubSpot to fire people on a "go to lunch and don't come back" basis, he doesn't acknowledge — even in passing — that, judging from his reaction to being given notice and severance, if this had happened to him he would probably have had an actual heart attack.
—He notices that turnover is high and people get disappeared fast and mysteriously, also notices that everyone around him is RELENTLESSLY CHEERFUL and ALL-IN all of the time, and concludes that all millennials are dumb and easily hoodwinked. Dude: Everyone whose facade of less than 100% committed Kool-Aid drinking cracked even for a moment got let go before you were able to see it. DUH.
—He doesn't really establish relationships with his colleagues, so if any of them are secretly stressed to death and miserable under their cheerful marketer faces, there's no reason to believe they'd confide in him about it. In fact, as an older celebrity hire for whom a new position was specifically created and who seemed to be wandering around a lot of the time not actually doing much, I think if I, a twentysomething young lady who hates self-important business buffoonery with a passion that makes her teeth hurt, were working there during that time, Dan Lyons would be the absolute LAST person I'd let my Obedient Capitalist Robot face slide in front of, especially considering he doesn't seem to have the social intelligence to keep his opinions to himself in a dangerous situation and put on an Obedient Capitalist Robot face of his own, meaning if he didn't rat me out deliberately I'd worry he'd do it just without thinking anything of it. And I say this as someone whose Obedient Capitalist Robot face isn't even very good to start with.
—Specifically, at one point he asks his younger colleagues if they wouldn't rather make more money than be paid in candy, and is baffled when they're all like "I like candy!" Like having some Baby Boomer with a nebulously defined job trying to goad you into complaining about your pay IN THE WORKPLACE doesn't have IT'S A TRAP written all over it in aggressively orange letters with a gif of Admiral Ackbar on it. Millennials know what Baby Boomers think of us when we indicate in any way that we would like to be compensated for our labor. If Lyons is unaware, he should go read some of the stuff put out by the legacy media companies that can't afford to employ him anymore because millennials aren't subscribing to them, and see if he can't figure out why we're not.
—He believes that everyone besides him who worked at HubSpot liked it because they have great Glassdoor reviews. I know at least one hip martech company in Boston that has specifically asked employees to leave positive ratings/reviews on Glassdoor to cancel out negative ones. If Lyons had been at all plugged into the Secretly Miserable Stressed-Out Debt-Ridden Underpaid Millennial Underground Gossip Network at HubSpot, he may have heard something similar. Learning to tap into and navigate the gossip network at my old place of employment was the single most valuable skill I learned there, although I learned it too late. Lyons, it seemed, never learned to use gossip at all. He seems unaware that he could be missing anything. Not a good investigative journalist trait, dude. Be more suspicious!
—HE'S SURPRISED HE GOT IN TROUBLE FOR A COMMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA THE GODDAMN SECOND TIME HE GOT IN TROUBLE FOR A COMMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA. And after he'd seen other people also get into giant unprofessional fights over comments on social media. Learn from your experiences! And yet he continues to be incredulous, instead of appreciating that he's the only nonexecutive in the company who would be allowed to hang around long enough to do that twice.
—Basically he complains about how ageist HubSpot is, which is entirely true, but completely fails to acknowledge the other ways in which he still really does have old white guy privilege, because he keeps getting breaks other people don't get. Like being able to negotiate a leave of absence (lol) and actually being able to get anything out of his stock options. I know this stuff is probably invisible to him because it's supposed to be a standard part of how jobs work, but it's not anymore.
—OK, so basically all my complaints boil down to one thing: I think he blows off the younger generation of workers as stupid and hoodwinked too easily and glosses over the ways the 99.9999% of us who aren't startup founders are getting screwed, because his desire to tell an entertaining fish out of water story about how full of wacky people HubSpot is is stronger than his empathy for a generation that's been comprehensively fucked over economically, and certainly a hell of a lot stronger than his curiosity. Most of the people I know who have been struggling through workplaces like this are not dumb. I know people who have been made "executives" at content farms who are 100% aware the moment they get the job that a) they are not ready for this, b) the company is using the prevalence of internships and contract work in the "gig economy" to make themselves look good for giving people salaries at all even when they're abysmally low, c) calling someone an "executive" or "manager" is a shitty way to make them work an additional 20 hours a week with no overtime pay like they're a fuckin' lawyer or something, and d) we'll be called lazy and entitled and told to work harder and make better decisions if we point out that we can't live in the rapidly gentrifying cities where the jobs are and pay the student loan bills racked up from getting the degrees the jobs require on the wages the jobs are paying. WE DON'T LIKE WORKING FOR SHIT WAGES AND WE'RE NOT DOING IT DELIBERATELY TO UNDERCUT BABY BOOMERS. WE DON'T HAVE A FUCKING CHOICE. There's too many of us, too many of us are college-educated, we have mortgage-size debts to pay off even if we don't have houses and families, and so much former entry-level work has been downgraded to usually-unpaid "internships" that we can't afford to not take any job we can find that pays us in actual money at all — even if we're only being paid partly in money and the rest is in stocks we'll never cash out, or salt and beer like we're in the fucking first-century Roman Army. Oh, and if we ever turned down a job just because it was laughably underpaid, five million pseudoCalvinist Baby Boomers with pensions 'n' shit would immediately materialize to lecture us on how awfully full of ourselves and lazy we are and that we should be grateful we could get a job at all and not think we're too good for it. Hey, wait, no — we don't even have to turn down the laughably underpaid jobs for that to happen! But basically, if Baby Boomers are worried that their jobs are being threatened because companies can hire 22-year-olds for a third of the salary they'd have to pay real adults, they may also wish to STFU about how enormously entitled 22-year-olds are that they think they deserve a whole third of a salary. Please see how these two things are related and stop calling us dumb.

Obviously, there are only so many things you can cover in one book, and Lyons' focus here was on how colorfully strange HubSpot is and on the shortsighted, jargon-riddled fuckery of the startup bubble, rather than the younger generation's lack of economic opportunity. But if someone's getting overpaid, someone else is getting underpaid — and I think the underpaid deserve a little more real compassion than just being used as a rhetorical device against the overpaid. Also, full confession: Baby Boomers whining about millennials like we fucked ourselves over is something that got on my last goddamn nerve several years ago; I am well out of nerves and even the slightest hint of it will turn me into a giant angry class warfare rage monster.

For a calmer and more rational takedown than mine of the irresponsible, victim-blaming ways the media covers the idiosyncrasies of millennial lifestyles and economic habits, please see Sarah Kendzior's excellent piece on Quartz this week: http://qz.com/720456/the-myth-of-millennial-entitlement-was-created-to-hide-their-parents-mistakes/

I got less angry near the end when the story refocused away from "observing" the rest of the company and making assumptions about them and onto the process of Lyons getting what in the business world I guess is called "managed out," in this case, the process by which it happened is, in the mental health, sociology and social justice worlds, called "gaslighting." Trotsky's calculatedly incomprehensible behavior is probably unfamiliar to anyone who has so far escaped being in the line of fire of similar emotional abuse, but from my weird addiction to reading advice columns, I don't think it's as uncommon as we'd all hope it would be. Some people just regularly operate in extreme bad faith. This part of the book also reawakened my sympathy for Lyons because nobody, nobody deserves to be deliberately blocked from getting shit done at work, especially not by the people whose job it is to enable you to get shit done. This is the opposite of the point of work and it is truly, truly baffling to deal with, especially in places that talk a big talk about rewarding people who TAKE INITIATIVE and DO THEIR OWN THING but if they personally don't like you they will permanently back-burner any idea you try to run past your superiors and dress you the fuck DOWN for subordination if you try to do anything without running it past your superiors. People and places that operate solely on vague buzzwords do it because they don't want you to have anything to fight for yourself with. It's all too common, but its still inexcusable, and Lyons documents it all clearly, thoroughly, and with the same sense of disbelief/naivete that irritated me so much during the rest of the book, except here it comes off more as a type of innocence that it's sad to see destroyed.

