Starring: Thursday Next

Okay, so I went on a vacation and then got a cold and in the meantime I finished a SERIES of books.  Now, I could list them all out in a strange sort of backwards posting like I did for the Phoenix Guards one, but that kind of annoyed me so I’m going to throw them into one MEGA POST!

Here we go, grab a tea and a scone or something because this is going to be long.

*****

lost Lost In A Good Book is the second in the Thursday Next series that started with The Eyre Affair (I did that one back near the beginning of the year).  Our protagonist, Ms. Next, lives in a world that’s evolved parallel to ours – where ducks are something theoretical and dodos have been brought back from extinction.  She works in Special Operations (SpecOps) as a Literary Detective – responsible for checking out things like forged Shakespeare works and other literary crimes.

Her first book brought her into contact with the Goliath Corporation, the megalomanical world conglomerate that wants to own and control everything and, surprisingly enough, they aren’t through with Thursday yet.  In Lost In A Good Book, Goliath is back to its old tricks of manipulation and has “time-slipped” Landon, Thursday’s husband, in order to “convince” Thursday to a) retrieve their agent from The Raven where he was left after the last round of adventures and b) reveal the secret to entering books in the first place.   In order to get her husband back, Thursday not only learns to read herself into books, but also joins up with Jurisfiction – the quasi-police force inside books.  Oh, and there’s also mammoths, a jar of lentils which indicate entropy levels, Ms Havisham, the Cat Formerly Known As Cheshire and a new enemy who has the ability to make you forget things to contend with.  Seems that Thursday’s got her hands full.

*****

well

Thursday’s back; preggers and tired and in need of some down time.  It’s hard when everyone is out to get you, you know?  What’s a girl to do except join the Character Exchange Program and have a little downtime in the Well of Lost Plots – a place where book ideas are made and die.  Still a member of Jurisfiction, but on the lamb from Goliath, Thursday fills in for “Mary”, a supporting character in a crime story that’s not being read and not really going anywhere.  Meanwhile, she can’t help feel like there’s something or someone that she should be remembering but it’s probably not that important, right?

All is not well in literary world, however.  First, people are being murdered, the Minotaur has escaped and “UltraWord” (the newest version of the Story Operating System) seems to have some flaws.  There are also some issues with the Generics (“blank” characters, just waiting for spots in a story) and the nursery rhyme and Oral Tradition folks aren’t happy.   Looks like this isn’t going to be much of a vacation after all.

*****

rotten

It’s time to get out of the book and back into the real world.  And this time, Thursday’s not alone.  She’s bringing her son Friday, Pickwick the dodo and her son Alan… and Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.  Which is probably good, seeing as how Ophelia isn’t happy with her current role and Hamlet’s wishy washy inability to make decisions and she’s busy making some changes.

Thursday is determined to get Landon back this time and she gets her time traveling, half non-existent father to help out.  Amongst her mother’s incessant baking, Thursday manages to get entangled in the Hamlet mess, a disgusting prophet, a gaggle of Shakespeare clones and the world’s most important cricket match.  The Minotaur is still holding a grudge and Landon keeps flickering in and out of existence – just another day in the life…

*****

sequel And thus the first is the end.  Or something.  Or maybe not!  But we are to the last in the series.  Thursday and Landon and their kids, Friday, Tuesday and Jenny are all living mostly happy lives – Tuesday is a genius, Jenny is at a slumber party somewhere, and Friday is your typical surly teenager.  The problem is, Friday is supposed to be out inventing time travel or something and his parents can’t get him to get up before noon.

Thursday has left SpecOps and is running a carpet business with some of her old colleagues… except that the carpet business is a front for SpecOps work.  Which is a front for Jurisfiction work.  Which is just as crazy as ever.  This time, Thursday is responsible for training some new recruits: Thursday1-4 and Thursday5.  See, Thursday licensed her story and now there are books where she is a character… just let your brain bend a bit and accept it.  And don’t worry, Goliath is still lurking and the Minotaur is still trying to kill her.

So, once again it’s up to Thursday to save the day.  Can she stop Thursday1-4 from exacting revenge on her creator, can she help Landon write a great book and can they make Friday actually get motivated to fulfill his destiny?

