I think I just read the longest prologue in the history of literature. That’s what it feels like, and fucked if I knowWhat the hell did I just read?
I think I just read the longest prologue in the history of literature. That’s what it feels like, and fucked if I know why it feels like that, but it does. It feels like the longest, most in depth, most compelling prologue to something else that has ever been written.
And somehow I feel like that is a compliment.
Whiskeyjack and Quick Ben and the Bridgeburners, and Kruppe and Baruk and Mammot, and Paran and Tattersail and Adjunct Lorn, and Coll and Crokus and Rallick, and Anomander Rake and the hounds and the Twins, none of these people and gods are who the real story is about, are they? They are just the groundwork for what’s to come? Or maybe not. The point is that I don’t know.
No. The point is that I don’t care.
All I know is that I wasn’t expecting what I got, and what I got may be the best fantasy novel I have ever read. And that is saying something. I am not kidding. This is probably better than anything Tolkien ever wrote (and I am deadly serious about this), and that necessarily bests all of Tolkien’s followers, all of fantasy’s near greats and mediocrities and hacks.
I can’t even begin to summarize the plot. I don’t even know where to begin with theme and meaning. So I am reduced to my TOP FIVE:
Best “holy shit!” moment: In a story full of “holy shit!” moments, I actually uttered “holy shit!” when one bad ass Bridgeburning Wizard (ex-Priest) took to his Warren and went to visit the god he’d once served, and fucked with his former liege-god to deal with someone in the not-so-distant future, while hanging his own soul on the line and welcoming the hunt of a pack of Hounds and the ire of his former Master. Keeping it as vague as I can for the spoiler police: “holy shit!”
Biggest dumbass: Crokus, a piece of advice. When you break into a person’s home and steal their shit, then get all creepy and watch them sleep, then turn all Raskolnikov and bring the shit you stole back, don’t ever expect their loyalty. Seriously.
Strangest dreams: Anything and everything that came out of the head or into the head of Kruppe. Not since George Orr have dreams held such power and wonder, but Kruppe’s were much more difficult to get a handle on, being part of such a world so far removed yet paradoxically close to our own. I was truly excited, however, whenever we found ourself in the fat thief’s brain. What a wondrous place of gods and monsters and life.
Is anyone safe?: Not a chance. I never once, at any time in the book, felt like anyone was safe. Everyone could die, everyone was right on the edge, and when duels were being fought, battles were raging, powders were being tested, sabotage was about to kick off, gods were rising and falling and rising and falling, I never felt like any character was going to make it to the end of the story. Nothing was sure. What a marvelous anxiety to feel as a reader. I hope the rest of the books are equally off-putting.
My crushes: My oh my! I love when I fall in love with characters, and this time I fell in love with the strangest of couples, the curvy, potent, powerful Tattersail and her much younger lover, the tenacious, somewhat severe and often serious Captain Paran. If I have any regret at all it is that Erikson did not write them an extended and sexy as hell love scene. I have to make up the stimulating images in my head, and it would have been so much easier if he’d written them for me. If only I could gate through a Warren and join the pair outside the Pale. It is a night made up of my dreams.
My feelings about Forever in an easy list of ten. No particular order,
1. Not only should Forever never appear on a banned book list, it should be reqMy feelings about Forever in an easy list of ten. No particular order,
1. Not only should Forever never appear on a banned book list, it should be required reading in all junior high schools (middle schools) as part of sex ed. More importantly, it should be read and written on by every single boy.
2. And speaking of boys, there is a need for a book about this subject written with all the skill of Judy Bloom but targeted at boys. The boys perspective on first love and losing one's virginity is desperately needed. If it is out there already, please point me in that direction.
3. Katherine, or Kath as she's mostly called, seems a little younger than 18 to me. About three or four years younger. Her actions, her job, her grade, her concerns for her university, they all match her age, but there is something in the way she behaves that just seems too damn young to me.
4. The infantilization of our children and prolonging of childhood is one of the most despicable changes I have witnessed in our society over the course of my life, but reading something like Forever makes me wonder how long the trend has actually been happening.
5. I wish that Blume had told us more about Artie's story. I feel an opportunity was truly missed there.
6. The handling of Sybil (view spoiler)[and her pregnancy (hide spoiler)] is another situation where I craved expansion, but I was pleased and impressed that Sybil was never shamed by the author or our narrator.
7. For a book that I liked so well, I am surprised that I didn't like the main characters, Kath and Michael, very well at all.
8. The honest language, the honest discussions, the actual sex, they made me long for more bravery from authors and publishing companies, and more tolerance and understanding from parents.
9. Relationships end in this book, as relationships are wont to do, and the way they did was realistic and refreshing.
10. So glad I got to read this with my daughter. The discussions have been amazing. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Is it just me, or have we reached a point where it has become cool (perhaps hipster cool?) to hold Alan Moore at arms length and dismiss his work? I dIs it just me, or have we reached a point where it has become cool (perhaps hipster cool?) to hold Alan Moore at arms length and dismiss his work? I don’t think it is just me. It certainly feels like that was the everyreader (if not the critical) reception to Alan Moore’s Fashion Beast.
Travelling around to the comic book stores in my region (my decidedly rural Canadian region, it should be stated), I have not found anyone but myself who has actually read this entire series. Two people I know read a couple of issues then stopped, and a few read the first issue but no more. Only I have read the entire series in my less than immediate vicinity.And when I’ve brought up Fashion Beast it has been to a universal cool. Even those who’ve read some of the series responded with little more than a shrug and a “meh.”
This is a shame because Fashion Beast is as accomplished a piece of fiction as anything Moore’s written with (perhaps) the exception of From Hell (yes. I am actually saying it is as accomplished as Watchmen). It is a tormented and tortured retelling of Beauty and the Beast characterised by sexual ambiguity, abuse, power struggle, dystopia and psychological horror. And that is just the crust of the story. Dig deeper from the crust to the inner core and Fashion Beast is revealed to compress itself into subsurface layers of storytelling, layers we must work hard to uncover but whose uncovering is absolutely rewarding.
There are layers of perception, of reality and hyperreality, of anarchy, of fascism, of evolution and human interference with evolution, of fable, of morbidity, of asexuality, of transexuality, of subjugation and domination, of class and economics, of signs and semiotics, and these are just some of what make up the earth of Fashion Beast.
I have read some criticism of the screenplay structure of the tale, since it does come from an original Moore screenplay written in the eighties, because the screenplay structure doesn’t mimic the issue to issue structure of a comic narrative. I understand that feeling, and perhaps that has something to do with the response of those who’ve only read a couple of issues. This structure does mean that the story takes time to reveal its shape, but if one gives the cinematic orogenesis of Fashion Beast time, if one allows for a different pace of graphic storytelling, one will find the shape as pleasing as the more natural shapes we read everyday.
