grim, dry, melancholy, frustrating, riveting, endearing, and tragic are all good words to describe this moving anti-epic. well it looks like there aregrim, dry, melancholy, frustrating, riveting, endearing, and tragic are all good words to describe this moving anti-epic. well it looks like there are two more words to add to this list, moving and anti-epic. now how about another: bromantic.
grim: this trilogy is about a human and two members of an alien race known as the Mri, their long flight back to their homeworld and what they find there. this is not an "adventure". it is a stark, dark tale about how easily betrayal can be rationalized and, more importantly, how hard it can be to survive that betrayal if your version of survival equals never giving an inch to your betrayers - or your allies.
dry: this trilogy is austere and introspective, and Cherryh evinces little humor and lightness in the telling. yet the dryness works perfectly and never comes across as pretentious. she approaches her subjects in a careful, detached manner and that style is a perfect fit for her story.
melancholy: one character gives up everything. two characters lose everything. they do not spend much time in reflection on the things they lost, but that loss pervades the atmosphere and their characterization from beginning to end.
frustrating: it is not the novels that frustrate, it is the characters within. the Mri are a frustratingly pure race. they do not negotiate. they do not take prisoners. they view all non-Mri as un-people; the definition of "Mri" is "the People" while all others are "tsi-Mri", or "not the People". they do not bend, they do not yield. they are a hard people and the fact that so many others are set against them makes their single-mindedness even more frustrating. why in the world would a human want to become one of them? Cherryh makes that decision understandable and the harsh Mri strangely noble, without turning them into that infernal cliché, the "noble savage".
riveting: there is much that quickens the pulse. an attempt at genocide. dangerous journeys through wastelands. political intrigue. challenges and duels and games with throwing blades. how tough it is to travel in the dark of space. spaceships bringing fire and destruction upon abandoned cities. men learning to find true connection despite an automatic inequality between them. a woman becoming a strong and fearless leader.
endearing: the dusei are empathic bear-like sidekicks to the Mri. they are scary and adorable and a fully conceived alien species. Cherryh really outdid herself in creating these fascinating, wonderful creatures. she made me dream about them.
tragic: there are two horrific slaughters in this trilogy and they cast a long shadow on all subsequent actions in the narrative. the entire journey is suffused with such a deep sadness; the tragedies made this trilogy genuinely depressing but not in a way that made me want to stop reading - in a way that made me consider all such slaughters. I admired Cherryh's ability to make these tragedies so terrible and yet so resonant. these tragedies are what happen to people like the Mri, in science fiction and in our own real world.
moving: and yet ultimately this is not a depressing work. there is much that saddens and despair is woven throughout the story. but this isn't about the end of a people; this is about how a people can perhaps survive, on their own terms. and it is a story with flawed, real characters who will stay with me.
anti-epic: do not expect sturm und drang. despite everything I listed under riveting and tragic, the music this trilogy plays is all in minor notes. things are not made to be larger-than-life; instead they are precisely the size of individual lives, no matter how great the stakes. it is not operatic, it is intimate.
bromantic: at the heart of this saga is the story of a friendship between two men, a human and an alien. watching this relationship evolve into something real and lasting was amazing. the (platonic) love that grows between them is the foundation of the entire trilogy; it is the best part of these excellent novels....more
from the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octaviafrom the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octavia Butler is not partial to the human kind. oh, humanity: violent, vengeful, and vicious; petty, pitiful, perpetually proud. avaricious and all too willing to prey on their own. as a fellow visitor to this planet, I can only view Butler's perspective as one that is in line with my own. and so this was quite an invigorating experience given the overabundance of naively pro-human novels in the science fiction genre.
the story, in broad strokes: humanity destroys itself... the starfaring race of the Oankali arrive to pick up the pieces by saving what few humans remain on their blighted planet. these saviors of humanity offer them a sort of bargain: join with us - literally - and be reborn. it is not actually a bargain because humanity does not have much say in the matter. predictably, humans seethe and rebel against this kindly offer. my cynical self can't help but think that the main reason humans resist the compassion of the Oankali is because a large number of tentacles are involved. oh, racist humans! the trilogy follows the lives of three individuals: the woman who paves the way for a joining of the two species, and two of her children - two different kinds of human/Oankali "constructs".
