Wednesday, January 29, 2014

OPINION: On Reacting To Controversies, etc.

So, once again, Twitter brought word of yet another author opening their mouth (or, more accurately, vomiting onto their keyboard) to alert the world to just how much of a bigoted, opinionated pillock they are. Both Justin Landon and Jim C. Hines have done excellent deconstructions of this utter rubbish. This is, sadly, nothing new. It did give me an idea for a blog post, however, and one I think I've perhaps touched on in the past - reacting to controversies, boycotts and so on.

The manly men of genre fiction being manly in a manly way.
Personally, when an author such as the one in question makes statements like that, I put them onto a mental list of authors to not buy, or even read. Or engage with on social media. Or anything. It's not a particularly long list, and I don't generally keep it in mind until one of the members of it pops up in my feed, when I'm shopping and so on. It's also quite fun to note that it is generally white males on that list, of a right-wing persuasion, and they also tend to write science-fiction. Yes, indeed, Larry Correia, Michael Z. Williamson (after his comment in support of Correia), John Ringo and Orson Scott Card - four white males from America with right-wing leanings who write sci-fi. Well, only fair to describe them in the same way they talk about people of other political stances, no?

One thing I look forward to with such situations are the posts from other bloggers, who invariably do excellent deconstructions. Justin Landon, mentioned above, is one I find tends to be on the front line with these things, calling attention via Twitter to get it out there whilst a more constructive, well-rounded post is formed. And it's important other bloggers - and indeed other authors - do this. We need to call out authors on their behaviour and hold them accountable for what they say - that is basically the point of free speech. You can say what you want, but you're never divorced from being held accountable for it.

On the other side of this, I would love to see publishers distance themselves from this. This is not the first time a notable author from the Baen stable has been involved in online controversy (one author in particular being a kind of meme amongst genre fans), and I'd like to see publishers take a more pro-active stance against being linked to this behaviour. It does come with the potential of politicising publishing houses, but we already have that in a more general sense, and I do believe that publishers are responsible on some level for their authors - just as a business is responsible for its workers, or even its contractors (which is arguably a more accurate description of the author/publisher relationship). If publishers don't distance themselves from this, or even acknowledge it, it can be potentially taken as a sign that they either agree with it or at least condone these kinds of attacks, but also it affects their image - would you want your publisher to be thought of as the home of ultra- views? Or would you want your publisher to be thought of as the home of good books? The latter, obviously.

However, I think it's important to distinguish between authors who are utter voids and those who are just not to your taste. I would not list Gail Carriger and Philippa Ballentine alongside Orson Scott Card in any capacity except for "Authors I Will Not Buy Or Read", and this is for a good reason - my reasons for not buying their books are different. Both authors wrote things I didn't like and reacted strongly to, but I do not necessarily view them as bad people. OSC, however, probably hasn't written much I would react against (exempting Hamlet's Father, which alone gets him a boycott from me), but I do view him as a bad person, ergo he doesn't get my money either.

And then you get such brilliant things as Mike Shepherd's upcoming novel (he is also published as Mike Moscoe, and under both names is well-known for his military sci-fi relating to the Longknife family), Vicky Peterwald: Target, which has this lovely cover:

And an even lovelier blurb, with the most positive bits of it thoughtfully highlighted by yours truly:
BEAUTY AND THE BATTLEFIELD Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Victoria Maria Teresa Inez Smythe-Peterwald, daughter of wealth and power, was raised to do little except be attractive and marry well. Then everything changed--her brother, her father's favorite and the heir apparent, was killed in battle by Lieutenant Kris Longknife, daughter of the Peterwald's longtime enemies. Vicky vowed revenge, but her skill set was more suitable for seduction than assassination, and she failed. Angry and disappointed, her father decided she needed military training and forced her to join the Navy. Now Ensign Vicky Peterwald is part of a whole new world, where use of her ample charms will not lead to advancement. But her father is the Emperor, and what he wants he gets. What he wants is for Vicky to learn to be efficiently ruthless and deadly. Though the lessons are hard learned, Vicky masters them--with help from an unexpected source: Kris Longknife.
So, essentially, this book is Redhead With Giant Knockers In Space. Lovely. But how do you react to that? I enjoyed what little I've read of Kris Longknife so far, but the second one goes a bit strange, with Kris essentially dressing as a sex worker as a disguise, not to mention semi-frequent references to her breasts (or lack thereof), and an admittedly humorous (but pointless) inclusion of bulletproof knickers. How do you react to it? I think I've done all I can, and that's just walk away. It doesn't sound, to me, particularly respectful or even tasteful, and I can just about imagine how it's going to work out.

