18 January 2007

Book Depository

I'm aware I've been banging on about routine personal stuff rather a lot here recently, as if this were some ghastly tabloid LiveJournal rather than the altogether better class of broadsheet blogging one's accustomed to finding on Blogspot. As a sort of mini-resolution, I've decided that during 2007 (and ideally beyond) I shall try to record every book I read here at Peculiar Times, and write at least two sentences about each one.

The reason for this is partly the hope that it'll be interesting, partly to keep up the critical writing which is one of the reasons I maintain this blog, but mostly because -- now my memory's passed the halfway point in its deterioration towards senescence -- I find I'm having real trouble remembering what I've actually read.

So, the following are the books I've finished so far this year. Some of them, of course, were begun last year.

The Star Fraction by Ken Macleod. This one was a reread -- it was this book and its sequels which first convinced me that I had to make reading every book Macleod published a high priority for the rest of my life. It's almost embarrassing, in retrospect, how much of an influence on Of the City of the Saved... this was -- the chief difference being that I have none of Macleod's expertise in political theory, so had to write about entirely fictional politics instead. It's still excellent stuff, although there are traces of the awkwardness and completism which afflicts many first novels.

King Rat by China Miéville. This one's more obviously a first novel: evidently Miéville hit his stride with Perdido Street Station (another novel which has a scary amount in common with OtCotS, but which I fortunately hadn't read until well after it came out). King Rat takes place in contemporary London, which allows it to indulge an interest in real-world urban musical styles, but as a setting is surprisingly thin: it's clear that the author is already straining after his own vivid world. The quality of Miéville's reinterpretation of real-world myth and folklore is variable: his take on the Pied Piper is excellent, but his Anansi pales compared with Neil Gaiman's.

About Time 2 by Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood. This is the latest instalment of Lawrence and Tat's ongoing and epic attempt to place the various eras of twentieth-century TV Doctor Who in its cultural context -- expected to run (after the publication of the next and final volume, About Time 6) to a million words, of which this must constitute at least 175,000. As I mentioned on Parrinium Mines, this volume suffers from documenting the relatively dull repetitiveness of the Troughton era (rather than, say, the freeform experimentation of the Hartnell stuff), as well as the authors' inability to keep their verbiage under control. It's still one of the most entertaining books ever written about Doctor Who, though (and believe me, there's a wide field for comparison).

The Truth Is Out There: Christian Faith and the Classics of TV Science Fiction by Thomas Bertonneau and Kim Paffenroth. This was a weird one, a birthday present from the vicar and family. It's a combination of criticism and theology, but unlike most such studies (well, most that deserve the term "studies", anyway) it's heavily weighted towards the theology end of things. This means that the criticism's rather facile, but there's an awful lot of background concerning things like pre-christian sacrificial cults and the authorship of Revelation.

Nonetheless, the actual conclusions the authors come to are often interesting, if frequently batty. The idea that Doctor Who is about the superseding of sacrificial kingship relies on a very selective reading, and ignores a great many stories which might have been useful to the argument, as well as some which might well have blown it out of the water. There's some confusion about the understanding of the term "science fiction", with the analysis of the cross-genre anthology show The Twilight Zone relying mostly on the episodes where characters make Faustian bargains firmly in the tradition of theological fantasy. Some aspects of the authors' research have been sketchy at best, and there are some bizarre factual errors. (Jon Pertwee's name accumulating an extra "h" is common and understandable, though irritating -- but when exactly did Babylon 5's Mr Morden acquire the first name "Ethan"?)

The fact that it treats Star Trek with moral seriousness gives away the fact that The Truth Is Out There is an American book. Perhaps because of this I found both it surprisingly conservative both in politics and theology -- there is, for instance, a startlingly vehement rant about how television in general is eroding the nation's morals, the six series under advisement being honorable exceptions. More disturbingly still, it seems to assume an even more conservative readership, who need much convincing of the few non-traditional assumptions the authors make. It's a fascinating perspective on TV SF, and I'm glad to have read it, but it's phenomenally wrong on a quite startling number of levels.

Shortly before Christmas I finished Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by anthropologist Kate Fox. I'm not going to go on about it at length, because I've said far more than two sentences about all of the above, especially that last one. Suffice to say that it's brilliant, clever and funny, and that if you're English you need to read it in order to understand yourself. (If you're not English, you still need to read it, in order to understand any English people you might happen to meet.)

Currently I'm reading the second volume of the Prisoner scriptbook; and Erasing Sherlock by Kelly Hale -- the fifth, final and, on its showing so far, very possibly the best of Mad Norwegian Press's Faction Paradox novels.

Finally, it's been ages since I updated my reading list.

Books in bold have been added since the last time. Stuff in square brackets has been reluctantly designated less urgent, which means I'll probably not get around to reading it unless I find myself in bed with spinal injuries for a year or so. Two rather unappealing Doctor Who tie-ins have fallen off the list altogether.

Non-Fiction:Fiction:Goodness -- that is rather a lot of books. I'd better get cracking.

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