Tag: Terry Pratchett

The Last Ten Books That Came Into My Possession

Not counting library books or books lent to me.

  1. The War Poets: an anthology. You know how grandmothers always try and give you random crap when you go visit them? That’s where I got this, a couple of weekends ago. Because poetry. (Actually Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est” has been one of my favourite poems since I read it out in assembly at school. Like all the best poetry, it dictates how you read it aloud; it makes you dramatise its fury through how you sound it out.)
  2. Sisyphean – Dempow Torishima. So apparently the last time I bought something in a bookshop was in April? In New York? Which seems unlikely, but I can’t think of anything I’ve actually bought since then. Sisyphean was okay, a bit organic for my taste.
  3. Space Opera – Catherynne Valente. This was part of my New York haul. I was ridiculously excited about this, as I bought it around the time Amazon sold out and the only copies left were scattered around various Barnes and Nobles and I GOT ONE and it’s lovely.
  4. The Refrigerator Monologues – Catherynne Valente. Yeah, I basically treated America as a chance to buy all the books that are fiendishly difficult to find over here. This included ALL THE VALENTE.
  5. Saga Volume 1 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I read this a couple of years ago, but I’ve been wanting to own it for a while – the art is so lovely and MY HEART ALANA’S FACIAL EXPRESSIONS. Plus, it actually seemed to be cheaper in New York than over here.
  6. S.  – J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. I actually cannot remember exactly when I bought this, except I know it was definitely in the Oxford Blackwell’s shop. I haven’t read it yet, because of the vagaries of my TBR pile, but I can’t wait.
  7. What Are We Doing Here? – Marilynne Robinson. This was an emergency buy when I was stuck in Bologna without anything to read, and it was a great choice if I do say so myself: engaging, thought-provoking and empathetic.
  8. Imaginary Cities – Darran Anderson. I bought this in Oxford in January. It was rainy and cold and we were looking for somewhere to hide for an hour before dinner, and Blackwell’s rode to the rescue (not literally, although that would be impressive). I read the first couple of chapters of this fascinating book curled up in one of their armchairs.
  9. The Compleat Discworld Atlas – Terry Pratchett and the Discworld Emporium. This was a Christmas present from my sister! It is, physically, a lovely book. It is very geeky. It is also…a bit problematic, and nowhere near as fun as the actual Discworld novels, or even some of the older companion books.
  10. The Book of Dust – Philip Pullman. Also a Christmas present, also from my sister, more interesting than the Discworld Atlas even if it’s not quite what I wanted from a His Dark Materials prequel.

(The prompt for this post comes from the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018