I suppose it is unfair to suggest that the lack of interest in Moore has to do with hipsterism. I think, in the end, it is simply that he challenges us too much (whether in form or substance).
He is like Orwell of comic book writing. Everyone says his name in hushed tones, everyone has read Animal Farm (Watchmen), and everyone claims to have read 1984 (V for Vendetta), and hard core readers (scholars and activists) have read The Road to Wigan Pier (From Dead), but going any farther is just too damn much work, so we admire Orwell (Moore) from a distance, recognize his importance, claim to be fans, but stay away — always — from the literature on the periphery. It’s easier that way.
So I get that. It just bums me out because genius tends to go un(der)appreciated....more
When I finished Roseanna again last night I thought I should write a review talking about how rare it is for me to reread a book, and how Sjöwall &When I finished Roseanna again last night I thought I should write a review talking about how rare it is for me to reread a book, and how Sjöwall & Wahloo have conjured something exceptional from me as a reader. When I started thinking about how rare it is for me to reread, however, I realized what a load of crap that is.
So rereading Roseanna isn't so special after all. It isn't some rare occurrence. It's business as usual when I find something worth reading again and again. And this book is that.
I have been listening to these books for my "first reading" and I recently reached the seventh book, The Abominable Man, wherein the interdependence of Sjöwall & Wahloo tales suddenly focused into a clear picture. They wrote ten books in their Martin Beck series, and it struck me that it is one of the only series I've read (apart from Lord of the Rings) where the authors had the entire series mapped out before they started.
I decided to test that theory by actually reading Roseanna (rather than listening), and it appears that I was correct. Beck and Kollberg are fully conceived from the first moment. There is no authorial searching for what these men will be, no feeling out their relationship and personalities. Everything is there. Everything is ready, and everything that is coming for these men (the two constants in the series so far) are there waiting for them. I can see it in their decisions, their emotions, their concerns, their actions -- everything.
I gave this book four stars when I first read it, but loved it enough to pass it on to a good friend (she loved it too). Now I have to give it five stars. I think the series itself constitutes a masterpiece, but as first chapters go, Roseanna is perfection....more
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you madAugust 7, 2011
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you made the right choice putting an end to it when you did. I can't believe it's been gone for 16 years now. Your precocious Calvin was what every kid with an overactive imagination is in their own heads, but you also gave us the view of what the rest of the world sees in these kids and does to try and beat the imagination out of them. There's implied sadness in the explicit joy you gave us, and it makes Calvin and Hobbes a true masterpiece.
I was fourteen when you started your opus, and I was close enough to my own hyper-imaginative childhood to connect at a visceral level. My youthful imaginary friends were still fresh in my mind, and my current imaginary friends were just taking hold, and your strip gave me something to relate to, someone to cheer for, a place where it was okay to turn dreary realties of the world into exciting fantasies and be proud of that ability all at the same time. It was also a fabulous way to relax my brain (though not too much) amidst all the literature I was devouring at a frightening rate.
But I have a request. Now that I am forty, and I have a precocious little Calvin of my own making explosive sounds with his mouth as he blows up his LEGO creations (as I write this, in fact), and my little Calvin’s twin sister, who happens to be a lot like Susie, I would love it if you came out of retirement and gave us just one year of Calvin and Hobbes and Son (or Daughter). I want to see where Calvin is now. I want to see Calvin as a Dad, and I want his son (or daughter) with a beaten up, super ratty, devilish-as-ever Hobbes. But I don't want this comic to be about the kids, I want it to be about Calvin. I want to see how well Calvin was able to fight off his indoctrination; I imagine he’s one of those rare folks who didn’t join the mainstream, who somehow continued to live on his own terms, but my imagination aside, I am dying to see what he became for you. Please, please, please come back, Bill. We could all use a bit of Calvin again.
I know that my request will never reach you, and that, if it did, you'd probably never even consider the possibility, but I know you could do the "parenting thing" better than all your peers, just as you did the "kid thing" better than anyone else.
So I'll just leave you with the firmest, most heartfelt thank you that I have in me: thank you for that little corner of joy you carved into my world. I’ll never forget it, and late at night, when I am dipping my peanut butter and jelly into my hot chocolate, I’ll have one of my Calvin and Hobbes books open so that I can stain the pages with the purple of some yummy Welch’s grape jelly. Just as Calvin would.
Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck"Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck" like Paul Newman.
But there's this awesome cat named Samuel L. Jackson who can say "fuck" amazingly well, and since Newman is dead, Jackson is the perfect choice to read Adam Mansbach's brilliant Go the Fuck to Sleep.
I haven't laughed so hard since George Costanza visited his Mom in the hospital to watch a sponge bath in silohuette. My baby, little Scoutie, was more interested in my insane laughter than the book, but she was sitting on my lap at 12:10 am, so it was all rather fitting.
I love this book. I wish I'd thought of it. And boy do I want more. Just be aware that this is more of an adult spoof of a kid's book than a straight up kid's book. but when SLJ reads it ... hell, it's fun for the whole family.
I wonder how it would read if Cartman were the narrator?...more
I am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our woI am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our world. We take it for granted, those of us who are “literate,” and because it is the base of the things that we learn, we tend to ignore those who excel. Of course, many of those who read well are told they “analyze things too much” or that they “dig too deep” by those who might be solid readers, but probably don’t have serious reading chops.
I think of it this way: the critics of analysis are the Sunday co-ed softball players who enjoy the game, like to escape for a few hours of exercise and fun, and like to hit the occasional home run or catch a tricky pop fly. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for all the thousands of recreational ball players, there are a handful of professional ball players, whose skills are ever so much better (and whose skills stretch from Single A to the Big Leagues). They are the ones who get more from a hit, or a perfectly executed throw; they’re the ones who will stretch a double into a triple; they’re the ones who will take a fastball in the back rather than bail out of the box. And as readers go, they’re the ones who make the connections, who read the patterns that most people don't. They're the ones who analyze too much.
My reading of Pattern Recognition puts me in the category of the pro ball players. I loved the book on its own merits, and I know that I was able to read the merits in a way that others won’t be able to access. Many will, of course, and they will love what they've found, but there's plenty there for those who won't. And there is certainly nothing wrong with whatever reading those recreational players come up with.
