The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game and Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

I had been planning to slowly re-read all of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books in (internal) chronological order. I had not been planning to read these three all in a bunch, but an infected blister, that resulted in two days in hospital on intravenous antibiotics, changed that.

When I set off for the medical centre, knowing that I might spend quite a while in the waiting room, I grabbed Warrior’s Apprentice, knowing that it was engaging, but not too cognitively demanding. (The alternative, which I had just started, was Children’s Literature – An Issues Approach. I decided this would not be ideal under the circumstances.) In the event, Warrior’s Apprentice lasted me not just 40 minutes in the Medical Centre, but also several hours in casualty at the hospital, with a foot that was becoming increasingly painful. The Vor Game and Cetaganda (which Michael brought in for me, along with my laptop and some DVDs) carried me through the next two days in the ward.

These three books have never been among my favourites in the Vorkosigan series. On re-reading, however, they do all have some good stuff in them – Warrior’s Apprentice in particular, since this is the book in which she sets up Miles’ personality. Even in these early books, Miles is an interesting and complex character, and Ivan is a wonderful counterbalance to him. In general, however, I find all three books pretty lightweight when compared to later books in the series.

I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes by Jaclyn Moriarty

I absolutely loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s young adult books (Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassy Crazy) so I was really excited when I learned she had written a “fairytale for grown-ups”. Unfortunately, I was bitterly disappointed when I actually read the book.

Although some of the humour of her writing is still present, it lacks the exuberance of her YA fiction. I liked the character of Listen, and the very believable agonies she goes through when her friends unexpectedly decide to dump her. However, I became progressively less interested in – and more irritated by – Cath, Fancy and Marbie. I also found the whole Zing Family Secret to be very anticlimactic.

Very glad I got this book out of the library, rather than buying it. However, it doesn’t change my opinions of Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassy Crazy – among the best (and funniest) YA fiction I have read.

Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons certainly builds up a rich and complex universe, and I always feel I should like these books more than I actually do.

I think part of the problem is the stylistic choices he makes. Hyperion is a sort of Canterbury Tales structure, in which each character in the group of “pilgrims” tells their own story. For each story, Simmons emulates a different writing style, which is interesting, but (for me) ultimately unsuccessful. Fall of Hyperion is even more fractured: I find the concept of telling the tale through the “dreams” of Keats becomes increasingly strained. I also dislike the switches between past and present tense.

The other thing is that I find I don’t really care that much about any of the characters. There are some I feel a degree of interest in – Sol, for example, and Meina Gladstone – but I am pretty indifferent to most of the others. I think this is particularly a problem with the second book: I suspect that if I had connected more with the character of Keats, I would have been a lot more gripped by the book.

This is a pity, as the sweeping events of Fall of Hyperion, in particular, are fascinating, and extremely well presented. As a reader, however, I find I generally need a “small” story in the foreground to keep me emotionally engaged – and Keats’ story just didn’t do it for me. This is probably why The Hollow Man is my favourite of Simmons’ books. I was also gripped by Ilium (and am looking forward to its sequel) – another sweeping story, but one in which I was engaged by the individual characters and their stories.

I think it says it all about my relationship with this series that, although I fully intend to re-read Endymion and The Rise of Endymion as well as the two Hyperion books, I have decided to “take a break” before doing so.

Ocean's Twelve at a cinema in southern Melbourne

I probably should have re-watched Ocean’s Eleven before seeing Ocean’s Twelve – with only a couple of exceptions, I found I could never remember who was which among all the minor characters. Of course, I am notoriously bad with faces, particularly in films with a large supporting cast.

While this film was quite fun, I didn’t enjoy it as much as its prequel – and my enjoyment of Ocean’s Eleven was not much more than moderate, evidenced by the fact that after seeing it once at the cinema, I have not bothered to borrow it for a second viewing on DVD.

George Clooney’s screen time was cut to make way for Brad Pitt’s character’s story, which should not have been a problem (I much prefer Catherine Zeta-Jones to Julia Roberts), except that they didn’t really do much in the way of character development with the extra time. There were a couple of good bits with Catherine Zeta-Jones, but for the most part he was fairly bland – as he was in the first film, but then he wasn’t meant to be carrying the plot of that one.

The film had some good – and even a few very good – moments, but overall I found the plot rather silly and unconvincing, even for a heist movie.

All in all, it was quite a pleasant romp, but I thought it could have (and should have) been a lot better.