This has to be the least thrilling thriller I've ever read. I never felt like there were any serious stakes for any of our three protagonists -- unles...moreThis has to be the least thrilling thriller I've ever read. I never felt like there were any serious stakes for any of our three protagonists -- unless it was during the incessant tooth brushing scenes. Indeed, all the major characters in Spook Country have impeccable oral hygiene, but I digress.
Hollis Henry, former lead singer of The Curfew turned journalist for Node, finds herself embroiled in a mystery --care of Hubertus Bigend and Blue Ant -- that jumps from L.A. to Vancouver. She's on the trail of a D.J. for locative artists and the ghostly container he's tracking. She winds up deep, deep in the mystery, actually taking part in the denouement, but the only threat she faces is the possibility that she'll become irradiated with some Cisium, but that's okay, she's decked out in an X-ray apron, and she's sure to be fine.
David Milgrim, a sort of anti-tweeker who speaks Russian and translates Volapuk for a shady fucker named Brown, spends his time being dragged from place to place by the aforementioned shady fucker, so that he can translate any transmissions being sent to a guy Brown is hunting. The only danger Milgrim is in is a beating at the hands of Brown or the cutting off of his supply of Rize.
Then there's Tito. He's an "illegal facilitator (IF)," according to Brown, whose family is involved in smuggling and other criminal activities. His and his family's roots are in Communist China and Cuba, their initial training was with the KGB. Tito himself is a free runner, who channels some mystic state when he's doing his job, and his job puts him in direct danger. Danger of being captured. Danger of being shot. Danger of being arrested. But even with Tito the stakes feel low. He's just too good at what he does, and the planning he's executing is too thorough. So even if he were to have been caught during his big chase sequence or his final job, we're never given the impression he's in any serious danger (of course, this could be because his chief adversary is Brown, who is about as effective as a cartoon Nazi from 30s' Saturday Morning serials.)
But the total lack of stakes works. It is important, actually. Gibson's is a whole new world of intrigue. His spook country is the zone where espionage work (if it can even be called that anymore) has changed with technology and outsourcing. It is a place where anyone with the right level of curiosity, the correct skill set, the necessary connections (even if connected quite by accident) can find themselves embroiled in the intrigues around every corner. It is a place where everyone's position can be found, where everyone's conversations (written or spoken) are traced, where everyone's information is there to be analysed and fucked with. Those become the stakes. The stakes are anonymity vs. embroilment. Do you want to be known? Do you want to be on the radar? Those are the stakes, and I am not sure that our heroine, Hollis, has any clue what that's going to mean in her future.
I've never read a book quite like this one. It's story isn't terribly unique, but that's not what I mean, and I've even read books without stakes, but I don't mean that either. What I've never seen is a book with such minimal stakes that actually made me care, and this book made me care. It made me care personally about Gibson's three protagonists; it made me care about (and fear) the present-future Gibson is discussing; it made me care about the issues Gibson's grappling with; it just made me care, and I am shocked that a book written in this way could make me care in all those ways.
So I will end with these two words: Hubertus Bigend. (less)
My Game of Thrones journals were so well liked I thought I'd do it all over again with A Clash of Kings, and I am now about a quarter of the way throu...moreMy Game of Thrones journals were so well liked I thought I'd do it all over again with A Clash of Kings, and I am now about a quarter of the way through the book. This is the first insallment. My star rating is where I am at now. This may change in subsequent installments. Enjoy ,,, or not.
Daenerys –- She is, quite simply, the best leader in these books, and her POVs reveal the depth of that quality at every turn. Even better, her leadership seems to be inherent. It is all about gut, and her gut doesn’t seem to steer her wrong. Staying in the City of Bones, for instance, is a decision that is right on every level. It is right for her, right for her people, her tossing aside of superstition must solidify her mythology for her people, making morale even greater, and her ability to take the long view without realizing she’s doing so, means that she and her people wil be prepared. Perhaps GRRM is going to make Dany the biggest red herring ever. Perhaps she is not destined to retake the Iron Throne. But if she does take the throne, it will be the most satisfying foregone conclusion I’ll ever have had the pleasure to read, except for the vengeance of Edmund Dantes. Can I just say, though, that it took way too fucking long to reach Dany? I need more of her much more often (of course, it is always better to leave me wanting more, so well done GRRM).
The other thing I love here is Ser Jorah Mormont’s story. It wasn’t what I expected, but it fits, and it makes me love him more than I already did. And the coupling of Dany and Ser Jorah (only figuratively) leads me to my five favourite characters at this point:
5. Cersei (wonderful in every way. I wonder how she would do on the Bachelor?) 4. Varys (brilliant, brilliant spider, where are your scissors?) 3. Daenerys (cause she is the truest hero in the books) 2. Ser Jorah Mormont (cause I get it, and I can see myself doing all the shit he does) 1. Tyrion (that sexy motherfucker)
Jon –- Kind of a nice break from the character heavy chapters where we learn so much about the people we’re reading about, this chapter is about events. Big Daddy Mormont and his rangers and a whole bunch of crows are out looking around beyond the wall, only to discover that every village they come across is empty. Spooky. Not much else to report, although there are some new cats in the Black (cannon fodder?), Sam is growing braver (as brave as he can get), and Jon didn’t whine (I mean it ... no whining. Not sure if that is because, as my kind friends tell me, I am being unfair to poor Jon or if there is a real difference). So that’s nice.
Arya –- So that’s what happened to Ned. His soul was transported into his daughter. So here we are in Harrentown and Yoren holds up in the holdfast until some Lannister bannerman shows up and attacks. It’s a pretty cool action sequence –- all fire and violence and mayhem -- and Arya’s penchant for fighting and already seasoned courage make her a deadly little warrior. But then there is that Ned moment. The moment she does the “right thing” and risks her neck to save the guys in the cage. I found myself, as soon as the fight started, wanting someone to do exactly what Arya did, but once she did it I couldn’t help thinking, “That was stupid, Arya, you should have just saved yourself.” Will it bite her in the ass? In this case I am going to guess no. My guess is that this will have positive repercussions down the road, but it is still the sort of “noble” gesture that Ned would have engaged in, and we all know where nobility and honour got him.
Tyrion -- Damn I love chapters with Tyrion. Straight back to the shit I love: political machinations, brilliant minds plotting (and this time it is Tyrion and Varys), and kick ass lines, like (and I paraphrase) “Sometimes I wonder, Varys, if you’re the best friend I have in this city, or my worst enemy.” To which Varys replies, “I often wonder the same thing about you.” Perfection. And I wonder what the plan is for that big fucking chain? Fascinating.
Bran –- So as I was reading the chapter, I was thinking I would write out my thoughts on all the little Winterfell subplots about sonless widows and big fat landowners and crop levies and Bran as acting prince and the Walder assholes and their belittling of poor Hodor, and blah blah blah. And then the Cerwyns show up with news of Stannis’ letter and suddenly Bran remembers. Bran REMEMBERS! Sweet. Can’t wait to see what he does with his knowledge, although if I can see any family not using such knowledge to their advantage it would be the Starks. Still, the memory is there, and that is a fun development.
