Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

artemis.pngThe Premise: on a now-colonised moon, Jazz Bashara ekes out a living as a porter, smuggling goods from Earth on the side. When she’s offered the chance to earn more money than she could have dreamed of to complete a dangerous and illegal mission, she takes it, and finds herself in a world of trouble.

Thoughts: I have very conflicting feelings about this book. I had to give up on Weir’s previous book, The Martian, because it seemed to me to be all about potatoes, which just didn’t really do it for me. I absolutely love space-set books though, so I was eager to read this and hope for fewer vegetables. On this point, at least, I was satisfied; on the moon, in the city of Artemis, all they eat is something horrible called gunk anyway. I did really enjoy all the space-specific detail, like the background to how people ended up living in Artemis, the different areas all named after astronauts, the tech necessary to sustain life, and many more details. That was all fun. I’m no scientist, so I don’t know how much logistical sense it made, but I also don’t care.

The plot’s generally fun too, with Jazz unwittingly finding herself neck-deep in a much wider conspiracy than she anticipated, and there’s plenty of running about and nearly getting killed. There is, however, also a lot of welding, which I didn’t find completely fascinating.

The issues, for me, were the characterisation and dialogue. Although Jazz is a cool narrator, she seemed to me to be a stereotypical vision of what some men (not all men blah blah) want a woman to be: she drinks too much! She swears! She’s NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS! But she also has breasts! Such a dream. I just found her quite annoying and her voice didn’t entirely ring true for me. And some of the dialogue is just horrible; there’s one bit where her male friend (BECAUSE SHE’S ONE OF THE LADS) describes her as his only friend with boobs and I had to stop reading while I finished vomiting in my mouth. It seems like a lot of time has been spent coming up with a believable setting, when perhaps some research could have been done into how humans speak.

In Conclusion: I basically enjoyed this book, but I did find myself having to skim read some of the welding/horrible dialogue bits. There’s a cool setting and exciting plot to be enjoyed in Artemis; it’s just a bit of a shame some of the dialogue is so eye-roll-inducing.

YA Review: Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell

girlcott.pngOne of my big passions in reading is finding reasonably obscure YA novels, especially diverse ones that also come under the heading of historical fiction. In Girlcott, I found something to satisfy all these needs.

Set in the Bahamas in 1959, Girlcott tells the story of a real-life boycott which was aimed at ending racial segregation. Our main figure in the story is sixteen year old Desma, who is looking forward both to her birthday celebrations and the scholarship which will give her a chance to achieve her dream of becoming qualified as an actuary. But when the mysterious Progressive League announces a boycott of cinemas as a protest against the segregation that negatively impacts the black population, Desma finds her plans derailed in more ways than one.

In some ways, Girlcott is a little frustrating; the politics in the background are intriguing, but Desma, initially anyway, is only concerned about whether her birthday party will go ahead, which irritated me until I remember that she’s a teenager so it’s quite likely that her feelings would be shared by any other nearly sixteen year old anywhere. Her early self-centredness makes her gradual understanding more effective too, as she quickly learns the significance and necessity of what the Progressive League is doing.

There are some very effective sections in the book. The one which has stuck with me the most since reading concerned Desma and a local white family for whom she had babysat, and who are keen for her to come and work for them as a nanny. Early in the novel, Desma turns down this offer, but has to do so delicately to avoid causing offence, even though it is her who should be affronted by a suggestion that doesn’t take into account her potential. It’s an eye-opening episode, for both Desma and the reader.

Girlcott is a pretty slight novel – it took me less than a couple of hours to read – but it packs a punch by using real-life but little known events that have topical value even now. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for more varied YA, particularly those with an interest in history.

Review: The Ascendance of Harley Quinn edited by Shelley E. Barba

ascedance of harley.pngThe Premise: Since her first appearance in 1991, Harley Quinn—eccentric female sidekick to the Joker—has captured the attention of readers like few new characters have in eight decades of Batman comics. Her bubbly yet malicious persona has earned her a loyal and growing fan base as she has crossed over into television, theatre, video games and film.