Why do I feel this way? How can I say these things? Because I didn’t just read this book, I created it as I turned every page. I was part of the process; I wasn’t just reading someone else’s finished process; I was the final important element of the patterns William Gibson was laying out for connection. The book needed me, and those like me, to be complete. Every time this book is read by a talented reader, it is being written.
So there’s no point in really talking about the book's particulars. I’m not going to summarize the plot or point out specific moments of prose brilliance. I am not going to discuss the connections in the book. I am not going to talk about how personal this was to read. Just read it yourself. Make your own connections. Become part of the process of Pattern Recognition and let yourself analyze it, let yourself dig deep. And if you can’t do those things, you should still read it because I’m guessing it’s good enough for every level of play....more
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe toSummerside, Prince Edward Island 29th August 2010
Dear Steven and Emma,
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to toe with Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and won the battle for my attention (and that's saying something). I don't know how you did it, but I am so glad you did. THIS was one of the best reading experiences of my life. Where do I begin?
I want to begin with the form you chose. But I am going to hold off on that and talk about Hegel, Engels and Marx. Hegel, your unifying thread, was used in a way that I am sure he would approve of; he was the natural connection between your boys. Richard and James sparring over the Science of Logic while their lives are at their most uncertain was pure genius. Then you gave us Engels, but not Engels as an abstract ideologue whose impossible ideals inform the characters' actions but as a fully developed character whose realism is a fulcrum about which the novel's action necessarily turns. Then you add Karl Marx in a family man cameo that brings the great historical thinker down to the Earth of his family life. Again...genius.
But you weren't content with your brilliant invocation of historical figures. No. You wanted us to believe in your four main characters. No. More than that. You wanted us to love and pull for and fear for and cheer for your lead cast. And you succeeded. James Cobham, Susan Voight, Kitty Holbourn and Richard Cobham are the most completely realized characters I've read since Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin in Perdido Street Station (and speaking of Perdido, thanks to China Miéville for pointing me towards your marvelous book). They go beyond the page. They live and breathe. Their relationships feel true because they are true. They are petty and self-indulgent and unrelenting and selfish and cruel and spiteful and occasionally silly. But they're also heroic and outward looking and tractable and selfless and kind and mostly serious. They are people I want to know, and they're people I do know thanks to you two.
And now it is time to talk about your form, because the epistolary nature of Freedom & Necessity -- and your masterful execution -- makes all of this possible -- this and so much more. James, Susan, Kitty and Richard are given to us on their own terms because everything is shared with us through their journals and letters (and by the end I felt like one of their children reading the family's history, which I am sure you intended). We only know them through what they want to tell us and through what they need to say about and to one another, and there is no truer record of a life or lives than one's own correspondence coupled with the thoughts and epistles of others.
But even that wasn't enough for you. You had to create one of the most compelling adventure-intrigue-mystery-historical fictions ever written, and again the ultimate genius was in your choice of the epistolary form. I have never read an ending like that, Steven and Emma. You build and build and build towards the denouement, then you skip ahead a couple of days because that's when the players would be ready to write their thoughts, so we get fragments from Richard, nothing from Kitty and James, and the perfect recall of Susan (albeit from her limited perspective). You withhold and withhold and then deliver in dribs and drabs the final actions of your tale in a way that blows my mind. Druidic conspiracies mix with greedy grabs for property mix with labour disputes and revolution, and all of it is delivered from the perspective of our four correspondents. UTTERLY...FUCKING...BRILLIANT!
So thank you for your genius. I am going to read your solo books A.S.A.P, and I beg you, please, to come together and write another novel because Freedom & Necessity is damn near perfect. I want more.
Yours in humility,
p.s. thanks, Jacob, for giving me the final push to pluck this off my shelf and read it. I am forever indebted....more
Cormac McCarthy is talking about big things in Blood Meridian, and he is doing them extremely well. But what are those big things? Is he talking about violence? The sacred? Violence and the sacred? Is it war, as the judge says? Is McCarthy talking about ineluctability of humanity and humanism? Is he talking about hubris? The divine in man? The divine itself? Is he talking about the cost of living? The cost of being conscious? The cost of being a killer species that pretends to avoid its murderousness? The cost of conscience? The worth of conscience? Or is it all of these and more at once?
And then I wonder whose story this is. Is it the kid's? The judge's? The U.S.A.'s? Everyone's? Is it our story? Is this the story of mankind? Is this a gospel of man?
And just who is the judge? Is he a nation? Is he the devil? Is he an immortal? Is he merely a man? Is he mankind itself? A mirror held up to make us shudder? Is he the übermensch while the kid is man? Is the judge Yahweh the vengeful? Is his violence born of love? Of hate? Of necessity? Of desire? Of fulfillment? Of being human?
And how does this book slip under the radar of those who would ban books (though, perhaps it doesn't; I haven't researched that yet)? It is the single most violent text I have ever read (except The Bible). It's far more violent than American Psycho or A Clockwork Orange and just as graphic. Is it that the bulk of the violence -- though nowhere near all -- takes place amongst men engaged in a pseudo-war (I say "pseudo" because it is a personal, paid, roving genocide perpetrated by Glanton and his men, and while what they do is what warriors everywhere and always do, to call it war feels like ennobling their acts)? Is it that the violence is so beyond anything we're familiar with (apart from a couple of Tarantino movies) that we are quickly desensitized and can't help accepting what's put before us? Or is it that violence on that scale and of that much detached cruelty is so deeply a part of what humanity is that we are enervated by its familiarity?
My answer is that "I don't know. I'm not sure." And the contemplation of these questions (I am positive I have missed a few that I will remember later) is far from over.
***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***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....more
I finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thoughtI finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thought that way. I know that one thing holding me back was some random comment from a random, now forgotten person, that led me to believe I would hate Martin’s politics, and that they’d play themselves out in a distracting way, but that never manifested for me. Beyond that I can’t recall why I thought I would hate the book.
Perhaps it was because many of the people who’d recommended A Song of Ice and Fire to me had also recommended RA Salvatore’s Drizzt books, which I loathe to the very core of my being (and continue to read like some bizarre masochistic ritual).
Whatever the reason, I thought it would be crap and even though I had a copy on my shelf for years, I refused to pick it up and get reading. But then HBO had to go and make a series out of it, and I couldn’t watch the show (which I had to because of the presence of Lena Headey and Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage) without reading the book first, so my hand was forced.
And here I am willing to eat a message bearing crow and say, “I was wrong.”
This series is good. Damn good. It deserves tons of its praise. But is it eligible for the title “Best Fantasy Series” ever? Probably not. Is it on par with The Lord of the Rings? No. But I don’t think they are the same kind of book, so they shouldn’t really be compared.
