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tamaranth

July 2017

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2017/58: All Systems Red -- Martha Wells
I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. [p. 9]


All Systems Red is the first-person narrative of Murderbot, a self-hacked security cyborg -- 'SecBot' -- who, due to having disabled their governor module, is no longer forced to obey the commands of the Company . (Note the pronouns: Murderbot may not have what they primly refers to as 'sex parts' but they are very much a person, possibly more so than some of their human clients.)
not spoilery )
2017/57: American Gods -- Neil Gaiman
"Media. I think I have heard of her. Isn't she the one who killed her children?"
"Different woman," said Mr. Nancy. "Same deal." [loc 6102]


Reread sparked by the Amazon TV series -- which is a very different animal,
'based on' rather than a straightforward adaptation of the novel.
non-spoilery )
2017/56: Spandex and the City -- Jenny Colgan
He almost certainly had no idea that the fact that he was rich was as strange to me as the fact that he could lift up a truck with one hand. [loc. 1255]

slightly spoilery review )
02JUN17: Wonder Woman, Odeon IMAX, Greenwich

This is not really a feminist film, despite the female protagonist -- there is not enough interaction between the female characters -- but it might be a 'feminist superhero' film. Diana's blend of naivete and power, and her journey from the idyllic female community of Themyscira to the trenches of WWI, parallels her growth from idealistic warrior to conflicted hero. That arc is familiar (Thor, Captain America, even Iron Man). Is Diana's journey any different from a male hero's?

I didn't engage with Wonder Woman as fully as I'd hoped. I found it a remarkably humourless film -- perhaps I have been spoilt by Marvel's wisecracks and one-liners -- and, though it has parallels with the first Captain America film, it doesn't have that film's knack for characterisation. For instance, Steve Trevor's backup team get more screen time than Steve Rogers' Howling Commandos, but have less personality.

I would have liked more of Lucy Davis' Etta Candy (and Josette Simon's Mnemosyne!) but Gal Gadot rocks: she has presence, grace and timing.

16JUN17: L'elisir d'amore -- Donizetti, Royal Opera House

I adore this opera: the comic, romantic themes suit Donizetti's glorious and ebullient music rather better than the doom and tragedy of Lucia or Anna Bolena. Laurent Pelly's ROH production -- set in 1950s rural Italy -- is cheerful, witty and beautifuly staged. The performance we saw had some changes of personnel. Roberto Alagna was ill, so Nemorino sung in second half by Atalla Ayan from side of stage while Alagna acted (this worked surprisingly well) and understudy Jennifer Davis stood in as Adina for Aleksandra Kurzak. Absolutely no complaints on either count.

I used to avoid the ROH because I perceived it as much more expensive than the ENO. Times have changed. We had reasonably-priced seats -- £35 -- in the Upper Amphitheatre (note to self: get seats on left-hand side next time, to avoid crowds en route to bar) and didn't find the 'restricted view' problematic.
2017/55: Lord of All Things -- Andreas Eschbach (translated from the German by Samuel Willcocks)
the digested version of a story already squeezed to bursting, a story of Arctic islands, Russian subs, and a steel fortress that fell to dust.


A book of two (unequal) halves: a promising beginning, but the rest is weakly plotted, gruesomely sexist and poorly characterised.

It starts well. Hiroshi is the half-Japanese, half-American son of a cleaning woman. He likes fixing things, and befriends Charlotte -- daughter of the French ambassador -- after fixing a broken doll. spoilers and irritation )
2017/52:
The Moon in the Cloud -- Rosemary Harris

2017/53: The Shadow on the Sun -- Rosemary Harris
2017/54: The Bright and Morning Star -- Rosemary Harris
The pyramids were almost as white by night as by day. They burned with a malignant whiteness barely distinguishable from a white sky. They had a fierce beauty, fed by what lay around them: hundreds of thousands of men had toiled all day in the burning eye of the sun to raise them, and been worn and thirsty; and many had died. Their bones lay beneath the desert. Great kings had laid them there: the bones of the labourers, white, and buried in a gold casing of sand, near the bones of the kings encased in gold, buried in a white casing of stone. And in the night the bones of the buried men and the bones of the kings help speech together. [The Moon in the Cloud, page 147]