Honestly, the scariest, most effective, and most dramatic part of the whole book is the afterword, which covers the scandal surrounding the firing of two HubSpot executives for what, as far as anyone's been able to figure out, appear to be attempts to procure a copy of the manuscript for Disrupted via hacking and possibly extortion. This is the kind of stuff that really illustrates why the self-important cowboy culture of startups — the deliberately ill-defined rules, the cults of personality, the might-makes-right (or more often, money-makes-right) sense of entitlement, the unshakable belief that if you can get away with something, it must be a moral good for you to get away with it — aren't just irritating quirks of individual douchebros with too much money, they are problems. They allow morally bankrupt people with delusions of technosainthood to seriously fuck with the rest of us honest dumbasses who got suckered into trying to work for a living.

In short: Eat the rich.

Anyway, things end fairly well for Lyons, as he goes on to be a writer for Silicon Valley, which is better than being jerked around in a culty martech startup in New England, and if the people at HubSpot legitimately don't understand that then maybe they are even weirder than the people in other culty martech startups. Things ended OK for me, too, in case you were wondering; I got a job at a newsroom in an industry that might have the least social utility of any sector of journalism ever, but I am OK with that, since I am also allowed to make jokes and they are even letting me occasionally do journalism-ing instead of just editing (I'm still probably getting paid like a third of what Lyons was making as a journalist, though, so we can't put that one entirely on startups). Lyons is right that journalism is much much better for people with cranky senses of humor, even though I know he would probably think I am dumb because I am an overly excitable young lady with a cranky sense of humor instead of an important middle-aged guy with A Family To Support.

Anyway, I know this is (a) a long political rant and (b) about the farthest thing away from an objective book review as you can get, but I did only read the book because someone wanted to hear about it specifically through the filter of my personal experiences with a similar type of company, so that's what you're all getting (congratulations if anyone who's not my mom actually read it this far; I owe you a drink or something) (Mom, I probably owe you a drink too).

Should you read this book? This is going to depend a lot on your personal experiences. If you've worked at one of these places and have any political opinions in the directions that work should produce something useful, or companies should treat employees like humans, then maybe not; it's bad for your blood pressure. If you think that genius is directly correlated to net worth, don't bother — this book is going to challenge your assumptions, but let's face it; you're not going to want to hear it and you're going to write Lyons off as a douchebag who's just sour that he's not quite a big enough douchebag to pull off bilking other people out of millions. (Also, get back in the sea.) If you're a person who has been sheltered within traditional office environments and you are curious about how all this hip open-office-plans-and-ping-pong-tables stuff you've been hearing about works in practice (spoiler: it doesn't), then you should DEFINITELY read it. If you're a manager dealing with low employee morale and are considering trying to fix it by adding branded taps and a foosball table instead of taking another look at your training or performance evaluation processes and making sure they're not made out of holes, also read this book.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I'm officially six months behind on Mark Reads stuff.

I just finished, er, "reading along" (??) Sir Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies, which I remembered as "the one with the elves," although I think elves eventually show up again in one of the Tiffany Aching books as well.

In this one, Magrat is unhappily engaged to the new King Verence and is bored as hell with what being queen is apparently going to consist of; a bunch of young Goths are playing with things that are too powerful for them; Granny Weatherwax's old boyfriend returns; and a group of local Morris dancers are trying to put on a play for the royal wedding and are definitely, definitely not going to do the stick-and-bucket dance. On top of all that, crop circles keep appearing.

I'm sort of having trouble coming up with much to say about this book because it's pretty typical Discworld. Fortunately for the reader, "pretty typical Discworld" means it's engaging, hilarious, and equally full of groanworthy puns and deeply insightful humor. This one's deeply grounded in old British Isles traditions of the Fair Folk (as well as a lot of other really old country British stuff), so it's rich with references if you're sufficiently well grounded in those traditions yourself, and probably a bit baffling if you're not. It has wonderful footnotes. Granny Weatherwax continues to kick all kinds of ass, being totally awesome while simultaneously being kind of a terrible person.

