A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Exactly 200 years ago today, July 18, 1817, my favorite (deceased) author Jane Austen died. In honor of the bicentennial, Husband and I rewatched all of the screen adaptations that we could easily get our hands on.

JASNA Truth Universally Acknowledged Book Always Better

Screencap from the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) web page.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that the book is always better than the movie, but what fun it can be to watch those movies!”

In addition to the versions we own, which are delightfully many…

Jane Austen Rewatch Owned Adaptations

…I hunted down three versions through the local library:

Jane Austen Rewatch Adaptations from Library

All in all, we saw 17 adaptations. In the weeks to come, I’ll post some mini-reviews. I’ll treat them in clusters based on the original Austen work; in other words, every adaptation of Emma we saw is discussed in one post, etc.

And here is the publication / written in order of Austen’s major finished works:

The links lead to my mini reviews.

We wanted to stick with versions of Austen’s novels instead of just anything Austen-related. That meant that the biopic-ish Miss Austen Regrets (2008, with the excellent Olivia Williams as Jane Austen), the fun Death Comes to Pemberley (2013) and Austenland (2013), for example, were out.

Unfortunately, I still missed a few. For example, there’s apparently a Welcome to Sanditon (a modern version of the unfinished novel Sanditon from 2013) that I haven’t seen at all. This time I also skipped a Pride and Prejudice version from 1980 that had some great moments, if memory serves. Ohwell – more to watch another time! 🙂

Please feel free to follow along and comment on your favorites!

Amatka Book Talks by Karin Tidbeck in BOS, NYC, and San Diego

Books & Mags

Swedish fantasy and weird author Karin Tidbeck is giving book talks on her debut novel Amatka in the United States.

Karin Tidbeck Amatka

Amatka was originally released in Swedish in 2012. It was first published in English a few weeks ago, at the end of June 2017. The publisher describes the novel as follows:

“A surreal debut novel set in a world shaped by language in the tradition of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin.

“Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

“Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.”

In connection with the book birthday, Tidbeck will do a short publicity tour in the U.S. First, she’ll appear at Readercon 28 in Quincy, south of Boston, on July 13-16, 2017. (No further details at this writing.)

There’ll be a second book talk at New York City’s Scandinavia House on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, at 7 p.m. (free entry).

Finally, Tidbeck will be at Comic-Con in San Diego on July 20-23, 2017. (No further details at this writing.)

I haven’t read Tidbeck before, but Amatka sounds intriguing. She describes the birth of the novel in a blog post like this:

“I had spent some years collecting dream notes, and I found myself wondering if they could be mapped. What did my dream country look like? I found that some places showed up again and again, although the geography, events and people shifted. I ended up ordering the notes according to an imagined compass: north, south, east and west, and finally, a central city. […]

“Vanja, a somewhat reluctant protagonist, agreed to be my guide. But what was the world? Dreams, as I thought of them, are ruled by language. What would Vanja’s life be like? What would a society be like in a world where language ruled over matter? The story of Amatka began to unfold. It broke loose from my dream continent and became a world of its own.”

On the surface it sounds a bit like LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Emmi Itäranta’s The Weaver. The way Tidbeck talks of language ruling over matter also reminds me of the way mathematics rules over reality in Yoon Ha Lee’s The Ninefox Gambit. As a linguist, I’m doubly intrigued and excited to read Amatka!

Cross-posted from Co-Geeking.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

21 SF/F Authors Project: The Most Memorable Books

Books & Mags

My latest “official” reading project is over. It took longer than expected, but that’s ok – reading is first and foremost a pleasure for me, not a race.

There were several books that I liked a lot, and, as I hoped, I discovered many authors that I’ve already added to my “read more of” list (Hopkinson, Mohanraj, Shawl, Okorafor, Walton and de Bodard, for example).

Below are my “best of” picks from the project – the books that have stayed with me most insistently.

The Last Man by Mary Shelley (1826; full writeup here)

21 Authors The Last Man

Despite some problems and datedness (extreeeeemely slow beginning; inclusion of super-long monologues with pedantic-sounding language to modern readers) the end-of-days tension and horror were created effectively and without viscera.

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin (1969; full writeup here)

21 Authors Left Hand of Darkness

LeGuin just rocks so much.

