SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Original Book Reviews, Recommendations and Discussions


What makes an AI human? – A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers, published by Hodder & Stoughton, an Hachette UK company, 2016, 378 pp. e-book. Kindle edition – Oct. 20, 2016. Hardcover edition: Hardcover – Jan 31, 2017

This novel is on the shortlist for the 2017 Hugo Awards which will be handed out at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland, in August 2017. I hope to be amongst the attendees at the conference, which is the oldest and biggest in the world for Science Fiction (SF). In preparation for that I am working through the shortlisted works in the categories of novels, novelettes, novellas and short stories. Reading the nominated novels has been an adventure so far since I do not know any of the authors, other than China Miéville. The first novel I tackled, A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers, has been like a breath of fresh air. It seemed different from the established and well-regarded types of classical SF writing. It did one thing I have never experienced when reading a SF novel: it brought a lump to my throat. I almost cried. I actually, for once, felt for the characters. That is quite an achievement, considering that the characters are all AI machines, re-engineered humans or species of non-human sapient life forms.  Continue reading


Nice but Light-Weight – Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch, published by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, UK, May 3, 2016, 336 pp., paperback.

I did not like Backman’s previous novel, A Man Called Ove, but was spurred on to buy book no.3, Britt-Marie Was Here, by a very insistent salesperson in the Chapters bookstore, who had been so entranced by it that she was practically hugging her own copy. I bought it against my better judgment and I was underwhelmed all over again, despite trying my best to be objective. When Backman writes, he repeats certain words and phrases over and over, and makes each chapter and paragraph follow the same basic pattern, so that it sounds almost like a children’s rhyme, a medieval poem, or a traditional fairytale. The novel is nice but light-weight, like a pretty balloon. Because I do not agree with people categorizing a frothy piece of writing like this one as a literary masterpiece, I will, below, debunk the myth. In any case, when I see the words “international bestseller”, particularly “New York Times International Bestseller”, on a book’s cover I am immediately suspicious.  Continue reading

The header for this and other posts contain images from both original and fan fiction/sequels by other authors. In this case, Tintin and Snowy (left) come from Rodier’s version, the Little Prince (adapted, centre) comes from the original by De Saint-Exupéry, and the Young Prince (right) comes from A.G. Roemmers’ version. All three images have been used under the terms of “fair use”: “In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work.” (Rich Stim, Stanford University Libraries). The main image, of Paris, France, is by M.F. O’Brien, used with permission.


The Unfinished “Tintin” – The tricky business of fan fiction versus copyright, Part 3 of 4

Tintin and the Alph-Art, by Hergé (Georges Remi)

Tintin and Alph-Art, by Hergé (real name: Georges Prosper Remi)

On the subject of fan fiction versus copyright rules, I am discussing examples of three cases of what seems to be copyright infringement of famous books, starting with the case of the two “Alephs” – Jorge Luis Borges vs. Pablo Katchadjian. Now it is the turn of Tintin and Alph-Art, a Tintin comic book which was incomplete at the time of author and artist Hergé’s death, and which was completed and recreated by Canadian Yves Rodier in an impressive feat of fan fiction.  Continue reading

The header for this and other posts contain images from both original and fan fiction/sequels by other authors. In this case, Tintin and Snowy (left) come from Rodier’s version, the Little Prince (adapted, centre) comes from the original by De Saint-Exupéry, and the Young Prince (right) comes from A.G. Roemmers’ version. All three images have been used under the terms of “fair use”: “In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work.” (Rich Stim, Stanford University Libraries). The main image, of Paris, France, is by M.F. O’Brien, used with permission.


“The Aleph” – The tricky business of fan fiction versus copyright, Part 2 of 4

To continue the discussion on fan fiction versus copyright, here follows the case of the two “Alephs”, one by Jorge Luis Borges and the other by Pablo Katchadjian. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, writer Pablo Katchadjian is currently being sued for plagiarism, or the re-use without permission of copyrighted work, because he “fattened”, padded, added to or otherwise re-used the novel The Aleph, written in 1945, by the famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Katchadjian says, in his defence, that his version of the novel, called The Fattened Aleph, is a “lengthened” version of Borges’s short story and is not plagiarism because it is “an experiment” and “open about its source”. An open-and-shut case this is not. Continue reading


“Moonstone” and other books, by Sjón – Prepare to have your head messed with, brilliantly

Moonstone -The Boy Who Never Was, by Sjón. Translated by Victoria Cribb. First American edition published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 2016. Originally published as “Mánasteinn – drengurinn sem aldrei var til” by JPV/Forlagið, 2013.

Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was, by Sjón. Translated by Victoria Cribb. First American edition published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, 2016. Originally published as Mánasteinn – drengurinn sem aldrei var til by JPV/Forlagið, 2013.

Sjón: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Reader of Sjón. Her current mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Reader has gone before. Apologies to the writers of Star Trek, in this, its 50th anniversary year, but this is what reading the novels of Icelandic author Sjón is like. The first American edition of Sjón’s novel Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was, was published earlier this year. While I read it, I often wondered just how it is possible for someone to express so precisely, in such visually compelling language, such foreignness, not only to readers not from Iceland, but also probably for readers from Iceland. It is in English, capably and truthfully translated by Victoria Cribb, but at the same time it is a journey into places, minds, characters, mores  and subjects that I had never before encountered in a novel.

Continue reading


Almost incomprehensible English – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Penguin Random House, 2007 (1st ed.)

Penguin Random House, 2007 (1st ed.)

Hard to read but worthwhile reading

Some books are hard to read and hard to finish. It could be because of obscure references, bad editing, bad translation, weird printing, etc. But I’ve recently got through two novels that were hard to read and to finish because of the style in which they were written. One is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in which it is literally the language that is the problem – it might as well have been partially written in Klingon for all I understood of it when I read it the first time. Another problem was the subject – it is about immigrants and the persistence of their culture even in their new life, like invisible hands pulling them back to their homeland. The specifics, that of the Dominican Republic, were completely foreign to me until I read this. However, by the time I got it, three, four readings later, the poetry of Junot Díaz’s English/Spanish had completely infused my mind.

Tomorrow’s review: the flipside of this argument; Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. Watch this space. Continue reading


Imprecision with purpose – This Census-Taker, by China Miéville

Published in US by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, division of Penguin Random House, New York, USA, 2016, e-book cover

Published in US by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, division of Penguin Random House, New York, USA, 2016, e-book cover

Like it says on the title page, this novella is mystery fiction. I could not figure out, even though I have read it three or four times already, where it is set or when. On first reading it is short and simple, but somehow seems obscure, and trying to clarify it simply creates more questions. However,  I thought it was strangely charming and very, very good. Not his best, since it is on a smaller scale than his previous books, but still, pretty darn amazing. To think that such a short book can bring up so many questions. Miéville is a Poet of Sci-Fi. But unlike all the other novels in which he has created secondary worlds that are completely coherent and minutely detailed, from the through-the-looking-glass London in Un Lun Dun, to New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station, to Besźel and Ul Qoma in The City & The City, this is an indeterminate, nameless setting. Continue reading