Tyrion –- Maester Pycelle = one. Varys = two. Littlefinger = three. What are you weaving, Tyrion? And are you doing too much too soon? What is your use for that vial you stole? What are you going to do to Littlefinger? Can you and Varys actually work together for the same thing? Are you as great a survivor as I imagine you are? Two things are sure: one, you are as sharp and observant as we’ve been led to believe since your three moves are against the three most dangerous men; two, you’ve got balls the size of boulders.
Sansa –- She just keeps getting better and better. Love the hint of old myths and tales in the intrigues of Ser Deros and Sansa. Love the Florian & Jonquil story. The way Martin offers these moments, hinting at a deeper story, but withholding the details as though we must already know them, being a part of Westeros, is masterly. We get to fill in the gaps and imagine. It’s quite an impressive skill. And then there’s the Hound. Love him more every time I see him. I hope he doesn’t die until something fittingly huge comes from him. And I don’t mean his prick.
Arya –- Gendry is about as smart as Robert, I see. At least he was observant enough to pick up on Arya’s gender. So the Arya story, the 21st century Disney Princess (interesting, isn’t it, that Sansa seems to be the 20th Century Disney Princess?), aggravates me to know end. It really is no different than the classic “male” fantasy journey, it’s simply made “new” by switching the genders. I have always been annoyed with little boys in Arya’s position too, so it is not her gender that bothers me; it is the banality of the story itself, and in a book with much more interesting female characters, I suppose it rankles that she seems to be everyone’s favourite. Throw a penis on her. Now how interesting would her story be?
Tyrion –- And a little bit of Cersei. Oh my. Where to start? Again I find Cersie a wonderful character. Out of her depth, feeling betrayed by every man in her life, overwhelmed by the patriarchal weight that has pressed down on her all her life, here she is defending her daughter from her own fate, yet once she is reached by Tyrion’s intelligence, she is prepared to do what is required. Pragmatism wins out. And speaking of pragmatic, there’s good old Tyrion, preparing the wildfire and its delivery boys. There’s Tyrion turning every turn and twist of intrigue into a moment for knowledge and activity. As much as I love Cersei, though, I hope to see Tyrion make her pay for her arrogance and abuse. Good, good chapter.
Catelyn –- Good God I hate chapters from her perspective. It took me a month, literally a month of showers, to get through this chapter. Catelyn’s presence could seriously grind me to a halt and right out of Westeros. Christ I hope she dies in a future book. My loathing for her grows every time I’m stuck in her head. However, GRRM pulled me back into his world right at the end of the chapter when Renly finally said what I’ve been thinking all along: who the fuck has the right to an usurped throne? The guy with the biggest stick (or the girl with the trio of dragons). All this talk of succession and right to the Iron Throne has infuriated me because there is no moral position in this situation. We’re not talking about a throne that was usurped hundreds of years before. We’re talking about a throne that was usurped just over a decade before. Robert had the “right” because he sat in the throne after a King was killed and a rebellion was later quashed. Might makes right. And Renley said what needed to be said. And now I am back into the tale after a month of torture.
Jon –- While I am far from loving Jon Snow, this is the first time I understand why almost everyone else does. I saw the first glimmer of him being a bit smarter than his father and family in the way he dealt with Gilly, the daughter/wife seeking escape. He had a pang of guilt, but seems (so far at least) to have made the correct decision for himself and the watch. At this point in my reading, the second season of Game of Thrones is well underway on HBO (5 weeks in, perhaps), but I have only seen the first episode. Why I bring this up is because this event, the visit to Craster’s Keep , occurs in that first episode, but it occurs here at the nearly halfway point of the book, which causes me more than a little concern that the TV producers have decided to make all sorts of untenable decisions now that they’ve a successful season behind them. And it pisses me off that they’ve decided to ramp up Jon’s petulance and self-righteousness in a way that isn’t in the book. I’ve been told that the show has coloured my view of Jon, and I think that assessment is correct, but the television makers must share responsibility for making their Jon something he isn’t and shouldn’t be.
Theon –- Loving Esgred the shipwright’s wife. Good lord in heaven but she could be my favourite woman in these books. (Later ...) I can say that I was genuinely surprised by that. God damn! I expected something to happen, but I was thinking it would have to do with Esgred’s “husband” or that Esgred was a spy planted to get Theon talking, and fool that he is he’d blather all his plans because he was thinking with his cock. I was, at least, partially right. But I didn’t see Asha coming. I am sure some would say that this is a case of a man “underestimating” a woman, but I see it, instead, as a woman actively tricking a man. Theon will never underestimate Asha now that he knows her, and surely we’ve seen Theon “underestimate” everyone, male and female since he’s come home (but only Asha has actively tricked him). One thing this chapter has done has been to increase my sympathy for Theon yet again. He is crass; he can be an ass; he is self-righteous; he’s too much a Stark and not enough of a Greyjoy. But the poor bastard is beset on all sides, and it’s impossible for me to separate the man he’s become from his upbringing. No wonder he’s such a mess.
Tyrion –- His best moments all packed tight into one chapter: 1. He poisons Cersie; 2. He rids himself of Cersei’s guard; 3. He pisses off Littlefinger and puts the jackass in his place; 4. He strikes actual fear, along with respect, in the heart of Varys; 5. He takes out Maester Paecelle. Genius. That throne needs to be Tyrion’s.
Arya –- This is the first time since Game of Thrones that I’ve enjoyed a chapter about Arya. It’s dark, and I love how the Mountain continues his shadowy march as the baddest bad guy around without ever being present. I also really dug the creepy guy, the nondescript fellow that scares Arya the deepest. The finest part of this chapter, though, is one of the things I most admire about GRRM – his dearth of heroics. Most other authors would have had Arya pull off some mad escape by now, some impossible slipping away or murder or retaking of Needle. But nope. Arya’s now Weasel. And Weasel is now a servant. Excellent.
Daenerys –- My love for her grows, and Martin’s debt to Conan’s Hyborean Age is obvious again when she enters Qarth, the Clash of Kings version of Zamora. Dany’s thoughts about Ser Jorah were astute. The news from Westeros and the way she handled it was sound. And I love that she continues to walk along the sword edge fully aware of the dangers. She really is destined to return to the Iron Throne, isn’t she? I hope so. At this point, Tyrion is the only person I’d rather see as ruler.
Bran –- The Reeds are fascinating. Magic is stirring (a nice discussion following our most recent time spent with the dragons). The Maester’s are chemists and thinkers. Bran and his dire wolf are going to be potent. A nice little bit of groundwork going on here (but then everything is groundwork always, isn’t it?).
