While Kitty is getting through the heat by turning up the AC and losing herself in a cozy mystery, my reading habits have been all over the place since Memorial Day weekend. I’ve been to the Nursery Crimes police division in Reading, England (alternative universe England, that is), on an Aussie football field in Melbourne, and in a sick generational ship in outer space. (I told you I read weird stuff!) Here are some quick reviews of my latest reads…
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde.
The Gist: Nursery Rhyme characters are real! (And so are Greek gods, and aliens.) Humpty Dumpty has a great fall and the Nursery Crimes Division, headed by DCI Jack Spratt and assisted by DI Mary Mary, is called in. Turns out Mr. Dumpty didn’t just fall. He was shot! It was murder!
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: A
Strength of Writing: B
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B (It helps to have access to Mother Goose Rhymes as a reference. Fun!)
Social Relevance: Uh… er… OK! C+
General Reaction: You already know I love Jasper Fforde if you read my reviews of The Eyre Affair and Shades of Grey. While reading this first Nursery Crimes mystery, I often thought that Fforde was trying to hit the reader with too much weirdness. But weirdness is what Fforde is all about. The Greek gods and aliens don’t add anything to the main plot, but they do make for some great laugh-out-loud moments. Despite the gimmick-taken-to-extreme nature of the book, the mystery itself is solid, and just when you think it’s all solved, there’s the weirdest last reveal you could imagine. Priceless Fforde.
Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy
The Gist: Gay romance centering on the outing of a Australian Football player. Oh, and… boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back; the basic formula, except this time with rainbows.
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: B
Strength of Writing: C (You know there may be a problem when the writer has the football-crazy protagonist ask why an injured player has to travel with the team. For team support, doofus! Even I knew that.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: C (Well, it did inspire me to learn a bit about Aussie Football.)
Social Relevance: A (Lots of talk right now about gay athletes in pro sports, so, yeah, it was pretty relevant.)
General Reaction: I’ve read plenty of gay novels, but I had never read a gay romance. It’s interesting to see this variation of the classic romance formula. See if you recognize it: Protagonist is sarcastic and a loner, thinking he doesn’t need love, but he really does. Meets Mr. Wonderful. Mr. Wonderful pushes all the right buttons but seems too good to be true. Personalities clash during a crisis. Mr. Wonderful has faults! Love is slipping away. The idea of love lost puts the crisis in perspective. Love is reaffirmed. Fireworks. Happy ending.
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
The Gist: Mystery and terror on a generational space ship. Our narrator is awakened from a deep sleep to find himself naked and freezing inside a giant spaceship. He is having trouble recovering his memories, and some of the monstrous creatures around him want him dead.
Status: Three-quarters of the way through!
Summer Escapism: B
Strength of Writing: B (This book is turning out to be a fast read, but it takes a bit too long to really get started, despite the intriguing set-up.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A
Social Relevance: B (Poses the intellectual, ethical and moral questions you expect from good Sci-Fi.)
General Reaction: I’ve never reviewed a Bear novel on Okie Reads, but his Blood Music is a favorite Sci-Fi classic of mine. Although I’m still reading Hull Zero Three, I can tell you that the revelations to the mystery thus far are as big, strong and provocative as you would expect from this master of the genre. Three-quarters of the way through, I’m very pleased with this book. I’ll certainly let you know if it falls apart for me in the end.
OK, that’s what I’ve been reading. What have you been reading during this late spring/early summer heat wave?
The latest Fforde novel, Shades of Grey, is the first in a series of books about a future world known as Chromatacia. If you’ve seen my review of his first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, or if you’re a fan of the author, you already know that fantasist Fforde writes some of the most intriguing speculative fiction around today.
Science Fiction and Fantasy often takes us to bizarre and strange worlds—there’s nothing new about that—but few fictional landscapes are as strangely original, weird and screwball as Fforde’s settings. In so many ways, they are far removed from the conventions and notions of previous speculative writings.