Butler correctly assesses humanity's tragic flaw: a genetic tendency towards hierarchism at every level. a flaw that on the micro level leads to an inability to form relationships based on equality - and in the macro, one that could easily lead to the end of humanity's home world as they know it. oh, humanity. Butler writes in simple, straightforward prose, in what I imagine to be a chilly, neutral monotone. her style of writing makes the reading experience a deceptively simple one. but this is not a simple work. there is so much to contemplate throughout this series, in particular the idea of essentialism in terms of basic human nature: in gender roles, in the propagation of the species, in the ability to form families and other necessary social units, in the ways that humans think and act and react. science fiction as a genre once had at its core the idea of "speculation" - what would happen if this concept was introduced, what would happen if that idea changed a world. Butler's trilogy is a part of that excellent tradition and these books are challenging in the best sort of way: they force the reader to speculate on their own limited natures, on their own individual decisions and on the future of their kind. Lilith's Brood imagines where humanity's ultimate path may lie if they continue to give free reign to their basest genetic impulses - and then she imagines another path.
it should go without saying that Butler is ultimately in favor of the Oankali way. as a race, they are not without their own rather endearing flaws. but compared to humanity? well, that's like comparing a human child's scribblings to the works of the relatively advanced human Da Vinci. it was quite refreshing for me to read an alien invasion saga that is so resolutely on the side of the sensible "aliens". it was also fascinating to witness Butler's iciness gradually melt away, slowly revealing herself to be a rather tender individual who fully endorses the spirit and acts of cooperation and connection and joining that are necessary for any species' ongoing survival. her calm, dry-eyed observational skills are merely the outer shell of a person who values above all else such things as curiosity, compassion, and the concept that to live is to change. all beings are works in progress.
I have observed humanity as well; indeed, that is my entire mission on this planet. I hesitate to say that I am more sympathetic to the species, but my robot heart does have a certain fondness for this stumbling, bumbling race - a sympathy that a being from Butler's own insect species would most likely find quite foreign. well, I have been programmed for both sympathy and empathy while such emotions are often eschewed by her culture. I suppose such differences in perspective will be reconciled once our joint invasion of Earth commences....more
so I had a dream last night where Graham and Brian and Steve and I were all back in Seattle, and it was like it was before, four friends who were diffso I had a dream last night where Graham and Brian and Steve and I were all back in Seattle, and it was like it was before, four friends who were different from each other but still really connected, like brothers, and we were having adventures and serious talks and stupid talks and good times and bad times and it was all just so sweet and real, like things had never changed. of course things change and these are still my friends, but change is change and so Brian and Steve still aren't talking when they should both be bonding as fathers and leaders in their fields and as men, but change happens and now they can barely be in the same room together. and Graham - I still love him of course, I still love all of them, but I can't even remember the last time I saw Graham. these days I feel closer to Dave and to Jill, which is odd to consider because honestly back in the day they felt like satellites of the four of us. oh the small little tragedies and realities of life, the changes and the sweet memories and the never going back.
so there's a book called Dreamcatcher and it is about four friends and their histories together and the long times apart and their annual hunting trip. four great friends who were different from each other but still really connected, like brothers. four friends who grew up together; four individuals who are deeply characterized like they are all people the author knows, or maybe all different pieces of the author himself, made separate. or maybe both are true. it is easy to see your friends as a kind of extension of yourself, different but similar, four different sides of a square that is still one basic shape, one thing.
