Roundup: The First

Clearly I can’t be trusted to write a book review every week. I’m thinking of just doing a weekly roundup of what I’ve been watching/reading instead, and this here is my first try of that. I’ll still do longer reviews when I can get myself going on them.

Books

1. It took me a couple of weeks really, but this week I finished reading A Hand-Book of Volapük by Andrew Drummond. The book combines actual instruction in the “universal language” of Volapük with a comic novel set in Scotland in 1889. The narrator is Mr Justice, General Secretary of the Edinburgh Society for the Propagation of a Universal Language. Justice is a keen supporter of Volapük, and spends his narrative extolling its virtues – and entirely oblivious to its flaws, which become apparent nevertheless to the reader.

Justice travels with a cantankerous, lecherous, and sesquipedalian six-hundred-year-old dead knight, which sentence should tell you something about the tone of the book.

The lessons in Volapük were genuinely instructive, and the unreliable narrator interesting, but I wasn’t quite carried away by this novel. The humour was only mildly amusing for me. But if you want to learn about an interesting and obscure constructed language, this will be more entertaining than an ordinary textbook.

2. I was in London over the weekend, and on the train there and back I read Farthing by Jo Walton. It’s a murder mystery novel set in an alternate history – one where the US never joined the Second World War, and the UK made peace with Hitler. A man is murdered in Farthing House, home to the Eversley family, who are at the centre of the politically influential Farthing Set. Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is dispatched to investigate the crime. Lucy Kahn, daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley, provides an inside view of the family. Married to a Jewish man, she is somewhat estranged from her family, and the circumstances of the crime lead to her husband being a prime suspect.

This is equal parts crime novel and an exploration of privilege, power, racism, homosexuality, marriage as a political tool, the relationship between servants and masters, scapegoating, and all the things that go on behind closed doors among the upper classes. The world we’re shown isn’t some clean and polished version of the past but one where the scandals are close to the surface, known to all but simply not spoken about.

It was an enjoyable enough read, though not the most uplifting ending. There was one thing that bothered me, which is the use of the trope where a woman knows instantly that she is pregnant during the act of conception. It’s nonsense, but the book plays it straight, with Lucy deciding sans evidence that she’s pregnant and then spending the rest of the novel thinking and telling people about the baby.

Comics

1. Manhattan Projects vol. 1: “Science. Bad.” by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. I’d heard some good things about this one, so decided to check it out. It’s a pretty out-there reimagining of the Manhattan Project, where instead of just developing the atomic bomb, the scientists are involved in all kinds of crazy science – interdimensional portals, alternate realities, aliens, split personalities, giant mechanical limbs. It hasn’t quite grabbed me yet, but I also felt the same way about The Unwritten when I read the first volume, and now I’m a big fan.

2. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J M Ken Niimura. Another picked up because I’d heard it was good but didn’t know much about it. And I can say now, it is excellent. Highly recommend. A young girl retreats into fantasy to avoid confronting difficult problems at home. The girl in question, Barbara Thorson, is smart, sarcastic, and weird, and the story is both heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming. The clever writing and great artwork fit together perfectly.

Read this book.

Film

1. Iron Man 3 – This was a fun film. It’s ridiculous spectacle, but it works, and it’s way better than IM2 was. The film handled the Mandarin the best way it could be done these days.

2. Argo – While I was in London I went to the cinema for this one. There was more humour in this than I expected, for the subject matter. The final chase down the runway was a little hard to believe (of course, it never actually happened), but otherwise it’s a solid film, worth seeing.

Other

Also in London, I went to the theatre for a showing of Wicked. A fun night, a great show. Particularly enjoyed Gina Beck as Galinda/Glinda.

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This post went on longer than I expected.

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