Tyrion –- Little Lancel comes trying to be all tough for Cersei, and he’s turned into Tyrion’s spy in seconds. A nice bit of the cat teasing the mouse before he eats him, but the meat of the chapter for me is Tyrion’s going to Shae. The path through the brothel, through Dancy and Marie and Alayaya is fascinating, but it was his admission, to himself, that he loves the game, he loves where he is and when he is, and he loves Shae. His downfall is right there between her legs (and Martin used my favourite word to describe it -- the it between her legs that is -- delicious).
Arya –- Now that she’s cooped up in Harrenhal, Arya’s story is taking on greater dimensions and become much more captivating for me. The power of her three assassinations through Jaqen H’ghar, potential eliminations from her list of hate, could make for some interesting changes in the landscape. Chiswyck was a waste, of course, but will the next two be well spent? Me hopes.
Catelyn –- You know you are douchebags when Lady Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, is the one with wisdom, the one urging peace and dialogue. Damn you, GRRM! Are you going to make me like her after over 1,300 pages of making me hate her? I hope not. I like to hold on to my hates.
Sansa –- How is she still alive? This girl is amazing, and her reserves of strength seem boundless, not to mention her ability to persevere. The best part of this chapter, though, is Tyrion. He really is one of the great characters in literature –- not just fantasy literature but literature.
Catelyn –- The son of a bitch did it; Martin won me over. Catelyn Stark has perhaps the finest moment of self-awareness in the book during her prayers in the sept. It is a beautiful sequence. And then she goes and witnesses the unleashing of bloodthirsty shadows in an act of demonic fratricide / regicide (sort of), saves Brienne’s ass and pulls off an impressive escape (which should bite her thoroughly in the ass, as I am sure she will take the blame for the regicide). I may be falling in love with her. The fact that GRRM has done this, has reversed my long standing disdain for Catelyn in only two chapters, is a feat of powerful literary manipulation. I’ve understood why people love him and the books before, but this is the first time I can see why they consider him a master. I think I may be forced to concur.(less)
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the...moreA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell.(less)
(view spoiler)[Emmanuelle engages in some lovely, erotic sex, and when she does this the book is a wonder. Then Mario comes along with his pansexual p...more(view spoiler)[Emmanuelle engages in some lovely, erotic sex, and when she does this the book is a wonder. Then Mario comes along with his pansexual proselytization and the active erotica becomes a distant memory while Mario delivers his erotic manifesto. There is a nice return to the erotic, though, with a final mmf threesome that was delectable but too little too late. (hide spoiler)](less)
I feel a failure now that I've finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus. It is good. Very good. I see that. But I can only muster mild "like" for the thing...moreI feel a failure now that I've finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus. It is good. Very good. I see that. But I can only muster mild "like" for the thing, and I feel as though I must have missed something along the way in my insomnia reading haze. And I can't really see myself going back to redress the situation because I just don't feel connected to Gene Wolfe's work.
A subtle, ingenious, poetic and picturesque book; the uncertaintly principle embodied in brilliant fiction...
and I think, "Yep, but meh." And then I read what China Miéville says about the book,
[[author:Gene Wolfe]'s] tragico-Catholic perspective leads to a deeply unglamorized and unsanitized awareness of social reality. This book is a very sad and extremely dense, complex meditation on colonialism, identity and oppression.
and I think, "Mmmhmm, but still..." And I enjoy the three novella = novel structure, but the manufactured obscurity makes me cold. And I appreciate the struggles of the three protagonists, but I only ever flirt with investing myself in their conflicts. And I see Wolfe playing with the themes that people venerate this work for, but I can't quite put my finger on anything that I can personally take away.
So I walk away from the book unmoved and uninspired, yet I see its quality. I really do. So please don't avoid this book because of me. I probably missed something crucial. The fault for my lack of excitement is likely my own -- or my lack of sleep's. Whichever it is, though, I will never know. Sorry, Mr. Wolfe. I'll try to do better next time I read one of your books. (less)
I am a car in neutral with my wheels in a metal track, covered in the mud and salt and grime of the roads that scar Orbus, Planet Blue, Earth. I am dr...moreI am a car in neutral with my wheels in a metal track, covered in the mud and salt and grime of the roads that scar Orbus, Planet Blue, Earth. I am dragged into position; the chemicals hit my shell. Acidic, corrosive, an unsubtle back and forth to knock loose the corruption I've picked up in my travels. The wash cares not at all about delicacy. It shoots it fine mist of torture and hustles me into the frame. Once in that frame, that frame of hanging, dangling mitters, multi-coloured tassels, twin maypoles to conjure festival days of sometime and someplace, the thrumming beat of fabric begins. Up and over and down and beside. One way and back. Massaging me with circadian beat of my mother machines, soothing me into a belief that all can be okay. Then the water blasts me: shocking, hard, cleansing, a roar of pressure to slough off all that had been chemically burned and lovingly knocked loose on my metallic skin. Water poisoned to clean me, falling onto the pollution that is concrete, spilling down the pipes to soak into the groundwater somewhere. Clean me. Dirty everything. Now the ROAR of air. The rubber tires hitting my glass. The air firing like a jet against my shell. Water beads and blows away. A scream of anguish too loud for me to hear. Much too loud to make out what I am being told, but the air angles up and away from, and I am nudged off the rails and back into the road. I travel despite what I've learned. There's nothing for it but to roll on as hopeless as can be. (less)
Nicholson Baker himself intended it as a memorial to “Charles Pickett and other American and British pacifists. They’ve never really gotten their due. They tried to save Jewish refugees, feed Europe, reconcile the United States and Japan, and stop the war from happening. They failed, but they were right,” and to some extent he intended it as an argument for peace –- more likely peace as pacifism.
It is a chronicle of the worst war criminals that we’ve ever seen, specifically Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt (and their lackeys), with cameo appearances by some other nasty criminals like Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, and Tojo. It shows how their actions and decisions continue to reverberate into today, and how the positive or negative mythologies that have sprung up around them don’t even begin to tell the truth. Moreover, we’re still fighting the fights they started, and seem doomed to keep fighting them.
As I write this the “Blue Angels” and “Snowbirds,” those dazzling, acrobatic show offs of American and Canadian aviation military might are streaking over my home to the delight of my militarized neighbours. Their delight and my disgust. Their delight and my shame.
But back to Human Smoke. It is an anecdotal history that uncovers the ugliness of us all. There are contextual gaps, there are omissions, there is spin, but it is a powerful book and an important one. I, in my dilettante historianism, knew most of what Baker was offering already, but he surprised even me at times, and I’ve never seen the dirtiness of WWII presented in quite so powerful a way.
As I closed the cover, though, I didn’t end with a new dedication to pacifism as so many have before me. If anything, Baker’s moments spent with Gandhi merely underlined the failings of pacifism. Gandhi’s non-violence would have been for nought if England wasn’t busy bombing and being bombed by Germany. England would have rolled over Gandhi and Nehrou and we'd have forgotten all about them and their desire for independence. I didn't heed the call to pacifism, nor was I filled with a new dedication to war as an answer either.
