Social Justice Atheist Geekery

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher at BEA 2016.

A great read – MRK takes her strength at character and relationships and applies it well to World War I. Where before she has used her Glamourist Histories to tell various types of plots (including a heist novel featuring Lord Byron), now she tackles the wartime spy thriller. It’s a fast-paced, exciting story, and I appreciated that she took time to address PTSD (“shell shock” in this context) and its consequences for mediums channeling the spirits of hundreds or thousands of soldiers who have just died traumatically.

The elements of spycraft and codes/code-breaking reminded me of Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, scaled back to 1916 instead of the 1940s.

The use of ghosts for communication and spycraft at times was reminiscent of Timothy Zahn’s Conquerors’ Saga, one of my favorite series. That might not be as widely known as Cryptonomicon, but I liked it. 🙂

Links post for 2016-06-06 to 2016-06-12

Mike Reads Wheel Of Time: The Great Hunt

The Text:
I remember liking this book more when I read it the first time in high school. Wheel of Time was the second epic fantasy series I’d read (after Lord of the Rings), and I’m starting to wonder if the series’s popularity is due to many fans not yet having read widely and experiencing better fiction.

There are some cool ideas (portal stones, the Ways, the repeating cycle of history and reincarnation), but Jordan’s execution of these ideas fluctuates between mediocre and just bad. The plots are weary recyclings of old tropes with no examination of their quality. The prose is tedious (and sometimes painful). And so much is problematic.

Everyone is white. Even when Mat sounds the Horn of Valere to summon all the great heroes of the past, aside from one “swarthy” warrior ALL OF THE “GREAT HEROES” ARE WHITE. Apparently there were never heroes in any foreign cultures?

Also, the book’s attitudes towards gender, gender roles, sexuality, and romance are positively regressive.
-No homosexual or transgender (or asexual or agender) characters – which is something a better author would have included if only to explore the worldbuilding around gender-based magic, arguments for representation aside.
-Of the four female main characters (I’m not counting Moiraine since she’s offscreen for most of this book), three say they want to marry Rand. “Say they want to” because two of them only interacted with him for a couple hours each, and the third’s motivation is that she’d just kind of always assumed that she would; none of them have a real romantic relationship with Rand, but Jordan tells us that they do. This gets messier when they talk about it – while they all say they want to marry him, they act like they’re options on a menu for him to choose from and the unchosen women will simply fade from the story.
-When female main characters discuss marriage, there’s a strict split between getting married and having a career. Egwene & Moiraine both act like there’s no chance of them ever finding love because they chose to be powerful women.
-Female sexuality is treated with a mix of puritanical attitudes and titillation for Jordan’s male readers – very Madonna/whore. All the “good” women characters want to get married; none of them express any interest in shagging the man they find attractive, and they’re only ever attracted to one man. The women who express interest in sex outside of marriage are presented as evil schemers. And this book has the first appearance of Jordan’s transparent dresses, imported by “evil foreign invaders” so that his readers can be aroused by them and still think it’s something “good women” in real life wouldn’t wear.

The Audiobook:
I started listening to self-published podcast fiction in 2008. Some of what I found was great (Scott Sigler), some was pretty good, some had writing that didn’t work for me, and some I couldn’t get past the horrible voice acting to see if the writing was any good. My biggest pet-peeves were using elongated whispers for yells and muttering through gritted teeth for angry dialog (these don’t sound like yells or angry speech – they sound like whispers and muttering).

Michael Kramer (narrator for the male POV chapters in The Great Hunt) reminds me of some of these bad narrators. Every sentence of narration is delivered like a dramatic revelation; every villain’s dialog is sneered out; Rand sounds urgent and panicked no matter what he’s saying.


Notes while reading:

  • 1.0% “Prologue: at the evil gathering of evil, even The Dark One hesitates to speak his own name.”
  • 5.0% “Rand “I know I’m not crazy because I yelled “I’m not crazy!” in response to when I was whispering “maybe I’m crazy”” al’Thor”
  • 10.0% “Children of the Light: “This steak is overdone. There must be Darkfriends in the kitchen.”
  • 14.0% “The bylaws of Moraine’s conspiracy require that meetings begin with lengthy exposition about how they really wanted to get married to princes but it didn’t work out.”
  • 16.0% “Trolloc prophetic poetry is some of the worst prophetic poetry I’ve heard in a fantasy novel. Blood blood blood blood.

    Also how much time did they have to write on the walls? That’s a pretty in-depth poem.”

  • 21.0% “If I actually imagine the characters doing and saying things as they’re described, it feels a lot like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. This improves the book 200% so I’m imagining this as much as possible.

    Whiny Luke Skywalker x Whiny Harry Potter = Randal Thor”

  • 27.0% “”He let out a shout that brought every man in the camp erect with a sword in hand.””
  • 33.0% “If the Warders are mystical Secret Service, I wonder if they have sec scandals.”
  • 58.0% “Thom’s not dead. [sarcasm] What a twist. [/sarcasm] I don’t remember whether this was a surprise the first time I read this…”


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