Archive for K.J. Parker

journal of the [second] plague year [deconf’d]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2021 by xi'an

Read the third volume of Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, The Escapement. Which I found very slow-paced, with loads of mechanistic vocabulary I did not know, and it took me a while to read the book! Still, some sections are definitely worth reading, like the one on Necessary Evil, seen as the tolerance zone between exactitude and error, from and engineer viewpoint… And the final chapters are truly terrific, very dark and pessimistic, keeping me awake till the wee hours. Even though all pieces of the machinery fit too well in the end! But I also reflected on the ambivalent role of the very few women in this third novel, dooming the entire country while remaining stuck in the lover-wife-mother triangle, with no engineering or military role…

“He didn’t for one moment doubt the accuracy of the tables, but how on earth did the book’s author know these things? It could only be that, at some time in the past, so long ago that nobody remembered them any more, there had been sieges of great cities; so frequent and so commonplace that scholarly investigators had been able to collate the data-troop numbers, casualty figures-and work out these ratios, qualified by variables, verified by controls (…) to be inferred from the statistical analyses in a manual of best city-killing practice. Extraordinary thought (…) suppose the book was the only residue left by the death of thousands of cities, each one of them as huge and arrogant in its day as the Perpetual Republic—the Eternal City of this, the Everlasting Kingdom of that, squashed down by time and oblivion into a set of mathematical constants for predicting the deaths of men in battle.”

I also read La Saga des Écrins, by François Labande, in the iconic Guérin series, about the Écrins range in the French Alps, where we spent a fortnight last summer, a rather classical if enjoyable story of the climbers making firsts on the peaks of this “wild” area of the Alps. (As an aside, François Labande started Mountain Wilderness France, whose goal is to keep mountains as a place of wilderness and to clean them from artificial infrastructures.) The cover includes a very nice drawing of La Meige by Jean-Marc Rochette. I also read another delightful short story by P. Djèlí Clark, The Angel of Khan el Khalili. Obviously set in the same fantasy steampunk Cairo of the early 1900’s.

Still turning the crank of the new past machine, I made bigoli, the Venetian equivalent of soba noodles, with both an anchovies sauce and a clam sauce as well (if not from the Laguna!), a rhubarb clafoutis (not yet from our garden), Lebanese humus (without the skin!). Noticed a sharp rise in the price of BrewDog beers, thanks to the new taxes courtesy of Brexit! But still ordered a box of their Nanny State for the summer…

Watched the movie Jo-Phil: The Dawning Rage (!), which makes a great job of setting characters and installing a seedy atmosphere of violence and corruption but completely fails at delivering a convincing story, still gripping enough to watch till the end. And binge-watched a Korean TV series called Signal related to the stunning Memories of Murder (and a collection of real crimes in South Korea from the 1980’s to the last decade). While far from perfect, with a tendency to repeat some scenes twice, the usual theatrics of such series, and the paradoxes of temporal travel (!), the show is nonetheless one of the best Korean dramas I watched… Had  a quick look at the very Netflixy Shadow and Bones. To discover that the trilogy was merged with Six of Crows. Which is strange as the time lines completely differ. But logical if considering that Six of Crows is better written and paced than the earlier trilogy, albeit not outstanding. This is a 12⁺ YA read after all..!


Devices and desires

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on November 22, 2009 by xi'an

Last week, I finished reading Devices and Desires from K.J. Parker, a book bought in this fantastic Akateeminen Kirjakauppa bookstore in Helsinki (with a different cover using a Da Vinci technical drawing). The title was vaguely familiar if not the name of the author and I only realised today that it was because I had read the book of P.D. James with exactly the same title, about twenty years ago! (I find it rather surprising that an author may re-use the same title than an earlier author but this must be acceptable from a legal point of view!) Anyway, this book is interesting in that it gets away from the standards of fantasy to come closer to speculative history. The setting still is a sort of medieval society but there are no supernatural powers nor beings, the opposition being between feudal kingdoms and a more industrial and centralised state that managed to get the monopoly of all manufactured goods. The premises of this trilogy are thus quite promising, but the plot does not unravel that well: the narrative proceeds through the points of view of a few (too) central characters and the renegade from the industrial state is too improbably clever, just as the head of one of the feudal states is too dumb and indecisive. This poor style is somehow unfortunate, as the societies are well-conceived, with an interesting stalemate in both societies, innovation being probibited on both sides (until this exceptional renegade comes by). The moral conflict in using new weapons with more desctructive power is somehow predictable but the book mostly sheers away from a Ludite perspective that all industry is evil (not completely, as shown by the next title in the trilogy: Evil for Evil). The concept is vaguely related to L.E. Modesitt Jr‘s endless Recluce saga, where a teenager more interested in engineering than in magic leaves the island to get a living… (The first Recluce book was quite good, but then the series got bogged into an unimaginative infinite repeat loop!) My overall feeling is that, while the engineering and hunting aspects of the story show a good background and are enjoyable, the story is spread too thinly to consider buying the two other volumes in the trilogy.

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