Also, I just got the pun in Casanunda's name this time around and I've been reading these books for like fourteen years. Half my life. Clearly my command of the Englishes has improved since I was a high school freshman, which I suppose is a good thing, since in the intervening years I've only gotten a degree in the stupid language and started a career in it.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
As a matter of professional interest and definitely not because I am just a giant nerd anyway, I finally got my hands on a copy of Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, the senior copy editor at The New Yorker, a highly prestigious publication. Full disclosure: I don't read The New Yorker. My interest in The New Yorker extends about as far as being vaguely proud that a friend from my high school days who works as a fact checker there recently became mildly Internet famous for making Alex Trebek say "Turd Ferguson" on air. Other than that, I figure if there's anything good--usually the Borowitz Report--somebody will post a link to it somewhere.
I went into this book prepared to nitpick, due largely to my own prejudices about The New Yorker being maybe a wee bit pretentious, and I nearly immediately found ample stuff to nitpick, since quite early in the book Norris starts talking about dictionaries. Now, when she gets deeper into talking about dictionaries, it turns out that she actually is aware that, for example, "Webster's" is not a brand name and any dictionary can use it, and that some "Webster's" dictionaries are published by Merriam-Webster and others are published by completely unaffiliated publishing houses. But that doesn't stop her from kicking off the section on dictionaries with an announcement that The New Yorker is fully committed to the Webster's "brand," to the exclusion of all other dictionaries--"even Oxford," she says, as if it were somehow surprising that an American publication would limit itself to using American dictionaries and not employ a British dictionary as its spelling reference. Perhaps this book is not aimed at people who actually work with dictionaries, I thought, especially considering that she introduces the book by seeking to dispel a number of myths about copy editors. But then I'm not entirely certain who besides copy editors she expects to be very interested in all the stuff about pencils and the copy editing workflow at The New Yorker and who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick that she gets into in the second half of the book. I, for one, loved the second half of the book, especially the Moby-Dick chapter. (The capstone course for my English degree was an entire semester on Moby-Dick. I have strong, if mixed, feelings about it.)
The real low point of this book is the chapter on gender, and not even entirely because of her rather idiotic insistence that pseudogeneric "he" wouldn't be a problem if people didn't notice it and think it was (which: welcome to literally how words meaning things works) while, as usual, completely glossing over the fact (actual, scientifically studied fact) that singular "they" straight up actually is not a problem because people don't notice it and even people who claim it is Very Very Wrong and one of their Biggest Pet Peeves and are deliberately on the lookout for it so they can correct it manage to miss it at least half the time in other people's speech or writing and can usually be counted upon to use it regularly themselves. (Tom Freeman calls out her use of singular they in this very book over at Stroppy Editor: https://stroppyeditor.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-singular-they/). This was, indeed, a disappointing argument to run into, especially after what is a very intelligent discussion of the fundamental flaw in most attempts to come up with new pronouns to fit into the language: most of them try to be logical, so they stick out, where as English is not logical and the whole damn point of pronouns is to blend in. No, most awkward part of the chapter on gender is her somewhat self-congratulatory account of her bumbling journey to accept her transgender sister--who she introduces as her brother, although at least she doesn't deadname her (I think). While I mostly like the personal, autobiographical stuff in this book, I would have been pretty OK if this chapter had stuck to being A Brief History of Pronoun Schemes Academics Have Come Up With To Avoid Admitting Singular They Exists.
The high point of the book, in my opinion, is the chapter on swearing, which is very sweary and thoroughly delightful. Although this is in close competition with the discussion on VICTORIAN COMMA USAGE, because I adore both wacky Victorian writing and fussing over commas, and I admit I've always sort of wondered what passed for "copy editing" back in the day when all the sentences were 50 words long and full of too many commas and stuffed with Significant Caps. Well, now I know! I don't know how many other people feel that their lives are greatly improved for knowing this--maybe it is just me--but I am WAY happy. Oh, and the bit about the pencil convention was golden.
Actually, everything after the third chapter (that being the gender one) had me pretty much completely hooked, full of gossip about the staff at The New Yorker, dryly funny personal anecdotes about really nerdy things, and grammar advice delivered with, huzzah, a good attitude. Idunno, maybe they had to put the weird, less-good-attitude stuff at the beginning to lure in the sort of target audience that reads books by copy editors? Apparently if you start off by saying "I am a professional copy editor and I have no time for fucksticks who think bad grammar signals the End of Civilization and probably think Strunk & White is a good grammar guide, what twerps" you won't retain readers who self-identify as "interested in grammar" for long enough to teach them anything--you have to lure the people who liked Eats, Shoots and Leaves in first. Like how the first few episodes of Orange is the New Black had to be about the middle-class blonde white girl to bring in a middle-class white audience before it could start giving them everyone else's interesting stories. Or that seems to be the going theory for why the first three episodes are kinda weak, anyway. What was I saying? Oh, yes--the book gets less cranky as it goes on.
Also, I am super, super jealous of the sheer number of people involved in the QA process in a New Yorker piece. The place has a separate style editor. A STYLE EDITOR. I want to be one of those when I grow up. I sort of am, at my current place, but I am also the sole copy editor for most pieces, the proofreader, the fact checker, the collator, the person who has the graphic designer input all the changes, and sometimes the formatter. I'm also turning into the foreign languages and geography QA'er, apparently, which I suppose is somewhere between being a style editor and a fact checker at the same time.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
GOOD LORD AM I BEHIND ON MY MARK READS OR WHAT.
Anyway, last weekend I finally caught up on Witches Abroad, which I vaguely remember as being "the Cinderella one." Which it is! But I'd forgotten most of the rest of it.
Like many Discworld books, this one is about stories; like many of the Witches books in particular, it is about fairy tales; but this Witches Discworld book, specifically, is about Disneyfication.
The "abroad" where the witches go is a city-state called Genua, which seems to be based in part on New Orleans, but which is being sanitized and forced into basically becoming the Magic Kingdom (it also reminds me of the walled city in Shrek). It's really just Magrat who is supposed to go, officially—after all, Desiderata Hollow left the magic wand to her when she died—but obviously Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax aren't going to let Magrat go off and do anything on her own, so all three of them go, with Granny complaining about "forn parts" the whole way.
While Granny is staunchly (and meanly) provincial, Nanny Ogg is a belligerently enthusiastic and clueless tourist, bulldozing her way through Genua with a hodgepodge of incorrect common phrases from a variety of languages, apparently under the impression that "foreign" is a language and she speaks it. It's hilarious, and probably very embarrassing for Magrat. Magrat is, as usual, ineptly well-intentioned, and can't figure out how to do anything with the wand except turn things into pumpkins.
The entity Disneyfying (Disnifying? Disnefying?) Genua is a fairy godmother named Lilith, who uses mirror magic. This Evil Queen trope makes her scary as hell because she can basically always be spying on people; her whole magical system bears more resemblance to George Orwell's Big Brother than anything else: She's always watching, and she can have you disappeared if you don't behave according to the exact code expected of you. Her goal is to provide everyone with a happy ending, whether they like it or not, which on second thought also has weird Communist dictatorship overtones. I think there's some underhandedly political commentary about authoritarian utopianism going on in this book, y'all. I always missed it because I was too busy focusing on the fairy tales aspect and the puns!
The fairy tale tropes are deconstructed mercilessly, especially once you find out more about Lilith. It involves more mirroring, in a way.
While the sanitized/gentrified/Disneyfied aspect of Genua is handled brilliantly, the New Orleans-y stuff underneath falls a bit flat sometimes—Pratchett is clearly very familiar with his fairy tale tropes and the way they differ from messy reality generally, but he's not as familiar with the voodoo stuff he's incorporating as he is with the rural British cultures he draws on in places like the Ramtops, so some of the jokes feel more obvious than I generally expect from Pratchett and some of them are just plain racially awkward. (Lilith's whitewashing of Genua would have been SUCH a powerful layer if it had been handled a bit better!)
Overall, though, it is basically everything you'd expect and want out of a Witches book, and then a little bit more.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I hadn't remembered Reaper Man as being one of the mid-series Discworld novels, but we're definitely getting into mid-series now. And mid-series Discworld is generally the best Discworld; I hadn't remembered it as being one of the particularly good ones either.

Upon rereading it with Mark who Reads Things, it turns out that this is likely just because I only read it once, in ninth grade. I vaguely remembered it as the one where Death becomes a farmer, although I'd forgotten why. Reaper Man is a thoughtful exploration of the role of death in our lives and what it means to have only finite time in our lives--at least, it is when it's not full of madcap puns and zombies and animated compost heap monsters.

I'd also forgotten that this book is where we are introduced to the Auditors, who are existentially terrifying.

The Auditors are much like Dementors except that they are terrifying in a boring soulless way instead of in a traditionally terrifying soul-sucking way. They have no personal identities and they keep the universe running in an orderly and predictable fashion, which is not really how it all ends up working once you get near the Discworld. They fire Death for, essentially, developing too much personality. (Because soulless business culture FOR THE UNIVERSE.)

Death, now with a small batch of time in his hourglass before he gets annihilated, goes to work on a farm down on the Discworld, harvesting crops for an old widow lady named Mrs. Flitworth. Here he becomes Bill Door, and learns about his neighbors in a more individualized and human fashion than he ever has known his assignments before. Unfortunately, with no Death, the natural circle of life is disrupted--people can't die, and neither can animals, really, and apparently neither can general nature life-energy organic matter stuff, hence the animated compost heap. As the extra life energy builds up and people who were supposed to die float around being ghosts or zombies or whatever and generally not passing on, some other unknown thing shows up, a parasitical thing that seems to want to leach all this extra life out of the city. Windle Poons, a very ancient wizard who manages to become a sort of zombie out of sheer willpower when he dies and can't reincarnate, investigates, along with a ragtag band of undead creatures and a bunch of typically useless wizards all hepped up on saying "yo." Along the way, Poons learns more about life than he'd ever arsed himself to learn while he was alive.

The friendship between Death/Bill Door and Mrs. Flitworth is far and away the most touching part of the book, especially the bittersweetly comic bits near the end as Death tries to make sure she has the best death ever in return for all she's taught him. Mrs. Flitworth also gets mad props for being so accepting of Death even when she finds out who he is.

