The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Fantasy novel with a high reputation. Reminded me of Stephen Donaldson in the way it works: it takes a kind of standard Fantasy premise, but breaks out of the cliché by taking it more seriously and applying darker motivations and deeper characters.
In this case it's a kind of Harry Potterish scenario, dealing with a group of students at a magical college. In this case though, the training is gruelling and intensive; and the the students are highly-strung high-achievers. When they finally leave college, life presents even more challenges.
Liked it a lot. You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief, especially with the metafictional aspects: it also involves a Narnia-like parallel world called Fillory. But it's an enjoyable read, feels psychologically plausible, and has some imaginative fantasy touches.
Well worth reading.
There's also a sequel, "The Magician King", out in paperback at the end of month: I'll be looking out for that.
What I'm Reading 2
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher is the latest entry in the Dresden Files urban fantasy series.
The series has been going a while, but Jim Butcher's very good at keeping things fresh. There are long-running plot arcs that extend across the series, but he's good at giving each book a distinct resolution. He also varies the tone from light to somewhat darker. The last book "Changes" also shook things up a bit, with some familiar elements destroyed.
Even so, I was surprised when this book started to see him carrying things forward. Jim Butcher manages to give Dresden a whole series of challenges we haven't seen before.
As ever, it's fast-paced, with plenty of action and wisecracks.
This book would be a terrible place to start the series as you definitely need to know the background. If you've been following the series though, this is a very good entry in it.
Only one tiny little detail of consistency bugged me. When Luccio's soul was transferred to another body, her magical powers were diminished. So how come when Harry's soul occupied other magic users' bodies, he was able to do his usual fire spells?
What I'm Watching
Saw J.J Abrams Super 8 at the cinema. In 1979 some young teens making a movie project stumble across a mysterious event.
Very well done, with a lavishly nostalgic backdrop that's infinitely nicer than the actual period, which was one of grim recession and stagnation unpleasantly like today. Some decent performances from the young cast, and efficient story-telling.
Overall though it might suffer from some uncertain positioning. Not sure that actual kids will appreciate or understand the setting, and for grown-ups the teen angst seems a bit laborious.
Worth a look though: an entertaining, well-made film.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw Hobo with a Shotgun on DVD. Coincidentally this is also a retro movie set about the same time as Super-8, with less lavish detail from the prop masters but a rather more accurate atmosphere of greed and decay.
It's another movie based on one of the mock-trailers from Grindhouse. This one isn't nearly as good as Machete, however. There's a lot of over-the-top gore and cheesiness, but this one doesn't feel like gloriously bad taste, but more moderately distasteful.
Does capture the feel of a low-budget horror from the period, and it's not unwatchable. Not really recommended though.
Went to the National Gallery. Both exhibitions there are free at the moment.
The Devotion by Design exhibition of altarpieces mostly uses their existing collection, which they've just carried down a couple of flights of stairs. It does display them well though, in a quite atmospheric way, in some rooms laid out like a church. I did find it fascinating to look at the alterpieces from the back: somehow strange to see the unsmoothed chisel-marks from carpenters who died centuries ago. Worth dropping in if you're in the area.
They also have a Forests, Rocks and Torrents exhibition of Nineteenth Century Norwegian and Swiss nature painting on. Seems like a curiously literal title: I wonder if they're slightly embarrassed by the uncool period and genre and are hoping we won't notice it's on.
I really liked it. Though the paintings are mostly medium or small rather than spectacular huge canvases, they're fantastically beautiful: lovely subjects lovingly painted with elegant effects of light and texture. Was particularly impressed by Alexandre Calame's paintings of the Swiss mountains. Well worth seeing.
Also had a quick look through the 2011 BP Portraits round the corner at the National Portrait Gallery. Was in a bit of a hurry, but they seem to have a very good crop this year. Includes the controversially kitsch Holly by Louis Smith which is impressively skilled. Can't remember the names but liked a couple of others: one with a realistically-painted model gazing with apparent horror at a Picasso-ish portrait of her; one a self-portrait of the artist painting herself nude while her husband looks on with exasperation from the doorway.
Economics. The Glorious Revolution and current fiscal crises.
Pics. Serpentine pavilions.
Tech Politics: Top Gear fakes another electric car segment. (Don't really get it, electric cars really are pretty shit and impractical so far, why do they have to keep faking it?). Groklaw: A Brief Explanation of Microsoft's Anti-Google Patent FUD. Yet more on pseudonyms: "in real life, we expect very few statements to be public, persistent, and attached to your real identity".
Video. Adam Buxton on WebGL (watch to the end).
Random. Why blind mathematicians study geometry. How to Write a Book in Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock. Creepy iphone case. US 20th century, World food timelines.
|< Summer books | power went out last night. >|