Archive for Judge Dee

a journal of the plague year [confined reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2020 by xi'an

Watched TV series His Dark Materials produced for the BBC, which is much much better than the earlier film, as the actors are all fabulous—first and foremost Lyra, but also Ma Costa, the Gyptian Muter Courage—, the gypsy community is given a much stronger role, the characters are deep and complex, as eg Mrs and Mr Coulter, both ready to sacrifice kids for the greater “good” without appearing as absolute monsters! The special effects are a wee bit deficient as often with BBC productions but not enough to make a case. Although I sort of cringed each time a bear moved!

Read The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which I noticed standing on my son’s bookshelves. The original Shannara Trilogy was one of the very first fantasy books I read in English in my undergrad years (after Lord of the Rings of course and possibly The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which did not leave me with an everlasting feeling of superlative literature, to say the least. This avatar of the original Sword of Shannara trilogy did nothing to improve my feelings as the plot is lazy at best, with super-powered villains suddenly acting, last second deus ex machina rescues, endless internal debates, heavy hints at treacheries and double-treacheries, and, worst of all!, intrusion of 20th century technology, e.g., computers, AIs and robots, that the far future characters make sense of. Only suitable for a time of lockdown and even then… I should have left it on the bookshelf! Incidentally, one fight scene against a cyborg was highly reminiscent of the black knight scene in Holy Grail!

Watched by chance Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. For the first time. And was totally un-impressed. Highly pretentious construction falling flat from being a modern reconstruction of antique dramas, endless dialogues (which could have been cut by half if removing all the occurrences of fucking from them), boring and threadbare story, and artificial characters that essentially make no sense. I cannot fathom why this film is so highly ranked..! (And even less to witness it being compared with Rashomon!)

Read [part] of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳) but, lockdown or not, I simply could not finish it. Despite its fantasy approach to Chinese martial arts, which I usually enjoy (at least in planes!), and some proximity with the Judge Dee stories by van Gulik, the story felt very contrived and somewhat out of reach, plus [not yet] Genghis Khan being depicted in a fairly positive way [at least in the part I read]. Too irrealist for my reading buds, I presume…

Cooked plenty of new dishes, thanks to the delivery of weekly farmer boxes, from radish stems & buckwheat pancakes to celery roots purées, to fregola sarda (leftovers from ISBA 2016!) con acciughe, to chard gratins, to pea pod and cauliflower core soups, to flaxseed bread and buckwheat naans (as we ran out of wheat flour). We also managed to use and survive most of the out-of-date cans and bags that had stood forgotten in the back of our cupboard… Not visiting a supermarket for two months was actually most pleasant, living very nicely from the above mentioned farmer boxes and the occasional delivery from a cheesemonger, and supplementing weekly visits to the baker with attempts at home made bread.

Read Matha Well’s Murderbot diaries, my first read on a Kindle!, for free courtesy of Tor. Starting with All Systems Red, which won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award, and the American Library Association‘s Alex Award. Very good if somewhat classical (Blade Runner anyone?!) trope of the rogue robot turned autonomous and human, so human! This is a sequence of novellas which means a fast-paced story and an efficient style. (Including a less exciting third novella, due to a lazy scenario.) More mind-candy à la John Scalzi than profound literature but quite enjoyable for a quick read during lunch or tea break! But which induced me to buy the first and incoming novel in the series,  Network Effect. (To be commented in a subsequent entry…)

Leading to (re)read the Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, the last volume in the series being just out. Very lazy buildup, in the traditional spirit of a few people driving the future of the entire Universe, with unlimited resources and unrestricted hacking abilities, but with funny dialogues, as usual with Scalzi. In this binge (re)read, I actually realised the frustrating intricacies of Kindle ordering as (i) I could not use my amazon.com account and hence none of my associate gains (ii) I could not merge several amazon.fr accounts and (iii) prices varied a lot between using directly the Kindle and ordering from amazon.fr…

And even growing some salads and radishes over the two months and eating them before the end of the lockdown, as the weather in Paris was quite mild most of the time. Although it meant a daily-basis fight with slugs. The arugula did not resist that well, though…

Reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for more than a month, having trouble keeping my concentration as the story goes in loops and not a particularly well settled plot. With a central idea of an alien race taking over humanity a few cells at a time. Which reminded me of Greg Bear’s Blood Music I read during the first year of my PhD. The book has some appeal, from being located in Nigeria 30 years from now to America having completely vanished from the map after Trump pulled the ultimate drawbridge. It won the 2019 Arthur Clarke Award after all! But I found it too hard to complete to even consider embarking upon the next two volumes on the trilogy…

el lector de cadaveres [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on August 20, 2019 by xi'an

lelecteur-decadavres El lector de cadaveres (the corpse reader) by Antonio Garrido (from Valencià) is an historical novel I picked before departing to Japan as the cover reminded me of van Gulik’s Judge Dee which I very enjoy9788467013849ed (until a terrible movie came out!). Although van Gulik apparently took the idea from a 18th-century Chinese detective crime novel Di Gong An. Anyway, this seemed like a good travel book, although heavy in my hiking backpack. After reading it mostly in the trains, I am not so convinced that it was a great idea! The story stemmed from the author attending a legal medecine conference in Mumbai and hearing of a 13th century Chinese medical expert who could be the very first forensic doctor. The book builds upon this historical character, romancing his early life from destitute to becoming the legal medicine expert of the Song emperor. There are a lot of similarities with Judge Dee in that the meritocratic structure of the Chinese government is central to the central character joining the academy and postulating for the imperial examinations. That the underworld is never far from the ruling classes. That superstition is also a permanent feature in everyday’s life. That cruelty is a part of justice as well as an intricate legal code. And that confucianism is strictly ruling the society, from top to bottom. The historical part is rather nice, with a higher degree of details and apparent authenticity than van Gulik’s. This shows the research undertaken by the author was quite fruitful. The plot however is terrible, with Song Ci falling in every possible trap, trusting every villain in the vicinity and shooting himself in the foot at every occasion. The story goes from one disaster to the next, Ci being only saved by a last minute benevolent passerby. His brilliance as a forensic officer is hard to explain when considering the stupidity he demonstrates all along, while the novel involves several others who also work on the medical analysis of corpses for the courts. A very lengthy suspension of belief!

Judge Dee

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , on April 30, 2011 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, I came across a book Dix petits démons chinois in the series Les nouvelles enquêtes du Juge Ti (The new cases of Judge Dee) by Frédéric Lenormand. As I highly enjoyed the original Judge Dee series by Robert van Gulik, I bought it. The style of this new book is rather far from the original and the detective plot is rather poor, so I do not think I will buy further books in the series. However, this started me on re-reading van Gulik’s books, which remain as enjoyable as I found them twenty-five years ago… Incidentally, a movie called Detective Dee just came out (in France) a few days ago. It again builds on the same historical Tang dynasty judge, with apparently little connection with the original books.