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The Knife of Never Letting Go - The Ex-Communicator

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February 8th, 2009


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09:24 pm - The Knife of Never Letting Go
Woah. I got very tired and I think it must have been the jetlag catching up with me. I've also started working on the book. I hope to finish a chapter today, but I think I'm going to have to stop.

I hope all our Australian friends are relatively unaffected by the awful fires. And that people in the northern hemisphere are surviving in the snow.

I've just read The Knife of Never Letting Go. This is a young adult SF novel. It's a pleasant read, and I managed to finish it very quickly although I was shattered. I think it's very well judged - just demanding and disturbing enough, but not offensive or alienating to young readers.

I suspect most people have heard of this already. It's set on a colonised world, where a virus means all men 'broadcast' their thoughts in a form called 'Noise', which is very well rendered using typographic tricks. The protagonist is a teenage boy just coming of age, in a town from which all women are missing, presumed killed by the virus. The stories he has been told to explain the world are not necessarily true.

A very pleasant amusing aspect of the story is that animals can talk and/or broadcast their thoughts, and the hero has a dog whose speech is authentically doggy. Very likeable character, very well rendered.

A few places it got a bit corny, but what the heck. I was worried that the gender politics might have been crass, and this put me off reading it for a while, but this fear was unfounded. I know some people think the treatment of the aliens borders on racist. I can't really discuss this issue without major spoilers, but I thought the was the weakest aspect of the story. Perhaps not racist, but out of step with the general mood of the book.

NB - I do these little reviews mainly so that you can decide if a book is worth your reading. If you've read it already, then I hope I say enough to let you decide if I have the same impression as you. Let me know if you feel different. That goes for all of these little pocket reviews.

(28 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:vilakins
Date:February 8th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
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You've told me enough to interest me, though I do tend to avoid books I think might be sexist. I like the idea of the animals broadcasting too.
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From:communicator
Date:February 8th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
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The sheep just broadcast 'sheeep', 'sheeep'. The dog says things like 'Pooh now' or 'eat now'. He grows on you as you read the book.
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From:vilakins
Date:February 8th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
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I like it!

Icon: "Ooh, moving thing, play play bat get."
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From:pigeonhed
Date:February 8th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
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I bought a copy in lancaster Waterstone's a couple of weeks ago but not read it yet. The Sales person (who I think may be senior there,) seemed surprised when i asked about it and asked if I'd seen a review of it anywhere. I explained it was getting a lot of buzz on the SF blogs, and she seemed impressed.
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From:communicator
Date:February 9th, 2009 10:04 am (UTC)
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It's easy to forget that our world isn't 'the' world. I will lend the book to happytune who likes to read YA novels sometimes.
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From:coalescent
Date:February 8th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
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I know some people think the treatment of the aliens borders on racist.

Any links?
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From:ninebelow
Date:February 9th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC)
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That would be helpful. As Anonymous Adam says below, the aliens clearly are the victims of racism but I'm not sure how that translates into their depiction.
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From:coalescent
Date:February 9th, 2009 10:08 am (UTC)
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Yes. And also somewhat to the point, one of the few predictions I am willing to make about the sequels is that Our Heroes will learn more about the aliens and said aliens will turn out to be important in their own right.
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From:communicator
Date:February 9th, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
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I flagged it up in the review because I didn't want to be unequivocally positive when I knew people on my f-list felt very differently from me about the book. The partner-of-an-lj-friend (a writer of YA fiction herself) will be posting her tough critique shortly, and if it is possible I will link to that.
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From:coalescent
Date:February 9th, 2009 10:08 am (UTC)
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Thanks, I'd be interested to see that.
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From:dfordoom
Date:February 9th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
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I hope all our Australian friends are relatively unaffected by the awful fires.

I didn't even know about them.
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From:communicator
Date:February 9th, 2009 09:55 am (UTC)
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Immersed in horror, you missed the horror. Glad you are unaffected.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 9th, 2009 07:47 am (UTC)
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"I know some people think the treatment of the aliens borders on racist"

Who? Where? And what on earth are they talking about? The *characters* in the book are incredibly racist to the aliens (or species-ist, I guess), but that's a whole different thing than the *book* being racist towards them. And how can you be racist to imagined aliens anyway? I find that comment utterly baffling. Liked the rest of the review, though, and loved the book.

Adam
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From:communicator
Date:February 9th, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)
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Yes, my friend's partner is a YA novelist and she has some concerns - she's going to post a review soon, on her own blog or website - I'll post a link to that when it comes up, as I'm sure she'd like to engage in debate about it.

I don't think it was racist. I do have some issues, to do with the internal moral logic of the novel. These are spoilery of course.

The whole 'point' about Todd is that he can't and won't kill, and this is internal plot imperative on which the whole dynamic of the story rests - it's why they are chasing him, and it's why he gets into danger over and over again.

So, having set up this internal imperative, it seemed like a plot flaw to have him break it so easily, and then immediately revert back to it. I know from the stance of the human colonists this isn't a real killing - but the internal logic of the story seems to depend on it being our stance too.

Having said that - this may not be her argument at all.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 9th, 2009 10:54 am (UTC)
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Interesting (and sorry I'm anonymous, makes me sound much more sinister than the actual rather nice person I really am).