The book is a good one to read after the recent passing of Sir Pterry himself, as it's all about accepting Death as a natural and necessary thing, and not in too cheesy a way, either.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
One of the books I was most excited for when Mark Oshiro started reading Discworld was Moving Pictures. Once he started reading it, to my surprise, I became even *more* excited, because I had not known that apparently he spent a good chunk of time living in Hollywood, and Moving Pictures is about Hollywood. Would Mark, for once, be prepared?

He was not. No one can ever be quite prepared for Moving Pictures, although it is good to have a solid background in movie references, to fully understand all the ungodly number of jokes.

Moving Pictures is strictly in the "a Modern Thing gets invented, Discworld-style, and chaos ensues" tradition of Discworld plotlines, which is unabashedly my favorite Discworld plot type. In this case, the movies are invented, as one might guess from the title, and a small town devoted to making movies springs up in a desert, and is called Holy Wood. People start being called to go there. Victor Tugelbend, a fairly boring, generically handsome, surpassingly lazy student wizard, is one of them. He is apparently called to be a fairly boring, generically handsome action hero/romantic lead with dashing moustaches, or something. He teams up with a talking mutt named Gaspode the Wonder Dog to try and figure out what is going on with this whole Holy Wood thing and why everyone is acting strange, especially why Victor's usual film opposite, Ginger--a smart, driven, interesting character whose role as a starlet means that in films all she gets to do is look sultry and be rescued--keeps sleepwalking and trying to dig a hole in the ground on the outskirts of the city.

This is the... tenth Discworld book, I think, and it does a lot to further establish and develop the rules of reality on the Discworld--especially the roles of story and belief, which are a huge theme throughout the entire series. It also has some pretty hilarious critiques of certain story tropes that are basically dumb, and a lot of fairly biting satire about the corrosive, greedy, exploitative, appearance-obsessed aspects of Hollywood culture. But it also shows love for the magic and splendor of movies and storytelling, and thus avoids becoming cranky elitist trash. Also it has a shameless cartoon-chase scene, which is not particularly elitist either. The metahumor and references certainly have created a monster in that so much comedy following Pratchett has gone down those paths so hard they've ended up well up their own arseholes, but in this case, it works beautifully--genre fiction, movie melodrama included, being a thing that relies so heavily on being "in conversation with" other stories in order to exist and function and to train its audience into understanding its shorthands.

Overall, definitely one of the more memorable Discworld books for me. Now let's see what happens when we get to Soul Music!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)

As many who hear me ramble about books know, I have a not-very-deep but quite enthusiastic love for Gail Carriger's fantasy-of-manners steampunk books, the Parasol Protectorate quintet and the ongoing Finishing School series. So I read the first book, Prudence, in her new series set in this universe, The Custard Protocol.

This series takes place about twenty years after the end of the last Parasol Protectorate book, and its protagonist is Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama, the metanatural child of werewolf Conal Maccon and soulless Alexia Tarabotti, adopted by the mysterious vampire dandy Lord Akeldama. She goes by Rue. She can "steal" vampires' and werewolves' skins, meaning she touches them and she turns into the sort of creature they are, leaving them mortal until either the sun comes up or they get far away enough that the tether snaps.

While Rue gets into a number of scrapes that add up to her being at least not at all a passive character--not that I'd want to be anywhere within fifteen hundred million miles of her in real life, considering her principled disdain for such stodgy middle-class values as "being even dimly aware of other people and giving half a shit about them"; I think she's supposed to be a heroine but I can only stomach her as an anti-heroine--and the further development of the wacky steampunk universe is a lot of fun, I didn't end up liking this book as much as the others.

While I'm not usually focused so much on the plots in Carriger's books as I am the wacky hijinks, I feel like the plots in this one were a little more confused than usual. I'm usually quite fine with the plots of comedies being basically vehicles for jokes, and some of these were, mainly the bit where Rue is only aware of one of the two major plotlines for a good long time and thinks people are talking about one thing when they're actually talking about another and everyone is being too ~mysterious~ to use their words and clear it up, but I still felt like I just didn't really buy it? Perhaps the jokes weren't as funny as they needed to be for me to not mind. And Rue's trip to India ended up being far too pro-colonialism for my taste--I know it's a fluffy book series taking place in an alternate history, but one of the basic plotlines (which doesn't really become clear until a good two-thirds of the way through the book) is that the English crown ~accidentally~ pissed off one race of supernatural beings in India by allying with a different race of supernatural beings in India, and they have to sort out a way to ally with both of them because the race they didn't know about ~stubbornl~y insists upon being mortal enemies with the other race and won't recognize England's ~super enlightened~ policy of blanket alliance with all supernatural races they come into contact with. The entire idea of Indian independence appears in the book only as a red herring, on the occasions when the doer of a nefarious deed is as yet unknown and therefore might possibly be "dissidents." It's a lot uglier than the trip to Egypt at the end of the Parasol Protectorate, where the plotline focused on issues that were essentially unrelated to British colonialism--this plotline is basically about how best to pull it off. I kept waiting for Rue to realize that the British were wrong to be ruling India, and she just never fucking did. If Carriger wants this universe to be fun and fluffy even though it's about the British Empire, she's welcome to do that, and I'll read it, but there are some places she just should not go if she wants to not go anywhere serious, and "India" is one of them. Now I'm half afraid that the next Finishing School book, which takes place in the 1840s instead of the 1890s, is going to involve the cast going off to Ireland to have wacky hijinks at the potato famine.

The characters were often fun the possible exception of Quesnel, who is a terrible obnoxious love interest. Ivy's twins--Primrose Tunstell, Rue's best friend, and Professor Percy Tunstell, played in my head by Eddie Redmayne--accompany Rue on her dirigible journey, and are good solid sidekicks. Basically, things are OK as long as they never leave the dirigible, but when they do it gets pretty cringeworthy at times.

Whether or not I read the second Prudence book is probably going to depend on how much I like the fourth Finishing School book, and possibly whether I hear any news of whether or not the second Prudence book involves everything from the first book coming back to bite Prudence firmly in her self-absorbed imperialist ass.

Also, was it just me or was the humor that there was considerably more lowbrow in this one? There's always been raunchy humor in the books in addition to the farce and whimsy, but this one really came off as a lot cruder and with a lot more fart jokes.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)

Sometimes, I’m just not up for reading anything of substance or anything that’s going to be too distractingly interesting. The beginning of this month was one of those times, so I picked up P. G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves, a classic in the “utter fluff” genre. This one’s  a novel rather than a series of short stories, although it is a pretty short novel.

Following an eventful trip to Cannes with his Aunt Dahlia and Cousin Angela, Upperclass Twit of the Year Bertie Wooster finds himself entangled in a handful of other people’s plotlines, each of which he manages to bungle fabulously. Bertie is in the middle of a spat with Jeeves about a white mess jacket, so Bertie is determined to solve all his friends’ problems himself, rather than letting Jeeves do all the scheming, to prove that he isn’t dumber than his valet and to show Jeeves who’s boss. Predictably, Bertie is actually a lot dumber than his valet, and Jeeves is functionally the boss.

Plotline number one concerns one Gussie Fink-Nottle, a school friend of Bertie’s who is also a hopeless nerd. Usually quite antisocial and retiring and unable to talk about anything except newts, Gussie has fallen dreadfully in love with Madeline Bassett, a friend of Cousin Angela’s from their trip to Cannes. Gussie is too nervous to bring himself to ask Miss Bassett to marry him.