Dreamcatcher is not just about those friends but I sort of wish it had been. it is Stephen King's second version of an Aliens Attack! story and there is a lot to enjoy and speculate about, the telepathy and the strange forms that the aliens take and the government overreaction and spores and infections and two hilariously over-the-top villains. King is a great writer, he can craft a solid, fast-paced narrative and turn it into a great big tome without making it feel especially bloated. I like a thrilling adventure filled with horror and action, sure. but I really wanted to read more about those four friends and their lives together and apart. when one died it felt much too soon because I totally got him and yet there was still so much more to see. then when another died I felt genuinely sad - and not even because of the death itself, which made narrative sense - but because now there was a second story, a second life, that was all finished up in the book and that I still wanted to go on. King's humanism and his skill at giving you characters who the reader can implicitly, deeply understand almost works against him in Dreamcatcher, at least for me. I found myself wishing that this was a different book, one that wasn't a novel about an alien invasion but was instead all about these four friends, their histories and their futures, their annual hunting trips where they could be their true selves. I wanted all of that instead of aliens.
still, good book. and the cover is awesome, meaningful even:
BJ Rosenthal wakes up in the morning and takes a shower. he puts on his boxers. he puts on his pants. h"But look how fast it gets dark," says Grandma.
BJ Rosenthal wakes up in the morning and takes a shower. he puts on his boxers. he puts on his pants. he makes some coffee and drinks it. he puts on his socks and shoes. he puts on a shirt. he goes to work. he is a first person you-are-there-now narrator and the amount of mundane details he provides is excruciating. every. little. thing. but it certainly puts you right there.
BJ Rosenthal is a gay man in 1980s New York City. he is shallow and clever and loves sex. he likes to have a good time. he is always on the prowl. he has to deal with a few STDs here and there. he is neurotic and the first half of the book has some intermittently funny lists that describe how a gay man pre-AIDS crisis moves around in gay NYC. he is an endearing fellow but he is not exactly anything special.
I am a queer man who lives in San Francisco. I am shallow and clever and I love sex. I like to have a good time. I am rarely on the prowl these days. I have never had to deal with an STD. I'm neurotic and am often putting together lists of things. my lists aren't funny but they sure are important to me. I suppose I am an endearing fellow but I am not exactly anything special.
so BJ and I have some things in common. I saw that. I still didn't like him all that much despite those commonalities.
later, AIDS comes to New York City.
in the second half of the book, BJ is HIV-negative. he is intensely fearful and paranoid of contracting HIV and changes much of his life due to that fear. he is emotionally strong-armed, I suppose you could call it that, into becoming a caregiver of a former hook-up who is slowly and horribly dying from AIDS. back then, pre-protease inhibitors, people dying from AIDS became different people. BJ spends a lot of time in hospitals and he hates hospitals. he remains shallow and neurotic and continues writing lists, although these lists are now focused on AIDS. he never particularly liked the guy who's dying and having to be a witness to the dying doesn't make BJ like him more. I do give him some credit for helping out though. he does a lot of it, despite not really understanding why he is even doing it. for the most part it is a banal and meaningless experience for him.
in the second half of my life, I have miraculously remained HIV-negative. in 1994, at age 24, I became tired of in-your-face, let's-all-go-to-jail activism and decided to become a volunteer caregiver for people with HIV. eventually I left my downtown job and made this sort of caregiving my profession. I spent a lot of time in hospitals. I sat by the bedsides of people dying slowly and horribly from AIDS, their bodies and then their minds going, transforming into something so different from what they once used to be. after a few years, I couldn't deal with it anymore. it was depressing beyond belief and I couldn't find meaning in all these slow, painful deaths. I bumped myself up into management so that I didn't have to deal with it. I give myself some credit for trying, but not a lot. other people have done so much more.
