Recently Read: Un Lun Dun, Amulet, Decoding the Heavens, and others…

Mini-reviews for things I’ve recently read.

I’ve been (slowly) reading through China Miéville’s oeuvre in a roughly chronological fashion for a number of years, and have finally reached Un Lun Dun, his juvenile/young adult novel. Now that I’ve read more and tasted sterling fantasy prose, I’m not as enamoured by Miéville’s writing as I once was. Nevertheless, his distinctive narrative style is quite suited for this novel, which is a light-hearted, youth-oriented variation on the New Crobuzon of his Bas-Lag novels. In fact, I’d say that this is Perdido Street Station turned juvenile fiction: the plot progression is virtually the same, and UnLondon is weird, wild and wonderful as I’d come to expect from Miéville’s fertile, off-beat, yet peculiarly sensible imagination. The characterization wasn’t much to speak of, but given the world was the main character, I expected this too. Un Lun Dun is simply a fun, off-beat romp.

I re-read Orsinian Tales while waiting for my library books to come in. Like said in my book rambling, Ursula Le Guin’s stories are endlessly captivating, and this collection is no different. It’s less overtly fantastical and more magical realism… and there’s actually no magic here except that which comes from imagination. Which is the whole point: these stories only serve to ignite the reader’s imagination, which is where the true story unfolds. All the Orsinian Tales are lovely, but I really bought this collection solely for one of the stories, titled “Conversations in the Night”, which I plan to write about later.

My latest graphic novel foray is the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, mastermind behind the Flight anthology. A juvenile/YA story, this series is filled with lovable characters and a perilous adventure, illustrated in Kibuishi’s light-hearted, lushly coloured style. I’m now engrossed in the story and have read until volume #3. There are 5 volumes so far, and Kibuishi is working on the 6th. Ah, that’s the trouble with starting an ongoing series — I have to wait for the author to finish!

The non-fiction on my TBR list have been sorely neglected; it’s time to make some dents in it. I’ve just finished reading Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant, subtitled “A 2,000-Year-Old Computer–and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets”. It’s a “popular science” account of the discovery and decipherment of the Antikythera mechanism; I love clockwork and analogue machines, so I’m especially interested in learning more about the mechanism. Marchant’s account was uneven: I think it tried too hard to be both historical and conversational/biographical, and ended up reading stilted and inconsistent. Some of the descriptions of persons involved seemed just a bit too colloquial, even emotionally biased. It was also difficult to follow the chronology of events, I found myself often wondering when certain discoveries were made, and having difficulty finding dates. Finally, a huge shortcoming was the lack of images to support descriptive writing. My engineering/mechanical knowledge is rudimentary, so I had difficulty following and visualizing Marchant’s written descriptions of gear positions and arrangements. A diagram would have been extremely helpful. Ah well, that’s what the Internet is for! In all, this was a good introduction to the Antikythera mechanism, and I appreciated Marchant’s meticulous research into all the people involved in deciphering its function, how the various theories were reasoned out, and finally the current prevailing theory and significance of the mechanism to history, archaeology, engineering and technology.

Currently reading the non-fiction book Reading the OED by Ammon Shea, with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay upcoming. Kay has been on TBR for years — at last, the day of reading him is coming soon!

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