Plotline number two concerns Cousin Angela, who has broken off her engagement with Bertie’s Drone Club buddy Tuppy Glossop, because Tuppy didn’t believe that a shark had tried to eat Angela in Cannes and kept mansplaining to her how that wasn’t possible and it must have been a flatfish or something. Angela—quite rightly, in my opinion—broke off the engagement and has since been flatly refusing to say a single civil word to Tuppy until he apologizes for not believing about the shark, which is the one thing Tuppy can’t seem to bring himself to do (Tuppy is a bit of an idiot).

Plotlines three and four involve Aunt Dahlia, who lost a lot of money at baccarat in Cannes and now need to figure out how to wheedle another sum out of her husband to print her ladies’ magazines, and who needs somebody to hand out prizes at the local grammar school at the end of the month.

Bertie’s initial plans involve sending Gussie Fink-Nottle to Aunt Dahlia’s house to give out the prizes, in the hopes that living in the same adorable English country manor for weeks will prompt Gussie to speak to Miss Bassett, but instead the whole thing devolves into a complex farce that sort of reminds me of the sillier everyone’s-stuck-in-one-house English murder mysteries, except that the only murder-related mystery is when Aunt Dahlia will actually murder Bertie. People all get engaged to the wrong other people; Aunt Dahlia’s wonderful French cook Anatole quits (this is a BIG DEAL); Gussie gets into more extremely embarrassing scrapes (impressive since he kicked the book off by dressing up in scarlet tights and showing up at a total stranger’s house instead of getting to the fancy-dress party); there is much emotional eating of disgusting-sounding British food.

But as entertaining as all these convoluted plots are, the real high point of this book is its voice, which, the book being a first-person narrative where the person is Bertie Wooster, is that of a high-spirited, eminently dumb, fashionable young man who is hip to all the kickin'est slang in use in England in 1920/30/40-whatever. Bertie as a narrator is in his own way wonderfully observant, his own way being that which is superficially detailed and full of vivid figurative language what would be poetic if it could be taken seriously but instead is jokes. Regardless of circumstance, Bertie thinks and speaks in the what-ho-cheerio register of a certain time period of British public schoolboy, and the closest thing to intellectual stimulation this flufftastic book provides is trying to puzzle out some of the less obvious slang terms. (They're usually pretty easy to gather from context, especially if you're decently familiar with English upper-class-twittery.) There's a running gag where Bertie always refers to his aunt as being "an aunt" rather than a person, woman, being, etc., like aunts are an entirely separate species from any other human demographic--so you get sentences like "She looked like an aunt who has just bitten into a bad oyster" instead of, say, "She looked like she'd just..." or "She looked like someone who had just..." I think I liked that one because it was a bit more understated than most of the other, more blatantly farcical gags. And while it's hard to be as witty as Wodehouse on the spot in terms of actually coming up with hilarious observations, the basic register is easy enough to ape and also quite a lot of fun to engage in! I recommend trying it next time you text someone.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I thought I had read all the Discworld books! Well, I’ve read all the Discworld novels, it turns out. There are other Discworld books out there—faux-nonfiction set in-universe to fulfill that weird sector of the book market where the books are essentially merchandise for other books. It’s a weird sort of metamarketing that I’m never sure what to make of, despite owning a whole bunch of “companion books” for some of my more expansive geeky canons.

One of these amusing extras is Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, in which a collection of recipes serves as an understructure for a whole lot of jokes. An odd thing about this book—besides its content—is that it seems to have been accidentally published with all the notes between the publisher and the agent left in. Most of these notes are arguing about what is and isn’t appropriate to publish, since Nanny Ogg generally offends people’s delicate sensibilities, and apparently her previous books had made the publisher’s wife laugh. The text itself also contains a number of allusions to leaving out certain “active” ingredients, such as arsenic, and some others which are unnamed.

Since Discworld does not follow in the fine old fantasy tradition of loading itself up with lots of food porn, the way that ASoIaF and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Redwall and basically all of the others do, instead preferring to dwell on the disgustingness of literally everything in Ankh-Morpork, the editors of this book have apparently had to alter the recipes quite a lot so that they become decent recipes that regular humans on Roundworld would ever eat. The caveat here is that the Roundworlders who do decide to make these recipes have to be British or at least be able to cook in British, because most of the measurements are given in metric and some of the ingredients are either named differently or are things I’m not sure we have in the US. I’m pretty sure “bicarbonate of soda” is baking soda, but I don’t know how much butter is 500mg and I don’t know what suet is. (OK, Google tells me it is “hardened beef or mutton fat” and how do you cook with this and WHY do you cook with this?)

Nanny Ogg appears to have collected these recipes from a number of notable personages in the Discworld, and so there appears Lord Vetinari’s recipe for bread and water, which involves a billion taste tester and several years of political manipulation, and Leonard of Quirm’s recipe for cheese sandwiches, which involves inventing all sorts of machines for making bread and cheese and then ordering some pizza. (There are also quite a number of regular recipe for curries, various English country dishes, candies, and things with names like “bananana surprise.”)

While I think I have to give the copy I read back to the friend I borrowed it from, I fully intend to borrow it back and try out some of these recipes just as soon as I learn to cook with the metric system.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In the “Mark Reads Discworld Books to Me” section of my current reading life, we just finished Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, the beginning of the Watch subseries and the first book in the part of the Discworld series where it really comes into its own and can handle being big fat full-length novels instead of slim little comic novels. It’s still comic, of course, although it is also a lot of other things, most obviously a fantasy book, what with the dragons and all, but in most ways, it’s a noir. (It’s a little like how the Beka Cooper books are police procedurals, except with more puns.)

There’s little to say about Guards! Guards! that hasn’t been said by a billion Pratchett fans over the years and that hasn’t been discussed to death, accompanied by many pictures of nuns, over at Mark Reads. As for my own personal reactions—I, for one, love everything about this book. I love stuff that has fun with noir, because I love noir-ishness but am bad at taking things seriously sometimes, and I love that we get to really stay in and explore Ankh-Morpork, and I love Sam Vimes as a sometimes-goofy take on Sad Drunk Noir Protagonist Man who is also a genuinely well-drawn and engaging character, even at this early stage. And I love the dragons, both all the nifty stuff about the fancy dragons and the shaping power of belief on the Discworld (I eat that power of belief stuff up with a spoon in books, possibly because I’m a dreadful cynic in real life) and the swamp dragons (or as they are now known as, DRAGON PUPPIES!). And of course, I love the hell out of Lady Sybil, aristocratic badass. In addition to embodying one of my favorite tropes ever, Weaponized Manners, she’s vulnerable without being weak or useless, kind without being soft, and still, awesome without being perfect. In short, she’s Lady Sybil Ramkin, and she has finally shown up!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I read two books this week and I’m reviewing them OUT OF ORDER because I DO WHAT I WANT and what I want right now is to tell you about Texts From Jane Eyre.

From Mallory Ortberg, the genius behind Two Monks Inventing Art and Women Doing Stuff in Western Art History, among other works of genius humanties-related humor over at The Toast, TFJE is exactly what you think it would be. If you are already familiar with The Toast and with Mallory’s sense of humor, all I really have to say is: It is just as good as you hoped it would be. Go read it.

