Archive for suspension of disbelief

blackwing [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2019 by xi'an

Another fantasy series of the gritty type, maybe not up to the level of the first ground-breaking Abercrombie’s but definitely great!  With some reminiscence of Lawrence’s first series but with a better defined and more complex universe and a not so repulsive central character. Maybe even not repulsive at all when considered past and current actions as described from his perspective…

“I’ve run the equations on it. It took me two days to plot them. Bear in mind that this is far, far beyond any light matrix that I’ve seen calculated before.”

The whole book is indeed written from Captain Ryhalt‘s viewpoint. A bounty hunter for a post- and pre-apocalyptic society, returning fugitives’ head to the central authorities but governed by a Nameless deity on top of everything (?). Appearing as a raven, hence the compelling cover, hence me buying the book! The plot is unraveling at such a pace that it keeps the tension going, especially since it is rather unpredictable. As noted above, it creates a fairly original universe and while magic is heavily involved, there are limitations to the powers of the sorcerers, witches,  half-gods and other entities that mean no deus-ex-machina last minute resolution, sort of. Actually (spoiler alert!) the machine at the core of the story is not doing too well… With repeated mentions made of mathematics governing the handling of the machine, including one over-the-top computation on the ceiling of a cell! It is only when I finished the book that I realised this was part of a series, as the story could have ended there. (Maybe should have, if the associated reviews for the next two volumes are to be trusted.)

a ghastly ghost

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2016 by xi'an

My daughter sort of dragged me to watch The Revenant as it just came out in French cinemas and I reluctantly agreed as I had read about magnificent winter and mountain sceneries, shot in an unusually wide format with real light. And indeed the landscape and background of the entire movie are magnificent, mostly shot in the Canadian Rockies, around Kananaskis and Canmore, which is on the way to Banff. (Plus a bit in Squamish rain forest.) The story is however quite a disappointment as it piles up one suspension of disbelief after another. This is a tale of survival (as I presume everyone knows!) but so implausible as to cancel any appreciation of the film. It may be the director Iñárritu is more interested in a sort of new age symbolism than realism, since there are many oniric passages with floating characters and falling meteors, desecrated churches and pyramids of bones, while the soundtrack often brings in surreal sounds, but the impossible survival of Hugh Glass made me focus more and more on the scenery… While the true Hugh Glass did manage to survive on his own, fixing his broken leg, scrawling to a river, and making a raft that brought him to a fort downstream, [warning, potential spoilers ahead!] the central character in the movie takes it to a fantasy level as he escapes hypothermia while swimming in freezing rapids, drowning while wearing a brand new bearskin, toxocariasis while eating raw liver,  bullets when fleeing from both Araka Indians and French (from France, Louisiana, or Québec???) trappers, a 30 meter fall from a cliff with not enough snow at the bottom to make a dent on, subzero temperatures while sleeping inside a horse carcass [and getting out of it next morning when it should be frozen solid], massive festering bone-deep wounds, and the deadly Midwestern winter… Not to mention the ability of make fire out of nothing in the worst possible weather conditions or to fire arrows killing men on the spot or to keep a never ending reserve of bullets. And while I am at it, the ability to understand others: I had trouble even with the French speaking characters, despite their rather modern French accent!

A Vein of Deceit

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on January 7, 2012 by xi'an

An aptly chosen title: for the second time in a row, I am fairly disappointed with a Susanna Gregory‘s Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew… It may be that, was I to re-read the first chronicles, I would get similarly unhappy about the enormous suspension of disbelief required by the novels.

“`And this pair will insist on guffawing each time I posit a notion  — they say I am employing a posteriori reasoning to argue a baseless superstition.'” (A Vein of Deceit, page 74)

The current story actually reminds me very much of an earlier chronicle, A Wicked Deed, as the setting (a dispute about a succession in a remote village away from the University) is fairly similar. There are many many reasons why I find A Vein of Deceit highly implausible (warning, spoilers!): a plot involves an unlikely tryst between a Cambridge scholar and a back-country heiress, a Michaelhouse faculty turning into a greedy traitor, a pair of super-villains who freely terrorise the whole city of Cambridge by having won an earlier legal trial, a huge frequency of chance meetings, an equally large amount of related crimes, venture capitalism, acceptance of homosexuality (at a time homosexuality was punished by death) and of concubinage, a general freedom of women that seems incompatible with the time, geographic impossibilities like having no road to the nearby and bustling Haverhill (to the point the group from Cambridge gets lost on its way there), consecrated chapels used for raising poultry, &tc., &tc… The plot unravels in a messy way with new threads being continuously brought in. (warning, spoiler!) The (hidden) reappearance of Matthews’ love in the novel is equally contrived and implausible.

`He frightened me into telling you what I have discovered as soon as I could get you alone for a few hours. And then what did he do? He laughed himself to death!’” (A Vein of Deceit, page 211)

Overall, I did not get much pleasure from reading the novel and fear the inspiration of the author has dried out. There are two more novels in the series, The Killer of Pilgrims (2010), and Mystery in the Minster (to be published, yet another chronicle taking place away from Cambridge). It is more than likely that I will have a try at the first one, but I am pessimistic about the outcome.

Diamond age

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2011 by xi'an

Here is the one before last of my vacation reads! As obvious from several earlier posts, I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s books. e.g. Snow Crash is one of my preferred cyberpunk books (along with Neuromancer), and I consider Stephenson’s approach to the genre deeper and more scientific than Gibson‘s. So when in Lancaster I picked the Diamond Age, I was quite excited to have discovered an overlooked volume of his’! The more because the story was partly taking place in Shanghai. Alas, I am rather disappointed by the result. Indeed, the book does not read well: the “suspension of disbelief” does not operate.

The Diamond Age brims with (too many???) brilliant techno-societal ideas, colourful characters, literary references, and exciting settings, but the plot dries out much too quickly. The universe Stephenson depicts is a mix of cyberpunk centred on nanotechnologies and of steampunk with Victorian codes and attitudes. (In a sense, the Diamond Age is Dickens mixed with Gibson and van Gulik.) One of the great ideas in the Diamond Age is the “primer” that educates the central character, Nell, who has been neglected by her alcoholic mother. It is a quite compelling concept, the one of an interactive book backed by an AI and by real actors that turn Nell into a real scientist (the part about Turing machines is quite good) and cryptographer, as well as teach Chinese orphans (although it does not work so well in the latter case because of the lack of real actors).  The fact that the level of the story remains one of a fairy tale while Nell is growing up and maturing is a bit of a disappointment. What really put me off, though, half the book read, is the appearance of the Dreamers, an “unnecessary and monstrously tacky underwater sex cult” that doomed my “suspension of disbelief” for the rest of the book… (The criticisms are mostly positive, though.)