Posts Tagged With: Frankenstein

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson – A Review

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The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways-farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother.

She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.

     


I’m hoping that Frankenstein is going to be the worst in the pile of books I’ve challenged myself to read this year. It’s been so much fun to discover new-to-me authors like N.K. Jemisin and Hiromi Goto and rediscover someone like Ursula K. Le Guin. I want the fun to keep on coming.

Today I get to talk about another new-to-me discovery: Nalo Hopkinson‘s Brown Girl in the Ring. This book is Hopkinson’s first, published in 1998. Hopkinson won the Locus Award for Best New Novel, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the Warner Aspect first novel competition for her work. Plus the book has a blurb on the front cover from none other than Octavia Butler.

So, it wasn’t like I was going in with any expectations or anything.

Brown Girl in the Ring takes place in a future Toronto, a city that’s been turned into a “donut hole”–anyone who could escaped from the decaying city to the suburbs, leaving the town and the people behind to rot. One of these people is Ti-Jeanne, a young Caribbean Canadian who survives with her infant son and her grandmother, Gros-Jeanne, a healer and seer. Ti-Jeanne has started seeing visions herself–demons and skeletons in top hats, among other things. While she’s trying to deal with this, her ex- (her son’s father) comes to her looking for help. He has gotten messed up with a necromancer of sorts who wants Tony to harvest a human heart from the premier of Ontario. Mayhem ensues.

I really enjoyed this book. Hopkinson has done a fine job building this dystopian world; it’s one I would love to learn more about. She’s created the remains of an inner city that are wholly believable, rich, and three-dimensional. I’m also thankful for the chance to learn about a culture I admit I know little about.

The same richness can be found in Hopkinson’s characters. They’re all fairly well developed, enough so, anyway, to contribute something to the tale. Rudy may be a bit over the top, but he’s a fun guy to hate, and he gave me the shivers.

Hopkinson’s prose is sturdy. While it isn’t magic on the level of Le Guin, it gets the job done and contains some awesome metaphors such as a character shaking someone’s hand as if he were “palping rotten carrion” and comparing the smell of night air to “biting into an apple.” All in all an excellent read. 4.75/5

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Half World by Hiromi Goto – A Review

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HalfWorldbyHiromiGoto
  

Melanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive.

                      


I’ve now finished book four in the Women of Genre Fiction challenge. Can I just say that, so far, this has been a blast? All four books have been fun to read and have something to recommend. Okay, Frankenstein caused me to roll my eyes a lot more than the other three, but it was still worth reading.

And so was Half World. This book, written by Hiromi Goto, is the first YA title on my list. As you might expect from the blurb above, it’s a dark tale. Melanie is a fourteen-year-old living with her mother in poverty. She’s chubby and doesn’t do well in school, so is labeled a special needs student and is a victim of bullies. Crows seem to like her, though. Coming home from school one day, she finds the hovel she lives in empty and the phone that’s been out of service for months starts ringing. On the other end of the line is our villain, Mr. Glueskin, who tells Melanie she must come to Half World if she ever wants to see her mother again.

And so she does. But not without help. She enters Half World with the aid of a jade rat given to her by a neighbor woman, Ms. Wei, a shopowner who reminds me very much of Mrs. Whatsit from A Wrinkle in Time.

I enjoyed Half World. Melanie felt like a real teenager to me: smarter and braver than she realizes, and yet, capable of complete meltdowns when things just get too much. Half World, too, is really cool. Goto does a good job conveying the vague limbo-ish feel of the place, and the characters who exist there are a hoot–straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting–and yet, many of them are not just scenery. Certain scenes in Half World also reminded me of similar scenes in Stephen King’s Song of Susannah (book six of The Dark Tower). Roast suckling pig!

My only serious complaint with the book is, well, the premise. Goto defines Half World as the place everyone goes when they die. This is where Melanie’s parents are when Melanie is conceived, so they are already, presumably, dead.

Dead people conceiving children.

I just don’t buy that. I didn’t buy it in Angel, and I buy it less here. How does that even work?

But I liked Melanie and Ms. Wei so much–and Mr. Glueskin, awesome villain that he is–it was easy for me to just not think about it. (I also try not to think about it in Angel. And season 4 never happened either.) I also loved the illustrations created by Jillian Tamaki. 3.5/5

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – A Review

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English: Cropped portrait of Mary Shelley

I saw — with shut eyes, but acute mental vision — I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. – Mary Shelley


This is my first review as part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge. For some reason, now seemed the time in my life to finally read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. I don’t know why I haven’t read it before now. The original Frankenstein is one of my favorite movies from childhood and Young Frankenstein is my favorite comedy. You’d think I would have wanted to investigate the source material.

The question puzzles me. Although I have at least one suspicion that I’ll talk about below.

You all know how Frankenstein came to be, right? Mary Shelley wrote the novel because she and her travel companions were stuck inside during a spate of rainy weather near Geneva, Switzerland in 1816. The group, including Shelley’s lover and future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley; Lord Byron; John Polidori; and Shelley’s stepsister (and Byron’s lover) Claire Claremont, challenged each other to see who could write the best horror story. Polidori came up with the first vampire novel, The Vampyre, and Shelley created what many consider to be the first science fiction novel. The other three? They got distracted, I guess.