Reread, because the Amelia Peabody books made me yearn for some quality fiction set in Ancient Egypt. I adored these books as a child and am pleased to report that they are just as enjoyable some decades later. And I was happy to see Barbara Mertz' Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs mentioned in the Acknowledgements!
minor spoilers )
2017/51: Chalk -- Paul Cornell
I stuck to what was true, except that I didn’t include anything impossible. I wrote about what it was like on the playing field. How there were no teachers. How anything could happen. How anything had been happening for a long time now. I mentioned the lightning because there would be the patch of black glass on the ground ...


A horror novel about growing up in the 1980s: cod in butter sauce, Feast lollies, Bananarama, school discos. somewhat spoilery )
2017/50: City of Miracles -- Robert Jackson Bennett
The conclusion I draw is not, as you suggested, that miracles fade as their existence goes on, causing fluctuations in their function. Rather, I believe that miracles changed and mutated just as any organism might: the Divine Empire was a teeming ecosystem of miracles and Divine entities, all with varying levels of agency and purpose, all shifting and altering as the years went by.


Conclusion of the Divine Cities trilogy (previous volumes were City of Stairs and City of Blades). I wondered, reviewing the latter, if the third book would focus on Sigrud the mysterious Viking Dreyling berserker: and it does, in that he is the primary viewpoint character. However, it's not primarily his story.not much more spoilery than the blurb )
2017/49: Death by Silver -- Melissa Scott, Amy Griswold
He threw a satisfied glance at Ned, looking momentarily very much like one of the heroes of an adventure novel. Ned felt rather like one himself, and wished there were any chance of Julian putting his arms around him in an admiring way on the spot. [loc. 5335]


Death by Silver is set in an alternate London, probably in the local equivalent of the Victorian period: carriages not cars, telegrams rather than 'phones, cricket at Lords. Ned Mathey is a newly-qualified metaphysician, still trying to establish himself as a practitioner and curse-breaker. slightly spoilery )
06MAY17: Their Finest, Greenwich Picturehouse
WW2 comedy/drama/romance set in propaganda film industry.
Read more... )

18MAY17: Tchaikovsky, excerpts from Swan Lake; Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto #2; Shosyakovich, Symphony #6, Cadogan Hall. Moscow Philharmonic cond. Yuri Simonov; Freddy Klempf, piano
Read more... )

19MAY17: Here She Comes, By Jove, Gallery on the Corner
A feminist take on Bacchae in the form of an epic poemRead more... )

20MAY17: Snatched, Greenwich Picturehouse
"Putting the 'fun' back into 'non-refundable'." Oh, if only ... Read more... )

23MAY17: Full Circle, Theatre N16
Clytemnestra, Queen of the Damned, is in hell: so are Phaedra, Medea and Helen. Read more... )

28MAY17: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge, Odeon, Greenwich
Read more... )JUMPING. ZOMBIE. SHARKS.

28MAY17: Iron Maiden / Shinedown, O2, Greenwich
Read more... )

31MAY17: KISS, O2, Greenwich
Read more... )
This is a thing of beauty and a joy forever [and the best thing on Facebook for weeks]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz7SfkhJe74&feature=youtu.be
2017/48: The Hippopotamus Pool -- Elizabeth Peters
Careers for women! That is a favourite theme of yours, I believe? Why, then you should commend my efforts, for I have given gainful employment to women – downtrodden, oppressed females of this and other countries, who work not for men but for themselves – and for me. A criminal organization of women![loc. 5712]


Amelia and her family are in Cairo to greet the 20th century (technically a year early) when a mysterious visitor produces an ancient gold ring, some hints about an undisturbed tomb, and -- shortly thereafter -- his own inexplicable disappearance. not significantly spoilery )
2017/47: The Last Camel Died at Noon -- Elizabeth Peters
It is impossible to give a proper impression of Ramses by describing his characteristics. One must observe him in action to understand how even the most admirable traits can be perverted or carried to such an extreme that they cease to be virtues and become the reverse. [loc. 305]