*****

I told you it was a lot of words.  Okay, here’s my wrap up.  I love these books.  Fforde is painfully clever and twists and turns a story in such a charming way that you can’t help but want to read these back to back.  I put the last one down and really wished for another one.  Some things that I thought were completely genius (in no particular order)

1)  the idea that Thursday considers and rejects that she is a character in a book

2)  the rational way that The Big Over Easy works into this series

3)  the literary cameos, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Anna Karenina in footnote gossip, are brilliant

4)  the carry over from book to book, although each story is also stand alone

I have to say that these will stay on my bookshelf.  And now I’ve read everything that he’s released and need to wait for the next one… poop.  There are lots of really great series out there, but if you like something intelligent like English class and yet irreverent like Terry Pratchett, you’d do yourself a service to check these out.

Perfectly delightful.  Plock.

Lost In A Good Book, by Jasper Fforde, 432 pages

The Well Of Lost Plots, 416 pages

Something Rotten, 416 pages

Thursday Next: A First Amongst Sequels, 384 pages

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The Fourth Bear

fourth-bearDetective Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are back in action!  This time, they have to find the psychopathic Gingerbread-man and keep him from ripping anyone else in half as well as try to discover just what happened to Goldilocks.  Amongst the burning questions are “is the Gingerbread-man a cookie or a cake?”, “How can porridge be too hot, too cold and just right if they were all poured at the same time?” and “Was there a fourth bear?”

Once again it’s up to the Nursery Crime division to get to the bottom of it all while trying to preserve their own threads of sanity and, in some cases, reality.

*****

I really enjoy Fforde’s work.  His irreverent style and crazy imagination just tweaks my funny bone in all the right ways.  I love his characters and I think that the idea that nursery rhyme inhabitants live and work among us us borderline brilliant.

This series started with The Big Over Easy (scroll a couple pages, it was first this year) and Fforde doesn’t disappoint with this second book.  He brings back the characters that we know and love and puts them in the same ridiculous situations we expect.  It doesn’t seem strange to see Jack break up a porridge ring, for instance.  After all, everyone knows that bears can’t control themselves and it’s a highly regulated substance.  Also, you forgive him puns (like the cringe worthy arguments over the ‘right to arm bears’) because it’s just so damn believable and seems to work.  Right to arm bears.  Eek.

So, once again, I have to recommend this guy.  I just think his work and characters are charming and I am looking forward to the next one on this series.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, 378 pages

Watchmen

watchmen Does being insane mean that you can’t read the signs and see where the world is headed?  Do your demons get in the way of seeing the truth?  Does your ambition blur your vision?  What happens to citizen crime-fighters when they’re no longer welcome and can be used as pawns in a larger game?  And in the end, who’s watching the Watchmen?

*****

This story has so many layers, it’s pretty hard to put it into a synopsis, so I hardly bothered.  I know that’s obvious.  Overall, Watchmen is the story of “put to pasture” crime-fighters (in the Batman style, not Superman) and a plot to discredit them.  It covers 2 generations and takes place (mostly) during the Cold War.  But that seems like pigeonholing this into much less than it was.

The book that I bought (and have linked to) is the entire collection of Watchmen comics – I should say graphic novel – and is a really awesome visual collection.  Dave Gibbons inked some incredible images which are so critical to the story itself.  As always Alan Moore created characters with real backgrounds and feeling and enough complexity to rival any classical fictional work.  Interwoven amongst the main tale is also the tale of a shipwreck survivor and “historical” documentation such as interviews and newspaper clippings of our protagonists.  It’s a really excellent way to give the whole novel a depth and breadth that would be hard to do within the dialog without weighing everything down.

You’ve probably seen the trailers for the movie and after reading this I’m more excited than ever.  This is more than a comic book, more than a superhero story and more than what you’d expect when you open the covers and dive in.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 416 pages

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 11:04 am  Comments (4)  
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The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

yiddish After the shocking collapse of Israel in 1948, the Federal District of Sitka has been the home of displaced and refugee Jews.  In the last 40 years, they have created their own world where their religious beliefs and their heritage can flourish amongst the cold Alaska climate.  But now it’s all about to come crashing down.  The District is about to revert to Alaska control and nobody knows what their future holds.

Homicide Detective Meyer Landsman has more to worry about than the Reversion, though.  He’s got a failed marriage under his belt, is working on drinking himself to death, and now has to deal with a murdered chess player.  To make matters worse, as he’s investigating the tragedy, orders come down from on high that he’s to drop the case.  What follows is a tale of politics, religion, faith and, possibly, even redemption at the end.

*****

I’ve tried to read this book about a half dozen times.  It floated around my apartment… taunting me.  So, when an online book club that I half ass follow said that this was their month’s pick, I picked it back up and was determined to make it farther than I had before.  And I’m glad that I did.