What it did leave me with was a desire to dedicate myself to imagining a new way. Militarism doesn’t work. We know that. Pacfism doesn’t work, even though it makes those engaged in it feel better about themselves (and superior to others). But we seem incapable of finding another way. What good are our minds if we can’t imagine another way? I am positive there must be another way. I want to find it.
My gut tells me it has something to do with forgiveness. For now I will go with my gut and see where it takes me. Thanks for the kick in the ass, Nicholson Baker. I hope you do the same for many, many others. (less)
I remember three phases of lunchtime viewing as a kid. I would walk home from the Queensland Downs Elementary school, we lived just down the hill, (or...moreI remember three phases of lunchtime viewing as a kid. I would walk home from the Queensland Downs Elementary school, we lived just down the hill, (or run if I was into short cuts) and take lunch at 130 Queensland Dr.. It was my home for almost fourteen years. I loved that house. I would come cutting across the D---s' lawn (if I was walking and reading) or come leaping over our bendy back gate if I was cutting through other people's yards, and I'd eat my Mom's peanut butter and jelly and nicotine sandwiches dipped in hot chocolate to lunchtime television.
In the earliest days, my lunch hour TV was Buckshot, a local "cowboy" who spent most of our lunch hours drunk, talking to a poorly stitched bear puppet named Benny.
Later, I watched The Carol Burnett Show on the black and white TV in the family room, eating at the coffee table, but it was the final phase that really caught my fancy because I was able to watch Days of Our Lives with my Mom and sister.
I admit it, I loved Days of Our Lives, just as I came to love One Life to Live, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, Dallas, Knot's Landing, and Falcon Crest. It was a mad, fascinating, fantastic look at families fighting in ways I'd never experienced, fucking with each other, murdering each other, fucking each other, getting away with it, and doing it all over again, and it made me love episodic storytelling. It was like crack. And I got why Mom's at home with their kids fell in love.
So imagine my joy when I discovered a sword and sorcery world where the same stories were being told. The Bradys are the Starks; the DiMeras are the Lannisters; the Hortons are the Baratheons; the Kiriakis' are the Targaryens and the all the rest -- the Devereaux', the Blacks, the Williams the Martins, et. al. -- are every other Westeros house you can think of.
Yes, The Song of Ice and Fire is a soap opera for geek-boys and geek-girls. It's not your Mom's soap opera, and it's not your Dad's (that would be the WWE, nee the WWF), it is yours, and it is as soap opera-y as it can be. If shit can go wrong, it does. If a parent can be shitty, he/she is. If a child can face cruelty and torture at the hands of the family's enemies, the child will. If a hero can die, bye-bye. If an apparent death needs a handy explanation to bring the dead back, explanation provided. If a psychiatrist needs to be possessed by the Devil, let it be done (oops! Am I confusing things?).
The point is that The Song of Ice and Fire is a big, epic, look-how-awesome-I-am soap-opera. And like our Mom's and Dad's soap operas, all you have to do is come back, whenever you want, and you'll pick up the thread. It took me seven months of showers and doing dishes and occasional bursts of interest to finish Clash of Kings, but I never lost a single thread of the story and picking it up after three weeks off was like missing a month of All My Children. Nothing to miss here. Watch an episode, read a chapter, and I am right back in the thick of things.
Yes. I compared Clash of Kings to a soap opera. No, that's not bad. I mean it as a compliment. Soap operas rock. They always have. And I love having a soap opera that's targeted to me and my tastes. That's what GRRM's tome is -- the ultimate fantasy soap opera. And good for him. It's emotionally satisfying, fun when it needs to be, and filled with crap when required. It is damn good storytelling. It is good soap opera storytelling. And a year or two from now I can come back and dive in again, except it will be A Storm of Swords, without missing a beat.
Soap operas are good. A Song of Ice and Fire as a TV soap opera would be even better, though. Can you imagine what that would be like? Hey, wait a minute ...(less)
I give up. I can't go on. I couldn't even make it to page one hundred. I slogged through the first 85 pages, which should have been a stand-alone nove...moreI give up. I can't go on. I couldn't even make it to page one hundred. I slogged through the first 85 pages, which should have been a stand-alone novella (had it been a novella, it would have been a vast improvement, and I may have sped through it had I not been daunted and confused by the presence of the 300+ pages that were still to come). For years I've been longing for a book from the Orc perspective. I wanted a story that actually gave us a hint of Orc culture, Orc life, maybe a story about a humble Orc farmer, just trying to make it while providing grain for the Orc army and living in fear of the nasty humans encroaching on his land. Or perhaps the tale of an Orc warrior, living in squalor and fear because he's part of an underfunded army, and a culture that prizes death over anything else. Or the story of an Orc actor, part of a travelling show, moving through the armies of the Orcs, trying to boost morale. Anything original that told us who Orcs are, even if it wasn't my idea of what Orcs can be, would have been appreciated. Thus I went into Grunts with an open mind, ready to love it (bolstered by the fact that I really enjoyed Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles). But there was no hint of that book I'd been hoping for. Instead, it was just a bunch of idiotic, cannibalistic, hyper-violent degenerates. Just more of Orcs being unrepentantly evil and nasty. But wait, Grunts did provide us with a pair of seriously pyschopathic Halflings, a pair of serial killers if truth be told, and that made me excited for a while, but just when that thread would get interesting, the Halflings would disappear. Which reminds me, the pacing in this book was awful, all over the place, I'd get interested, then she'd move onto something else and drain me of interest. But then Grunts had something else I could get behind: (view spoiler)[the Orcs stumble on a cache of USMC Weapons in a Dragon's horde and turn themselves into a Marine Corp fighting machine. Suddenly it seems like Gentle is commenting on the US Military, and I am overjoyed! But then the mechanized weapons are useless against magic, and the Grunts are slaughtered, and I can't help wondering what the fuck she was doing having these weapons appear so soon in a 400+ page book. Or at all because they seem to add absolutely nothing (hide spoiler)] And then I was just pissed off again, and wishing this book was over. So I put the book down, and I tried to muster the interest to come back, but I've given up on that idea. I can see no reason for the book to continue, I can see no reason for me to read on, so I have stopped and given Gentle two stars. The book is okay at best. I hate it because it didn't live up to its amazing potential, but I will say it's okay because I can't comment on the finished product. I'll say it's okay despite my hate. (you're feeling how disjointed and strange this review is, aren't you? how disruptive the pacing? that's what Gentle did in her book. Seriously). Yep, I hate this book. But maybe you won't, though you probably will. (less)
I came away with five things from the second volume of Isaac Deutscher’s incomparable Trotsky biography -- The Prophet Unarmed. Some of these thoughts...moreI came away with five things from the second volume of Isaac Deutscher’s incomparable Trotsky biography -- The Prophet Unarmed. Some of these thoughts are new to me, some of them are solidifications of ideas or opinions I already had, but they are what I leave this book with and, I think, worth sharing.