  1. The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemisin. The conclusion to the Broken Earth trilogy, and I think the only book that’s made me cry so far this year. In an airport. It is devastating and hopeful, bleak and beautiful all at once. It’s a book about climate change and motherhood and the trauma that systematic oppression inflicts on its victims and its perpetrators alike. It’s extremely unusual, to say the least, to find a fantasy novel that’s even half as ambitious and important.
  2. Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters. I finished this just today, in fact, and it came pretty close to being the second book to make me cry this year. It’s a novel about a Victorian oyster-girl who falls in love with a male impersonator at the theatre, and follows her to London. Waters is amazing at romantic suspense, at writing the sweet painful bliss of seduction, and I spent the four days it took me to read Tipping the Velvet utterly under its spell.
  3. Rosemary and Rue – Seanan McGuire. The first novel in McGuire’s Toby Daye series was exactly what I hoped it would be: smart and fun and not afraid of dealing with darkness, and set in a version of Faerie that’s magical without being twee.
  4. What Are We Doing Here? – Marilynne Robinson. This is a dense book, a collection of essays delving into the depths of philosophy, theology, history and aesthetics. But it’s worth taking the time and the care to engage with it: it’s a book that advocates empathy, and thorough engagement with the world, and the importance of the humanities in this career-obsessed society.
  5. Green Earth – Kim Stanley Robinson. 2018 for me has so far been marked by a growing awareness, and a concomitant grief, of just what a parlous state we’ve brought our planet to. Green Earth contributed to that awareness, but it also gave me some hope: hope that maybe we can fix our broken social system and find the political and social will to do something about rampant climate change before it’s too late.
  6. Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente. Space Opera’s rather grown on me since I finished it and found it a little insubstantial. Sure, it’s a story about Eurovision in space. Sure, its ending is schmaltzy as all get-out. But it’s hard to resist its glitter and its goodwill and its generous, inclusive approach to the aliens who inhabit the galaxy – as well as the humans fighting for Earth’s survival.
  7. The Refrigerator Monologues – Catherynne M. Valente. While I was reading it, I enjoyed The Refrigerator Monologues a lot more than Space Opera. But…it’s faded a little in my memory by comparison. Partly I think that’s because it’s a collection of short stories about superheroes, or, rather, the girlfriends of superheroes, women who are “fridged” to advance the stories of men. I see Valente’s point, and it’s well and beautifully made, but I just don’t find superheroes that interesting. And the collection as a whole is a little one-note.
  8. Imaginary Cities – Darran Anderson. This is just a fascinating look at how cities have been portrayed and conceived of throughout human history, romping through sources as diverse as Thomas More’s Utopia and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, looping round and round its points in a kind of collage without ever quite saying what it means. I’m fascinated by the connections between architecture and literature, so this was absolutely perfect for me.
  9. The Real-Town Murders – Adam Roberts. This is a novel I admired more than liked. I mean, I enjoyed reading it; but not as much as I enjoyed nearly everything else on this list. But, like all of Roberts’ writing, it is doing complex, interesting work with genre, and genre expectations, and the headlong splintering of our shared culture.
  10. Provenance – Ann Leckie. Provenance has this fascinating double structure – just when you think you’ve got to the bottom of things you find a whole nother world behind them. Like Leckie’s Ancillary series, it places a lot of emphasis on identity politics and cultural norms and etiquette. And it does some very heavy lifting in imagining a culture that’s genuinely different from our own Western one, especially when it comes to gender norms and family structures.

(The prompt for this post came from the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Ten Books That Would Make Good TV

  1. The Dark Tower series – Stephen King. A Dark Tower TV series is already in the works, but given it’s associated with the decidedly lacklustre film I have basically no confidence it will be any good. The whole series is crying out to be televised, with a prestige TV budget: the battle of Jericho! Blaine the Mono and the waste lands! The desert, and the man in black. Roland of Gilead weeping. It would be fucking fantastic. Someone get it done, please. (I can’t believe there wouldn’t be an audience for it, given King’s readership.)
  2. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. Does Peter Jackson do television? Yes, I know he made an unholy mess of The Hobbit (STILL NOT OVER IT), but The Silmarillion is another kind of beast altogether: properly epic and wonderful in the way the Lord of the Rings films are. It wouldn’t work as a film (please don’t do this, anyone, or I will cry) because there’s like a million characters and no overarching plot except for “everyone dies and everything is shit”, but it could make for beautiful TV.
  3. Lirael – Garth Nix. Only, I’m imagining like a version where Lirael stays in the Library and has magical monster-of-the-week adventures with the Disreputable Dog and gradually learns to make friends and accept herself and it would be wholesome and wonderful and full of books.
  4. Perdido Street StationChina Mieville. I know, I know, I wrote a whole post a couple of weeks ago about how Mieville doesn’t work on TV and it should never happen again, but on a purely superficial level I think New Crobuzon would be amazing on screen, if it was done properly. Plus, the novel has that sprawling Dickensian quality that would give a TV series time to explore the world properly while, y’know, having a plot.
  5. The Discworld series – Terry Pratchett. There was a series called The Watch that was happening a while ago. Wikipedia the Fount of All Knowledge claims it is still happening. I’m hoping a) that it does happen and b) that it is not shit. (The films are fairly shit, but it is pretty fun seeing Discworld come to life, however underfunded it is.)
  6. A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin. This is another one that would work really well as a monster-of-the-week show, carried by its wise-cracking protagonist and BBC special effects that are dodgy enough to look a little bit real. (See also Doctor Who.)
  7. Soulless – Gail Carriger. Steampunk and vampires and werewolves, oh my! (Seriously, this book is obsessed by scenery. If anything was written for TV it’s this.)
  8. The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik. Temeraire is adorable, and the books are really fascinated by relationships in a way that I think would work well on TV. You could flesh out the arcs of some of the supporting characters, and it would be like Downton Abbey but with dragons. And naval battles.
  9. Night Film – Marisha Pessl. For obvious reasons, this would work well on screen: I mean, it’s literally about film. And you could translate some of the novel’s narrative tricks pretty well into TV. I can also see how a TV adaptation could be disastrous, though.
  10. Green Earth – Kim Stanley Robinson. It would be like The West Wing, except with climate change! And lord knows climate change could do with raising its profile.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Characters I’d Like to Check In With