Chabon’s written a good love story/classic noir novel with a couple of great twists.  The main one is the setting – both culturally and physically this is an alien place.  The characters commonly mix in Yiddish words and phrases which makes it tough to really get lost in the story but does give a great sense of the feel of Sitka.  A word for the wise, there’s a glossary in the back of the book – something I really wish I’d known about 6 months ago.  The characters are well built with distinct personalities even if they do seem cliche at times.  I guess that’s the side effect of writing a detective novel.  Chabon also does a good job of describing Jewish traditions and integrating them into the story.

My one criticism is the writing style itself.  This book is written in first person present time and Chabon switches the tenses based on story need.  For example, a flashback will be in past tense – which is logical – but Chabon doesn’t always give a clear lead in to a time shift.  There was  more than once when I didn’t understand how what I was reading fit into the story only to finally catch that it was a flashback.  Part of that was my inability to truly “bond” with this book and I found myself easily distracted.  I don’t quite understand why that happened with this one… I like Chabon as a writer and was really looking forward to reading this one.

My struggles aside, I would still recommend this one for those who like detective stories.  Hopefully you won’t fight with it like I did – it didn’t ruin my enjoyment but certainly distracted me a bit.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, 434 pages

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 8:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Eyre Affair

eyre-affair7 Great Britain, 1985.  Time travel is a reality?  Check.  People clone dodos as pets?  Check.  There is an entire Special Department dedicated to literary detection and crimes?  Oh yeah, big check.

In this Great Britain, Thursday Next is a Special Operative, working to hunt down forgers and desecraters of books.  And when someone starts entering historical works of fiction and kidnapping main characters, it’s up to her and her fellow operatives to seek out and capture the culprit before the stories are changed forever.

*****

First, I want a cloned dodo as a pet.  Especially since they apparently say “plock” a lot.  How awesome would that be?  Okay, now the story.  It’s not clear if this particular Great Britain is the same Great Britain of The Big Over Easy, but I’m going to guess yes.  Which means that this is a world that takes i’s literature VERY SERIOUSLY.

In this book, we get a bit larger view of the world as it is.  There’s a war going on and it’s in the best interest of the Goliath Corporation – the largest and most definitely influential of businesses – to keep it going.  There’s also a lot more going on in Special Ops than people want to get into, including time traveling parents and a vampire here and there.  This book had a much more layered story than The Big Over Easy, and it’s almost hard to get into the main gist with it all.  Still, in the end, it adds to the feel of the story rather than weigh it down.

This particular set up is ripe for a series and, what do you know, it IS the beginning of one!  I have a couple more on order so we’ll see how the series progresses as it goes.  This book also made me realize that I don’t think I’ve ever read Jane Eyre and so I’ve ordered that one too.  This was a fun book, pick it up if you ever wished you could actually be in one.  Not that anyone ever felt that way… heh.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, 374 pages

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Celestial Matters

celestial-matters The ancient Greeks believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. The great astronomer Ptolemy mapped the solar system and stars, locating each heavenly body in a crystalline sphere, the spheres forming a concentric series that progressed in an orderly fashion outward from the earth. Celestial Matters is a startling novel of hard SF, set in an alternate, ptolemaic universe in which these beliefs are literal scientific fact. The greek empire of Alexander the Great has lasted for a thousand years, and for a thousand years it has been at war with the Empire of the Orient. Now, a spaceship has been built to voyage through the spheres to the sun and return with the ultimate weapon: a fiery piece of sun matter.

(summary from Google books who wrote it much better than I could have)

*****

Okay, this is what they call “hard science fiction”.  What seems like magic or impossible is actually based on real theory (which has since been found wrong) and has a logical baseline.  That doesn’t mean that it’s an easy read, though.  You have to get used to the idea that the ancient theories of matter and space were right and that gods are regularly talking to scientists and war generals.  Richard Garfinkle takes these old assumptions – that the Earth is the center of the Universe, that there is breathable air within each celestial sphere, that you could take a piece of the sun – and creates a world where these theories are laws.

Garfinkle has also created compelling characters.  It makes sense that Spartans are the warriors and that Athenians are scholars.  They each have their own viewpoint on the world and their place in it, and the honor that they owe to their society. I have to admit that I would have probably found a different enjoyment in the book if I had a better grasp on Greek and Taoist history and science, but I found it completely accessible even without it.

The only criticism I have is the ending.  I might have missed something along the way, but I think I’ve missed something subtle.  Also, it seemed to end a little abruptly which was a surprise.  It’s a first novel, so I think that I can cut him a little slack given the general expanse of the book.  I’m sure I’ll come back to this one at some point – but I need to do some additional reading before that happens.

Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle, 348 pages

Published in: on January 20, 2009 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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