5. Stalin destroyed the promise of Engels, Marx and Lenin. He stained communism. And he provided capitalism with the ugliness it needed to vilify communism in the minds of their own, potentially dangerous, proletarian ranks. His need for power, the way he achieved it, his authoritarianism -- none of these things a feature of genuine communism -- all came to represent communism in the minds of the capitalist west. Stalin’s very existence was capitalism’s best propaganda tool against communism. And this man who was neither a Bolshevik nor a true Communist remains the best tool to this day (with neo-Stalinists Mao and Pol Pot a close second and third).
4. The U.S., England and their European lackeys should be ashamed of themselves -- as usual -- because it would have been vastly more difficult (if not impossible) for Stalin to have achieved power if it weren’t for their meddling in the earliest days of the Soviet Union. Arms and advisors sent to the White Guard during the Civil War, isolationist policies, boycotts, etc., etc., worsened already terrible conditions in post-Tsarist Russia, forcing the early Bolsheviks into compromising their principles to ensure survival, and once those principles were compromised the situation became easier and easier for Stalin to manipulate. While the west’s support of the counter-revolution failed in the short term, it certainly succeeded in condemning the Soviet Union to totalitarianism in the long term.
3. The methods, tactics and controls of Stalinism are not all that different from contemporary North America. Our right wing engages in fear mongering, disinformation, media manipulation, vilification of dissenters, purges, and claims to moral superiority and historical loyalty; they’re tactics are so commonplace as to be almost unnoticeable to everyday citizens. Worse still, our left is as apathetic and conciliatory as most of the Left Opposition that Trotsky tried in vain to rally in his day. Our liberals clamour on about how “nice and polite and correct” they are, about how “stupid and racist and misogynistic” the right is, but they’ve not learned the lesson that their “enlightenment” is a minority “enlightenment” that can only be turned into a majority “enlightenment” through hard work and a conscious effort to negate their tendency to condescension. History repeating itself. Again.
2. Trotsky was a great man. Some can be great revolutionaries. Some can be great thinkers. Some can be great leaders. Some can be great diplomats. Some can be great warriors. Some can be great writers. Some can be great winners. Some can be great losers. Some can live great lives. Some can die great deaths. But very few can be and do all of them in their lifetime. Trotsky was great at every single one. In the annals of socialism only Marx and Lenin can match him (although Engels and Che surely deserve honourable mentions). The hatchet to the brain was a great loss to us all.
1. Communism can’t succeed. Not because of any bullshit about the superiority of capitalism. Not because communism is “inherently evil” as ultra-capitalists would have us believe. Not even because it is “unworkable.” Communism can’t succeed because it hard fucking work. To be a communist, to create a communist society, everyone must be dedicated to selflessness, to hard work, to action, to trust, to reason, to each other. But most humans are too selfish, too apathetic, too untrusting, too unreasonable, too lazy to achieve the requirements of communism, and so communism must fail.
But I’ve a crappy lance, a skinny horse, and a world full of windmills, so I’ll keep fighting.(less)
Embassytown is about reality. Embassytown is about how we make reality. Embassytown is about how we speak reality. Embassytown...moreWhat is Embassytown about?
Embassytown is about reality. Embassytown is about how we make reality. Embassytown is about how we speak reality. Embassytown is reality. Embassytown is unreal. Embassytown is about religion. Embassytown is about the spirit. Embassytown is about being incorruptible. Embassytown is about corruption. Embassytown is corruption. Embassytown is about the opiated masses. Embassytown is about what opiates the masses. Embassytown is about any opiates for any masses. Embassytown is opiates. Embassytown is the masses. Embassytown is a mass. Embassytown is about Language. Embassytown is about language. Embassytown is Language/language. Embassytown is about simile. Embassytown is like a simile. Embassytown is metaphor. Metaphor is Embassytown. Metaphor is a lie. Metaphors lie. Embassytown is a lie. Embassytown is metaphor. Metaphor uncovers truth. Truth is a lie. Lying is truth. Embassytown is about us. We are Embassytown. We are metaphor. Metaphor. (less)
I dug Albertan England, but the changes from the Victorian England I am familiar with were too outrageous, too far beyond what even my whacked-out imagination could accept.
I dug the loups-garous, but there were too many of them, and their spontaneous wolf-man combustion was one pseudo-Sci-Fi step too far for me to suspend my disbelief.
I dug Sir Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne, and even Speke and Palmerston (plastic face and all) were tolerable, but throwing in Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Ismabard Kingdom Brunel stretched my ability to cope. But even that wasn't enough for Hodder. No, no, no. He had to give us a newsboy, nicknamed Quips (so clever), who just happens to be a young Oscar Wilde. But even THAT wasn't enough for Hodder. Nope. The revelation of Wilde's identity came upon his first meeting with a poet named Algy a couple of paragraphs away from the books only use of the word "perambulator." Fuck off.
I dug the "new novella" at the heart of the tale -- Part Two: Being the True History of Spring Heeled Jack -- and would love to have seen all of Hodder's energy poured into that history. As a novella, it might have been nearly as good as H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, but then there's Part One and Three and the Conclusion and the Appendix, and there is an excess of plot and action that is just begging to be streamlined and morphed into a radio play (odd, I know, but I kept hearing the story in my head with the crackling overlay of an old-time radio). I wanted to mess with it and adapt it, or beg Hodder to keep it simple and short, but he was too in love with his own cleverness, and that hurt the literary experience (if not the entertainment experience).
I dug The Mad Marquess and even dug his Mr. Belljar alter-ego, but the way he became the damn dirty ape of Burton's nightmares was ... well ... lame because of everything (such as Ms. Nightengale) that was required to make it work.
I dug Spring Heeled Jack, and I loved the way we watched his loose-ends tie up, but I wanted him to be smarter than he was. Perhaps that's not fair, though.
I dug how Burton finished the tale and made a timeline shaking choice based purely on his selfish desires, but I don’t buy for a second that it was required. The timeline was already irrevocably fucked. Still, "heroic" brutality was refreshing, and it made him feel more like James Bond than Sherlock Holmes.
I dug most of the technological steampunk elements, but I grew thoroughly weary of the eugenic steampunk elements. Again, Wells did it better when he was writing straight up Sci-Fi in the Victorian Era than any steampunk writers can do today when they ape the era for their stories. Herbert George, what would you make of steampunk?
I dug the hint of more tales with Burton and Swinburne, but I think I would rather spend some time in Damascus with Isabel Arundell instead.
I dug The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack, but it was too much of a good thing and not enough of a great thing, and the only way to get to the great would have been to decrease the good because too much good winds up being just okay.
