Review (Discworld): Witches Abroad

Witches #3 is a very interesting instalment on reread. I didn’t actually remember a whole tonne from when I first read it but I remember not being that enthralled because there was so much focus on OLD Granny Weatherwax, instead of the YOUNG relatable Magrat (I must have been pretty young oh dear).

What I’ve noticed rereading is I think this the real beginning of more bad-ass Discworld stories. Reaper Man had a little bit of this style but Witches Abroad is much more of a coherent fantasy action story, with a proper quest, villain and even somewhat serious twists.

There is still a rambling element of random adventures which is sort of relegated to the 1st act while the Witches make their way ‘abroad’ where Pratchett riffs on some cultural oddities before subverting fairy tales – the main theme being what if witches were the good guys in fairy tales?

Most of Pratchett’s characters are the best, but I feel like Granny Weatherwax is by far the most complex and dynamic. Even by book 3 I feel like she is still somewhat developing (and there are only 3 more books to go!) I can’t quite decide whether Vimes or Weatherwax are the most author insert of Sir Pratchett (or is it Rincewind LOL)

Review: Reaper Man (Discworld)

#discworld
This is kinda what I imagined new Death would look like (I know that technically he’s made of smoke)

Continuing my Discworld journey – Reaper man is an interesting one. As #2 of the Death series its of course going to rate highly – but there is something odd about this edition which probably detracts from it a little.

The basic premise is that Death finds himself given a ‘life’ and told his replacement will arrive soon. With little to no explanation Death decides to settle down on a local farm and adopt the life of one ‘Bill Door’.

Every single scene with Death in it is brilliant and perfect and everything you want from Sir Terry, from Death’s struggle to relate to life both humorously and philosophically to the strange connection between Death and a small child who can tell he’s a skeleton, and the final confrontation and struggle with the New Death.

So what’s the problem?

The weird thing with Reaper Man is the majority of the book is a wizard subplot. Death barely takes up any pages, and most of the book focusses on Windle Poons a recently undead and ancient wizard as him and his colleagues join with a small gaggle of typical undeads and fight against the effects of the build-up of excess ‘life’. The subplot is funny enough but is mostly silly narration – aside from a few really good gags (conversations with a medium) it mostly felt like distraction from the really good stuff.

Of course Reaper Man is all important in the series for introducing the seminal and significant ‘Death-of-[spoiler]’ so will always hold a special place for me!

Sleepy September (2022) Update

Yeesh anyone else exhausted at the moment?

In my defence there’s been a few things on lately, NZ has recently scrapped almost all of our covid response plan, which is a good thing (it’s because of dropping case numbers) but its a big change in our wee nation and kinda weird to not have to whip on a mask every few moments.

I’ve also had to do some on-call stuff for work which I’ve been lucky enough to get away from this year, but it tend to put a dampener on the writing hobbies!

But enough about me – what about the world?

Sir Terry Pratchett’s biography is coming out shortly I don’t know whether I want to continue my read through of the Discworld series first and then read it, or read the biography as soon as possible :D. Normally I’d prefer to read the works then the biography but given how many Discworld novels there are (I’m up to 12/45) reading all of those is probably going to be another couple of years away!

Jenna Moreci is about to publish a ‘On Writing’ book and I’m pretty excited I haven’t read a book on the craft for a while and Jenna is really funny and smart so should be a good time!

Finally this month a twitter friend of mine published their YA book:

I’m proud to be ‘Moots’ with Dylan but unfortunately can’t claim much more prestige than that! Hopefully when Dylan hits the best-seller lists they don’t unfollow me 😀

My Goodreads Review

I’ve been saving a few reddit type posts but plan on saving those for next weeks Weekly Writing Review, the last few hours of this weekend are ear-marked for cups of Earl Gray and chocolate (separately)

Hope all are taking care.

Review: Moving Pictures

Wow its actually been 3 months since my last Discworld read (At this rate I’ll be done in about 10 years!).

Moving Pictures is one the standalone Discworld novels, although has a fair few familiar Ankh Morpork characters, I and I think, unless I’ve got this wrong introduces a couple of recurring wizards who remain in place for the rest of the series (Ridickully or however you spell it and Ponder Stibbons).

MP is possibly one of Pratchett’s more pointed satires where he more squarely takes aim at Hollywood – God only knows what this book would be like in modern times but I suspect there would be a lot more skewering going on, although something to always keep in mind is that Pratchett was masterful at satire without actually targeting anyone hurtfully so he would have found a way to make us laugh.