Of course, I'm just as guilty as consuming and buying content I sometimes find distasteful. I don't deny that I've found aspects of the Harry Potter books or the Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novels to be problematic - even just wrong - yet I stick with them out of determination and frustration. Is that hypocrisy? I reckon so, but at the same time you cannot dig yourself into a hole and only read things that are - to you - saccharine and safe and clean. Whether that means you only read male-only military science fiction that's surprisingly free of homosexuality, or you read only the most diverse books, if you limit yourself then you do yourself a disservice. I don't boycott David Weber. I don't even avoid his works. Why? Because I think there's something to enjoy there, and just because he's a Christian, white, straight male, it doesn't mean I cannot enjoy his works (or L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s, for the sake of including an author I read a fair bit of). And whilst I might disagree with some things Modesitt says on his blog, I don't think he's said or done anything worthy of boycotting him (yet), which is arguably offset - in my opinion - by the content of his books.

And that's the crux of the matter, to me. Whilst it should mostly be about the books, you cannot deny that the author is a part of that, and why would you want to support or read an author who so freely attacks other people, or says representation is wrong or not important? There's a difference between supporting someone who you disagree with and supporting someone you find to be actively repulsive, who spreads hate and/or surrounds themselves by an unquestioning group of people. I support Modesitt because he tells us to think for ourselves, I don't support Card because he tells others that they should be locked up for their way of life. It's about taking the information that is publicly available and verifiable and drawing your conclusions. It's about taking that, looking at it, analysing it, comparing it to your own opinions, and deciding whether you feel you can support that or not.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harry Potter Reading Challenge #5 - The Order of the Phoenix

And here we are. The longest of the Harry Potter books, and the book I stalled on all those years ago. It starts almost as soon as the fourth book has finished, and whilst it takes place over the same length of time as the rest of the series (i.e. a school year), it's almost four times the length of the first book, and boy - does it feel it! Of course, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead.

It didn't take long for me to work out why I stalled on this entry. Harry Potter starts off angsty. He continues to be angsty. And then continues some more. We have pages dedicated to Harry helping clean a house. We have pages dedicated to Harry having a whinge and a shout and almost a cry. We have... Eugh. Really. It's basically Harry Has a Bad Day And Cannot Deal With It, and he has the same fault he did for a part of The Goblet of Fire in that he cannot get over his damn pride. Add into this hefty doses of jealousy, feelings of abandonment, teenage angst and so on, and you just end up with something that represents an attempt by Neville Longbottom in potions class.

The book mostly isn't that exciting, and aside from a certain new character, I find very little to like here. It's very formulaic. I felt like the same few actions were being repeated, just in different places and with slightly different outcomes. Harry becomes very insular and self-centered, and it quickly becomes insufferable. Ron also seems to lose some of his charm, and Hermione seems to do almost a three-sixty and end up as stuffy and bossy as she did in the first book. It becomes very hard to care about the main three characters - which is a major issue when they're the protagonists - because they get divided. It's kind of like Rowling took something she said from the last book (and repeats a few times in this one), and sledge-hammered it in. The personality changes are so quick it's surprising the characters don't have whiplash.