I guess I "got" BJ. but his weaknesses aggravated me and I didn't like him much. huh, I wonder why.
so the guy finally dies. this should not be considered a spoiler because there's no mystery to it. it's a given. BJ feels shattered but can barely process his own emotions. then he gets a phone call. another person has contracted HIV and now he has a glimpse of what his future will be like. because back then, AIDS killed almost everyone it touched and it touched a lot of people.
the book was often annoying and BJ was often annoying too. I longed for Eighty-Sixed to give me some depth and meaning and genuine compassion, just something to cling to, you know? to make it all matter, somehow. little of that ever appeared. but that lack sure didn't stop me from crying a lot at the end.
"Funny, when I came, it was so light, and before I looked around, it was pitch dark," says you-know-who....more
this was a really fun and interesting look at all of the "history" and myths and legends behind A Song of Ice and Fire. it is written in the style ofthis was a really fun and interesting look at all of the "history" and myths and legends behind A Song of Ice and Fire. it is written in the style of one of that series' maesters so it is amusingly pedantic in tone, slanted against magic, and often quite obsequious towards then-king Robert Baratheon. I loved that faux-author's voice; the actual authors did a great job in capturing the feeling of a professor condescendingly lecturing his students while developing and expanding on Westeros and the Known World. it was all so drily amusing. and the art is fantastic! the book itself is nicely thick and weighty, with high quality paper and covers. a perfect coffee table book for a family of nerds. or hey, even a nerd bachelor like myself.
the volume is divided into roughly three parts: a history of Westeros including the arrival of the First Men, the Andals, and a king-by-king chronicle of each of the Targaryens; an overview of each of the 7 kingdoms (although 8 are actually described - those poor riverlands don't even count as a kingdom); and descriptions of various cities and lands outside of Westeros.
things I particularly enjoyed:
- the in-depth details of the various Targaryen reigns.
- maze-makers in Lorath!
- a poisonous city in Sothoros!
- a city called Carcosa all the way behind the Shadow! and other surprising Weird Fiction and Cthulhu-isms, including a couple references to "Deep Ones".
- particularly loved the illustrations of each of the 7 kingdoms' capital city. The Eyrie, Casterly Rock, and Highgarden were awesome. ok if I had to live anywhere in Westeros, it would have to be The Reach.
- lots of details of two underrated kingdoms: The Iron Islands and Dorne.
- quite a lot about Tywin Lannister, which was particularly great to read since he lacks a POV in the books.
- and I didn't realize that the Starks were the only royal family to rule or dominate their realm from the beginning. apparently the Baratheons replaced the Durrandons, the Martells replaced the Yronwoods, the Arryns replaced the Royces, the Lannisters replaced the Casterlys, the Greyjoys replaced the Hoars, the Tyrells replaced the Gardeners. I imagine all of that info is in ASOIF but it really stood out to me when reading this.
ok enough nerding out on this. if you love the series as much as I do, you should probably just invest the bucks and buy this. and don't buy it on kindle for chrissakes.
(view spoiler)[I suppose the less said the better about all of the negative comments and the 1 star reviews that appeared before the book even came out. or that have appeared since. ugh, whiny and entitled people just drive me up the wall. boo hoo hoo, I've been waiting so so long for the next book that I've soiled my diapers because this isn't that next book so I'm going to be a bitter little baby about it. waaaa! FUCK OFF, IDIOTS. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
dig your own grave, gravedigger. become what you hate and let eagles feast upon your heart...
run from your lost love, young lover. mthe book is an elegy
dig your own grave, gravedigger. become what you hate and let eagles feast upon your heart...
run from your lost love, young lover. make a new love of this murderous land...
your fantasies become a terrible reality, empty-eyed princess. your family is a trap, bitter young prince. together you can burn it all away...
ride lonesome, pale rider. shoot yourself down...
the book is not Horror
well, it is not capital-h Horror, it's not of that genre. and yet it is rife with horror, and poetry, the horror-poetry of Flannery O'Connor's Southern gothics and Cormac McCarthy's desolate landscapes, a closed circle of a family by way of Shirley Jackson or William Faulkner. I was reminded of these authors while reading this strange, compelling little book.