I wonder if Burton and Swinburne will take on Jack the Ripper next? Seems appropriate, and what would the Ripper be in a timeline so fantastically altered? That could actually bring me back to Hodder's Albertan past. I'll cross my fingers and toes.(less)
... as History -- The book's cover categorizes Eric Larson's The Devil in the White City as History. And Larson takes pains to claim this category in his note, "Evils Imminent," placing his book squarely in the realm of fact: "However strange or macabre some of the following events seem," he writes, "this is not a work of fiction (xi)." But this is not an history book. While it does relate a skeletal story of historical events, there is little of the historian in Larson's writing, and too much unfounded speculation -- by far -- for this book to be considered "history." Much of Larson's work is apocryphal, fictional in nature, making it difficult for a careful and considerate reader to trust that much of anything is fact.
... as True Crime -- There is not enough of the "Devil" or his crimes in Devil in the White City to categorize this as a "true crime" story, and there is nowhere near enough for it to win the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, which it did. Perhaps a quarter of the book is dedicated to the murders of Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. Dr. H.H. Holmes (with a tenth of the book being given over to a madman named Pendergrast who murdered Chicago's mayor), and Larson's work on Holmes' murders is both terribly biased and markedly lazy. It is clear that Larson decided from the first that Dr. Holmes was the personification of evil, the titular "Devil," and that bias colours most of his passages about Holmes. But it is also clear that little effort was put into offering any new scholarship into the discussion of Holmes' crimes. What we get is of Larson's imagination; it's the stuff of novelization not history.
... as Fiction -- So how does this work as a novel, then? Not at all, unfortunately, although it is clear from the first page that a novel is precisely what Larson should be writing with this material. A modern day, crime focused James Michener could have turned this "true life" tale into a creepy meditation on the way we perceive "crimes" in our society, making use of the juxtaposition between the murders committed by Holmes and the death and hardship committed by the building of the World's Columbian Exposition. Or he could have simply written a rousing, potboiling, historical fiction to entertain and scare. He chose to write gossip, instead; it was an unfortunate choice.
... as Gossip -- Even as gossip, however, Larson's book fails. His HLN style journalism -- which smacks of Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew -- fails through a lack of immediacy. Who cares about all these long dead architects and cultural icons and forgotten politicians and serial killers? Dilettantes and experts in those fields, perhaps, but those who actually do care about these figures don't give a damn about the gossip. They are seeking real knowledge and insight into these long dead figures. Gossip, though, is where Larson appears most comfortable, but it is ill advised in a book of this nature.
... as Capitalist Propaganda -- Another thread of this book is Larson's ham fisted attempts to beat the greatness (and goodness) of Capitalism into our brains. Herein, I think, lies Larson's motivation for entering the crimes of H.H. Holmes into a book that is really about the construction of the World's Columbian Exposition: by contrasting the unequivocal "evil" of a serial killer with the construction of the fair, Larson thinks he can make us see the "good" in the enterprise of building the exposition. There is no subtlety involved, no attempt to hide his purpose. Larson lays out his propaganda in plain view. Perhaps it works for some readers (presumably it would be no problem at all for the Republicans amongst us). Not for me, though. Death, starvation, homelessness, anti-Union violence, racism, Orientalism, greed, gluttony, and hubris combine in the building of a city that would only last one year, and this during one of the worst financial crises the capitalist world has experienced. It is precisely the sort of undertaking Saddam Hussein engaged in with his palaces while his people starved. We used his actions as a rationalization for war, then marvel in the splendour of the "architectural achievement" of Burnham and his cronies when their "achievement" is on our shores. I despair at shit like this.
There is one way in which Devil in the White City succeeds, however. It succeeds as an elaborate treatment for an HBO mini-series produced by Tom Hanks for Martin Scorsese. Writing those words made me slip over to IMDb, where I discovered that a movie is, indeed, in production, with Leonardo Dicaprio taking the roles of producer and possibly even serial killer H.H. Holmes. I am not surprised. A film of dubious accuracy but visceral entertainment is precisely what Devil in the White City should be. Popcorn rightly beckons. If I had expected that going into this book I may have enjoyed it more. (less)
There was a point in The Fifth Woman where I thought, "Christ, Wallander is getting preachy. I wonder if Mankell realizes it?" And then a couple of ch...moreThere was a point in The Fifth Woman where I thought, "Christ, Wallander is getting preachy. I wonder if Mankell realizes it?" And then a couple of chapters later it came clear that Mankell did realize what was happening to his Ystad Detective because those closest to Wallander comment on his fondness for lecturing everyone around him about the ills of Sweden and his philosophy of police work. They then prod him to become a lecturer at the local police academy.
A literary snap of the fingers and Mankell makes this new trait of Wallander an acceptable part of his character. At least for me.
As for the rest of the book, it's not the strongest in the series, but it is still a page turner. I powered on late into the night to finish, and it was definitely full of suspence. Wallander himself remains one of my favourite literary detectives. I admire his doggedness, but I love him because of his emotion. He feels, sometimes too intensely to be healthy, but he feels everything, and it dooms him to loneliness. He cannot express his emotions, you see, and so he buries them and works. Works. Works. Works. I find myself caring more about him the longer the series goes on and wanting something good for him in his life. I don't think he's going to get it.
If you're new to Wallander, don't start here because he's changing, and you need to know him before to enjoy the changes. But you should enjoy this book just fine when you reach it.
later: I hadn't seen the sixth episode of the BBC Wallander until last night; I'd been saving it after I finished the book. Since I finished it yesterday I thought I should give it a watch, and it is the first time I was disappointed.
Both the mystery and the emotional core of Kurt Wallander were too distant from Mankell's book. Kurt, in the book, begins to resolve his relationship with his father, taking a week long vacation with his father in Rome, so when his father passes away there is no deep pool of despair for Kurt to dive into. But he dives intot that pool in the book, wandering around like a Basset Hound who can't find his owner.
The mystery gets short shrift too because of Wallander's whiny broodiness. We get none of the killer's POV, which offered some interesting moments in the book. We get too little of the crimes of the abusive men, the victims of the killer, and the crimes we do get are altered in ways that lessen their severity and make the men much easier to feel sorry for.
These aren't the only changes either. Anna-Britt isn't shot, it's Kurt who takes the bullet. Baiba isn't the one Kurt loves, it is a witness for the case named Vanja. His relationship with Linda is short changed. It's just plain bad.
I have serious concerns about this show going forward, and I am bummed because I was looking forward to series 3 becoming available in North America. Huge bummer for me. (less)
***WARNING*** This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.
China Mountain -- Zh...more***WARNING*** This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.
China Mountain -- Zhang:- So far, Zhang is nothing like I expected, neither the character nor the book. I expected a cyber-punky action thriller, and it may still become that, but this first chapter offers no signs that a change is going to come. At this point it is a study of two characters: Zhang and San-xiang; the former is our gay half-ABC (American Born Chinese) half-Spanish (from Spain) engineer; the latter is our unfortunately “ugly” political girl. It’s them, together, moving through New York in a Chinese dominated near (not so near?) future, thrust together by her Chinese parents and finding that they quite like each other despite his sexuality (which she never seems to peg) and her ugliness (which fascinates him). It’s moody, it’s atmospheric, and the milieu is entirely plausible. But the banality of the tale, so far, is quite a surprise. It is an average character study that could just as easily be told in your city, right now, today, and it would still be as likable and readable as this story is. If there is going to be something more like actiony Sci-Fi I can’t imagine how it would come about. But then, I don’t think I want it to. I am liking this book for its banality. Why not set a story like this in the future? Works for me.