It's understandable that the characters would change after the traumatic events of the fourth book - especially Harry - but never is it said to be due to those events, more the situation after. I find this quite problematic because I think Harry should have been put in a position to deal with the events of the last book, and whilst a lot of his frustration is understandable, Rowling never really gives us any reason or way to sympathise - or even empathise - with him. This is not aided by a lot of it just not being mentioned - I found Cedric really only came up in extreme cases, whereas I - personally - think that Cedric's death would have been the most traumatic of Harry's experiences.

I'm not sure Rowling even improved that much. We see her clumsy descriptions continue, with Angelina again having her race mentioned - she's re-introduced as "a tall black girl" at one point - whilst Cho Chang (the most obvious example of a non-white character), nor most of Harry's fellow students, being described in such a manner. It seems odd that Rowling persists in pointing this out for the one or two characters she describes as black, whilst the other non-white characters aren't described in similar ways. Heck, they're not even really described. I don't know if it's just an attempt to show there is diversity at Hogwarts, but it comes across as a little odd.

And yet... the last third of the book - whilst not excellent - does finally pick up. Neville comes into his own, Ginny gets a little more agency, Ron and Hermione take less of the brunt of the story but are still important and do interesting things, and we have a new character called Luna Lovegood (she's in the book for maybe 500 pages) and I have to say she instantly became my new favourite character in the series. It really does speed up towards the end, and the last third of the book flies past, in stark contrast to the sluggish, bloated first two-thirds.

We interrupt this review for Luna's hat from the film (it's also in the book), so y'know.
I found the final talk between Dumbledore and Harry both interesting and frustrating to read, at least to start with, but it felt like a good way to transition the story into what it will become in the final two volumes, and it explains various plot points rather clearly and sensibly - although one of them (Harry not being a prefect) seemed to be more a vague attempt to reason something that didn't need reasoning. There's a hundred thousand reasons why Harry could or should not be a prefect, and the explanation we have is... a little weak. It works, but I think it was more Dumbledore trying to be nice rather than a genuine explanation.

Summary: I really don't have much love for this entry in the series. The final third is good but does not, in any way shape or form, redeem the weak showing that is the first two-thirds. I'd rather just read a bullet-point summary of the first 500 or so pages and then top it off with the rest of the book - it'd be a lot simpler and get across the vast majority of the same information without the frustration. Whilst characters like Luna are good and a refreshing addition to the cast, and although characters like Neville finally and wholly break-free of their status as comic relief, it cannot be denied that The Order of the Phoenix is almost self-indulgent, longer and more drawn-out than it ever needed to be. Gone is Rowling's short, sharp, waste-no-time prose from the first book, instead we have a focus on repetition and stating-the-obvious.
Favourite Moment: Basically any with Luna Lovegood, but I'd possibly have to go for her final moment where she's talking with Harry. Such a great look into her character, but also how others treat her.

Least Favourite Moment: Pretty much anything involving Harry shouting or Professor Umbridge.

Improvements From Earlier Book(s): Most of Neville's scenes, the fact Luna exists, more development for Ginny, and (eventually) a decent, firm set-up for the last two books.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

OPINION: Shawn Speakman's "Unfettered" Gets a UK Cover

This evening, Orbit (UK) released the cover art for the UK edition of Shawn Speakman's anthology Unfettered. I came across it via a tweet by contributor Peter V. Brett, and despite having little-to-no interest in the anthology itself, I found myself rather annoyed by Orbit's change of cover art. And as I dug deeper, I realised something rather wrong had occurred. For those who don't know, Unfettered is an anthology edited by Shawn Speakman that was created to help pay for his medical bills after a battle with cancer, and around twenty mid-to-high profile authors contributed stories to it.

(Image unashamedly nicked from Peter V. Brett's website)
You see, the cover for the original release was created specifically for the anthology by Todd Lockwood, who also had his writing debut with this anthology, and it's supposed to represent Shawn as having broken the chains that cancer bound him with, and it actually incorporates Shawn's face into the piece. It's clearly an important, special work - and it's actually rather good - and there's nothing better to cover the anthology with. It is personal, it is created with a specific purpose. There is no reason not to use it - plus not to mention it'd save money on getting new cover art.