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold (1988, full writeup here)

21 Authors Falling Free

My introduction to the quaddies in her Vorkosigan universe.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee (2002; full writeup here)

21 Authors Warchild

Emotionally charged story with excellent pacing and reveal. Like The Last Man, also without graphic violence, yet with palpable tension.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 21: A Stranger in Olondria

Books & Mags

My latest reading project finishes with A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar (2013).

21 Authors A Stranger in Olondria

Jevick is the second son of a well-to-do pepper merchant from the village of Tyom on Tinimavet. When it becomes apparent that his big brother isn’t capable of continuing the family business, Jevick gets the training and attention instead, including a private tutor from the northern land of Olondria. Jevick learns to speak and read Olondrian, and falls in love with literature, which is non-existent on his native island.

After his father dies, Jevick takes his place on the yearly pepper selling trip to Olondria. On this journey, his first foray out as a merchant, he attends the Feast of Birds celebration and becomes haunted by the ghost of a sick Tinimavet girl. Seeking a cure for her ailment in the north, Jissavet traveled to Bain on the same boat as Jevick but died some time after reaching Olondria. Unable to sleep due to the ghost’s presence, Jevick turns to Olondrian priests for help, but gets entangled and used as a pawn in a struggle between two religions.

Olondria is an unusual fantasy novel – no dime-a-dozen cookie cutter books here. It’s emphatically not an action- or plot-centered novel. Some dramatic events do take place, but they’re not described in an action-y way.

It’s a story about stories with stories that contain stories and refer to yet other stories. In other words, there are a lot of allusions to world-internal myths, poems, songs, books, etc. I’ve seen Olondria compared to a literary memoir, and the comparison sounds apt. The language is very lyrical, ornate, erudite and a little melancholy or nostalgic at times.

The novel is also about love, travel, encountering the wider world through books, different circumstances of people even within the same ingroup and about growing apart from your family or country through different experiences. It’s not a long book, per se, but a literary and dense one, and a great example of how to tell rather than show.

I’d say that any book’s ability to enthrall readers depends entirely on the kind(s) of reading that they most enjoy, or at the very least the kind of literature they are in the mood for. In the end, Olondria didn’t really fit the particular reading mood that I was in, but I admired the novel and appreciated the skill it took to create.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 20: On a Red Station, Drifting

Books & Mags

In 2016, I finished my 21 Authors project reading, but didn’t get to reviewing the last two books. So, here is the last but one: On a Red Station, Drifting (published in 2012) by Aliette de Bodard.

21 Authors On a Red Station Drifting

Prosper Station in the Dai Viet space empire is struggling to provide for its inhabitants and an ever-increasing amount of refugees fleeing the ongoing civil war. We see the story mostly through the eyes of two women: Station Mistress Quyen and her distant cousin, planetary Magistrate Linh who is on the run.

The station’s artificial intelligence, the Honoured Ancestress, is a mind originally born of a human womb that connects everyone and offers guidance and protection. But now the Honoured Ancestress is starting to malfunction, threatening the safety of the station.

de Bodard manages to cram an incredible amount of worldbuilding into her novella. There’s both macro and micro level politics (empire-station; station-personal), power struggles through snubs and protocol breaches, duty and personal integrity in face of dire consequences, examination of individual and family, tradition and ancestry, and, finally, an individual’s worth to the society.

On a Red Station, Drifting is a subtle story with a Vietnamese-Chinese (or Vietnamese-Confucian?) foundation. de Bodard spends most of her time fleshing out the main characters and concentrates on the painful, compellingly frustrating miscommunications taking place on the station. Almost a snapshot in time where the plot simmers in the background, Red Station omits obvious villains and instead adds heaps of human complexity. In fact, I rather suspect I was only able to access the very surface layer, and would benefit from one – or more! – re-readings.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

Reading Numbers for 2016

Books & Mags

For some years now, I’ve kept a tally of the books I read. In 2014 I started counting how many of the authors are men and how many are women.

Here are my complete reading statistics to date:

  • 2007: male 30, female 16 (out of 46 books total, 46 authors total)
  • 2008: male 25, female 18 (out of 43 books total, 43 authors total)
  • 2009: male 25, female 17 (out of 42 books total, 42 authors total)
  • 2010: male 24, female 22 (out of 42 books total, 46 authors total)
  • 2011: male 27, female 18 (out of 41 books total, 45 authors total)
  • 2012: male 35, female 17 (out of 43 books total, 52 authors total)
  • 2013: male 18, female 9 (out of 27 books total, 27 authors total)
  • 2014: male 24, female 45 (out of 60 books total, 70 authors total)
  • 2015: male 8, female 30 (out of 38 books and authors total)
  • 2016: male 19, female 59 (out of 76 books and 78 authors total)

A new record for me – 76 books! Very nice. Partly that was because I finished my 21 Authors project reading last year, but not entirely.