  1. Lirael – Lirael, Garth Nix. I don’t think Goldenhand really works as a novel, but it was so lovely seeing Lirael again (and her adorable awkward romance with Nick). She’s just one of those characters who I really, really want to see happy. She deserves it, after all.
  2. Meg Carpenter – Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas. I have so many questions. Does she finish her novel? Does she get together with Rowan? Does she ever have the big screaming relationship-ending argument with Christopher? (I don’t want a sequel, though. The novel is perfect as it is.)
  3. Blue Van Meer – Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl. I love Blue. She knows so much and is so lost at the same time. What happens to her when she goes to university? Does she ever find out the truth about her father? (Answer: probably not.)
  4. Frodo Baggins – The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, OK, I just want to know what Valinor is like. And what a hobbit even does all day in paradise. Yes, I know these questions entirely miss the point. Oh, also, I would love to see Sam and Frodo’s reunion in Valinor, which I am sure would be lovely beyond words.
  5. Frank Vanderwal – Green Earth, Kim Stanley Robinson. Robinson never really says anything about the results of Frank’s brain surgery, I think for thematic reasons – but I’d like to know if his decision-making improves, and how things go with Caroline. (Still shipping him with Diane, though.)
  6. Sei – Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente. I’d like to hear about all her adventures on the trains. Palimpsest is always a wonderful world to visit, in any case.
  7. The Marquess – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente. It’s possible the Marquess resurfaces in The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, the last of Valente’s Fairyland books. I haven’t read it yet. She has such a fascinating backstory that I hope we do see more of her.
  8. Breq – Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie. We left Breq just as she was beginning to feel at home among her crew, just as she was starting to develop relationships. It would be lovely to check in with her a few years down the line, and see where those relationships have gone.
  9. Rosemary and Sissix – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers. I’m shipping these two so hard. That is all.
  10. Nutt – Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett. I have a huge soft spot for Nutt, who is kind, clever and very dangerous. Watching him making friends and proving his worth is one of the highlights of the novel – plus, I want to know what becomes of him and Glenda.

(The prompt for this post comes from the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Books for Steampunks

A Brief Definition of Steampunk as it lives in my head, because some of these are maybe stretching the definition of “steampunk”: steampunk is alt-history for the marginalised. The “-punk” part is important. Steampunk – good steampunk – punches our historical prejudices in the face. It lets women fly dragons for the Aerial Corps. It lets spinsters roll around with hot werewolves while solving murders in gorgeous dresses. It has artificial intelligences that run on programme cards and wheels made so pi is exactly three and cities that eat each other. It lets conmen take down corporate bastards and apprentices watch their decadent cities burn and petty thieves live with their rich lesbian lovers. It’s fun. It’s subversive (maybe only to a limited extent, but). It lives in capitalism and finds ways to resist it.

I’ll shut up now.