So why - why why why - have Orbit gone and done this?
Aside from the cover having nothing to do with the title, Shawn's name is at the bottom in much smaller print, whereas in the original edition it's actually in a slightly larger font. It's also just pointlessly generic, falling into the same old Heavily Photoshopped Arsery that seems to dominate UK genre cover art. Did they just have to give their art team something to do?

I tend to have a reasonably strong dislike for UK cover art, but I think this crosses the line for me. Orbit have twisted and changed an anthology with a specific goal and aim into some generic anthology, and I think it's wholly wrong of them to do so. Yes, they acknowledge the history in the announcement post, but these changes just seem wrong to me - and the tagging of the post hardly helps matters.

And the sad thing? There's no way for UK readers (nor those in the other mentioned regions) to get this in print or eBook any other way, unless a used copy is bought, which doesn't benefit Shawn.

Again, I ask a simple question - Why, Orbit? Why?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Harry Potter Reading Challenge #4 - The Goblet of Fire

The first of the four largest books in the Harry Potter series, and the book where we learn more about the wizarding world, but also see the characters develop a fair bit more, yet it perhaps also contains Rowling's most offensive moments, but also the most introspective.

I think, generally, this book was quite enjoyable. We've got a good variety of events that keep you interested - the Quidditch World Cup, returning to Hogwarts, the various events and interludes surrounding the Triwizard Tournament and, of course, a lot more information about the magic world. There's a lot going on for Harry, but also a lot happening behind the scenes. We learn more about certain characters, but also the build up of events from the past two or so decades that reach an apex during Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts. Whilst not necessarily complex on the level of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, there's still a lot of twisting and turning with the plot, with many false walls and too-obvious-to-be-true details. Rowling does a good job of keeping it in check, too, although it perhaps may require a re-read or two to really solidify it in your head.

Rowling also makes a point of picking up on the fact that a lot seems to happen to Harry, and that trouble follows him wherever he goes. I felt this was quite a good thing to do, because it shows that the author (and even the characters) are aware that sometimes it seems to be all about Harry, so much so that some of the more potentially-interesting moments and ideas aren't expanded upon, not to mention the fact that every single year at Hogwarts, Harry has basically fallen into huge trouble with alarming regularity. Whilst I still maintain that it's at least partially due to Rowling not expanding too much on the doings of other characters, I felt that this level of self-awareness was refreshing and showed that it's not just the reader who might think it's sometimes getting a little much.

That said, there's quite a lot to hate about this book. It becomes very superficial, and the level of hatred levelled at characters reaches a critical point. Viktor Krum is constantly degraded for his looks by the narrator, Hermione goes from cute-but-dorky to stunning almost entirely to stick two fingers up at Ron, we have the mishandled attempt to communicate Angelica Bell's skin colour and many other instances of such criticisms. I think one such moment really got to me, though, and I was fuming afterwards. A new character to the series is Rita Skeeter, an incredibly annoying and malicious journalist who writes what can only be described as glorified gossip. Her appearance is described to us as being fake (which one could easily understand), except Rowling goes out of her way to portray her as, basically, ugly in a masculine way. She's got a large jaw, apparently, and has "mannish hands". Right. Lovely. Thanks, J.K. Rowling, that's such a lovely way to describe someone and you totally couldn't have handled it better. It's also worth noting that Cho Chang manages to avoid description (for the most part) again. I also felt that some of the comments from various characters were unnecessary, particularly Ron's "I'd like to see Uranus" comment in a Divination lesson.