What A Game of Thrones is -- and I say this fondly -- is a boy’s own soap opera. It is dark and sinister and nasty; it is full of violence and sex and even a hint of magic and the supernatural; it is full of big, brash characters who engage in incest, hide their secrets, make dirty deals, and generally screw up themselves, their families and their friends. It is Days of Our Lives with plate mail armour and bloody battles. And that is all very, very good.
Yet even with its overarching soapiness, A Game of Thrones impressed me most with the way it made me believe in the reality of its world. The brutality, the drive to vengeance, the fact that no character -- however heroic -- is safe, the overwhelming pathos in every action and reaction, the textures and smells and sounds of the our world transplanted in Martin’s made me believe that all of it was possible, even the two punch dénouement of the final Catelyn and Daenerys chapters.
So y’all were right. Everyone who told me I would love this book, you were right. I do. And now I will probably wind up ploughing quickly to the end of the books and find myself right where you’ve all been for so much longer than me. Waiting. But at least my wait won’t be, can’t be, nearly as long as yours. Suckers. ;P
And for anyone who's interested, here're links to my four volume reading journal. Enjoy.
I’ve always been impressed by Iain (M.) Banks range.
Whether he’s writing about an hermaphroditic serial killer and his/her mechanical wasp oracle, aI’ve always been impressed by Iain (M.) Banks range.
Whether he’s writing about an hermaphroditic serial killer and his/her mechanical wasp oracle, a man in a coma living a second life on a vast hyperreal bridge of the mind, a bored gamer compelled by artificial intelligences to play the ultimate game on a distant planet, or a brilliant woman whose place in an omnipotent corporation takes her to a kingdom in the Himalayas, Banks always maintains his artistry and deliberate social relevance without compromising entertainment.
Despite Banks’ excellence, however, his books tend to be too edgy for mainstream audiences. My biggest challenge has been finding the right work to pass on to my friends, to ease them into the mind of Banks, to prepare them for his more challenging works and the intellectual challenges that often lie in wait. That novel is Espedair Street.
It isn’t just close to mainstream, it is mainstream.
It tells the story of Daniel Weir, ex-bass player and musical genius behind the 70s’ supergroup Frozen Gold. Daniel, also known as Weird, is a bit depressed when the novel opens, depressed enough to consider suicide, and he relates his life story to us so that we understand why he’s feeling down but decided to hang around. He talks about missed opportunities, wild successes, the deaths of people he loved (which were marginally his fault), the people he let slip away, the talent he leaves fallow, sex, drugs and even some Rock and Roll. And when Weird’s told us everything he needs to tell us, after he’s made us love him without pity, he goes off and finds happiness.
Yep, Iain Banks wrote a happy ending. He wrote a book that was made for the screen (and the fact that it hasn’t been adapted is criminal). He wrote a book whose primary purpose seems to be escape, although it still retains elements of Banks’ conscience and politics. He wrote a book that even the most genre-phobic reader would be thrilled to read.
And it is proof positive that there is nothing that Iain Banks can’t write. What wouldn’t I give for a gram of his range.
Aside -- (over the course of Espedair Street I couldn’t get this thought out of my head: Banks “Weird” tale is a Nick Horby novel without the smug cheek and slacker superiority. I wonder how Hornby fans would like Espedair Street. I’m betting they would like it very much.)...more
I love being made to feel, and I love it even more when that feeling is passed to me through literature, and I love it more still when that feeling isI love being made to feel, and I love it even more when that feeling is passed to me through literature, and I love it more still when that feeling is completely unexpected, and I love it most of all when it leaves me on the edge of weeping joyfully.
I had zero expectations for Isherwood's A Single Man. I knew nothing about it when I plucked it from the bookshelf, but I saw Colin Firth's face and my adoration (along with his Oscar nomination for his leading role in Tom Ford's film adaptation, which I still haven't seen) made buying it an unavoidable impulse.
Then it sat on my shelf for months.
Last week I needed something late at night, flipped it open and found myself on the dedication page: "TO GORE VIDAL." That was good enough to get me started, but Isherwood's gorgeous writing ripped me into the flow of his book. At first I was able to put it down after dipping into the beauty of his words. But each dip made me need more. Today I drowned in Isherwood until I was finished.
The story of one day in the life of a fifty-something English prof is unremarkable. It's just a day. He's just a man. But there is such beauty in that day and that man, in the way that he lives, in the way that he finds easy joy in mundanity, in the way he avoids preciousness and self-pity, in the way he lives in the now for the now, that I came to love George in a way I haven't loved a character for a while. I know that some of my love for George is narcissistic. I connect with most every element of the man (even if we're not the same). But I'm okay with that. I love myself. I can admit it.
What I mean to say, I suppose, is that this book was for me even if it may not be for you. And that's okay.
I know I'm going to be back reading this book a few months from now, and I'll let you know if it holds up (I sure hope my response isn't just the mood I'm in), but I'm not terribly worried. I have a feeling Christoper Isherwood is really as good as I feel he is....more
I started reading this to Miloš & Brontë at the beginning of March, and somewhere around May they lost interest.
I don't think I can blame UrsulaI started reading this to Miloš & Brontë at the beginning of March, and somewhere around May they lost interest.
I don't think I can blame Ursula K. LeGuin, at least not entirely. I was a big part of the problem. I struggled with this installment of The Earthsea Cycle, and that must have translated into the way I read this aloud, making it and me tough to listen to (never have the kids fallen asleep so often while I was reading. I usually have to tear myself away).
My problem is tough to pinch. I wasn't a fan of Arren/Lebannen. He wasn't the usually insufferable "apprentice" that drives me up the wall. He was a Prince giving his loyalty to Ged because of his love for the Archmage (a love with definite homosexual overtones, which would usually be a big bonus for me). He was capable. He was steadfast. He was flawed. All things I appreciated. But I just couldn't and didn't like him. I found myself wanting him to go away. I've been struggling to answer why, but I think writing all this out has given me the answer. I didn't like him because he was a partner for Ged. I wanted Ged to be alone. I wanted solitary Ged. I wanted Ged searching Earthsea as Sparrowhawk on Lookfar without any interference or companionship. Sharing his journey with another from the outset took something away from Ged, and it muddied my relationship with The Farthest Shore.
I recognize that Arren's presence added many things, things that LeGuin wanted to add and needed to add, some wonderful things and some not so wonderful, but I wasn't expecting those things, and I failed LeGuin by being unable to embrace them.