Kites -- Angel:Now it feels like my favourite of things –- a book of short stories loosely, loosely connected, and I will be disappointed if this book is pegged into a novelistic plot. I don’t want to go back to Zhang (at least not too often); I want new people, new experiences, in this future Socialist Union of American States; I want criminals or a nurse in a future hospital or maybe even some other kite fliers; I want more exploration of gender, of the bents and the straights; I want a far reaching set of stories rather than one deep exploration told close to the body. I loved Angel and her kite flying genius, but I need someone new.
Baffin Island -- Zhang: I am fully convinced now that if this is a novel it is a novel consisting of short stories, even though two of them already follow the same guy. There is no plot to speak of, and I love that –- “Fuck plot,” I say. This is all about character and place, and places –- be they New York or Baffin Island -– are characters in this book. I continue to adore Arctic tales too, so the story of Zhang in the Arctic station doing the maintenance work for a bunch of scientists tracking whales, nearly losing his shit in the land of the noontime moon is exactly the sort of tale I am made to love. I feel the need to go North before it is completely gone, before I am gone. Enough about me: it’s a great chapter as Zhang begins to see himself, and I find myself cheering him on. I can’t wait to see what we get and where we go next.
Jerusalem Station -- Martine: A commune on Mars. Crazy. Nothing prepared me for the leap from Earth to Mars, but it was deftly handled by McHugh, and it’s another place lovingly turned into a character in the tale. Martine’s goat farm/apiary, and the round about way she falls in love with (or falls in care for) Alexi and Theresa is exactingly created. It is all nuance, nuance written to capture truth in a future that almost seems like it is rather than it could be. I am officially in love with this book now. And Martine and Alexi. I have no idea what else Maureen F. McHugh has written but it is something I am going to read. (one more thing: as I finished the chapter I couldn’t help noticing the word “nurse” in the first line or two of the next chapter. I love that I am going to get my wish.)
Ghost -- Zhang: The hint of a plot finally appears in Ghost—Zhang, but only because it is our third chapter following the life of Zhang. He’s in China after his stint in the Arctic, studying Engineering at the prestigious University of Nanjing, and he’s in love with his tutor, a man named Haitao. In love in a place where being “bent” is a crime that the government either Reforms Through Labour or solves with a bullet in the back of the head. Zhang seems a bit naïve about the threat and the world he’s living in, but that naïveté is gone by the time Haitao kills himself. The slightest nudge and all the gains we’ve made will tumble and we’ll be hiding in back alleys and parks all over again. It’s a fucking tightrope. This story hit me where I live.
Homework -- Alexi: Goats. Goats and marriage. Goats and marriage and a tutor for Alexi’s correspondence course through the University of Nanking (a tutor named Zhang). This is, perhaps, the most banal chapter of the lot, but lovely in its simplicity, even so.
Three Fragrances -- San-xiang: I can’t help thinking of my biannual re-reading of Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Written nearly 400 years ago, Swift’s pamphlet is a catalogue of everything that is wrong with the world. Except it’s not simply a catalogue of what was wrong in his world of 1729, it is a catalogue of what’s wrong in our world of 2012. The problems are all the same. What’s wrong never changes; hence, my confidence that we are doomed to create our own extinction because we can’t change. We like to pretend things are better, but they’re not. And here’s San-xiang, face finally restructured, jaw firmly and perfectly in place, looking pretty for the first time in her life, and a predator picks out her vulnerability, and she walks inexorably into the predator's lair, and he rapes her. McHugh doesn’t shy away from telegraphing what’s to come, and that dramatic irony is what creates the suspense that pushes this story forward. When it finally happens, when Billy rapes San-xiang, but worse seems oblivious to having raped her, I felt the ache that took me to Jonathon Swift and the thought that nothing changes. Why doesn’t it? I’m convinced it is because we invariably treat symptoms rather than diseases. But I have been known to make mistakes ... from time to time.
Rafael -- Zhang: I could read another three hundred pages in McHugh’s future world. The stories were that good. This final short wraps up the “novel” precisely as it should -- with life continuing for everyone in the directions they’ve chosen or had thrust upon them. There are connections that all link back to Zhang, connections to all the other players from all the other stories, that are touched with the most delicate of touches, and none of them feel too good to be true. There is no destiny at work, no impossible predetermined coming together of people from different places. They’re simply intersections and crossings between lives -– all of which make perfect sense (the sorts of things I've experienced again and again in my own life). China Mountain Zhang is about a possible world that probably won’t happen, but could. It is an act of Sci-Fi world building that I’ve rarely seen matched. But for me, Mchugh’s real achievement is the people she created. They are beautiful. The whale scientists and engineers and hustlers and Martian colonists, the wounded the harmed the foolish the suicidal the nasty the kind the living, and the dead, San-Xiang and Haitao and Invierno and Peter and Zhang. I will miss them.(less)
Some may say that this is a book about death or life or love, but for me this is a book about the "ifs" and the "whens."
The plot is irrelevant because...moreSome may say that this is a book about death or life or love, but for me this is a book about the "ifs" and the "whens."
The plot is irrelevant because whatever the plot is it is only the plot because of the perspective from which the story is told. It is a story of moments, the ifs and whens of one woman's life, and those moments, unrelated but for the woman who experienced them, are the tale.
February is a novel of fragments. And in those fragments is one of the truest stories I've ever read.
I've read better from Lisa Moore (very slightly better), but there are few -- and only a few -- authors who can write as well as Moore on her worst day let alone her best. And this book is from one of her very good days.
I can't see this being a book that I would read again, but I loved the journey, and I would recommend it to anyone who'd like to spend a few days living a life with someone worth knowing. (less)
Half way through reading The Tombs of Atuan, I was sitting downstairs playing my xBox late at night when I heard voices drifting down from upstairs. I...moreHalf way through reading The Tombs of Atuan, I was sitting downstairs playing my xBox late at night when I heard voices drifting down from upstairs. I sat and listened to the door muffled murmurs of Miloš & Brontë, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.
Usually I'd just call up to them and tell them it was time to shoosh and go to sleep, but I was curious to figure out what they were talking about. Even obscured I could tell it wasn't the usual joke fest or scary story, there was something different about this talk.
What was different, it turned out, was that Miloš was Ged and Brontë was Tenar, and they were in the dark room of the Great Treasure, playing the Tombs of Atuan. They're still seven, only just, and there they were, late in the night, in their bunkbeds, improvising a discussion between the Eaten One and Sparrowhawk. I decided to let them play, so I left them undisturbed and went back to my game.
A few days later, I was working in my office and I heard Miloš outside my door talking to Vetch from A Wizard of Earthsea. He was playing Ged again.