There's some mishandled 'racial politics' here, too. The way giants are described and handled is a little rough, but it's the house-elves that stick out a mile. We have Hermione fiercely arguing that house-elves are slaves and are unhappy and exploited, whereas almost every other character argues that house-elves are happiest doing what they do, and freedom is essentially the worst thing that can happen to them. This duality is reflected in two named house-elves - Dobby is a returning character, freed by Lucius Malfoy completely by accident thanks to Harry (I think it's at the end of Chamber of Secrets), and the other is Winky, who was dismissed by another new character for being seemingly involved in the attack on the Quidditch World Cup. Dobby loves his freedom, whereas Winky is mortified about hers, and I think the intention is for Rowling to want you to agree with the freedom 'path'. But... Ugh. I mean the arguments are horrific, whilst Dobby and Winky are asked, at no point does anyone seem to actually consult an 'expert', a senior member of staff, or even your average house-elf (including the ones at Hogwarts). Hermione pushes forwards with her new-found beliefs, and essentially shouts them at people. The way it's handled is ridiculous, and the potential comparisons to the African slave trade (e.g. the American plantations) feel clumsy at best, hyperbolic and insensitive at their worst.

Summary: For all I've complained about this book and even the series so far, I was gripped by much of this story. I wanted to see what happened, I wanted to see Harry win, but more importantly (to me) I wanted to see behind the curtains at what is making this story tick. I could have done without the way some characters were described, and whilst I was furious at one point, I managed to get back into the story and finish it on a high note.

Favourite Moment: I think there were a few, but the scene with Moaning Myrtle and Harry in the Prefect's bathroom stands out as being a fun moment with some good banter.

Least Favourite Moment: Pretty much any time a female character was described, with particular hatred for the description(s) of Rita Skeeter. It was completely out of line. The way some characters treated the girls and women was also a little iffy, too.

Improvements From Earlier Book(s): Characters like Ron and Hermione get fleshed out a little more, and this does improve the story as their own motivations and feelings get a bit more air-time. I also think Rowling managed to just about skew the story so that it's not just Harry doing these things, and we see that it's him as much as it is other people pulling the strings.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Harry Potter Reading Challenge #3 - The Prisoner of Azkaban

The more I think about The Prisoner of Azkaban, the more convinced I am that this is where the series truly begins. It becomes darker, more fleshed out - more mature, basically. And that isn't a bad thing, although it's admittedly a little intimidating when you realise Azkaban is the last slim volume in the series.

So, with The Prisoner of Azkaban, it feels like Rowling has finally got some more solid direction for the series. We go from Harry basically bumbling around and somehow managing to thwart two attempts by Voldemort to gain power over wizarding kind - two stories I kinda feel aren't entirely believable, and it's nothing to do with the magic in it - to a string of events where Harry really has to come into his own, and this is where it really begins. On top of that, this third book really fleshes out the world Harry is in, and it helps the story feel more alive. It's not just Hogwarts and the mentioned-but-not-really-explained Ministry of Magic, we now know about the horrors of Azkaban, the Dementors, omens, people surrounding Voldemort, and so on.

I don't really know if I found any flaws as such - bar a certain awkward scene I elaborate on later - but I think the story isn't as "magic" and as compelling as the first book. It doesn't have that same sense of "By all that is unholy this is good", instead you just think "This is good", which is a little bit of a shame. It's still really good and still draws you in, but stepping back allows you to sometimes see the mechanisms and the strings that Rowling has employed to make this work, and the whole Harry Potter Is Special thing does drag a little here. 

Summary: The Prisoner of Azkaban takes a step backwards to allow the reader to see the wider picture. Whilst Voldemort is still very much a 'thing', we're spared an appearance and instead we get to see some of the back story to various characters. This expansion to the plot also vaguely breaks up the Stuff Only Happens When Harry Is At Hogwarts And Harry Stops It formula we've had from the first two books, because I think in this one he's very much a vehicle for the plot, rather than the driving force.

Favourite Moment: Probably Harry winning the final Quidditch match. And Professor Lupin, who is an excellent character. And Harry smart-talking Malfoy into silence. There's quite a few 'favourite' moments here.

Least Favourite Moment: The over-drawn scene in Hogsmeade with the Hogwarts staff, which is essentially the sledgehammer approach to plot exposition. It is long, it is drawn out, and it is surprisingly clumsy. Rowling doesn't shy from slightly awkward moments to elaborate on plot points, but this goes a little too far towards being the characters turning to the reader and explaining things.

