ex libris reviews
1 March 2005
Bill's knowledge of the great republic across the sea was at this
period of his life a little sketchy. He knew that there had been
unpleasantness between England and the United States in
seventeen-something and again in eighteen-something, but that things
had eventually been straightened out by Miss Edna May and her fellow
missionaries of the Belle of New York Company, since which time there
had been no more trouble. Of American cocktails, he had a fair
working knowledge, and he appreciated ragtime.
The list is short this month, I'm afraid; I spent a lot of it playing video games, and a lot of it working on my own computer game, Ramble, and not much time reading. And alas, it seems the month got away from both Deb and Craig as well, so there's just me. Ah, well. It was a short month.
The boys loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and so I immediately went looking for the sequel, which I dimly remembered from my childhood. On the whole I'm rather sorry I did, because it's a lesser book altogether. The book contains two mostly disconnected stories of only moderate interest, a few verbal gems, and vast dollops of cynicism with regard to the office of the President of the United States. It's not that I regard the President to be beyond criticism; it's just that I don't really think cynicism about our society and its institutions is proper in a book I'm reading to an eight-year-old and his little brother. My fault; I should have re-read it myself before starting it with David and James.
That said, the Vermicious Knids are pretty cool, and I rather like The Nurse's Song, all about how her charge became President:
And now that I am eighty-nine,
In most ways this is a typical Wodehouse farce, but it has a unique twist. Imposters are a dime a dozen in Wodehouse, but I've not previously run into a case where a gentleman goes to a country house pretending to be himself, and is terribly afraid lest anyone discover that he really is himself.
No Bertie, no Jeeves, no Blandings; this is yet another fine standalone novel, and it's Wodehouse, which really says all that's necessary.
Uneasy Money came as quite a pleasant surprise. It's a transitional work, published in 1916, before he'd fully constructed his world of farce and foolishness, and hence has a more realistic tone than the Jeeves or Blandings tales--indeed, except for a few short moments it isn't really a farce at all. On the other hand, the overly realistic atmosphere that mars the earlier A Gentleman of Leisure is completely missing.
In consequence, Uneasy Money falls into a category all of its own: it's a delightful romantic comedy written in Wodehouse' remarkable style. Because of the extra bit of realism, it matters that our hero marries the right girl, who is indeed a real peach, sweet, pretty, and capable of taking care of herself in every way that matters.
Our hero, William Lord Dawlish (Bill to everyone), is especially remarkable. Like many a Wodehouse leading man, he isn't the sharpest tack in the carpet; but he's solid. He has integrity--if it's not playing the game he simply won't do it. He'd love more than anything else to settle down and farm or something of the kind, but as impoverished peer he's got no money to invest, as a peer of any kind employers won't take him seriously, and he won't suck up to the kind of bounders who might advance his career for their own sakes.
It's a common scene: one of a pair of lovers is found in a seemingly compromising but actually innocent situation, and the other refuses even to listen, instead rushing off in a snit. (Don't you hate that?) Bill's the kind of guy who would listen--and assume his girl was telling him the truth, purely as a matter of course.
Anyway, I enjoyed this one thoroughly, which in this case means "more than usual for Wodehouse". Don't miss it.
This is an interesting book--a little slow to get started, but an interesting book, and a remarkable achievement. Ringo has created a fantasy realm with all of the usual trappings--warriors, great heroes, elves, dragons, orcs, demons, wizards, and so forth--and he's set it in the far future and given it a science-fictional explanation. That's right, it's really a science-fictional world (O the wonders of nanotechnology) in which all of the trappings of traditional heroic fantasy make sense!
It's that last bit that makes the premise so remarkable. It requires extremely high-tech, the kind that's indistinguishable from magic, to breed elves who live forever, orcs who will fight whenever, and dragons that can fly whereever, and yet given the pre-industrial setting that tech can't be available to the general public. If it were, everyone in the book would be a wizard.
And so, in fact, they were. Earth was a veritable utopia. Every citizen could spend his time doing anything that interested him, with every need met by the nanites of the 'Net. Even food production was no issue--Mother, the vast AI that maintained and protectedthe 'Net, had records of every kind of dish one could wish for, and the nanites could assemble it from atoms in moments. Indeed, one could have one's body sculpted into almost any form
And then came a division in the Council, the small group of individuals who oversaw Mother and the rest of the 'Net. The division turned deadly, and soon the two factions were fighting in earnest to wrest full control of the 'Net from each other. As all power reserves were drawn upon to this end, power became unavailable to the rest of the population--and all that nice, juicy high-tech magic became unavailable. Civilization crashed over night. Only a very few people retained any kind of use of the 'Net. The remainder were forced to learn to grub for food and build shelters out of natural wood, and all manner of archaic unnatural acts.
Unnatural, that is, except for a handled of "reenactors", descendants of our present day Society for Creative Anachronism, who knew how to farm, and to forge iron and steel, and raise animals, and mine for ore, all because, in their long lives, that's what they had become interested in. And around the settlements of such folk, civilization slowly began to grow again.
As I say, it's an interesting book, with a number of memorable characters; and though there are some parts I disliked, I plan to keep an eye out for the sequel.
It's been quite a while since I've reviewed a Dalziel/Pascoe novel; mostly because I acquired its predecessor, Dialogues of the Dead, while I was in Australia a couple of years ago, and apparently the Commonwealth countries get them before we do. Consequently, it's been a long dry spell.
However, Death's Jest Book is worth the wait. Not only is it a fine murder mystery in its own right, easily as good as the earlier books in the series, but it also picks up a number of threads that Dialogues left dangling and ties them neatly into bows. The enigmatic Franny Roote--is he an innocent man, or a charming sociopath? And will the true perpetrator of the Wordman murders ever be discovered? I hesitate to say any more for fear of giving something important away.
It's an odd and unusual book, even for Hill, and I read it with great enjoyment. For obvious reasons, though, it's not the one to start with.
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