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Old 04-16-2018, 01:15 PM   #46
CRussel
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The whole thing of Steve as a stalker, and there's really no other word for it, is beyond creepy for me, and I'm not comfortable with it portrayed as acceptable and normal behaviour. I'm also not really buying into the whole alternate world and the technology levels, frankly. Perhaps I'm too wedded to the keyboard as an interface, at least at the beginning of computer technology, but I'm just not seeing the apparent leap past it to a functioning voice interface (20 years ago!). Especially since the described voice interface is way less efficient at some things than a keyboard. And this alternate world DID have typewriters as a known precursor.

As for the question of alternate histories? I've read a few over the years, but honestly, the only one that I actually could accept and believe in is the universe created by Eric Flint in his 1632 series. Now that was well researched, consistent with know facts, and believable, given the suspension of disbelief for the actual event.
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Old 04-16-2018, 01:32 PM   #47
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The whole thing of Steve as a stalker, and there's really no other word for it, is beyond creepy for me, and I'm not comfortable with it portrayed as acceptable and normal behaviour.
100% agree with this. It feeds into the horrid stereotype that gay men, in particular, are still dealing with - that they are predatory in nature. I am a little surprised to see it in the book. Though, I wonder if it was there to give the secret police the obvious proof they needed to say that Steve was living in an illegal way. It seems clunky, yet again, like much of the rest of the way this was handled.
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Old 04-16-2018, 07:57 PM   #48
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Fry appeared on BBC's Who Do You Think You Are to investigate his heritage.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/whodoyouthinkyo...phen-fry.shtml
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Old 04-16-2018, 08:52 PM   #49
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It seems to me that the two basic issues with Making History are that it deals with an established trope (stopping Hitler) and that it needed a good editor.

It's hard to play with a tired trope, but that doesn't mean that it can't/shouldn't be done and to be fair to Fry, I don't even know that time travel tropes in regard to Hitler were nearly so well identified when he wrote this 20 years ago as they are now. Moreover, playing with the trope can be done successfully, as with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and Dicks's The Man in the High Castle.

The good editor, though.... If the book had been subjected to even semi-rigorous editing, that would have have cut the self-indulgent bits, the tedious (did we really need the entire Gettysburg Address?), and the illogical, and trimmed it to about 400 pages, this might not have been an entirely successful treatment of the subject, but it would have been a much better read.

I think it's partially authors who are too big to edit, no matter what, and also that editing doesn't pay in that it makes no difference to end sales. Oh, for the days of Maxwell Perkins!
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Old 04-16-2018, 08:54 PM   #50
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I'm not inclined to be quite so critical of the stalker thing in the book. Certainly it is not acceptable behaviour, but to suggest it is not normal I think goes too far. Such obsessive behaviour, especially as regards supposed romantic interests, in adolescent to college age is not that unusual. Yes, Steve steps over the line from showing an interest into stalker, but it did not strike me as unrealistic. I also don't think this was necessary, it was another example of Fry over-emphasising something that was already obvious. A handful of photos would have been enough for the plot device and would have been less inclined to make the reader feel icky about it.
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Old 04-16-2018, 09:06 PM   #51
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What bothered me most about the stalking is that it showed an awareness of the possibilities of photo surveillance which should have had ramifications. It didn't make sense that they would have been so circumspect about the possibility of being bugged aurally while ignoring the possibility of being recorded visually, given Steve's expertise. It was lazy.
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Old 04-16-2018, 09:13 PM   #52
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[...] I think it's partially authors who are too big to edit, no matter what, and also that editing doesn't pay in that it makes no difference to end sales. Oh, for the days of Maxwell Perkins!
It would be interesting to know what advice Stephen Fry received. Did anyone even try to tell him it was too long-winded? Or was there an automatic bowing to a man who was already making a living from his words?

Bookpossum suggested earlier that perhaps the target audience was undergraduates, and that seems possible. I know that I got the sense from some of Fry's autobiographical work that it was targeted at people more familiar with the personalities of the UK entertainment industry than I was.
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Old 04-16-2018, 09:24 PM   #53
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What bothered me most about the stalking is that it showed an awareness of the possibilities of photo surveillance which should have had ramifications. It didn't make sense that they would have been so circumspect about the possibility of being bugged aurally while ignoring the possibility of being recorded visually, given Steve's expertise. It was lazy.
Lazy, yes. But it's one of those details I would be more inclined to forgive if I was enjoying the ride. That's one of the reasons why less-good books can be more interesting to talk about: when we're not kept interested in the story, we've got lots of time to look around (so to speak) and see the flaws in the landscape as we pass.
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Old 04-17-2018, 05:54 AM   #54
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Romcoms have been showing stalker-ish behaviour as romantic grand displays forever and whilst people having been calling it out for a while I would say that it's only really in the last few years that they've stopped putting it in movies. So whilst it is problematic Mikey and Steve's relationship is very much a gay version of an existing trope.

Life After Life I read and enjoyed. I remember feeling like I kept hoping there would be a point, but if there was I missed it. Well written though.

The Man in the High Castle Dick was one of those authors I was embarrassed never to have read given how many movies based on his work I've seen. When I finally read this I was so disappointed and nearly threw the book (it was a paper copy) across the room. The world building was well done but then nothing happens. Again I felt like there was a point I was missing.
Spoiler:
There was a scene in a park where the main character hallucinates our world which I felt was supposed to hint at some meaning but I don't know what it was!


I'm trying to think of other examples. A long time ago I started reading West of Eden which is the first of a trilogy set in a world where dinosaurs never died out but evolved into intelligent bipeds and became the dominant species. It was OK but I found it a bit of a slog and never finished it.

Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell is set in an alternate nineteenth century where magic is real. Does this count as AU? I think so because if you take all those fantasy books where magic is real in "our" world then mostly it's secret or hidden or known only to a few. In this magic is acknowledged publicly if only practised by a few.

Dominion is a book set in a world where Britain surrendered to Hitler. I only got a few chapters in but it seemed well written. I will probably get back to it at some point.

The Ragged Astronauts, one of my favourite books, is set in a world where pi is 3. Actually this has no bearing on the story as such, and it's just mentioned in passing. The story is set on a pair of planets that share an atmosphere and concerns a migration from one to the other using hot air balloons. I suspect the author threw in the pi detail as a cheeky get-out clause in case anyone complained about the physics of it all.

I've got Funny Girl listed in my Goodreads 'alternate history' shelf. It concerns the rise of a "British Lucille Ball" character. Not sure it's really AU, except in the sense that all fiction is. But I think I shelved it as such because there simply was no similar figure at that time. A story of a 60s comedian who rose to TV stardom could be a fictional character but have lots of exemplars in real life. That said it was recognisably "our" 60s/70s/80s history otherwise.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a story of many alternative worlds as the main character lives his life over and over. This is more of a "what would you do differently if you knew..." kind of story. I found it very enjoyable.
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Old 04-17-2018, 09:10 AM   #55
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Romcoms have been showing stalker-ish behaviour as romantic grand displays forever and whilst people having been calling it out for a while I would say that it's only really in the last few years that they've stopped putting it in movies. So whilst it is problematic Mikey and Steve's relationship is very much a gay version of an existing trope.
Fair enough. Certainly Fry didn't intend it to be creepy (although my point about surveillance remains!). There was an article in the NY Times in the past couple of months about the issues of staging classic musicals, naming several current or in the works productions. Carousel is the most problematic; modern audiences just can't accept spousal abuse as romantic. Another one they mentioned is Kiss Me, Kate which seems innocent enough to me. That reminds me of a production I saw long ago of The Taming of the Shrew with Meryl Streep and Raul Julia, which they managed to subvert sufficiently while hewing to the text to make it fun. Not that there should be issues with Shakespeare, which would be going off the end, but there is also some point where a work is sufficiently offensive/not good enough on its merits that it's best served by being retired.

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I've got Funny Girl listed in my Goodreads 'alternate history' shelf. It concerns the rise of a "British Lucille Ball" character.
I couldn't resist quoting this bit also as a case in point. Several episodes of I Love Lucy featured Ricky spanking Lucy as the resolution to the antics. As funny as those shows still are, it's hard at least for me to laugh at that.
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Old 04-17-2018, 12:46 PM   #56
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Ugh. This was definitely not my book. I had high expectations, Stephen Fry being an eloquent person from what I’ve seen on tv. But this - just no. I struggled through maybe a third, then speed-read & skimmed the rest.

Too many unnecessary words...
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Old 04-18-2018, 03:33 PM   #57
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I went into this expecting to like it or at least to be entertained by it and I suppose to an extent I was, but it should have been better.

I don't put a lot of weight into Goodreads ratings, but it's striking that the overall rating is just a hair under four stars, whereas the mean rating of my six Goodreads friends who are members here is a paltry 2.5 stars. In part that's because Goodreads ratings aren't very granular and implied ratings of 2.5 and 3.5 tend to round down. But even giving it every benefit of the doubt, that's still significantly lower. On the other hand, the one rating among my friends who is not a member here is five stars.

So, wandering into the purely speculative, I wonder if it's because as a group we're not really part of the Fry fandom and so missed that boost, or if, conversely, it's because we expected more from this just because of Fry's celebrity and wit and were disappointed. Would we have liked this more if written by a Steven Burns? But then, would a Steven Burns have been subject to more rigorous editing to the benefit of the book? Or would it not have been published at all if written by a Steven Burns?

If I can split hairs, I didn't think this was well done, but I didn't dislike it, in that it held my interest and I wasn't tempted to abandon it. A lot of the wordplay was clever and fun; I started laughing early on at the recaffeinated coffee. If Fry could have held onto the fun, it would have been a lot more enjoyable - but there's a fatal disconnect between Hitler and high hilarity. Mel Brooks pulled it off, but I can't think of another example.

Last edited by issybird; 04-18-2018 at 04:03 PM.
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Old 04-18-2018, 03:40 PM   #58
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Now I'll give you the recaffeinated coffee, that was funny. And the last 1/3rd of the book was acceptable (though never 5 or even 4 stars, IMNSHO), but the first 1/3rd was pure 1 star. Had it not been this month's selection, there is no way on earth I'd have finished it.
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Old 04-18-2018, 05:23 PM   #59
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So, wandering into the purely speculative, I wonder if it's because as a group we're not really part of the Fry fandom and so missed that boost, or if, conversely, it's because we expected more from this just because of Fry's celebrity and wit and were disappointed.
I'm very aware of most of Fry's work. The tone in the early parts is very Stephen Fry. But I expected better. I think it's just not very good.
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Old 04-18-2018, 05:30 PM   #60
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So, wandering into the purely speculative, I wonder if it's because as a group we're not really part of the Fry fandom and so missed that boost, or if, conversely, it's because we expected more from this just because of Fry's celebrity and wit and were disappointed.
I would have liked to listen to this, read by Stephen Fry himself. Although I did enjoy several aspects of the book, I think it would have held a lot more resonance if I could have heard it in his voice.
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