If you are all like “But I don’t know what this Toast thing all the hip ladies on the Internet are on about is, who is Mallory Ortberg,” I am sad for you, for you are missing out. But anyway: TFJE is a collection of goofy, lovingly snarky imagined text conversations—complete with misspellings and smiley faces and expressionist punctuation—from and among characters and authors of various works of literature. Most of them are staples of the Western canon that you probably read a bunch of in school, but the last portion of the book features more pop-cultural works like The Babysitter’s Club and The Hunger Games. If you like Kate Beaton’s webcomic Hark! A Vagrant!, TFJE’s similarly well-educated but irreverent sense of humor will probably appeal to you—because let’s face it, people tend to either not bother with literature or history or, when they do, they are WAY too serious about it. Just because they’re important doesn’t mean we have to take them seriously all the damn time.

Also, apparently you can make margarine out of whale oil? I don’t know if that’s true or not but I’m super curious now.

Because this book is literally all text conversations, it is a really fast read even though it covers a lot of different works. This means that in addition to being a work of art on its own, it makes a particularly good palate cleanser if you have been reading something long and serious, or if you’re avoiding starting something long and serious but will feel bad if you avoid it too hard.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)

I finally caught up with Mark Oshiro in reading Discworld, which means I just finished rereading Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids. I didn’t remember much of what happened in this one, except that it was parodying Ancient Egypt, and the parody Egypt country was called Djelibeybi, which is the best name ever, except that I think at the time I first read it, it was easy for me to cater to any cravings for Jelly Babies since they sold them at my local Stop & Shop at the time. I should see if they have any at Fort Point Market. I really like Jelly Babies.

Anyway.

Djelibeybi is an old kingdom, and a kingdom proud of its history. Its extremely well-preserved history. Honestly, at this point, Djelibeybi’s incessant preserving of its history is about all it's got going for it, as the elaborate funerary structures it builds for all its pharaohs have bankrupted the country, and everyone’s so in thrall to tradition that they haven’t invented anything in centuries, not even mattresses or plumbing. King Pteppicymon, a forward-thinking sort of pharaoh who hates pyramids, sends his son Pteppic off to Ankh-Morpork to become an assassin, so that he can make some money.

When Pteppic has to come back to Djelibeybi and be king, then, he is full of all sorts of non-Djelibeybian ideas from forn parts, which leads to chaos and mayhem. It would probably have just led to plumbing and mattresses if he'd been allowed to do what he wanted, but ironically, he butts heads with his extremely traditionalist advisor Dios, who is deathly afraid that any degree of change constitutes chaos and mayhem, and the result of their antagonistic interactions result in the construction of a pyramid for King Pteppicymon that's so big it bends space and time--and that causes ACTUAL chaos and mayhem. Joke's on you, Dios.

While much of this book is a bit chaotic even by Discworld standards, it's still quite a work of art--there are layers upon layers of puns, some excellent trope subversion on the part of the handmaiden Ptraci, Pratchett's signature literalism about the power of belief, and some very clever digs at both actual and popular imaginings of ancient Egyptian history. (There are "walk like an Egyptian" jokes that I had somehow forgotten about.) It even has some heartwarming smart bits about identity worked in around all the mathematically inclined camels and quantum.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In preparation for our trip to France last year, I raided Project Gutenberg for a load of classic French lit and, in case I wanted something that required less brain, a bunch of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books (these were on the particular recommendation of a friend who was also part of the France party). Sadly, my Kindle proceeded to die on that trip, leaving me stranded on a trans-Atlantic flight with nothing but the tiny tourist's book from the Comptoire des Catacombs. Now, armed with a new Kindle and plumb out of middle-grade white girl fantasy books, I finally got around to cracking the cover—metaphorically speaking—of Wodehouse's My Man Jeeves short story collection.
I have two minor quibbles about this book; mainly, about half the stories are about Jeeves and Wooster, and another two or three are narrated by another, extremely similar sort of character named Reggie something-or-other, who has a different (and less funny) valet. Secondly, despite only containing about six short stories, quite a number of jokes, tropes, and plot devices have already appeared multiple times, leading me to suspect that the Jeeves and Wooster canon as a whole might be even more repetitive than I had been already warned about. But since they're all quite a load of fun, I don't mind all that much.
As someone with a strong interest in dialect and slang, one of my favorite things about this compendium is the style. Bertie Wooster (and his apparent doppleganger Reggie wossname) is a particular type of guy—chappie, rather—and his diction is quite strongly rooted in his class, ethnicity, time period, and general fatheadedness. Since he is an upper-class English twit from somewhere around the Edwardian era, and the book is written in a chatty first-person POV, the whole book is infused with a slightly drunk, plummy tone that causes you to read it in an accent as thick as Marmite on toast. It's full of "chappies" and "old boys" and "rummys" and expressions like "full of beans" and all sorts of other Edwardian British slang that is just really ridiculously delightful to read. I could really go for a good excuse to read it out loud.
The plots, so far, usually involve Bertie (or Reggie) and/or one of their equally hapless buddies getting into some sort of ridiculous scrape, often involving either engagement or interruption in the flow of money from a rich relative or both, and Jeeves pulling out some brilliant scheme to fix the situation, which appears to go badly off-course at least once, but which further brilliance manages to coax into shape and work out unexpectedly well for everybody. Sometimes, there is a tense subplot in which Bertie does something sartorially offensive to Jeeves, such as wearing a pink tie or growing a moustache, in an attempt to assert his independence, but at the end he always defers to Jeeves' judgment, if only out of gratitude for his help in getting all the "chumps" out of their sticky situation.
I'm quite looking forward to reading the other Jeeves and Wooster books I nabbed from Project Gutenberg, and I may also have to check out the Jeeves and Wooster TV show, if it's still on Netflix.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
A few weeks ago I had the delightful experience of seeing Gail Carriger at a tea party/book signing at the Brookline Public Library, where I picked up the newest installment of her delightfully madcap steampunk Finishing School series, Waistcoats & Weaponry.

In this one, Sophronia Temminick and a number of her companions plot to escort Sidheag Maccon, Lady Kingair home to her werewolf pack in Scotland, after The Thing happens with Lord Maccon that we had learned about in Alexia’s series, where he goes off to become Alpha of Woolsey. Before this, of course, there is a masquerade ball where, among other ridiculous things, all the household mechanicals go nuts and begin to sing “Rule, Britannia!” and Sophronia gets accidentally secretly engaged to Dimity’s younger brother Pillover.

Over the course of the action-packed adventure to Scotland, in which Sophronia, Sidheag, Dimity, fashionable twit Felix Mersey, and sootie Soap steal a train full of crystalline valve frequensors and their old enemy, vampire drone Monique. They run into diverse problems they must overcome, including low fuel, flywaymen, Dimity’s lamentable lack of cross-dressing savoir-faire, and Felix’s father. In between climbing things, hitting people, and practicing her espionage, Sophronia also has to deal with a lot of tangly difficult mental and emotional issues, such as the obligatory love triangle she’s got herself stuck in with Soap and Felix; whether she wishes to accept Lord Akeldama’s patronage when she finishes; and trying to figure out what the vampires, the Picklemen, the mechanicals, and other interested parties are up to.

My biggest issue with this book is the sad lack of Genevieve Lefoux. No book should fail to have at least a cursory Vieve cameo in it. There had better be some Vieve in Manners & Mutiny.