In this collection of new essays, contributors explore her various iterations, focusing on her origin and contexts, the implications of her abusive relationship with the Joker, her relationships with other characters, her representations across media, and the philosophic basis of her character.

Thoughts: I’ve become quite the fan of Harley Quinn over the past couple of years, mainly through reading her own comics and the Suicide Squad series; obviously, I’ve seen the character in the Suicide Squad movie too, but as that was a particularly turgid piece of cinema, I prefer not to think about it. My interest in the character made me really interested to read this collection of essays; I gain a weird amount of enjoyment from reading proper academic analysis of lowbrow culture, so The Ascendance of Harley Quinn was an excellent read for me.

A range of different topics are covered, from the history of the character, the representation of the abusive relationship with the Joker, Harley’s relationships with other characters and the broader consideration of what the character actually represents, philosophically. There’s plenty of fascinating content, largely linked to the dichotomies at the heart of Harley Quinn: victim or villain? (Both, actually.) Good or evil? (Again, both.) There’s plenty of discussion of the disparity in how her backstory is presented in the original comics and the New 52 iteration, with one giving Harley more agency in her transition from Dr Harleen Quinzel to the Joker’s sidekick. The analysis devoted to this is interesting and expansive, while Harley’s bond with Poison Ivy is also given plenty of discussion.

There are a couple of minor faults with the book. Inevitably, it’s quite repetitive, with particular episodes of the Batman: The Animated Series and certain issues of the comics covered repeatedly. I enjoyed all the essays except one, which seemed a particularly mean-spirited attempt to mansplain the apparently inevitable future dwindling in Harley’s popularity; frankly, I don’t think that’s true and, additionally, it seems really out of place in what is otherwise a celebration of the character.

In Conclusion: for fans of Harley Quinn, this is essential reading. The book provided me with loads of information I didn’t already know, as well as provoking plenty of food for thought about a character for whom I’ve developed a lot of affection.

Review: Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang by Ava Farmehri

through the sad wood.pngThe Premise: at the age of 20, Sheyda Porrouya’s life is almost over. She was born in Iran on the day staunchly orthodox mullas declared the birth of the Islamic Republic and set about summarily purging the country of all things Western and un-Islamic. To make matters worse, as she matured, Sheyda seemed increasingly unable to distinguish between fairy tale and reality. She began to exhibit disturbing behaviour. When Sheyda is accused of killing her mother, she is immediately jailed and sentenced to death by hanging.

Thoughts: as you may conclude from the synopsis, this is not a cheery book to read. Sheyda’s story begins with her imprisonment, with the narrative then flitting between past and present to fill in the gaps, showing the reader her peculiar childhood behaviour as a means of explaining her present state. I was expecting more misery, to be honest; these flashbacks are not as traumatic as you might expect in a book in which the main point is the protagonist’s murder of her own mother. I found the depiction of Sheyda’s relationships with her mother and father really engaging, with her social isolation and strange childhood quirks having obvious impacts on her ability to socialise with others.

More saddening are the sections set in the prison, with Sheyda’s abjection complete as she is ostracised by her fellow prisoners and reduced to the embarrassing behaviours of her childhood. These sections, and the structure of the book overall, reminded me of one of my favourite novels – The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, in which the protagonist is similarly imprisoned for murder and spends her time reflecting on her past – particularly in its gradual unravelling of the truth. Farmehri’s writing is perfect for the task of revealing Sheyda’s fractured state and the emotion she feels at different parts of her life. Even in relatively uneventful passages, the book is compelling because of how beautifully written it is.

In Conclusion: I was drawn to this book because of its extremely emo title and its author and setting, as I like to read as widely and diversely as possible. It’s a book that subtly draws you in and grabs hold of your emotions without you really noticing until it’s too late.

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