Improvements From Earlier Book(s): Again, Rowling further increases the range of voices in the book, Cho Chang in particular being a welcome example. The teachers, or at least some of them, become more human too, as we begin to see facets of them in situations other than being teachers.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Harry Potter Reading Challenge #2 - The Chamber of Secrets

Straight away I'm going to say I didn't quite like The Chamber of Secrets as much as The Philosopher's Stone. It's arguably too thin, with some irritating characters, and not as much of the first book's magical feel. But I still raced through it, taking just a slight bit longer due to the book's additional 30 pages.

So why didn't I like this as much? Well... it's quite easy to sum most of my issues up with two words - the characters. Lockheart, Creevey, Dobby... What a "joy" it was to read them. Lockheart was creepy and overbearing for essentially all but the last few chapters, and you just wanted to scream at him to leave Harry alone and to stop lying. Creevey is much the same, except he doesn't lie. He just follows. And Dobby is a very strange Chekov's Gun, but it's great fun to watch him fire... it's just a shame you have to put up with his cryptic and irritating appearances. Malfoy's arrogance seemed to be turned up a notch, which didn't do anything but add to the sometimes-annoying dialogue.

I also think my other major problem was the way the plot was handled. Rather than being a logical progression, it was Major Reveal, Small Plot Advancement, Major Reveal, Small Plot Advancement, Major Reveal, Small Plot Advancement. An example would be the whole polyjuice aspect of the story - a lot of time is spent building up to it, but the payoff is almost pointless, because the one important thing they learn doesn't really have much of an impact except to knock down one more tile on the Guess Who? board of the plot, and it's one you suspected would go down anyway. The advancement of the plot seems very quick, too, but I think that's mostly because this book shares the first's inability to really convey any long passage of time, because it hops from one moment to the next, leaving out months at a time. I doubt this will be as much of an issue with the later books, especially once I get to book four.

That all said and done, it's still a really good read. I don't think there was anything in it that I felt stood out to me, but it was just as compelling and just as fun to read as the first. The mystery was well-handled for the most part, and whilst at times it seemed like we were going the long way around to get some of the clues - indeed at times it felt like a series of set-pieces strung together with vague links - you were still gripped because you had to know who it was and why.

Summary: A book that's easy to criticise with what feels like no real stand-out moments. But it's just as engaging and as gripping as the first one was, and is hopefully just a blip as the series changes gears. This won't be my favourite Harry Potter book, but it was still a good read.

Favourite Moment: Ron and the back-firing slug spell. Excellent use of the squick factor there.

Least Favourite Moment: Basically every second we had to put up with Gilderoy Lockheart.

Improvements From Earlier Book(s): The number of female characters does increase, and there's a little bit more agency for one or two. So that's good. I'd also hope that the progression of time is smoother and a little more natural in the later books.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Harry Potter Reading Challenge #1 - The Philosopher's Stone

None of the silly 'Sorcerer's Stone' nonsense here, nope! Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first book in the series, and the one that catapulted Rowling into the limelight. It's quite funny, actually, because I believe this was the second Harry Potter novel I ever had, after The Chamber of Secrets. Anyway...

I'm surprised how quickly I read this. It's about 220 pages long, and by the end of my lunch-break on the day I'd started it, I was over halfway through - and I finished it that evening. I think this owes a lot to Rowling's simplistic yet information-packed storytelling. She just does not waste space at all. Almost every name, place or thought that is mentioned has a point, and reading this for the first time in maybe ten years after a lifetime of cultural osmosis (I remember the fourth and fifth books releasing) is really quite enjoyable, because your inner Hermione is basically screaming in glee at understanding most of the references or seeing future plot lines basically draped in neon lights in the first chapters. On top of that, she makes you want to know what's going on - Why is this happening? What does that mean? What is that character up to? Questions like that are always on your mind, and it's supplemented with some really good twists that you don't expect on your first read.