Yet I was unable to embrace them. Even once Miloš & Brontë asked if we could stop reading, even after I stopped reading aloud and went on by myself (in Ged-like fashion), even after finding myself captivated by the final search for Cob, the death of Orm Embar and Ged's sacrifice, even after recognizing the importance of Arren/Lebannen, I couldn't cross the emotional distance to embrace this book.
I must read it again when I am in the proper place. Perhaps then I will be able to appreciate it fully. Sorry for failing you and your words, Ursula K. LeGuin. Your work deserves better....more
This review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal inThis review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in which it was written. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets may indicate some additional information for the sake of readability or some sort of commentary from now). This is one of my lost reviews.
A deconstructionist's dream text, Despair presents a classic play between signifier and sign -- Hermann and his victim/doppleganger Felix -- and plays with the images that the mirror of literature throws out with hypnotic strength. More than anyone else, Vladimir Nabokov can make us sympathetic to an immoral or amoral character and draw us, delighted, into their world. Humbert Humbert draws us in with his tragic sickness, but Hermann pulls us in with his ego firmly attached to his artistic -- not chocolate -- murder.
In many ways, I prefer the hallucinations and rationalizations of Hermann over Humbert. His killing of Felix is detatched from emotion or gain; his thrill is in the creation and the act, and his downfall is more self-directed than Humbert's, who is ruled by emotion and nothing else. Hermann's downfall is the stick, and his realization that he screwed up. He failed as the murderous artist. Despicable? Yes. But also tremendously readable and enjoyable. ...more
*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but consider*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but considering the book's form I doubt that will matter.*
Dradin, In Love As Dradin experiences the rain, I am straining with the brightness of our first sunny day reflecting off the silky pages of City of Saints and Madmen, and I am struck by the sensuality of the experience a mere forty pages into VanderMeer’s opus. The weight of the book is comfortable in my hand, and it seems to reflect the weightiness of what VanderMeer is trying to achieve. And those pages. I don’t think I have ever felt a book whose pages made me want to open the covers just to run my fingers over the paper. It is the Bantam Trade Paperback Spectra Edition for any who’d like to feel what I am talking about.
If this book becomes any more sensory, I don’t know if I will be able to handle it.
So Dradin is as mad as his Mother, maybe madder (assuming she was really mad, of course).
It just struck me that the murderousness of Ambergris during The Festival of the Freshwater Squid, might not have happened at all. What if Dradin had a full psychotic break after he killed Dvorak? What if the murderousness of the Festival was in his mind? What if the woman he loved wasn’t a mannequin at all? What if he killed his love himself so that he could keep her with him, dismembering her as he did his sweaty Priestess from the jungle?
Even if all of these questions are answered in the negative, the story of Dradin, In Love is a frighteningly cool kick off to the City of Saints and Madmen. The murderousness of the Festival reminded me of a spookier, chillier version of the classic Star Trek episode, The Return of the Archons. It makes me wonder if the bloodletting of the Festival is convention. Do people attending the Festival expect it to be so sanguinary? If so, many of them enter the streets to sacrifice themselves, so what does that tell us about Ambergris and the people who inhabit its streets?
Dradin’s naiveté is positively shocking if he is not psychotic. To trust Dvorak, to expect aid from Cadimon, to wander unwittingly and boldly through the streets, to pass through the Mushroom Dwellers (Gray Caps), to fall in love with a mannequin, even to expect her to join him at The Drunken Boat, Dradin’s innocence seems almost impossible, but it does make him sympathetic despite his flaws. Of course, innocence and psychosis are often complimentary states. Many psychotics have an odd innocence about them, almost a weird light of unassailable optimism.
Whether the entire story is an expression of Dradin’s psychosis or Dradin is merely psychotic within a crazy story, madness, as the title of VanderMeer’s book suggests, is an integral part of Ambergris. I can’t wait to move on to the History.
The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris
Fictional histories of fictional worlds always throw me straight into Baudrillard mode, and Duncan Shriek’s overindulgence in footnotes sounds so real that the model seems better than the real could ever be. As fictional historians go, moreover, Shriek is one of the most likable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. His commentary is far more interesting than the Manzikerts’ creation of Ambergris on the backs of their genocidal destruction of the Mushroom Dwellers and Cinsorium, although the story of early Ambergris is damn good too.
But before I leave behind what seems an intentional use of hyperreality on VanderMeer’s part I must mention the succession of Manzikerts, the early Festivals of the Fresh Water Squid, and the Saint of Saints. All very hyperreal and all very cool.
Shriek is playful, witty and fun; his most fun footnote indulgence is the war of words he seems to have going with his more extreme competitors: the state supporting, conservative Sabon and the state criticizing, “functional anarchist” Lacond.
The Lacond-Sabon-Shriek tension is the actual story in The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris. I wish these characters were hidden in some University nearby so that I could take them all out to the pub, order up a pitcher and let them fight out their debate over Tonsure’s true identity or the role of Sophia in her husband’s and son’s decision making processes.
Voss Bender is everywhere; he is a sort of Mozart-like figure, or a Shakespearean figure; the popular culture that ties all of Ambergris, and possibly all the city states, together.
The Silence. I didn’t find it as chilling as I was, perhaps, supposed to, but I found the telling of the Silence compelling. VanderMeer as Shriek has a voice that rivals the best historians in our supposedly real world, and I find myself not wanting this history nor Shriek’s commentary to end.
Mix ingredients well. Read in the dark of night. Allow your imagination to embrace terror. Expect any trust you have ever had in historians to be shaken to its core. Cook until done. Serves many.
The Strange Case of X
I started out not liking this chapter. First I was annoyed, then I was angry, but then I was captivated, and I kept going until the wee hours until I finished it and loved it. I could say more, but I don’t want to for fear of revealing too much of myself.
Letter and Notes: Straight away, I see that this story is not truly a tale of Ambergris and Ambergris alone, but a tale of how a city comes into existence. Is it imagined into existence? Does it exist before it is imagined? Does the imagining of a city already in existence overcome the real city, is it replaced by its “operational double,” as Baudrillard would have it? In order my answers would be: Yes; Yes; Yes. So it becomes a story of Ambergris, but of an hyperreal Ambergris made hyperreal by X (or VanderMeer, if you will), therefore it is also a story of X.
Ambergris + X = X + Ambergris = X = Ambergris.
And I am expecting the appendix to only deepen that relationship.
The Release of Bellacqua: To be a cognizant mind, an enlivened soul, then to be told you have only existed as a story, as another mind/soul’s written tale, then to be written away. Back into the nothingness from whence we all come and go. It is not just a tragic story for Bellacqua, but a sad "what if" for anyone, for everyone. What if X is God? What if we are nothing but God’s characters in a story It chooses to tell? Is that more comforting than being an independent, living being with only oblivion to look forward to?
