Wednesday, 27 January 2010

More good things

Furthermore, here are They Might Be Giants talking about their new Here Comes Science album. I gave their Here Come the 123s to my nephew and god-daughter for Christmas. Little nephew, as soon as it was put on, started bopping in his high chair in an odd but endearing manner. It is very energising and likeable stuff, which I played to my mother in the car while we drove slowly down the M3 in a snow storm in the small hours of the longest night of last year, to help keep her awake. Here's one of the songs:

Plus CuteOverload has a really good picture here, not quite their usual sort of thing.

Yesterday and the day before I spent a total of eleven hours on trains (surprisingly pleasant) and four hours teaching seminars (it's easy to forget how draining teaching is when you haven't done it for a while). It was tiring but I read some very good stuff, and this reminded me that I haven't blogged about books for ages. (I got so far behind that I could never catch up, so I'm just starting again from recent things.) I really enjoyed Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, who is a very funny writer. I particularly liked the unaggressive but judgemental analyst; perhaps analysts who say the sort of things your mother would say could be quite popular, really. The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt is fantastic; I had to ration it because it was absorbing me while I was meant to be doing other things. I will definitely read it again. It's essentially about the children of Fabians growing up in late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century England. It starts off being about the boys and moves more and more into the fates of the girls, who are just that bit less prominent in their parents' thoughts. There's a very good bit where some of the girls are deciding, in the face of the general indifference of their parents, whether to go to the cocoa-drinking female enclave of Newnham or do the default thing and look around for nice husbands, and they suspect they're going to have to choose between thinking and sex. Both these two books are definitely keepers, and not for the Oxfam pile.

I've also been reading some sci-fi/fantasy. The sci-fi sections of bookshops are very frustrating, because you know there is seriously good stuff there somewhere, but it's very hard to find it. There's not much point looking at covers and blurbs, because those just tell you what some publisher's assistant has guessed you want to hear, but I picked a few things from this list of the last decade's best sci-fi/fantasy because it seemed reasonably intelligent. The Mount by Carol Emshwiller is about a future where aliens with very short weak legs but very effective weapons have crash-landed on Earth, fallen in love with humans as a species, and now breed them as a lovable form of transport. It's not quite a straightforward them-versus-us thing because the aliens, the Hoots, love the humans, and some of the humans really love the Hoots back. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton transposes Trollope to a world of dragons, and the combination of dragon behaviour like eating the bodies of the dead and hoarding gold with Victorian societal mores is fun and and quite clever. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia is the most typically sci-fi/fantasy of the three, being set in a another world where you have to learn about different creatures and the ruling structure. The main character is a fragile robot with a porcelain face, whose maker has agreed for her to be emancipated and to earn her own living, but who won't give her the key that winds up her heart. It's quite good but probably the least memorable of the three, though I did enjoy The Secret History of Moscow by the same author. I'm looking forward to doing the same train journeys again in a fortnight, and getting some more reading in.

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