Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Some retroblogged posts

I often want to date my post the date that I had the experience/thought/whatever, but I don't actually get around to making the post until later. Sometimes much later...

Recent new-old posts that you might have not seen because even RSS feeds don't pick 'em up:

Thank you class of 2020

Musée de Cluny

Poesy the Monster Slayer


Yes, I'm wildly abusing the format but since the main reader of this blog is me it's ... fine. Self-indulgent public posting is the name of the modern game and I'm doing it in my own way. I also have books, so many books, to write about --- with posts in various states of drafting and editing --- probably about one or two a week. For the past two years at least. Are they posted? Mostly not. Will they ever be? It depends on how much dopamine I dispense to myself for finally pushing that "publish" button.

And of course more books are arriving regularly here... I have not ordered any new books in more than a month, but the mail delays, backorders, and long-ago pre-orders mean that I have easily a full year's worth of reading already in headed my way, plus a house full of books that deserve first- and nth-readings.

extremely relatable content by Tom Gauld

This post's theme word is silvicolous (adj), "living or growing in the woods." Silvicolous libraries could be locally-sourced!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It

K. J. Parker's How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It is the sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and begins approximately 10 seconds after the previous book ends.

Ok, maybe more like seven years? But we get enough flashbacks with our shiny, new unreliable narrator, that it is possible for the reader to piece together the continuous storyline of what has happened in the empire --- now reduced to a single walled city --- since the first book.

This book's narrator is an actor/playwright who, in the opening chapter, pitches a play wherein a nobody gets poached off the street by "the lord high chamberlain and the grand vizier. In disguise, of course. ...And they point out that the man bears an uncanny resemblance to the king. ... And it turns out that the king's been abducted by traitors in the pay of the enemy, who want to start a war, so we need you to pretend to be him" (p. 1-2). This is an incredibly bold move! -- to open a book with a Chekov's screenplay so heavily foreshadowing that it seemed like I might require the attention of a head trauma specialist. The snide narrator, of course, does this all with a wink-to-camera so big that he probably required an optometrist visit afterwards, all while waving and dancing and screaming "I am an unreliable narrator!" What a way to start a novel, ending chapter 1 with a sneering summary of plot points to make a story marketable:

Virtue triumphant, evil utterly vanquished, a positive, uplifting message, a gutsy, kick-ass female lead and, if at all possible, unicorns. I have to confess I'm no scholar, so for all I know there may be unicorns, in Permia or somewhere lie that, so maybe one component of that list does actually exist in real life. Wouldn't like to  bet the rent on it, though. (p 3)

I found this fun and absolutely in the style of the previous book, except that for some reason I liked this unreliable narrator more than that one. Maybe it was the incredible boldness of starting with such an obvious completely-unhidden augury that I actually wondered if all those things would come true, and which would be subverted, by the end --- would there be a unicorn? Maybe as a metaphor? Maybe as a prop?

The house was easy to recognize, because some clown with an unfortunate money-to-taste ratio had thought twin gateposts in the form of winged horses was a good idea. (p 32)

I liked this hint of unicorn-y-ness and the phrase "unfortunate money-to-taste ratio".

There was a ring of authenticity in the actor-narrator's reflection "I'm being him, which I can do as easily as I am me --- which isn't exactly easy in any realistic sense of the word. Because being me has never been easy. and on balance I'd far rather be anybody else but me." (p 51)

And there was an aching bruised feeling to the summary "I looked for just such a plan. Maybe I didn't look hard enough, or maybe it's top secret. Or maybe --- It slowly dawned on me that it's possible for the wise men who run your life for you to see disaster coming and  not have a plan for dealing with it; because they know what needs to be done but there are vested interests in the way, or they can't figure out the politics, or they think it'll be horrendously unpopular, or it'll cost too much money, a commodity you can't take with you..." (p 77)

Overall I liked this book better than the previous one, although the two narrator characters were basically identical in attitude and tone. I enjoyed that book 2 started by immediately disavowing the entirety of book 1 and even calling into question whether the narrator in book 1 even existed. My main negative about this book was that it tried to have so many twists that it twisted itself up, and the solution that was obvious from early in the book --- that one solution that would completely resolve all the plot conflicts --- was just ignored in favor of weird oblique strategies-with-a-twist!, as if this were some sort of Oceans-Eleven-style caper. It's not. So the final book resolution was the thing that had seemed obvious from the start, and I did not believe that the smart characters were surprised, because even I, with the limited information made available by the unreliable and manipulative narrator, was able to anticipate the conclusion.

It was diverting, and the cover art is great! Weirdly, book 1's cover is velvety but book 2's cover is crisp, even though I got matching editions.

This post's theme word is annelidous (adj), "of or relating to worms." There is an annelidous sequence of undermining, counter-undermining, contra-counter-undermining, and Bitter-Butter-Battle-style tunneling in this book about a besieged walled city.