King Squid: Every step is making me feel mad, as if the entirety of City of Saints and Madmen is a manifestation of madness, which is, of course, no stretch at all. Utter paranoia.
The Hoegbotton Family History & The Cage: So much detail. Everything about this book is in the details. The title of the book the Cage appears in is Details of a Tyrant & Other Stories, but we're only told by being observant of the header, the fonts, the pseudo-intertextuality, the hints of a unifying voice in the repetition of “X” and “pathetic” and “sour,” these are all powerful details that offer countless possibilities for interpretation. Are they clues? Are they red herrings? Are they intentional? Are they mere quirks of the real life VanderMeer? Do they mean anything? Is the hand in the Cage from the sweaty priestess? Did the cage belong to Dradin? Does it matter? I’m not sure that I care if any of this means anything. I know that I am loving my complete immersion in the waters of Ambergris, and I think that may be all that matters.
In the Hours After Death: Is Nicholas Sporlender the Ambergris manifestation of X? Possibly. But that doesn’t go far in helping me discern the meaning of In the Hours After Death. This is the only story where I feel cut adrift. They hyperreal elements are undeniable, coming as they do from a literary magazine, but what of the walking dead, the adrift soul? Perhaps that is what it means. I wonder if it will come clearer next time I read City of Saints and Madmen.
The Man Who Had No Eyes: This was mind-blowingly compelling. I stayed up until 3:30 am decoding the last paragraph. The act itself, the writing, as X tells us, is a bringing into existence and a prolonging of what already exists. The writer as god, and all of us as the writer. That X/VanderMeer implicates us in his own creation, in this his greatest moment of genius. The readers are the writers are the madmen are the saints are the gods of Ambergris and Earth.
The Exchange: Suddenly the bonds that separate the worlds are slipping, flipping and flapping in the wind like a skein of canvas giving glimpses of the opposing sides that slip between worlds like the rippling of cloth in the elements. Sporlender is X is VanderMeer (who exists in both worlds) + Verden is Schaller (who also exists in both worlds) and this slippage continues right into Learning to Leave the Flesh, wherein Ambergris is infected by Florida and the rest of our reality. The Victorian, the Rosetta Stone, ‘50s b-grade vegetable movies, cars (referred to for the first time in the language we would use), The Gainseville Sun and The Independent Florida Alligator all seep into Ambergris, and our world and the city seem closer to one than they could possibly have been with only X/VanderMeer(Sporlender?) stuck in the Voss Bender Memorial Mental Institute. I am exhausted and drained by this book. I must come back to Ambergris and dip into the puzzle all over again.
The Ambergris Glossary: Back to the lovably cantankerous Duncan Shriek and a nice burst of humour to finish off this mind-numbing ride of world creation. The glossary also marks the first time an author’s “building” work has felt appropriate for publication. Many authors add work like this to the story itself, thereby destroying any hope of pace and readability, but VanderMeer’s decision to shift the background work to a glossary eradicates the dangers this sort of generative work could do to the stories, and then makes it an enjoyable cool-down as you pull out of Ambergris and go back to the mundane worlds of other authors. Then A Note on Fonts gives us one last “taste” of sensuality, filling us with the flavours of word shapes. I’ll be keeping my eyes in my palms and hope to make a VanderMeer sighting/citing, although I’m not sure Bantam Trade Paperback Spectra Edition Books will really care. Or maybe they will....more
This is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
I hear you saying, "HThis is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
I hear you saying, "How on Earth can that be a guilty pleasure?" I know. It's a recognized classic. It has far reaching pop culture impact.It's considered one of the greatest adventures ever written. It has two of the most memorable "villains" in literature; it has four kick ass action heroes. It has sword fights, romance, intrigue, and most people think it has big laughs (it doesn't, which is the thing that pisses me off most about its pop culture adaptations). Even if people haven't read the book they know the Three Musketeers. Hell, most people even know that D'Artagnan, the main "hero" of the book, is not one of the eponymous "Three". So how could this book be a guilty pleasure? The answer is simple at first, then its complex.
Simple answer: Milady de Winter.
Complex answer: Milady de Winter.
From the accepted perspective, Milady is an unrepentant, nasty, evil, femme fatale. She is an agent for the "villainous" Cardinal Richelieu, spying on, plotting against and battling our Musketeers at every turn. She foments marital unrest between the King and Queen. She plots the assassination of the Englishman, the Duke of Buckingham, to stop him from aiding the Huguenots at La Rochelle. She tries to kill D'Artagnan and later poisons his mistress, Constance Bonacieux. She corrupts a fine, upstanding Puritan man. And once upon a time, she made a fool of the Comte de La Fère.
She is the accepted villain, even worse than her master the Cardinal, for whom and under whose auspices she commits her evil acts. She is the villain, and D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis are the heroes.
Here's the problem, though, from another perspective she isn't and they aren't.
You see, Milady de Winter was a poor young woman who did what she must to survive. Forced into a convent for want of food, a priest fell in love with her and the pair stole some church property to start a life together. They were caught, and both were "branded" with the fleur-de-lys -- the mark of criminals. Alone again, she fell in love with the Comte de La Fère. They were married, and she hid her crimes from him. Then one afternoon the Comte discovered her brand. He felt betrayed and strung her up by her neck, leaving her to die.
She lived and entered the service of the Cardinal. Under his direction, she became a powerful agent, doing exactly what it is that agents do. The Cardinal -- the right hand of the King, connected to the Pope, a man waging a war in the King's name, the most powerful man in France -- has Milady undermine the King's Queen, Anne of Austria, a woman having an affair with the man (Duke of Buckingham) who is helping the rebels within her husband's kingdom. She is also asked to keep tabs on a troublesome young guard, D'Artagnan, who seems to be thwarting the Cardinal's plans through sheer luck and Gascon audacity. She complies.
Then the man she is spying on kills her lover, the Comte de Wardes. And if that isn't bad enough, the man she's spying on turns up in her bedchamber posing as the Comte and proceeds to "make love" to Milady. The "lovemaking" is so "wonderful" that D'Artagnan decides to come clean and reveal his true identity. Milady loses her temper -- with some cause, I think -- and tries to stab D'Artagnan (which he doesn't seem to understand). From then on, Milady wants vengeance against the murderer of her lover, who also happens to be her rapist (for that is what he is, surely?).