Carriger seems to get a bit deeper into the numerous shitty social issues of Victorian society with each books, and the results are often kind of awkward, although I think they’re supposed to be awkward. But the fact remains that the stuff that affects the protagonists directly (mostly sexism, although in Alexia’s case there’s also anti-Italian prejudice) is less awkward to read than the stuff that affects other characters and it’s the protagonists who put their foot in it, which happens with some frequency, as the protagonists for both series are straight white gentry ladies. Sophronia’s handling of her obligatory love triangle between Felix and Soap is particularly uncomfortable, because Soap is obviously ten billion times more awesome than Felix, partly because he is a pretty cool dude and partly just because he isn’t Felix.

As usual, the best part about this book is really neither the plot nor the social commentary, but the delightfully absurd language. The worldbuilding is so whimsical it makes Harry Potter look like gritty contemporary realism, and everything has beautifully ridiculous names, both of which reach their epitome in Sophronia’s illegal pet mechanical mini dachshund, Bumbersnoot, who eats coal and occasionally is forced to go undercover as a lacy reticule. Everyone goes around saying things like “I don’t know who you are, but I respect the courage of any man who goes around wearing satin breeches that tight” which I don’t think is an actual thing you were supposed to say in polite Victorian society but who cares. It’s basically complete fluff, but it’s complete fluff with steel-bladed fans and teen girls kicking the asses of pompous adults, which is definitely my favorite kind.

I can’t wait for the fourth one already, especially since I am still very concerned about Professor Braithwope’s mental health.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, despite generally falling super far behind on reading along with Mark Reads, I did manage to finish up Terry Pratchett’s Sourcery only a day or two after the final post went up.

Sourcery is one of the books that I have only read once ever, and therefore have forgotten basically everything about. There are quite a number of these, particularly early in the series. I’d had it mentally filed away as one of the “not very good” ones, comparatively speaking, and for some reason I thought it was a standalone (perhaps I was mashing it up with Eric in my head?), even though it is actually a Rincewind book.

This time around, I think it’s still not going to stick with me as a particular favorite Discworld book, but hopefully I’ll remember that it is good, because it’s worth remembering. Sourcery charts the rise and fall of Coin, a sourcerer—the eighth son of a wizard who was already the eighth son of an eighth son, and so who is himself a source of magic, instead of just someone with the ability to wield it. This is deeply, deeply dangerous, particularly as eight-year-old Coin, armed with his father’s deeply creepy staff, sets out to have wizards conquer the world. This, of course, causes chaos and death and destruction and, as usually happens, opens a path for the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions.

In all this, Rincewind, having run away, partly due to his own cowardice and partly on the urging of the Archchancellor’s Hat, falls in with a couple of weird adventurers and proceeds to have lots of chaotic shenanigans where Rincewind keeps trying to run away and his damn friends keep trying to save the world. Eventually, Rincewind, with the help of the Librarian, who continues to be awesome, manages to figure out what’s really going on with little Coin, and then things get deep and sad as well as chaotic and wacky, because that’s how Terry Pratchett books work.

There are some particularly excellent puns in this one that I am glad to have rediscovered, especially the one about appendectomies, and it’s great to start to see some more continuity and character development across books as the series starts settling into being a series, and with Rincewind’s sub-series specifically.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Ladies and gentlemen, it has finally happened. THE THING WE HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR. Or at least that I have been waiting for. And some of my friends. Anyway, the third Lynburn Legacy book was released this Tuesday! *Kermit arm flail*

Since I am a very busy adult person these days, Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan took me two whole nights of staying up too late on a work night reading and drinking comforting drinks.

Unmade is not all pain and tears, of course. We have the specific strains of signature sass from all of our signature sassmasters, mainly Kami, Jon Glass, Rusty, Jared, and Angela. Holly gets a couple of good one-liners in there too, something that she is very proud of and which melted my cranky little heart. Jon Glass in particular sassed so sasstastically well that I was afraid he was going to get killed off. (And Lillian quoting Jon’s sass without comprehending why it’s funny… I was afraid I was going to get killed off!) At one point, Jon and Rusty sass each other and then the universe collapsed in upon itself. Jon Glass wins the Best Literary Dad award.

I also think I spotted a small shout-out to Mark Oshiro, who is reading Unmade starting quite shortly in October. (I have commissioned the first three chapters already.)

The jokes, of course, are but the lighter half of the experience that is any Sarah Rees Brennan book. A lot of the jokes that Kami tells (and sometimes that other people tell) are basically psychological defenses, refusing to take things seriously either out of insecurity or just because stuff has gotten too serious.

And stuff gets very, very serious indeed. The first two books had some pretty serious stuff in them, with murderous sorcerers taking over the town murdering people, and Kami’s parents’ marriage falling apart, and lots of emotional distress about nasty psychic tetherings, and also The Terribly Gothic Thing That Happens At The End. But this installment definitely turns it up to eleven, as a final installment should, and succeeded in me not being able to guess any plot twists ahead of time (except possibly “oh god, shit’s about to go up to eleven”). This is the bit where it gets hard to write a review because I don’t want to spoiler anybody even the tiniest bit—I just want to rock back and forth and cackle a lot. And so I will. *rocks back and forth* *cackles*

This book, like the rest of the series, continues to be deeply and fabulously informed by both the traditions of Gothic literature and the tradition of intrepid girl reporter/sleuth mysteries, often gleefully subverted. The story is still quite entertaining if you're not familiar with these tropes, but it has added layers of awesomeness if you’re a big enough genre nerd. It also explores a lot of issues of identity, sexuality, family, and fate, way the hell better than 99% of “literary” books about professors having midlife crises or whatever. It’s easy to write it off as fluff since it’s fast-paced and fun and full of ridiculous sarcasm and evil sorcerers, but there’s really quite a lot of depth and Exploring the Human Condition stuff buried in there. What does it mean to have a legacy, and what do you do if that legacy is fucking awful? Where is the line between honoring your cultural heritage and being goofy about it? (I am not the person to ask about this; this weekend I went to IFest Boston and bummed free cheese off of a Kerrygold marketer.) What price is it acceptable to pay to keep your loved ones safe? Serious questions here! Also boob jokes!

Obviously, I recommend the crap out of this book and the whole series to just about everybody.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So the third Lynburn Legacy book came out yesterday. And my book club read the first Lynburn Legacy book about a week ago. So of course it was the perfect time to reread the second one, Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold.

I read Untold when it came out last year and then I listened to Mark Oshiro read it and it is still just as fabulous and fun and heartbreaking the third time around. Jon Glass sassing Lillian Lynburn is right up there with Lady Bracknell saying "A handbag?" in a funny voice and Eliza Doolittle's perfectly enunciated "Not bloody likely!" in instantly classic comedy that will never not be funny (thus continuing in a century-plus long tradition in where there is nobody funnier than an Irish writer writing about British people). Now with more hindsight, there are some moments that take on additional significance than they did the first time around, particularly Lillian Lynburn claiming that she has no intention of ever running away to live in the tavern. Oh, Lillian. You always think your intentions are going to matter. (Intentions: not magic, even for sorcerers.)

If you never hear from me again, I am dead of Lynburns.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been falling dreadfully behind on keeping up with Mark Does Stuff because reasons, but today I was finally able to catch up on his reading of Mort, the fourth Discworld book. Mort is about the time that Death took an apprentice and then hijinks ensued, but I couldn’t remember what the hijinks were.