Sorry onto the actual book, not my weird daydreams. MP is also a little different from other Discworlds its a bit more traditional in plot structure with a straight MC, inciting incidents and epic battles towards the end. It also introduces the best character ever: Gaspode! I can’t believe I forgot about him until rereading!

Overall MP feels like the beginning of the more familiar Discworld novels, packed with crazy subplots, multiple characters and unexpected turns of Discworldly magic. While its not my favourite story its a fun romp.

Reaper Man is next, another one that I can’t remember much of which is actually a bonus on this journey!

Review: Piranesi

How many times can I misspell a book title within one review?

First up, I luuuurve Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but I will say Paranesi is quite a different work. First obvious thing is Paranesi is quite a bit shorter, and reads closer to a novella or short story than a tome.

Explaining the story for a review is a little difficult! We follow Paranesi, a foggy narrator living in a mysterious world of birds, statues and ever changing tides. As the story progresses we gradually learn more about the world, and eventually start to get hints about the ‘real world’ and what is really going on.

I confess at first I worried the story might be too complex or subtle for me, as there are many mystery messages and interesting allusions, but even though the book begins with a lot of questions and still has some intrigue by the end, its not a chore to follow.

Paranesi is definitely an acquired taste, I actually thought the closest influence was HP Lovecraft, the book is highly original and recommended for those who want something a bit different.

SPOILER FILLED ANALYSIS

While shrouded for much of the book it’s later revealed that Piranesi is a journalist/writer who had been investigating a small group of occultists who believed they could travel between worlds. In part of his investigation ‘Piranesi’ is tricked into entering this other world full of statues and is gaslit and manipulated by ‘the other’ to basically run errands in this other place.

By the end of the tale Piranesi doesn’t fully recover his old persona and doesn’t fully want to leave the Other World. It’s never quite explained what that other world is, however its revealed that the statues are all of real people, suggesting the world was perhaps a collective subconscious, shared dream, or oddly when I first started reading the book I thought it might be the very beginning or very end of the universe.

I haven’t Googled the deeper meanings or rather when I did I saw a lot of metaphoric analysis which is going to be awesome to enjoy. I won’t try and summarize it all here as I feel its a bit beyond me – but indeed, very much enjoyed.

Weekly Writing Round-up

This week NZ has been cold AF – but hope people everywhere around the world are taking care:

I assume they mean of the book

Fairly quiet this week, but a few topics of interest:

LINK

The above post about evil authors. I think I’ve discussed this on the blog before but its always a topic worth updating. Generally speaking I don’t research authors much, and most of the time I’m probably going to be oblivious to personal controversy. If I do become aware of something for me the main judgement is just how bad is it – would addressing it in a review suffice or am I literally supporting a Nazi if I buy the book?

The linked post is more about support through purchase but the other common question is whether is OK to simply like or enjoy a book from an evil author. My stance on this is that artwork can be separated from artist. Probably the worst offender in my liked works is I LOVE HP Lovecraft’s works but MY GOSH the man was despicably racist.

Aren’t Writers Group a Contradiction

This is a familiar topic and one that I always feel the need to comment on. OP asks aren’t writer’s groups going to be a hot-bed of plagiarism??

To be fair I think in 2022 where online writing is much more prolific and Fanfiction (IMHO) has grown from a cringey niche to a valid and widely enjoyed genre, the internet is a risky place for copying especially in freely posted and shared forums. The most embarrassing scenario (wish I saved the link) was a poster saying they’d been outright plagiarized and it looked like they even had proof…

Until it became apparent they’d posted their word on Wattpad and well within Terms of Service another website had posted their work fully accredited to the original author.

Back to the original post, typically people are going to groups to get their ego’s stroked for their own ideas not steal others, and I think most writers at this point know that ideas are not the valuable part of stories, nonetheless the fear persists.

Does Flowery Prose Make Better Writing

Last one from Reddit, always asking the real questions. Flowery Prose is a funny one because most advice givers will suggest not to go there, but this is usually in the interests of getting a newbie author’s book over the line with an agent and publisher and erring on the side of plain-speak prose.

Flowery prose is I guess also inherently more risky in the same way elaborate gymnastic routines are – there is the potential for more points, but also more points to mess up.

Fight Scene Tropes

Over on youtube we have Jenna Moreci with a really funny takedown of Fight Scene Tropes. Jenna is a published author with a tonne of writing resources which are both hilarious and educative. I totally agreed with #1 which (spoiler alert) is Heroes deciding that not killing the villain is ‘good’ – just don’t worry about the 6,000 henchmen who where slaughtered on the way. It’s about the Journey.

