Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Book Report: Cities on the Rampage

The good news: I think I've figured out what I need to do to improve the plot of the book I'm revising.
The bad news: It will require rewriting pretty much the last five chapters. A few scenes can sort of stay in a different context, but I think for the most part everything will change. Ack.

I made my second vat of soup of the season, since I'd already eaten my way through the first batch. I pretty much live on this stuff at this time of year. I'll have it for my lighter meal of the day (sometimes lunch, sometimes dinner) or have it as a vegetable side dish with the heavier meal. Someday I ought to do a cost analysis, figuring out the cost of all the ingredients and dividing by the number of servings to see how it compares to just buying soup in a can, but I think this tastes better, there's probably more nutrition in it, and I know there's less sodium because I don't put any salt in it and canned soup is really, really high in sodium. Keeping a batch of soup handy is also part of my flu prevention strategy. I only seem to get sick when I have no good "sick" food in the house, so I figure if I've got several servings of vegetable soup in the freezer, I won't get sick.

I have done a bit of reading while doing the writing/banging my head against the wall.

First, I managed to get my hands on the new Terry Pratchett book, Unseen Academicals (Mom, it's due on the 14th, and if I get the book done in time, I'll bring it over so you can read it, but work has to come before travel). This one wasn't my favorite of the series, but I can't really say if that's because of anything to do with the book or if it was because it was a book that didn't focus on my favorite aspects or characters of the Discworld. I suppose this would be classified as a "wizards" book, though the major characters are all newcomers, with the wizards mostly in the background. I have liked other books where the main characters weren't series regulars and the series regulars were in supporting roles, but I wasn't overly fond of at least one of the main characters here. She's the kind of person Pratchett usually skewers, and while she did come in for a bit of skewering and learned a few big lessons, I spent most of the time leading up to that point wanting to slap her silly. At any rate, I'll have to re-read this one to really judge how I like it, and it may take reading the next one to put it in context, but this time around I may have been distracted from the story that was actually there by my wondering where Vimes and Carrot were and what they were up to, or if Moist von Lipwig was running the tax system yet.

The plot was essentially about university athletics. The wizards at Unseen University have discovered some fine print about a major bequest requiring them to field a football team, and if they don't, they lose the money, which might trim back their snack allocation. Problem is, football is rather frowned upon and is something generally played on the streets as part of a rivalry between neighborhoods. But then the Patrician decides to legalize and formalize football, imposing rules and order, and the university's team will play in the first big game. Meanwhile, there are things going on among the university's below-stairs staff, including a bright young man who seems to be a minority of one (no one's entirely sure what he is) but who may be smart enough to help mold the wizards into an actual team. And there are a number of other little subplots, including one about modeling and ambition. I plowed through the book in one afternoon, and it had a number of laugh-out-loud moments, plus the usual insightful social commentary, but I tend to have to read these at least twice before all the details really sink in.

Then there was Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, which is a young-adult, post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure. In the very far future on a devastated earth, cities have become mobile, roving the earth and scavenging smaller cities or towns, with airships used to scout out prey. And I have to say that this concept is utterly cool -- so cool it was almost distracting because I'd pause in the reading to imagine what that would be like. Dallas wouldn't get very far because the different parts of the city would all want to go in different directions, so it would just sit there, rocking back and forth. But I can imagine that Fort Worth would either absorb or ally with the Mid-Cities, and then it would go rollicking across the prairie, six-guns blazing, with a mighty "Yee Hah!"

Our hero, an apprentice historian, finds out that things in London aren't quite what they seem when he saves the life of the city's most famous historian, only to get himself shoved overboard by the man he just saved. Soon, he's on the run with a young radical who lives for revenge, and they get captured, rescued, captured again, enslaved, escaped, etc., in a series of adventures as they travel on airships and pirate suburbs in their attempt to get back to London. Meanwhile, the engineers of London have discovered a piece of ancient technology from the last war that they think is just what they need to take over the world.

This was shelved in the teen section of the library and the main character is 15, but the writing style struck me as more of a children's/middle grade book, except then a lot of the events were probably better suited for more mature readers (it gets really violent and there are a lot of pretty horrible deaths, including some major characters). That made for a slightly disconcerting mix, to be reading something that at times seemed almost childish, only to come across something a little too intense even for me as an adult. That's a fair warning for parents because I'm not sure where I'd say the target audience would be -- it's a little immature in a lot of places for teen readers, but probably too intense in places for younger readers. Which means it's just right for adults who no longer care whether what they're reading is too "babyish." I will be grabbing the sequel because I was really intrigued by this world and I liked the characters who actually managed to survive (did I mention the number of deaths?).

On a television note, the new version of V premieres tonight. Sci Fi was running the miniseries on Sunday, but I found I could only stand to watch a few minutes of it (I recall being very into it when I was a teenager). I'll be taping because I have ballet tonight, and then I don't know when I'll get around to watching it. It may get moved to my Friday line-up, before the ritual mocking of Stargate: Universe.

Speaking of Terry Pratchett and Friday-night television, I've decided that White Collar is essentially "Sam Vimes and Moist von Lipwig team up to fight crime." And now I want to read that book.

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