Mar. 21st, 2010

tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.

Thanks to [ profile] clytemenstra for recommending and lending me this classic of American literature after I read and reviewed Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr Rosewater late last year. It took me a while to get round to this: being morbid I have quite a grim penchant for war novels, but even so I have to be in the right mood for them. Still, Slaughterhouse 5 is by no means 'just' a war novel, it's also an engaging piece of sci-fi, absurdism, and social satire, as well as drawing directly - and harrowingly - on Vonnegut's own experiences as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden. Although Vonnegut occasionally appears directly as a character, cutting through the more fantastic elements of the plot to remind us that the bombing really happened and that he was there, his main character is the naive Billy Pilgrim, a man who comes "unstuck in time" when he is abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore, a planet whose inhabitants are able to see what we call the past, present and future simultaneously. Given this long view, the Tralfamadorians have no concept of individual agency: they know how the universe is going to end, but do nothing to attempt to stop it, preferring instead to focus their attentions on the more pleasant aspects of the time-stream. This attitude provides a powerful counterpoint for the main message in this compelling anti-war novel, that the horrific events of the past should not be forgotten, and that even if the individual feels powerless to stop war, they can and should still act on an individual level to improve the lives of those around them.

Billy Pilgrim is an unlikely hero but his supreme innocence - which saves his life on countless occasions - has a powerful effect on the reader. The time-travel conceit, of course, makes for a choppy and episodic narrative, as one minute Billy is in a German prison, the next on Tralfamadore, the next at his daughter's wedding. Such fragmented narrative suggests the fragmented selves of those traumatised by the experience of war: as Vonnegut has written "there are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Indeed, for all its absurdism and sci-fi flights of fancy, I found Vonnegut's book to be one of the most 'real' and heartfelt accounts of wartime horror that I have read. This is a novel at once funny, compassionate, wise and deeply troubling - not a story to be forgotten in a hurry, which is just as it should be.

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work - the writer may have died long ago.

In a complete change of tone and pace from Vonnegut (though still with generous lashings of absurdity) this is the fifth novel in the Thursday Next series. Fforde's wonderfully zany Bookworld is coming to occupy a precious place in my heart with as much affection as I reserve for Pratchett's Discworld. I had rather thought that Thursday's adventures had ended with the the previous book, Something Rotten which tied things up so neatly and well. So it was bit of a surprise to find this fifth adventure existed (with a sixth in the pipeline) and it was with some trepidation that I picked it up. But I need not have worried. Thursday's sixth adventure is well up to the brilliant standard of her previous ones, and it felt brilliant to be returning to the insanity of her world. First Among Sequels picks up about 15 years after the end of the previous novel. Thursday is in her fifties and her son, Friday, has become a surly and unkempt teenager. Although the Literary Detectives have been disbanded she and her colleagues are still engaging in "Special Ops" work under the guise of "Acme Carpets" and Thursday takes the subterfuge up one gear further as her Special Ops work itself is mostly a cover for her continuing duties as Jurisfiction agent in Bookworld.

The action in this novel (and there is plenty of it) is split fairly neatly between the outland, where Thursday battles to get her seemingly lazy son to join the Time Police in time for him to save the world (as future time agents, including a future version of Friday himself, warn he must) and the Bookworld, in which she must deal the arrival of characters from her own backstory (including two different fictional verisons of herself) which has now been published, and hence has a presence in Bookworld, and the threat of Pride and Prejudice being turned into a lame, Big Brother style reality vote-em-off in a desperate and ill-conceived attempts to curb falling reading rates. Fforde is not subtle in his digs at the increasing stupidity of real world popular culture, and as I'm not a fan of reality TV at all I was very much in agreement with him, but I have to say the refashioned Pride and Prejudice scenes (one of which involves all the Bennets being forced to dress as bees) were some of the funniest things I've read in a very long time! I can't wait for the next Thursday book, and definitely recommend this series to others, although you do need to start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair as the books would make very little sense at all read out of sequence!

tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
HeroRats have revamped their website recently and they've asked all their subscribers to make an effort this month to spread the word by sharing their recent press release. I know most of my long term friends here know already all about Ziko and the amazing work of the HeroRats/Apopo foundation in Tanzania. But here's a rare public post from me to help spread the word a bit further.

There are currently 76 countries and territories around the world that are affected by landmines and/or explosive remnants of war. In many countries, mines block people’s access to roads, schools, health care, water supplies, jobs, and opportunities to get ahead. Landmines injure and kill innocent people every day, and sadly many of them are children.

Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading killer of youth and adults in the world, and every second someone new contracts TB. These are daunting numbers, but a local, cheap, and efficient solution exists: HeroRATs!

One HeroRAT can clear 100 square meters of a landmine field in 20 minutes; that same area would take two days work for a manual deminer. In Mozambique, HeroRATs and their human colleagues have returned 1,312,027 square meters of land back to the community and over 44,547 people have benefited from our mine clearance activities.

A HeroRAT can screen 40 samples for tuberculosis in seven minutes, equal to what a skilled lab technician can do in a day. In 2009, the HeroRATs found 561 people with active TB missed in the hospitals. If left untreated, the average person with active TB can spread the disease to 10 – 15 people each year. This means that through their work, the HeroRATs prevented 7,590 people from contracting TB in 2009 alone!

Learn more about the amazing work of these life-saving rats at or read about the science behind it at You can also adopt a HeroRAT, to get an inside look at their work!

My husband and I have been sponsoring Ziko since Feb 2009. Through his regular updates we have followed his progress through all his training, and he is now deployed helping to counter the threat of landmines in Mozambique, as well as recently having become Daddy to three more (unbearably cute) HeroRats in the making. Sponsoring Ziko is probably the most rewarding £5 a month we spend.


tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)

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