Next, she is charged with assassinating the Duke of Buckingham, for which she is issued a carte blanche by the Cardinal, but her enemy, D'Artagnan -- committing treason against his own King and country -- warns the Duke, and she is banished to a tower while the Duke sails off to aid the Huguenots. Well, she isn't about to languish in prison, so she seduces a Puritan and makes her escape, winding up in a convent in France where she can hide out. Lucky for her, D'Artagnan's mistress, a married woman whom he was bedding while he was raping Milady, is also hiding out in the convent, so Milady de Winter takes the portion of vengeance at her disposal and kills D'Artagnan's lover as he killed hers.
And for all of this, the Four Musketeers, now in possession of her carte blanche, hold their own little court, pass judgement on Milady and have her head separated from her shoulders. And they get away with it because they have the Cardinal's signature -- on Milady's carte blanche which allows the bearer to do whatever they do for the good of the kingdom.
It seems to me that Alexandre Dumas knew that perspective would dictate how we saw his heroes and villains, and that he was okay with his muddied good and evil waters. He was writing from the Musketeers' perspective, and he knew that his readers would side with them against the Cardinal and Milady. But he also wrote in a way that complicated his Musketeers. So much so that we accept when D'Artagnan receives and accepts a commission to the Musketeers from the Cardinal himself. He wanted his characters to be grey, and they were.
So why is this a guilty pleasure (especially if the guilt doesn't come from Dumas' writing)? I am finally getting there.
The weight of popular culture has changed the way we see this story so thoroughly, has morphed the Musketeers so completely into righteous heroes, turned D'Artagnan into such a loveable heartthrob and his companions into the most likeable of heroes, that it is nearly impossible for people to see the things that make them grey.
But I see them for who they are. I see the grey.
So here comes the guilt: I see the Four Musketeers crimes -- treason, rape, murder, theft -- and all their flaws -- cruelty, greed, hypocrisy, entitlement, adulterousness (to name but a few) -- and I still love them. I love them, and I enjoy reading their adventures, and I cheer for them from beginning to end.
I shouldn't, but I do, and that's why The Three Musketeers is my guiltiest of pleasures. So there.
p.s. I love Milady de Winter too. For all the things she is....more
Not only is it a beautiful retelling of a classic tale, it is thOf all the books I read my kids Jon J. Muth's Stone Soup is far and away my favourite.
Not only is it a beautiful retelling of a classic tale, it is the finest telling of the tale I have ever seen. Muth's watercolours are exquisite: sparing, richly detailed, perfectly moody and expressive.
And his choice of setting is sublime. Muth sets his version in a small walled village at the base of a mountain in China. Three monks come to the town one morning and start making stone soup, drawing the villagers -- suspicious from many hardships -- out of the their homes and into each others hearts.
Muth's telling is simple and lovely, and it generates the spirit of community better than any other telling of Stone Soup I've seen....more
It is a novella about life and living, told from the perspective a man who brings suicide to "clients" he meets, leading them to an end they are happy with and fulfilled by. But it's also a novel about the lives of people who are content to keep living even if they're incapable of loving.
Mostly, though, it's a story about living most at the moment of death.
And that is what Young-ha Kim gets in a way that so many don't -- death is life.
It is not just that death is the inevitable end of life, it is that death is life itself, and that suicide doesn't have to be an act of despair from a hollow or depressed or weak individual. It can be an embracing of life, a meeting of that ultimate moment of life on one's own terms. From Young-ha Kim's perspective, and the perspective of his nameless, faceless narrator, death/suicide is the ultimate artistic expression -- and what is art but a passionate expression of life and living?
This book is not for a wide audience, and it will fall into many hands that will revile it and many more hands that will simply not be in a place to embrace it.
I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is a piece of antagonistic art, a sort of literary Exotica, a sparing, Egoyan-esque journey through light posing as darkness, and it will someday be held responsible, I have no doubt, for the suicide of some teenager, in some middle class North American town.
But if you know you are capable of celebrating life in all its complexity, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is a debut novel that will remind you that there are authors out there who can still feel. And this book will make you feel too....more
**spoiler alert** Zones of thought dictating space time, transcendent Power turned Perversion turned Blight, a benevolent vegetable race in long-term**spoiler alert** Zones of thought dictating space time, transcendent Power turned Perversion turned Blight, a benevolent vegetable race in long-term memory carts, a burning space station firefight, an epic chase at fluctuating speeds of light, medieval, pack minded, seal-rat-dog people and a seemingly classic struggle between good and evil.
They are the perfect mix of Space Opera ingredients, which are baked into author Vernor Vinge's yummy loaf of sci-fi bread (forgive my cheesy metaphor, but I baked today) A Fire Upon the Deep.
I’d been craving some good old fashioned Space Opera, something inconceivable, a little outrageous and eclectic, so when the Sci Fi and Fantasy Book Club picked A Fire Upon the Deep as their January book I really hoped I had found what I needed to satisfy my craving.
A Fire Upon the Deep satisfied me in part. Vinge’s story, for all its welcome eclecticism, was a little too choppy in its ability to hold my interest. Some actions and characters riveted me, and others were like entering Vinge’s own Slowness -- a slip from light speed to a shocking crawl.
The moments in light speed dominated A Fire Upon the Deep, however, and perhaps the finest moment was the completion of the OOB II’s action against the Blight. Pham, deeply affected by Godshatter, finally reaches the Countermeasure on Tines World, and the Godshatterman delivers one of those big, almost cinematic, totally inexplicable, bordering on fantasy moments of Space Opera glory. The image of Pham sitting in the cargo bay with threads of shining fungus linking to his body from the walls of the ship barely covers a page of Vinge’s big book, but it is the Vinge's single most powerful image. I can imagine how a film version’s entire aesthetic could be developed around that scene, and it’s a beautiful thing.
A Fire Upon the Deep is just as entertaining when the galactic stakes are lower but the characters involved are multiplied. The war between Woodcarver and Mr.Steel & Flenser/Tyrathect has enough subterfuge, double dealing, betrayal, strategy, love and hate to fulfill anyone’s expectations of a technologically and socially medieval culture suddenly faced with first contact and an arms race beyond their reach. And the relationships that spring up between the human children and their Tinish counterparts feel just right. Vinge offers relationships that make sense based on the players’ personal, cultural and even genetic dispositions, so that we never find ourselves disbelieving the characters. We might want them to do things differently, but we know they can’t.
Where A Fire Upon the Deep stutters into the Slowness is during the massive chase for the OOB II. Three fleets converge in the chase, and it begins to feel interminable very quickly. Vinge seemed to be trying to create old school, Saturday morning serial suspense, the cliffhanger -- another hallmark of Space Opera -- but the unanswered questions only made me want to get back to Tines World. Will Ravna, Pham, Greenstalk and Blueshell get caught? Will the Skroderiders betray the OOB II? Will the OOB II convince the Commercial Security fleet to help them? Will Pham implode under the weight of the Godshatter? Will Ravna stop sniveling? These and other questions were supposed to make us excited, but it is Vinge’s one big failure in A Fire Upon the Deep that they don’t.