I thought, though, that the one killing he does make is clearly meant to be understood by us as a huge mistake on his part, that he doesn't think he's "really" killing (for the reasons you stated above) but then finds out that he's completely screwed up. Hmm.

Adam B (see, a last initial, getting less anonymous by the minute...)
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From:gair
Date:February 10th, 2009 10:35 am (UTC)
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I haven't read the book yet (and doubt I will) but this is pretty much the thing gerald flagged up to me.

So this is mainly because I'm interested in the word 'racist' and how people use/define it at the moment (especially in the context of teaching theory and my students' allergy to words like 'racist' and 'sexist'), but I'm intrigued by this. You seem to be saying here that (1) the book's narrative logic requires its readers to agree with the proposition that killing people from certain (biologically defined) groups is not 'really' killing; and (2) this book is not racist. I can't reconcile those two statements, and I think it must be because we mean something different by the idea of a racist book - what would make a book racist, for you? Or am I reading you wrongly?
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From:communicator
Date:February 10th, 2009 11:21 am (UTC)
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I hope you don't mind me bringing it up. I didn't want to give a review without flagging your issue, but I didn't want to say 'this person thought x'.

My main reason is I am not sure that humanoid alien species are directly mappable onto humans of other 'races'. So, I guess one could write a book about an alien species that were incredibly ugly (like those Medusas in Star Trek) or warlike, or whatever, without necessarily making a racist point ('other races are ugly').

Also it could be argued that the story doesn't in fact embed the callous attitude to the aliens, but only reports it, leaving the reader to work out that the opposite is the case.

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From:gair
Date:February 10th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
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Okay, thanks - and no, I don't mind you bringing it up at all!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 10th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC)
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Gotta say I think you might be misunderstanding me here. The book's narrative logic is that the *characters* think that killing an alien group isn't really killing (which the main character then realises is a horrible lie he's always been told), which is a different matter altogether than the *book* arguing that. If the book argued that, it'd be pretty evil. Good thing it unambiguously doesn't.
The idea that the book is racist is nonsense. 1) it's an alien group (which hyper-white skin, by the way) who have been victims of genocide by the settlers and 2) it's made perfectly clear that the protagonist makes a mistake in thinking it's okay to kill one. Really, what's the problem here? It seems to be, if I'm not mistaken, an allegory about treatment of, say, aborigines, maybe? Native Americans? Which would be the opposite of racist.
Adam B (who's really got get himself one of these avatar things)
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From:gair
Date:February 10th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
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Well, I was asking communicator about how she defined 'racist' in terms of fiction, not about her reading of the book. I haven't read it myself, so I have absolutely no idea whether or not it's the book (as communicator argues ) or the characters (as you argue) which/who thinks that killing indigenous people* isn't really killing. And that, as you say, is what makes all the difference.

*people, not humans, which includes sentient aliens at least in my head.
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From:ninebelow
Date:April 1st, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
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she's going to post a review soon, on her own blog or website

Did this ever get posted?
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From:communicator
Date:April 1st, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
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We had a chance to talk about it in a bar a few weeks ago. She's written 10,000 words or so, just because she feels so strongly about it, and I think sometimes with subjects that make you feel and think so much, you can't (or perhaps shouldn't) post?

An issue is that this writer is from Australia, though living in Britain now, and the spectrum of what is politically significant, what skirts offensiveness, is somewhat different - the issue of annihiliation of native populations is very fresh and painful compared to the situation in the UK where sensitivity is more about colonialism, and the US where it's more about underclasses and slavery.
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From:ninebelow
Date:April 1st, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
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I dunno, it seems like if you believe a claim as important as that is valid, you should stand up and say so. Obviously it is personal choice though.

I'm not at all convinced nationality makes a difference but then this can't be judged without seeing what the argument is.
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From:several_bees
Date:February 9th, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
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Unrelated to the post, but...

I remember reading something about going to silent movies in places with relatively low literacy levels, and how people who could read would read the captions out aloud for people who couldn't. And I'm relatively convinced that this was either in your livejournal somewhere, or in John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939. I couldn't find it in the Carey, though I haven't looked very thoroughly - was it you, do you think? Not asking for a reference to the post or anything, it was probably a couple of years ago, just wondering whether to go looking more thoroughly through the Carey or poke around in your archives instead.
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From:communicator
Date:February 9th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
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I am pretty sure I posted about that at some point. My grandma told me that it happened like that in Birmingham in the 1910s and 1920s. I can't find the reference, but that's about the whole of it anyway. She was born in 1908.
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From:several_bees
Date:February 9th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC)
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Aha, thanks. (I was reminded of it by a bit in Christopher Isherwood about people making champagne-popping sounds and car noises while watching silent movies, and have been trying to dig out other information about silent movies being treated interactively ever since.)
[User Picture]
From:pennski
Date:February 9th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
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I read this over Christmas and overall really enjoyed it. Don't want to say too much more in case I spoil any of your other readers.
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From:communicator
Date:February 10th, 2009 10:59 am (UTC)
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That's always the dilemma isn't it? I think it's a fun read.

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