In which the Emerson family. having planned to excavate in Sudan, find themselves heading further into the desert with insufficient supplies and a guide who abandons them. minor spoilers )
2017/46: The Deeds of the Disturber -- Elizabeth Peters
"... your – how shall I put it? – your panache, your disregard for convention, your remarkable talent for criminal investigation –"
"I prefer the term 'panache'," I interrupted. [loc 624]

The only novel in the series to be set wholly in London, Deeds of the Disturber opens with a mysterious death at the British Museum. With remarkable alacrity, the popular press start on about curses, not significantly spoilery )
2017/45: A River in the Sky -- Elizabeth Peters
Americans had never established a political foothold in the Middle East. They were regarded as guests, sometimes annoying but not threatening. England bestrode the region like a colossus – one foot in India, one in Egypt, its influence stretching into large parts of Africa. England imposed her own laws and controlled every aspect of government, from education to trade.[loc. 1479]


Although, in terms of internal chronology, this comes between The Ape Who Guards the Balance and The Falcon at the Portal, it was written quite a lot later: I believe it was the last novel that Peters published before her death in 2013.
non-spoilery )
2017/44: Thunder in the Sky -- Elizabeth Peters
"It isn’t always easy to distinguish right from wrong, is it? More often the choice is between better and worse . . . and sometimes . . . sometimes the line between them is as thin as a hair. One must make a choice, though. One can’t wash one’s hands and let others take the risks . . . including the risk of being wrong." [loc. 1941]

no detailed spoilers )
2017/43: The Falcon at the Portal -- Elizabeth Peters
‘We are only demonstrating the qualities for which our superior caste is famous,’ Ramses drawled. ‘British phlegm, noblesse oblige, coolness under fire . . . What have I left out?’
‘Don’t be hateful,’ Nefret snapped.
‘That’s the part I left out,’ said Ramses. ‘Hatefulness.'[loc. 5871]


At the beginning of this novel (set in 1911-2) Nefret is finding great amusement in reading from a 'true memoir' penned by Amelia's vile nephew Percy. mildly spoilery )
2017/42: The Ape Who Guards the Balance -- Elizabeth Peters
Nefret had been Priestess of Isis in a community where the old gods of Egypt were worshipped, and I had a nasty suspicion she had not entirely abandoned her belief in those heathen deities. Perhaps she shared the views of Abdullah, who was something of a heathen himself: ‘There is no harm in protecting oneself from that which is not true!’[loc. 3470]


Set in London and Egypt in 1906-7 -- another big gap in the timeline, which I wish had been filled. (There are allusions to events during that period in this and later novels.)

The Ape Who Guards the Balance begins in London, where Amelia has, of course, joined the Women's Social and Political Union.slightly spoilery for overall arc )
2017/41: Seeing a Large Cat -- Elizabeth Peters
"...your Western talk about love confuses me a great deal. You make such a fuss about such a simple thing!"
"It really cannot be described," Ramses said, staring abstractedly at the cat, now lying across his stomach. "It must be experienced. Like being extremely drunk."[loc. 6797]


This novel is set in Egypt in 1903. Ramses and David return, somewhat swashbucklingly, from six months with Sheik Mohammed (in which time Ramses has grown a moustache) and Nefret returns from her medical studies in London. We're also treated to excerpts from 'Manuscript H', being an edited third-person narrative based on Ramses' journal: it contrasts piquantly with his mother's first-person account of events.vaguely spoilery for mid-book )
2017/40: Lion in the Valley -- Elizabeth Peters
I felt like one of the heroes of Anthony Hope or Rider Haggard, dashing to the rescue. (Their heroines, poor silly things, never did anything but sit wringing their hands waiting to be rescued.)[loc. 16494]


In which Ramses is revealed as a Sherlock Holmes fan, the cat Bastet is seduced with chicken, and Amelia learns the name of the Master Criminal. Read more... )