  1. Soulless – Gail Carriger. This is just so much fun. It’s the first novel in Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and it follows a spinster who, yeah, rolls around with hot werewolves while solving a murder. It is brilliantly camp (seriously, there’s a gay vampire who wears outrageously colourful Victorian outfits and it’s amazing) and somehow ridiculously British despite being written by an American, and all that semi-repressed Victorian sexuality? Is. Steamy.
  2. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve. This is young young adult (say, early Harry Potter age), but when I read it last year I was seriously impressed by how it manages to do working-class post-apocalyptic steampunk. By which I mean: one of steampunk’s big flaws is that it tends to be interested in bourgeois middle-class characters who, if they’re not exactly rich, at least have enough to get by comfortably. But the young protagonists of Mortal Engines are very much considered second-class citizens by their rapaciously capitalist/Darwinistic society, and so the novel becomes a critique of capitalism and colonialism and privilege. And it’s still definitely steampunk: it has airships and cities on caterpillar tracks and neo-Victorian social structures. It’s very cool.
  3. Steampunk Fashion – Spurgeon Vaughn Ratcliffe. This is essentially a coffee-table book showcasing various steampunk costume designers. I flick through it reasonably regularly when I feel like doing steampunk for the day. Like a lot of steampunk fashion, it is inordinately interested in women wearing outfits that supposedly say “sexy airship pirate!” or “sexy explorer!” but actually say “sexy accident waiting to happen!” (JEEZ, PEOPLE, WHAT KIND OF OUTFIT IS THIS TO WEAR IN AN APOCALYPSE?) But it does also have plenty of steampunk fashion that actually looks like something someone would reasonably wear in an alternative neo-Victorian timeline. And is also sexy. (If I ever have a spare £500 floating around, I will seriously consider a jacket like this. Till then, I must content myself with slightly less-than-excellent-quality steampunk items from Camden Market.)
  4. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. This is steampunk, but…weird. It’s got an artificial intelligence that’s assembled itself from scrap metal and corpses, and little half-intelligent machines that run on programme cards, and a huge sprawling city threaded by a web of train lines with a huge hulk of a station at its heart, and a mad inventor trying to solve the mysteries of flight. But. You know. It also has human-alien sex scenes, and an embassy from hell, and monsters that make your mind dribble out of your ears, and a stewing revolution. This book, you guys. It’s steampunk and then some.
  5. The Scar – China Mieville. It’s in the same series as Perdido Street Station, and it still feels steampunk to me, but it has a slightly different flavour of steampunk. In other words, it has steampunk pirates. It’s set on a socialist floating city that trundles around the sea living off what it can steal. If Armada isn’t quite my favourite fictional city, it’s very close.
  6. Everfair – Nisi Shawl. Everfair‘s not exactly steampunk to me – it’s alt-history without the playful -punk suffix. But it’s at least marketed as steampunk, and it feels important enough to deserve a place on this list. Like Mortal Engines, it deals with the colonialist, bourgeois prejudices of traditional steampunk head-on. Its characters build a new society in which people who are usually excluded from mainstream accounts of history can find a home – the victims of colonialism, the queer people, the Christian missionaries who assimilate into local religions, the women, the socialists, the exiles. There are difficulties and conflicts. Utopia recedes constantly out of reach. But there’s also compromise that allows people to live together – things aren’t perfect for anyone, but they’re as good for everyone as they can possibly be.
  7. Going Postal – Terry Pratchett. I…am totally not including this here because of Adora Belle Dearheart. Nope. Not at all. Seriously, though, is there anything more steampunk than the clacks: like the internet, but with semaphore? Than a story about a man who invents stamps and hires golems and generally cons everyone into supporting the Post Office? It’s so adorably Dickensian, but without Dickens’ shitty gender politics. (Did I mention Adora Belle Dearheart?)
  8. Retribution Falls – Chris Wooding. Talking of shitty gender politics…well, things could be worse, but Retribution Falls isn’t quite the model of equality I’d like it to be. It’s here because, like Soulless, it’s riotous fun, and because, like The Scar, it has pirates. Maybe it tips a little closer to dieselpunk than steampunk – but it still has that anti-authoritarian alt-history streak I associate with steampunk.
  9. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters. This is probably the least steampunk of any of the books on this list: it’s actually just Victorian pastiche, but I’m including it here because its central couple consists of a rich heiress and the thief girl who’s sent to pose as her servant and rob her. AND THEN THEY FALL IN LOVE, and it’s a novel about how they both navigate the gender constraints of Victorian society to try and find each other again; to try and create a space where they can be together. It’s every bit as tense and heartwarming as it sounds.
  10. Palimpsest – Catherynne Valente. This…is steampunk in almost no traditional sense. It’s quite obsessed with trains, and that’s the main reason why it’s here – or, rather, the main excuse for its being here. Really it’s here because its fictional city Palimpsest feels very Victorian: it’s symbolic and meaningful and layered in a way that modern cities in fiction rarely are. It carries a weight of meaning. Crucially, it’s also a queer city: a city where real things are queered, and a city that only the queer can really reach.