I don't think it's perfect, mind. The way Hermione is talked about is a little off-putting, as I don't think any other character (even Snape and Malfoy) come close to being described in such brutal ways. It's clear she's annoying and snotty, but even then it sometimes feels like things go a little overboard. I also think the younger characters tend to speak with that exaggerated maturity and care that you tend to only find in children's books - I don't think I've ever really heard children talk like they do in the books. Despite the growing darkness the series experiences, it does initially have a kind-of safe, sugar-sweet sheen to it. Harry copes with massive culture shock by asking questions (for the reader's sake), he somehow overcomes a life of neglect and... well, fear, within minutes of meeting Hagrid. I suppose these things are just handwaved to broaden the appeal, but also to keep the tone up, and it kinda works.

I think another flaw is the final few segments, where Harry, Ron and Hermione manage to get through puzzles created by some of the most intelligent witches and wizards in Hogwarts without really all that much of a challenge. The final confrontation is also a little bit of a cheap shot that doesn't quite seem to make sense, plus it has an eleven year-old boy facing off against one of the most powerful and dangerous wizards... and coming out pretty much unscathed. But again, I think this is understandable in terms of it being a novel for younger readers. It makes it clear that these characters are something special, especially as a team. And yet these flaws are just, well, insignificant when you consider the book as a whole.

The Philosopher's Stone *is* magical, and it's not hard at all to see why the books have become a world-famous, multi-million-if-not-billion dollar money maker and a part of my generation's culture. Whilst not necessarily timeless, there's everything to love here. There's a whole new world, hidden behind a thin pane of magic, that sits right in ours. There's adventure, sneaking around, dark trips through forbidden places, escaping from a hated to place to one that gets nothing but love... It's everything kids (and even adults) want in a story! Rowling also does an excellent job of easing you in to the world, using the world itself as a way to give the reader the information they need. I think one reason this book is quite simple is because it doesn't want to overwhelm you, so the cast and the magic side of things are kept as basic as possible, and it does work. You know the important families, you know roughly how the magic works, you know bits about magic culture, and it sets you up perfectly for the later books. I found this so gripping that, actually, as soon as I finished it I picked up the second book and got started on that!

Summary:  Reading Harry Potter now, after years of reading more adult-oriented fantasy fiction, is surprisingly doable. Often when you try to re-read books you read when you were younger, the author's writing style is often too simplistic or glaring issues stick out. And yet with The Philosopher's Stone, I never really had that looming over me, even though I did pick up on some issues. It was fun, it was engaging, and it left me wanting more. I don't think there's anything else I can say that really sums it up better than that. Already I'm glad I started this re-read, and I'm really looking forward to see what happens in the later books.

Favourite Moment: Potter telling a teacher (Prof. Flitwick?) it's thanks to Malfoy he has a new broom. Boosh!

Least Favourite Moment: The broomstick-sized parcel that no-one was to know was a broomstick... so it got delivered in front of half the school. By owls. Real subtle, that.

Hopes for Later Books: More diversity - It's not stated whether any of the other students are non-white, and aside from Hermione, there's not really any females of Harry's age given much page-time, although you do see hints here and there that Hogwarts (and perhaps the magic world) is more 'equal', as there's a girl on the Quidditch team. I believe both of these 'issues' are addressed in later books, however.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Harry Potter Reading Challenge

Earlier in the week I finally picked up a boxset of all seven Harry Potter novels, and it's given me an idea. I'm going to read each book and then talk about them, and perhaps then link this to a viewing of the films. It's quite a simple challenge, at least so far. I've admittedly not read beyond maybe a hundred pages of the fifth book, so the last three books (and four films) will largely form a surprise for me.

The set I'll be using is the Signature Edition boxset, which released to celebrate 15 years of Harry Potter. Whilst not the cheapest set around, the simplistic yet aesthetically stunning covers are - well - utterly enchanting.