But entertaining or not, every element of A Fire Upon the Deep is trumped for me by Vinge’s masterfully subtle meditation on the nature of good and evil. He provides no answers about good or evil; he takes no sides that I can see; but Vinge quietly asks us to consider what is evil and what is not. He presents us with a transcendent Blight destroying Powers and civilizations, but doing so to preserve its life. He presents us with humans tipping the balance on an undeveloped world to save the life of a boy and kill the Blight, without ever really considering the ramifications of their actions for the denizens of that world. He presents us with an answer to the Blight that might or might not have caused more death and destruction in killing the Blight than the Blight itself caused. He presents us with a benevolent race, tailor made for betrayal. He presents us with “good” Tines who’ve engineered “evil” Tines who’ve engineered brilliant Tines who all must face the consequences of their actions. He presents us with an implied debate over the primacy of individualism or the group. And that’s what makes his meditation work so well: he presents. Any side he takes in the narrative, and these sides are only implied, is negated by an opposing side in the narrative, leaving us with our own thoughts, our own decisions to make.
It may seem a small achievement, but it is brave, and it shows great faith, even if misplaced, in his readers. I appreciate that more than anything else Vinge offered in A Fire Upon the Deep.
It may not have been the most fun I’ve ever had reading a Sci-Fi Space Opera, but it was definitely good enough to make me put A Fire Upon the Deep on my “to-read again” shelf. Vernor Vinge is worth a look. ...more
I want to appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does.
I want to take pride in my work; I want to taste every bite of sausage, suck the marrowI want to appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does.
I want to take pride in my work; I want to taste every bite of sausage, suck the marrow out of every fish bone, enjoy every puff of every cigarette, bask in a sunset, watch the moon cross the sky, fall asleep content; I want to focus on the necessities of living; I want to focus on life, but I have too much. It's not much compared to most everyone I know, but it is still too much.
And because it is too much I can't appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does. Reading about it is not enough, but right now it is what I have.
I am a huge, unabashed fan of Ken. I love him. I have loved him for years. And this extremely early biography simply made me love him more. I love himI am a huge, unabashed fan of Ken. I love him. I have loved him for years. And this extremely early biography simply made me love him more. I love him so much that if you ask me the question, "Emma or Ken?" My answer is Ken (though I love Emma too).
Beginning took much heat for being precipitous. It came out extremely early in Ken's career, just after his amazing triumph with Henry V, and everyone thought it was dreadfully narcissistic to write an autobiography when he was so damn young. They're probably right. But that arrogance, that self belief, the surprising humility beneath the arrogance, the recognition that it was too much, and the wonderful tale of a young life on the brink of a greatness that would fizzle and remain on the verge for years is just too beautiful to dismiss.
A good portion of the book is taken up with his production diary for Henry V (which is excellent, particularly for anyone interested in some day directing films), but the best parts of the book are the truly autobiographical chapters, which offer unforgettable anecdotes about all of Ken's heroes. These sections made me fall deeply in love with a couple of generations of amazing British actors, and I remain fans of them all to this day. Branagh's marathon runs with Brian Blessed, his awe over the Hamlet recall of Derek Jacobi (the man knows the ENTIRE play by heart), his love for Olivier and Gielgud, his crush on Judi Dench, all of it dazzles, and it is obvious that Branagh was -- and if one considers his body of work he must remain -- as big a fan as he is a colleague of these geniuses.
And you know what, apart from his appallingly shabby rendition of Frankenstein, I remain a massive fan of Branagh's body of work. I loved him most recently in Valkyrie (regardless of my general disappointment in the film) and Wallander, but I really can't think of anything else I've disliked. I know some find his Hamlet overwrought, but I love huge portions of it and like most of the rest (and casting Heston as the Player King is genius). I loved him as Gilderoy Lockhart. I still adore Dead Again. And I don't care what anyone thinks, I love his casting of Keanu as Denzel's brother in Much Ado About Nothing.
You can tell me he sucks. But I'll disagree. You can tell me I am a fool. And I will say you're probably right. But I love Ken. Nothing's going to change that. And I know, at least, that James has my back.
Kenneth Branagh is the King. I can't wait for The Mighty Thor!...more
There is little plot in The Road, and that is good; the story is tedious, repetitious and slow, and that too is good; the story is about two characterThere is little plot in The Road, and that is good; the story is tedious, repetitious and slow, and that too is good; the story is about two characters and the way they love each other, and this is very good; all the information you need about McCarthy's future world is there if you want to do the work, and doing the work is also good; when it comes down to it The Road is very good no matter the complaints you may read or hear to the contrary.
That is all I can say for now. I need to let The Road settle in my consciousness to see where it will land in my pantheon of books.
What I can say is that it moved me deeply, the prose was a wonder, and I think it is one of the best father/son relationships I have ever encountered.
If my strong feelings deepen this book will rise in my estimation; if my feelings weaken it may wound this book terminally for me. Only time will tell.
But one final comment I must make is that anyone who compares The Road to Blindness -- or worse states that the latter is greater than the former -- is one whose opinions are necessarily suspect. The former is genuine, realistic, stark, unwavering; the latter is an unimaginative debacle posing as deep allegory. Read the former and steer clear of the latter....more
Is the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is theIs the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is the Terror a Ripper style murderer and his penchant for mutilation? Is the Terror knowledge? Is the Terror sodomy? Is the Terror a silent Esqimaux? Is the Terror scurvy? Is the Terror unrelenting ice floes? Is the Terror belief? Is the Terror remembrance? Is the Terror dreams? Is the Terror the past? Is the Terror cannibalism? Is the Terror doubt? Is the Terror hope? Is the Terror ignorance? Is the Terror magic? Is the Terror misunderstanding? Is the Terror fire? Is the Terror interminable cycles? Is the Terror hubris? Is the Terror hate? Is the Terror capitalism? Is the Terror “civilization”? Is the Terror humanity? Is the Terror the unknown? Is the Terror failure? Is the Terror duty? Is the Terror ego? Is the Terror alcohol? Is the Terror visions and hallucinations? Is the Terror death? Is the Terror suffering? Is the Terror starvation? Is the Terror ice? Is the Terror morality? Is the Terror shame? Is the Terror foolishness? Is the Terror delusion? Is the Terror love? Is the Terror life? Is the Terror solitude?...more