(The prompt for this post comes from the Broke and the Bookish’s recently retired meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Ten Book-Related Problems I Have

  1. An obsessive TBR habit. I don’t mood-read. My everyday life is, I suspect like many people’s, deliberately constructed so I have to make as few decisions as humanly possible (because decisions are exhausting). Calling me a creature of habit would be an understatement. So, I have to read my physical TBR in a certain way: library books take priority because they have to be returned in three weeks; books I borrow from other people go next; and, finally, books I’ve bought or have been given go next, with new books added to the top of the pile. And I always read from the top of the pile. All this means that the books at the bottom of the pile can be there for years. I DIDN’T SAY IT MADE SENSE.
  2. My local library has virtually no SFF by POCs. For example: they have Adam Roberts’ latest book, The Real-Town Murders, which was published last year, in hardback. But they don’t have N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo award-winning, Nebula-nominated The Fifth Season, which was published way back in 2015. Roberts is an excellent author, but The Fifth Season is a big deal in genre circles right now. Why doesn’t my (large) local library have it?
  3. Not enough book space. My mother is currently on a campaign to get me to give away some of the children’s books I’m keeping at my parents’ house, because “there isn’t enough space”. But, really, who has enough book space? Didn’t Terry Pratchett once say never to trust anyone who does? Also, I live in a room with a big window, which is nice except it makes the pages of all my books go orange and their spines all faded.
  4. I find lending books difficult because I tend to lend out my favourites and they’re my friends and what if someone drops them in the bath or leaves them gathering dust in the corner or loses them or something and I never see them again?
  5. People trying to talk to me when I’m reading. The office where I work has a central kitchen area with tables to eat at, and I tend to spend half an hour of my lunch break reading there. At least once a week someone – and it’s always a man – will walk up to me and say something like, “Good book?” a) GO AWAY I’M READING BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO ANYONE ON MY LUNCH BREAK and b) why are you even asking, I’m reasonably sure you’re not actually interested in what I’m reading. Pro tip: don’t do this.
  6. The Lord of the Rings is important to me even though it is incredibly problematic and large stretches of it are, to put it irreverently, boring. (Yes, hello The Two Towers, I am looking at you.) But it’s so thoroughly a part of who I am that I actually can’t not read it once a year.
  7. I am inadvertently clumsy with my books. I always have a book with me, which inevitably means many of my books, once so lovely and shiny, get bumped and scuffed and occasionally rained on. The other week I fell on top of my bag and squashed an orange in there, which meant poor old Bridget Jones went back to the library a little more citrussy than it came out. I eat and drink while I’m reading, too, so they get crumbs in and bits of sauce and occasionally splashes of Earl Grey. On the one hand, it means my books record what I was doing when I read them. On the other hand…they start off so shiny!
  8. Running out of books on holiday. I actually did this recently, in Bologna, having drastically underestimated how much reading I would end up doing. Luckily, Bologna has a bookshop selling English-language books – although I did have to rearrange my luggage quite drastically. I am well aware this problem would be solved by using a Kindle. I don’t want to.
  9. I don’t really like literary fiction. This is a huge generalisation, I know; maybe a more accurate way of putting that would be, “I don’t really like realism” (I’ve read some lovely literary fiction recently by authors like Helen Oyeyemi, Zadie Smith, Ruth Ozeki and others, mainly as a result of the dearth of SFF by POCs in my local library.) Unfortunately, the vast majority of intelligent book conversation in the West is about literary, and principally realist, fiction. I love following the Tournament of Books every March, but I almost never read along, because I’m underwhelmed by so much litfic that gets praised in the course of the ToB. (Everyone said Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was the most harrowing thing they’d ever read. As an SFF reader, I’ve read bleaker apocalypses.) I wish we had more accessible criticism about non-realist and popular genres.
  10. My local library has a worse graphic novel section than my old local library did, which is fucking stupid when you consider how much bigger it is. It also means that I haven’t been able to read any Saga for the last year or so. *sob*