This Letter from Tolkien on LitHub

Turns out we’ve been saying his name wrong its Toll-Kien. But also of interest talking about inspirations for Middle-Earth and his quote “there is no invention in the void”

Apparently Medium is ‘Over’

I don’t really keep up enough to have much of an opinion, I usually read the odd article on Medium and apparently its various changes over the years have kept professional content creators up a night. To be Honest its a shame to see the internet continue its trend towards the ‘Big’ Social Medias but I’m not really sure what is/could be done.

That’s my round up for this week.

Any topics you want me to blog about?

Any book/movie/show/doco recommendations?

Kia Ora

Review: The Grapes of Wrath

Possible as far from Ayn Rand as I could get

So continuing my trend towards classics my next victim was The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

Set in the US during the Great Depression Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family as they leave the farm that’s just been pulled from under them, and try to find work in California.

There’s an interesting narrative twist to this book which I haven’t really seen before, each chapter has a kind of interlude where Steinbeck riffs on the state of the country and general happenings without focussing on any main characters. I actually sometimes enjoyed these poetic and powerful interludes more than the MC’s story! This style created a strong sense of what was happening broadly while also creating an impeding sense of dread – in many respects the ‘Villain’ of this story is poverty and politics and misfortune.

As to the characters story its very much a challenging tale about the trials of sudden poverty, culture shock from travelling between state lines and the quickly changing pace of the world during this pivotal. Characters don’t so much go through arcs but rather represent different ways the situation effects them.

The prose is painfully detailed, but which I mean its not bad – but Steinbeck’s writing creates a vivid impression of what is happening, and while the pacing is slow because of it I always felt like I was ‘in’ this story.

One caution for this book is that not having a traditional structure don’t expect a happy or unhappy ending, as a story it very much ‘is what it is’

While I don’t want to “spoil” (A 50+ year old book) the very ending is quite, um, different. I haven’t Googled what it means but if you are keen for something a little different then Grapes of Wrath’s final words are that!

SPOILERS (I’ve Googled it now)

For those wondering what I’m talking about in the final sequence the Joad family are in a desperate situation trying to support a birth all while their makeshift camp is flooding. The baby is born stillbirth, and the family decide to flee the flood. They made their way to an empty barn in a random field, and find an old man and his son. The old man is borderline dead from starvation, and after the Joad family settled in the recently given birth mother provides some breastmilk for the starving old man.

And the book ends.

While it was very surprising I guess a which research shows its not that hard to interpret. Steinbeck himself said it was the ‘final nail’ in describing how bad the Dustbowl/Depression was. The act represents the extremity of desperation for people during that time.

There is however also a tiny (strange) flair of hope in the action, that people are willing to go so far to help others, bearing in mind the starving man was literally just met moments ago. The story is littered with examples of people in need helping people in need.

Just an aside it’s interesting that the book presents young Tom Joad as the main character, when introduced he’s returning from prison for killing a man in self-defence. A common tension in the story is that being on parole he shouldn’t be crossing state-lines and as the story becomes more tense he finds himself again on the wrong side of the law after assaulting a police officer again in a form of self-defence. We last see Tom as his Ma gives him some food and money as he hides out in the wilderness. We aren’t told the effects of the flood on him, whether he ever gets caught by the police or what.

Really ‘Ma’ the matriarch is the MC of the story, as she pulls together the family and is involved in all the other characters struggles, Tom takes a backseat through most of the story although is ever present as Ma’s favourite. Even though his character’s fate is unknown, his belief system is explicit that he will take up the cause of worker’s rights wherever it takes him.

Phew – heavy read.

Review and (Spoiler-filled) Over-analysis: The Lamplighters

Come for the review – stay for the over-analysis

Okay first up – I always enjoy myself stories abut Lighthouses, and clearly I can’t be the only one. Secondly Stonex is a very cool surname!

As to the book – I must confess I’ve been mostly nostalgia reading fiction lately so I’m probably a bit positively biased to pick up a more recent book. The story of Lamplighters is divided up between 1972 when the three men disappeared and 1992 when a curious author investigates the event, largely told by the three wives left behind.

The narrative I would describe as a little strange, the perspective of the three women tends towards ‘stream of consciousness’ where we get a mix of history, opinion and perception drip-fed to us the reader to generate the mystery. In these moments there isn’t a lot of grounding prose, dialogue is rarely captioned, and descriptions are heavily in the POV of the character.

When back in 1972 we get 1st person POV from one of the men and we tend to get more visceral ‘lighthouse’ type imagery and experience. The overall experience is quite odd, sometimes disorientating but useful to keeping the mystery alive.