Weird as this may sound, it makes me incredibly proud of them. There is no big Hollywood movie with toys and a marketing campaign to nudge my kids in this direction. There is no cultural weight to lead them into playing at Ged and Tenar. There is only the words of one of our greatest authors, Ursula K. Le Guin and the voice I added to the books. That's it, but it was enough. Great literature has that power.
Please read this to your kids whomever you may be. It will be with them always.(less)
Jaws is the tale of a marriage on the edge of failure. Chief Brody, head of the Amity police, is married to Ellen. They've three kids. He's a native o...moreJaws is the tale of a marriage on the edge of failure. Chief Brody, head of the Amity police, is married to Ellen. They've three kids. He's a native of the area; one of the poor boys who spent his days on the beaches while the rich folks came down to vacation from the big cities. She's from one of those big cities, from one of those rich families, and since she married Chief Brody she's been an outsider amongst the natives and outsider amongst the tourists. She belongs nowhere and feels herself wasting away in the tiny beach town, and she pines for what once was. (view spoiler)[She ends up sleeping with Matt Hooper, ichthyologist and younger brother of a boy she once loved, much to the Chief's chagrin (hide spoiler)].
Jaws is the tale of shady land speculation, organized crime and local governmental corruption, wherein another poor local boy "makes good," becomes Mayor, becomes one of the "nouveau riche," then winds up putting lives at risk to save his own skin and pay his bad debts.(view spoiler)[ A storyline that parallels and informs what's happening with Ellen, showing us what happens to those moving between classes in either direction (and suggesting that, perhaps, everyone should stay where they fucking belong, amongst their own people -- much to my discomfort and frustration) (hide spoiler)].
Oh yeah ... Jaws is also the tale of a killer shark that starts eating swimmers off the coast of Amity. Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint (the infamous modern Ahab captured so wonderfully by Robert Shaw in Spielberg's movie, although he only shows up in the book in the last eighty pages after one brief half page cameo early on) go out and try to save the people and Amity's economy by catching the greatest of great white sharks. (view spoiler)[Hooper dies in this version, and the final take down of the Shark is Quint's rather than Brody's , then Brody swims towards a light house on the coast all by his lonesome. (hide spoiler)] It all feels like an afterthought, a tacked on third act of a book that never knew what it wanted to be, and the total lack of closure as the novel ends is pretty disappointing.
Once again, the movie proves to be better than the book. Much, much better.
Glad I reread this, though. A woman I loved told me to read this again, once upon a time, and I promised I would. It took a decade, but I lived up to the promise.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Can someone tell me where the anarchy lies in this book?
All I can remember about discussing this book in high school is that it was supposed to be abo...moreCan someone tell me where the anarchy lies in this book?
All I can remember about discussing this book in high school is that it was supposed to be about anarchy, about how we descend into madness and "chaos" without law and order to hold our childlike hands. Every time I've overheard a conversation about LOTFs since, it has been the same thing: somewhere in the discussion someone mentions anarchy, as though that one word can sum up everything Golding was doing. Even the afterword by E.L. Epstien calls "Jack ... the leader of the forces of anarchy on the island," and still I wonder "Where is the anarchy?"
I don't see it anywhere. Anarchy reigned on the island for all of ... what? Eight pages in my edition. Then Ralph pulls up the conch and anarchy is over. The conch comes, the meeting is called, and society rears its ugly head, and that felt to me like the point of Golding's book -- the ineluctable need to "civilize" ourselves and what that civilizing drive really looks like.
It's a fucking ugly drive.
Many see Ralph as the best of the kids, the natural leader who is looking out for the good of the many. I don't see it. I see a selfish little shit, whose only desire is to leave the island (a desire that I think has little value or necessity) and return to civilization, and while stuck on the island to build himself a shelter so that he can play "society" as comfortably as possible. He tells everyone and us that they need shelter, but the actual need for shelter never appears beyond Ralph's constant bitching. He becomes the leader of the democratic government, leaves too much power to Jack and the hunters so that he can avoid early conflict, then spends his entire time telling everyone what is important, what they should care about, and he can't stand it when they have different priorities. Everyone was eating, breathing and drinking, Ralph (apart from those your need for a fire burned to death the first day). They didn't need you or your rule as "chief."
Then there's Piggy. Whiny, bright ideas Piggy, always pissing and moaning about right and wrong. Always needing others to police those who "wrong him" always wanting to make more rules, always opining about the need for them all to be more civilized. Always backing Ralph to exert his power, to use the conch to gain control, to talk and impose his will on the littluns and the hunters. He's in fear for himself, and he's more than willing to have other impose their will on still others to make him feel safe. But he takes no personal responsibility. He talks and talks and lectures and lectures but never does.
Then there is Jack. I don't think he's really any worse than Ralph, nor do I think he is better. He has other priorites that are just as fucking selfish. He wants meat. He believes that more food, better food, should be the priority -- and he's sure that his position as the strongest, the best provider, should give him a right to power. He doesn't give a shit about the fire and rescue. Then he -- like Ralph in practice and Piggy in support -- places his own idea of society on the group, and like Ralph he's responsible for some deaths. Ralph gets away with his deaths in the minds of readers because they were a foolish "mistake," and the killing of Simon is too personal and bloody to be forgiven, so Jack is seen as the force for evil on the island. Yet the catalyst for the killing of Simon was genuine (albeit misplaced) fear and superstition of "the Beast" they all (not just Jack) talked themselves into. Ultimately he rejects Ralph's power, Ralph's vision for their society, and he sets up his own, with his own rules and regulations and controls and defenses.
And now I go back again to the question I can't stop thinking about: Where is the anarchy? I don't see any anarchy here (unless it is in the nameless, faceless, uncared for littluns that populate Ralph's benevolent dictatorship. It's important to note, since I am talking about them, that Jack makes his littluns an active part of his tribe, while Ralph barely notices their existence. Nice leadership, Ralph). I see imposition of social constructs, I see a drive to law and order, I see a desire to remake the social structures from whence they came. I see imposition of control at every turn, and it's a control that instantly takes on the trappings of a "system" with rules and rituals and imposed consequences.
Don't misunderstand me. I am not espousing anarchy as a real world possibility (it is an ideal that fascinates me, but I know that it is a practical impossibility); I am not saying it would have made for better living conditions on the island (although I highly doubt it would have made them worse); but I am saying that I never saw anything approaching anarchy in Golding's writing, unless it was as the unspoken, hinted at ideal of a world beyond "civilizing" influences.
What I did see was Golding telling us that all our instincts to govern and control and civilize have dire, ugly and pitiable consequences, no matter where we sit politically or philosophically. I saw it in Ralph and Piggy and Jack, and it was driven home when the naval officer -- the "saviour" of the boys on the island -- saved them from their own little wars to return to a "grown-up" society at war, playing the same ugly games on a grander, uglier scale. I saw a mirror, and I didn't like what Golding made me see. (less)