I found Frankenstein to be a fascinating, albeit stumbling, read, telling the tale of Victor Frankenstein, a young man obsessed with creating life. When he succeeds, he immediately regrets what he’s done and is revolted by the results. The resulting creature doesn’t take its creator’s disgust well and mayhem ensues.

That basic story, I just love. Mad scientists and monsters are one of my favorite sf tropes, and this is the beginning of that. I also love the monster. The tale of his orphanhood after Frankenstein rejects him is heartbreaking and made me wish that the Karloff character in the Universal film had been allowed to speak. Can you imagine Karloff telling that story? *swoon*

toast and tea and tales of betrayal--wouldn't that have been great?

Toast and tea and tales of betrayal–wouldn’t that have been great?

Several points of the novel give me trouble, though.

The framing story, for example, is kind of iffy. It involves letters from an unrelated character to his sister telling her about the journey to the North Pole that he’s undertaken and the strange man he rescues from icy seas along the way. That fellow is Victor Frankenstein, who is chasing after his creation to exact revenge for all the murderous havoc he’s inflicted on Frankenstein’s family. According to the edition of Frankenstein I own (Limited Editions Club © 1934), Percy Shelley encouraged Mary to expand the original story, and the frame sections are the result. I wonder if the story would have been just fine without them; we spend a lot of time with Captain Walton before discovering that he’s not our protagonist. Kind of irritating.

The next problem I had with Frankenstein may be the reason it took me so long to read it in the first place: the language. Nineteenth century fiction and I have always had a troubled relationship. Too many words! Can I blame reading Hemingway as a kid for this? I don’t know, I just find a lot of Victorian-era works of fiction to be incredibly verbose. One of the reasons Herman Melville is one of my favorite authors of that time period is because his style moved away from that, heading toward the twentieth century before everyone else did. Mark Twain, too: I like his way of writing quite a bit.

Shelley, on the other hand, breaks no new ground with her prose style. While Sir Walter Scott credited the author’s “happy power of expression,” I found stretches of the book to be clunky and annoying.

Perhaps, though, that’s because I found Victor Frankenstein to be even more annoying, and that rubbed off on everything else. I’m going to make a bold statement here.

Victor Frankenstein is a putz!

Gah! What an aggravating little man!

Just a note: there are spoilers below. If you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip to the last couple paragraphs.

 
Now, I get that his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions is an important part of his character and an important part of the story and his self-loathing comes from that. But why does he have to be such a drama queen about it?

Hm, it just occurred to me that one of my big problems with the story might be another groundbreaking device on Shelley’s part. Let’s think this through. Frankenstein creates a man who is hideous in appearance, and yet extremely strong, hardy, as well as being a bit of a genius who defeats him at every turn. How did our hero, who doesn’t come across as very brilliant at all, do this? That was driving me nuts while I was reading, but I think now of all the robot and computer stories written that show how technology will defeat its creators (us) in the long run. Was Frankenstein the first place this trope shows up, as well? I wonder now.

But that doesn’t forgive Victor for the stupidity that gets his wife killed. When the creature tells Frankenstein that he’ll be with him on his wedding night, Victor assumes he’s going to try to kill him, even though the daemon (as Victor calls him) has already killed several of his loved ones with the admitted purpose to make Frankenstein miserable. It never occurs to our hero that his creation is coming for his wife, until she’s already dead.

Argh!

 
**End of spoilers**

 
I also wonder why, if Frankenstein had the skill to make this brilliant, hardy man he had to make him ugly? Was this strictly to feed the trope that ugly people are inherently evil? It reminds me of Sanjuro, where, before Mifune’s character sets them straight, the young samurai are fooled into thinking that Mutsuta is corrupt just because he’s homely. It’s a dumb stereotype, even 200 years ago.

Okay, enough grumbling. Time to sum up.

I’m glad I finally read Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. While I wish it were better-written (from my twenty-first century perspective), I think the monster Shelley created is fabulous, and I’m grateful for the influence the book gave to so much fiction that I do enjoy. It’s worth the read just to see that influence and to meet the original mad scientist who “tampered in God’s domain.” 2.6/5

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Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

wogf_250I don’t normally do reading challenges. Not that I’m all superior to them or anything. I just hate taking on obligations I may not be able to meet. That, and, well yeah, I’ll read what I want when I want, thanks very much, is usually how I feel.

That said, this year’s challenge from Worlds Without End caught my eye on Sunday, and I decided to sign on. That challenge is to read 12 books by 12 women genre authors in 12 months. Looking over the list of possibilities, it reminded me that there is still so much to read, and I hadn’t read as many authors on the list as I wish I had.

Time to amend that.

Although for me, it’s going to be 12 books in 6 months, because of the whole just discovering this two days ago thing. Fortunately, I read fairly quickly.

The other aspect of this challenge is that I have to review all 12 of those books. Blog post material!

Here’s what I’m going to read (Note that I’ve not read any of these books before and I made it a point to choose authors I haven’t read before either, for the most part.):

I’m actually excited to read all of these, not just the ones I commented on. And the first one’s already done; just need to write the review. Oh, Victor.

What do you think of reading challenges in general and this one in particular? Are there books by the authors above you think are better? (I can change what I’m reading any time.)

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