Obviously the main plot thread is the question of what happened to the 3 men, but Stonex does a good job exploring the many inner workings of the character’s lives – diving into themes about family, the past, guilt and truth. So on the one hand while I said the story’s main plot was obvious it actually kinda isn’t, in many ways this book as about everything except the exact reason the men disappeared.

While there are a couple of nail-biting and tense moments, I would say overall the story is more of a character study than a thriller, I see some other reviewers deducted points for this not being a more classic story structure.

Really I only have one beef with this story, and that is at times between the 6 characters across 2 times periods perspectives, it was sometimes hard to retain who was who and how all the characters interlinked. I think part of this was intentional to create a bit of a sense of being adrift, but in my opinion just a few clearer markers for each character could have been ideal – also it was almost impossible to keep track of minor characters properly as they’d often just be mentioned in passing and kinda up to the reader to be aware of their significance (or not).

Overall – happy with this one! Read on if you don’t mind spoilers and want a bit of over-analysis

SPOILER TERRITORY

Summary

So I won’t probably capture the whole book here, but just a quick summary to set the scene.

The story begins with a brief segment introducing the Main Character: The Maiden Lighthouse – a ‘tower’ lighthouse, one of those ones that literally sticks out of the rocks, with little more than a ‘donut’ railing around the base, no separate cabins, or storage, the keepers have to sleep on bent bunk-beds.

Sorry, as to human characters we are introduced briefly to Vincent, Bill, and Arthur the 3 lighthouse keeper who we are told mysteriously disappeared that year details unknown.

Fast-forward to 1992 (8 years ago right??) and we are introduced to the wives of the men, Helen, Jenny, and Michelle. (as mentioned in the review at times its hard to keep track of the matches and mismatches so if I get something wrong please forgive). The Women’s stories are kickstarted by the appearance of “Dan Sharp” an author who wants to investigate the disappearance and write a story about it.

While the obvious plot thread would be information about the disappearance the actual story here is about the past, and the characters responses and ways of dealing with past loss and trauma. As the story progresses we learn that Helen and Arthur lost a son at sea, Arthur filled with guilt and depression buries himself in his work and the Lighthouse. Bill’s mother died in childbirth and his father blamed and abused him for it, Bill’s perspective appears to be one of delusion and cynicism and he has an ‘affair’ of sorts with Helen. Vincent’s mother was an addict and he grew up on the wrong side of the law, prior to working at the Lighthouse he engaged in some particularly disturbing animal cruelty to punish a rival, and after leaving prison is both on the run from his own guilt and potential retaliation.

For the most part the women’s stories are about the impact of the loss of their husbands, but also their reactions to the above events.

From a literally perspective its an interesting juxtaposition of gender, having a thread about 3 men and another thread about 3 women – I don’t think its meant to be that explicit but there is a sense of contrast, the men in the story retreat into isolation and fall apart (more on that later) while the women attempt to move on with their lives.

In terms of the main mystery there are a number of red herrings, the official line is that Vincent a criminal must have killed the others, however we also have a mysterious visitor that may have been associated with Vincent’s rival, penultimately we are told that driven mad by grief Arthur killed the men and himself. The final reveal is in fact Bill did the deed, after half-heartedly not-rescuing Vince from accidently falling into the sea, Bill decides its OK to continue on this path and clubs Arthur, in Bill’s deluded mind still entertaining a life with Helen. Unfortunately for his plans Bill is (possibly) killed by the ghost of Arthur’s child.

However the final scene of the story which sees Dan Sharp’s manuscript thrown to the wind tells us that the mystery of the men’s disappearance its the relevant ending, its the resolution of trauma that we see the characters go through.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the story is we learn the author uses a pen name and their real identity is relevant. It turns out he is the son of the main boatman for the Lighthouse a minor character named Jory who barely features in the story. It’s a bit of a letdown because it doesn’t really add too much to the tale other than to just pummel the theme of past trauma.

Through the Women’s stories we find out about their own responses to the past of the men, but also how they’ve coped with the loss. Helen tells us that she didn’t really have an affair with Bill, other than a stray kiss but then she struggled to distance herself while he kept pursuing the affair. Jenny was very aware of the whole thing and suffering terribly poisoned some chocolates that she sent with Bill – unfortunately Vince ate the chocolates resulting in an illness that may have contributed to him falling into the sea. Michelle lives a complicated life, having remarried but still considers Vince the love of her life, and also fears losing the financial support of the company if she speaks up against their assessment that Vince likely killed the others.

The women are estranged from each other at the beginning of the book, but as they tell their stories they finally reconcile. All struggling with the past they each must get to a place where they tell the truth and accept their losses to do this.