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Review: The Compleat Discworld Atlas

The Compleat Discworld Atlas is a lovely book. Let’s get that out of the way first. Thick, richly-illustrated pages describing each of the colourful countries and lands that make up Terry Pratchett’s Discworld; one of those elastic loops to keep the book closed; an impressively detailed fold-out map, complete with lines of latitude and longitude (appropriately adjusted for a flat world), magic concentrations and temperature ranges. It’s very geeky. And, for a Discworld fan like me, it’s…fun.

But less fun than it should be. Because there’s a sense in which a book like this (which was, it seems, one of Pratchett’s last creations) misses the point of Discworld. Discworld was built out of a series of jokes. There are consistencies between the books, especially as the series goes on, but we always have the sense that Pratchett’s happy to bend the setting around the story he wants to tell. It’s not a place that was ever meant to be mapped. (I think there’s actually a joke to that effect in the preface to one of the books. It goes something like: “This book does not contain a map. Feel free to draw your own.” Fourteen-year-old me loved that.)

That’s…not a problem per se. The problem is, I think, is that this particular book completely misses the sense of fun and parody and transgression that characterises Discworld as a body of work. (There are fun Discworld maps that exist! I’ve seen an Ankh-Morpork map drawn by Stephen Player which I particularly covet.) It takes itself too seriously, its mock-encyclopaedic objectivity unleavened by the wit and wordplay of the novels. (There are some puns. They are leaden and over-explained.)

And codifying Discworld in an atlas like this makes the novels’ Anglocentrism particularly overt and particularly problematic. Everyone knows that Ankh-Morpork is the heart of the Discworld. It is its vital, beating heart; it feels like a real city even in the early novels. It’s also pretty explicitly a London analogue. That’s sort of fine in the novels, because Pratchett was a British author, and the books’ humour is specifically British, and most of their main characters are recognisably British in some form or another (with a few exceptions): so it makes a certain amount of sense that this vast and teeming world should be filtered through a British point of view.* But the objectivity of an atlas means that equal weight is ostensibly placed on each country. Which makes it very obvious when many of those countries are made up of vaguely racist stereotypes. Seeing “wives” listed alongside “camels” as an export from an African-coded country of nomads was a particular kick in the teeth: a vicious form of sexism thrown off as a careless, racist joke.

There is a vague conceit that the atlas has been partially compiled by Rincewind, the cowardly wizard-hero of some of the earlier Discworld novels, who comes with his own bundle of (partly-unexamined) insecurities and prejudices. But this is mentioned once in the preface and then never again; the text has none of the colour that might otherwise serve to distance narrator from author. (See, by way of contrast, the Discworld companion book Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, which is a delight throughout, sprinkled with quintessentially Ogg-ish gems like “If you go to other people’s funerals, they’ll be sure to come to yours.”)

I don’t want to say “this is a terrible book”. Pratchett gets a lot of leeway from me, in part because it’s impossible for me to have any kind of critical distance from his novels. But this doesn’t feel like Discworld, this overly fannish work of codification and reification. (It’s perhaps telling that the Discworld Emporium, the company licensed with selling Discworld merchandise, is listed as one of the copyright holders.) Or, rather, it feels like the worst of Discworld. The map itself may turn out to be a lovely reading companion; but I can’t imagine ever really going back to the gazetteer. Which is a shame, given how expensive the whole package actually is.

*Even so, I think Interesting Times and Pyramids might make me uncomfortable if I read them for the first time now.