A few weeks before I totaled my yearly reading, I saw author V.E. Schwab’s tweet about reading over 100 books two years in a row now. I thought that was both impressive and completely out of my range, but now that I’ve seen my 2016 numbers I might want to try break a hundred, too! It seems there’s some thruth to the adage that appetite comes with eating. 🙂

Apart from the amount, I also noted that I came across many books / authors that I normally probably wouldn’t have picked up that turned out intriguing if not outright favorites.

Here’s a gratuitous photo of some of my last reading for 2016 and first for 2017:

Reading Pile Jan 2017

For 2017, I do have a few lists that I’d like to read through and a whole bunch that I’ve saved on a generic To Read list, but I don’t think I’ll try another formal reading project. I haven’t entirely decided, though – any suggestions?

Book Treat to Start the Year

Books & Mags, My Spaces

Finally arrived a few days ago:

Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi

Yay! Eagerly expected, and apparently also eligible for a 2016 Hugo nomination:

Turtschaninoff is a fellow Finn, and Maresi comes highly recommended by a friend of mine who read it in the original Swedish a few years ago. Since the Hugo nomination period just opened, I think I have to move Maresi to the top of my reading pile!

P.S. I found Brit Mandelo’s review at Tor.com interesting.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 19: Among Others

Books & Mags

My latest reading project is almost over! Next up is Among Others by Jo Walton (published in 2010).

21 Authors Among Others

Among Others is set in Wales and Shropshire, England. We begin in 1975 with twins Morwenna and Morganna near their Welsh home, about to do magic at the behest of local fairies (who cannot touch physical items in our world).

The next chapter has fast forwarded four years. Morwenna is dead from saving the world from their mother’s evil magic; Morganna is crippled and, grieving, has started to use her sister’s name when she isn’t going by her nickname Mori (or Mor, or sometimes Mo).

After regaining some of her mobility, Mori ran away from her mother and sought refuge with her estranged father on the English side of the border. His three sisters sent Mori to a sports-heavy boarding school. Being unable to join in the sports, from an ethnic minority (Welsh) and an enthusiastic SF/F reader, it’s no surprise that Mori doesn’t find a ready acceptance at Arlinghurst academy. She struggles to keep in contact with her relatives in Wales and attempts to find a circle of like-minded friends.

Little by little Mori starts coming to terms with her new life and carving a place for herself. We also learn more of her grief, the crash that took her sister and of magic. Unfortunately, Mori’s magic-use draws the attention of her mother. Eventually the two face each other in a magical battle and settle things for good.

The novel is technically shaped as Mori’s diary, but the entries strongly resemble conventional novels: we get glimpses of both Mori’s everyday life, her thoughts and encounters with the world. One of the strengths of the novel is that we see Mori’s thinking develop from a child-like black & white dichotomy to a more nuanced way of seeing the world.

Walton also made a very interesting choice in designing this world’s magic: it’s very low-key, easy to miss and/or could be explained by normal events or coincidences.

There’s not much plot, and the final climax comes up a bit suddenly. I didn’t think these two features detracted from the experience, however. More than anything else, the novel is a character-driven love letter to libraries and books, especially science fiction and fantasy. Quietly powerful, Among Others grips you and won’t let go. Recommended!

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 18: Blackout / All Clear

Books & Mags

Moving on with my latest reading project. At 18, I have a double whammy: Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (both published in 2010).

21 Authors Blackout All Clear

Content note: references to war wounds and bombing.

Also, quite a long, ranty post. TL;DR – A time travel story from Oxford in 2060 to southern England during World War II that’s partly very clever, partly infuriating.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 17: Who Fears Death

Books & Mags

Book 17 in my latest reading project is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (published in 2010), and so far the one I’ve struggled with most.

21 Authors Who Fears Death

Content note: references to rape, genital mutilation, slavery and genocide. This is also a very, very, VERY long post.

TL;DR – Who Fears Death is set in a post-apocalyptic, magical future with a melange of cultures, languages, relationships and themes fluently handled. A challenging but rewarding read if you’re not afraid of thought-provoking literature outside Anglo-American dime-a-dozen fantasy.