Mort, short for Mortimer, is a gangly and slightly daydreamy teen boy when he is taken on as Death’s apprentice at a job fair. Contrary to popular opinion, his name is not “boy.” Death seems to mostly want an apprentice so that he can go off into the human world and attempt to learn about human emotions and experiences, like attending parties, drinking strong alcohol, fishing, and finding employment. He is very bad at all of it, except for being a fry cook.

Mort, oddly, is not the only human person living (or residing, at any rate) in Death’s house. There is also Ysabell, Death’s sixteen-year-old daughter who has been sixteen for thirty-five years and is getting a bit sick of it, and a crotchety old dude called Albert whose purpose is apparently to fry things in grease. The only other creature around is Death’s great white horse, Binky.

Death teaches Mort “the duty,” which is to show up at certain person’s death scenes and sever their soul from their body and usher it into whatever afterlife it’s supposed to go to. This mostly goes well except for that one time that Mort was supposed to administer the death of Princess Keli of Sto Lat, but, due to having a bit of a crush on her, he kills her assassin instead, thus changing history and leading to instability in the universe. Mort tries to fix his mistake without having to tell Death about it, which goes about as well as you’d expect.

In this book we expand on a bunch of stuff we’ve seen before, mostly to do with Death, but also the nature and effects of belief on the Discworld, a little history of Unseen University, the lives of nonacademic wizards (well, a nonacademic wizard), some minor history of Sto Lat and its cabbages, other parts of the Discworld including the Agatean Empire, and basically a whimsical grab bag of stuff, none of it too in-depth, as the book is pretty short.

If this book has a theme, it is either that good intentions can cause some really big messes that only the gods themselves can possibly clean up, or that giving humans godlike powers is not a good idea and only anthropomorphic personifications should have them. There might also be an idea in there that even anthropomorphic personifications want their lives to have meaning, and that meaning is to be found in other people. Otherwise, Pratchett’s pun game is as good as ever but his deepness game is not up to where I know it’s going to get.

Also, Princess Keli of Sto Lat is everything a princess should be. Haughty, kinda mean, but very dedicated to doing right by her station and her country.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
After the embarrassing escapade where I wasn’t sure if Snuff existed for a while, I started paying much closer attention to Discworld book releases, and so I was aware of the release of Raising Steam well in advance. However, so were several dozen other people in the Boston metro area, so I had to wait several weeks for the ebook to become available at the library.

My two main thoughts on Raising Steam are one, that it is hilarious and great and I adored it and at one point it almost made me cry, and two, that it is not quite as good as most of the other Discworld books and it’s really sad to see that Terry Pratchett does appear to be losing some of his touch. I mean, Terry Pratchett at his most mediocre is still funnier than most other people at their funniest. But I was still unreasonably disappointed that they didn’t come up with any wacky Discworldian name for a railway, and just called it the railway—sure, there were cute names for the individual engines and stations and lines, but remember when they invented rock’n’roll and called it “Music With Rocks In”? That was awesome.

Anyway, Raising Steam follows pretty much immediately after the events of Snuff, and the events that aren’t directly to do with the railway are mostly sequelae to the more recent Vimes books—mainly Snuff and Thud!—and yet, Raising Steam would more properly be set in the Moist von Lipwig subseries. This is a bit confusing at Moist is not actually the man behind the railway.

The man behind the railway is Dick Simnel, a blacksmith’s son from Sto Lat who somehow manages to invent mechanical engineering properly and builds a steam engine. He takes it to Ankh-Morpork, which is, after all, where stuff happens, and presents it to Harry King, the sewage tycoon. Moist gets involved when a stern Vetinari tells him to make sure this locomotive business isn’t going to be bad for the city, which Moist manages to do by making the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, of which he is the head, a ten-percent owner in the company, thus solidifying Moist as a not completely random choice of protagonist.

The plot mostly involves a bunch of dwarf religious extremists, known colloquially as “the grags” even though a “grag” is a particular type of religious official and not all the grags are extremists, who are still annoyed about the Koom Valley Accord where they stopped fighting the trolls, and are deeply committed to returning to a sort of fundamentalist dwarfdom where they don’t interact with anybody else and they shun all inventions that other people have come up with as being intrusive abominations. The first big target of this is the clacks towers, the Discworld version of the telegram, but soon their wrath is turned to the locomotive, especially since Lord Vetinari now seems very keen on using the locomotive to connect Ankh-Morpork and Uberwald. There was also an odd subplot about the Low King and gender that I wanted to like but didn’t really, because we’ve done dwarves and gender already and it also popped up kind of weirdly late in the book.

There is still a great deal of delightful Discworldian absurdity and punning (and footnotes), featuring place-names such as the Effing Forest and Downsized Abbey and The Netherglades. I feel that Discworld might be tipping ever so into that self-referential sort of point where the humor gets dependent upon previous stuff in the series—like, my first Discworld book was The Truth, which is late enough in the series that I was fairly confused not having any prior knowledge, but funny enough to keep reading anyway, but here I think someone who hadn’t read all the other books would just be utterly lost and not entertained at all. As someone who has read all the other Discworld, I don’t mind so much, because it really is good to see characters like Otto Chriek and Sacharissa Crispslock randomly showing up a lot, and it’s definitely worth it to have Vimes and Moist both featuring fairly largely in the same book and having to interact with each other more than just in passing.

The end of the book was a lot tamer than I’m used to from Discworld; I was pretty sure things from the Dungeon Dimensions were going to show up at the end since that’s a common recurring theme in the A Powerful Thing Gets Invented On Discworld formula (sadly, it is a bit of a formula by now), but they didn’t, there was just cleverness and dwarf politicking.

I do love seeing Discworld getting increasingly steampunky, even as I’m not a huge fan of it getting more serious. I also think the later books could stand getting edited somewhat more tightly, but this is a complaint that seems to be inevitable when any author gets successful, the editors start getting all wary of messing with the golden goose and possibly pissing them off, so the books get not just longer but also more full of rambly extraneous stuff. I often like extraneous stuff, but sometimes it really is just… extraneous. In this case, I think the same footnote occurred more than once, but not in a way where the repetition was the joke; that sort of thing.

Anyway, it is what it is, and what it is is still a highly entertaining Discworld book, which is pretty much what I wanted, so I’m pretty happy.

 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Gail Carriger seems to have received my complaint that I have to wait until November for more wacky steampunk books, and recently blessed the Internet with a short story, a prequel to the Parasol Protectorate books called The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t, the Mummy that Was, and the Cat in the Jar. It is about Alexia’s father, Alessandro Tarabotti.

We knew going into this that Mr. Tarabotti (a) has no soul, (b) used to work for the Templars, and (c) was not what most people would generally consider a nice man. This all turns out to be quite true. Mr. Tarabotti is about as judgy as the Dowager Countess Grantham, although with a much greater propensity to engage in fisticuffs. He is very at ease shooting archaeologists, setting priceless historical artifacts on fire, and causing dirigible crashes that kill off the younger brothers of college boyfriends. All in all, he is a fairly detestable person, but he is still quite a fun character, in that way that “the smart asshole in a room full of dumb assholes” is always a fun character when done properly. Mr. Tarabotti is done very properly.

Floote shows up in this story, as does Alexia’s mother Letitia, although she neither says nor does anything much. We also get some intriguing hints about further mysteries of this fictional universe. (I would like a short story about the cat-embalming aunt, particularly.)
All in all it was quite a good read and an excellent way to spend 99 cents. Now, back to your regularly scheduled whining about how long I have to wait for the third Finishing School book.

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