I’ve decided the best way to give you a taste of this novel, is present some of the “what if” questions Fforde had to mull over as he was concocting this delightful work. Here we go…
What if humanity was divided into a hierarchy based on what color individuals could perceive? Protagonist Eddie sees only shades of red, and is classified as a “Red.” Heroine Jane is a “Grey.”
What if your standing in society was based on the level of color perception you have? If you see more purple than other Purples in your community, you become a governing prefect. See more green than other Greens? You’re a Green Prefect.
What if your job was determined by your color perception? You wouldn’t want to be a Grey, since you would work long hours performing sometimes back-breaking duties.
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.”
What if viewing certain colors could heal, or inebriate, or even kill? You don’t call the doctor in this world, you send for the Swatchman.
What if genetic engineering had made humans night blind? Our pupils would be much smaller, for one thing. (And what if other genetic modifications unfortunately led to the far-to-often loss of ears, eyebrows, and fingers?)
What if society was based on a rule book that governs virtually every aspect of life, from what two colors can legally marry, to when you can drink Ovaltine, to what objects can be manufactured.
What if the rule book accidentally left out the manufacture of spoons? Spoons would become some of the most prized objects in the world!
What if some horrible catastrophe had happened hundreds of years in the past that led to this color-centric world?
What if this colortocracy, and these genetic modifications, and all of these rules had one goal: to keep human society in stasis, and to keep the true rulers in charge?
And what if you asked too many questions?
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.
Have you read Shades of Grey or other Jasper Fforde novels? Let us know what you think about his one-of-kind creations.
The Eyre Affair is Fforde’s first novel, and it introduces us to Next, a Special Operative in literary detection and a veteran of the Crimean War. (No, you heard me right.) It’s the 1980′s but there are many things in the book you simply wouldn’t recognize. Fforde has crafted an alternative world where the English are still fighting the Crimean War with the Russians, Wales is a separate republic, Churchill was never prime minister, time travel is more than just a possibility, Dodo birds have been brought back via DNA to serve as household pets, and the alteration of an original manuscript can change all printed copies of the work. In this universe, England is under the heel of the Goliath Corporation, an entity that helped England recover in the past, but has since pursued the almighty dollar at the expense of civil liberties.
Bring in Archeron Hades (love that name), the most evil of evil geniuses, who has a plan for the latest invention of Next’s uncle, Mycroft. Myrcroft has invented true bookworms (genetically-engineered creepy crawlers who can actually read and are nourished by prepositions) that work in conjunction with his Prose Portal to open a doorway into a book. If you open a doorway into the work via the original manuscript and alter anything, all printed copies of the work are altered. When Hades abducts Jane Eyre, the novel ends in all copies at the point of her abduction. After all, the novel is told from Jane’s perspective. No Jane, no novel. And that’s a big problem in a world where a debate about Shakespeare (did he or didn’t he write those plays?) can quickly turn to fisticuffs.
All of this sounds preposterous, of course, and it’s to Fforde’s credit that he’s able to pull it off with such finesse. No question that the work is suspenseful, but the author can’t help but have his fun via wordplay and literary allusions. (Next’s boss is named Victor Analogy.) There’s a great scene toward the end of the book where the bookworms are expelling an excess of their natural waste products: apostrophes and ampersands. Fforde writes the remainder of the scene utilizing excess apostrophes and ampersands. And then this:
Please!” pleaded Mycroft. “You’re Upsetting The Wor’ms! They’re Starting to hy-phe-nate!”
I literally cracked up during this scene. Fforde’s sense of humor shines through in such an original way.
This is obviously a book that requires that “willing suspension of disbelief” in order to find its treasures. But if you can take the journey, the treasures abound: romance, adventure, murder, conspiracy, comedy.
Check out what Fforde has to say about his first novel.
Will I read more Thursday Next? You bet! The sequel is Lost in a Good Book and, yeah, that’s what I’m planning to do.