In my opinion the story speaks to the effects of loss and trauma, how you can isolate and bury the past, or be open and reconnect. The men and the Lighthouse represent problematic ways of dealing with a dark past. Vincent tries to evade his history and it catches up with him, Bill is so deluded in his perspective he thinks he can murder his friend and be with his wife. Arthur is so torn up with guilt and grief he literally deteriorates mentally and physically.

The Women on the other hand, attempt to overcome their past through telling the truth and connecting with people. While not perfect, Jenny for example attempts to poison Bill rather than confronting him and ends up hurting Vince (a comment on spreading pain in revenge) she confesses all to her daughter who is both understanding and forgiving.

The destruction of Dan Sharp’s manuscript, after he allows Helen to decide the ending – its a slightly cheesy “it’s not about the ending but about the journey” type statement, but its a deeper comment on not necessarily being empowered to fabricate your own through, but to take hold of one’s own story and the relevance thereof. In some respects saying the important part was not how the men disappeared but that they did and what the women did after.

While some might have been disappointed that this story didn’t have a thrilling conclusion its an intriguing end nonetheless.

Has anyone else read the book? Would be intrigued to hear your take on it…

Review (Non-Fiction): This is Going to Hurt

Didn’t hurt me at all!

This is Going to Hurt is basically a serialized book of Dr Adam Kay’s experience as a Junior Doctor working for the NHS. The emphasis is on laughs, and there’s no doubt of Kay’s comedy chops / ability to awkwardly destroy the sanctity of a Doctor Consult.

Dark humour is a central theme of the book, both between Kay’s struggles of being overworked and the various difficult and at times mortal moments of his patients. I’m not a doctor but as a Psychologist who has also worked on-call hours in a social service I completely understand the struggles of ethical obligation while lack of sleep and an oddly careless system grind you down.

The writing style of This is Going to Hurt is very more-ish and easy to read despite the weight of some of the topics. Since this was published in 2017 and refers to the decade early its set long before Covid-19 hits and one can’t help but wonder about what the experience of Doctors nowadays is.

Review (Non-Fiction): The Dictator’s Handbook

How am I not a Dictator yet??

So continuing my journey to become a cult-leader and/or dictator I stumbled across this handbook while picking up some other pieces and gave a look – pretty happy that I did so, while I am not in fact an autocratic tyrant yet due to some pesky morals (or perhaps just opportunity) its actually a pretty dense educational book on the topic of politics and well worth a read.

I’m actually going to get my only criticism out of the way first – its more of a drawback type complaint, but the amount of detail and knowledge in this book is encyclopaedic, like right from page one there is thorough information on everypoint, and throughout the book often many examples to back up each point. From an academic point of view obviously this is very good, but I did just feel at times overwhelmed with facts and details that my poor working memory could not maintain (maybe that’s why I’m not a dictator yet).

Depending on your reading preferences that above point might not even be a criticism! I just think its worth noting that this probably isn’t a fun/light-hearted personal touch type work on non-fiction, despite the funny title its pretty serious and precise.

Onto the actual material, the title is possibly a little misleading as the book isn’t so much about how powerful unethical politics is, it’s more of an overall examination of political power, corruption, and how it all interacts. For example there is just as much analysis of democracies as dictatorships, and even a brief dive into Public Companies which was an unexpected but very useful tangent!

The chapters of the Handbook are fairly intuitive for the subject – covering how people gain power, maintain power, lose it, the effects of warfare, foreign aid and capping the whole thing with some ideas for improvement.

Probably my favourite insights were some unusual factoids:

  • The more autocratic/unequal in power a country is the straighter the roads tend to be between the capital and the airport, and/or other centres that the leader travels. (this is because dictators would put resources towards roads that help themselves and are more likely to force individuals to move. Democracies have winding roads!)
  • Many of history’s revolutions have succeed because the leadership ran out of money to pay their army, so the army didn’t bother to defend them (or did the revolution themselves)
  • Dictators often encourage corruption through underfunding and then use threats of exposure to control institutions (e.g. police force) this allows ‘cheap’ services and a mechanism of control.
  • CEOs are likely overpaid due to their interconnections and power dynamic with the boards they are supposed to be accountable to (e.g. CEOs often select board–members or manage changes, and/or have external connections – plus there is often little incentive for a board to ethically set the CEO wages as there is no direct benefit to them)

All in all this book was super interesting in terms of understanding politics from a more global perspective, I appreciated the author’s neutral tone and well explained and documented information, they even addressed the challenge of not being about to do randomized control trials in politics!

While the depth of detail did make the reading a little slow and at times overwhelming it was a vital read!