the book is not a Weird Western either. sadly, the marketing geniuses at Avon Books slapped a cheesy cover on its first edition: a skull-faced cowboy roaming a western landscape. the cover fits, but only if you look at it as a kind of cartoonish representation of the dreamlike reality that lies within its pages. this is a work of literary fiction and all that that implies: poetic prose, challenging themes, rich characterization. characters and narratives that have a double life as actual characters and plots as well as metaphors and analogies for a place, a time, for places and times and people and fates that change, must change. unknowable places; remorseless Time; people who are callous and cruel and tender and tragic; capricious and sardonic Fate.
so this book barely had a chance; thanks a lot, Avon. no wonder it is buried treasure. the author wrote one other book: a nonfiction book called "The Ecological Citizen". I wonder what it is about.
here is a spoiler
a spoiler for the book, and for life in general: all roads lead to death.
make your plans accordingly!
and here is a synopsis
4 stories in 8 parts that span many decades in fearsome, lonesome Montana. morticians and cowboys and a decaying old house with a decaying old family and towns that are unfriendly to the past. the characters overlap, in a sense. you meet a character in one story and he will likely die in the next. or not.
Montana Gothic is a meditation on loss. it is bleak and beautiful; a tall drink of icy cold water; a dark, sad dream of a book....more
reporter moves to small town and comes across a rash of suicides. are they actually suicides? is there some supernatural presence lurking at the cliffreporter moves to small town and comes across a rash of suicides. are they actually suicides? is there some supernatural presence lurking at the cliff that is the site of those deaths? and is there some sort of shadowy cabal that has formed a pact - a covenant - with that supernatural presence?
I guess I'm ok with reading a graphic rape scene in a horror novel. or at least I don't get so horrified and upset that it becomes hard to continue reading, like I do when coming across a graphic scene of child murder or abuse. I wonder why that is, how I can be okay with one thing but not the other, like I am prioritizing atrocities. so yeah, I can deal with an explicit rape scene in a horror novel, sure. but to have to read one incredibly horrific rape scene... and then, not much later, read another even more horrific rape scene that takes place 18 or so years later... to the same character? why, why, why. it just seems so gratuitous, so cruel just to be cruel. ugh, gross.
the protagonist is almost ridiculously unappealing. it appears as if he is intended to be some sort of Everyman but I doubt every man in his mid-20s would think that it is alright to repeatedly ply an 18-year old with booze in the service of his queasy crush on her. ugh, gross. there is also the basic illogic of his backstory: reporter blows whistle on corruption, specifically singling out his own girlfriend. er, conflict of interest much? I doubt any big leagues newspaper would allow this. the author seems unaware of how lame, repulsive, and unrealistic this guy is.
the villain talks like the sort of demonic super villain that a 14-year old would think up. actually, the villain sounds just like a demonic 14-year old. this is some ageless supernatural menace? I think not.
and the writing is often abominable.
He could almost taste the scent of death in the air. It stank of the bloody tang of brine and betrayal.
there is so much that is wrong with those two sentences that I don't even know where to start. and there's much, much more where that came from. ugh, gross prose, that's the worst!...more
I had no idea that somewhere within me was a craving for unusual westerns featuring a man with a magic gun, a tough lyee-haw, it's Weird Western time!
I had no idea that somewhere within me was a craving for unusual westerns featuring a man with a magic gun, a tough lass with a coat full of knives, and a cat traveling with them in a saddlebag. the duo (trio?) apparently ride about solving supernatural mysteries in the Old West; this particular mystery features cow mutilation, levitating zombies, witchery, and something strange buried in the scrub.
I liked this fast-paced novella. the writing was polished, the humor enjoyably low-key, and the story spun was intriguing and satisfying. no complaints. well, I suppose one complaint: I want more, more, more! my craving must be satisfied!
I had to email the author to ask if there were any more stories he planned for these characters and this milieu. his response made me very happy:
Yes, there will be more stories featuring Dryden and Raisy (and August Finch). First up is a prequel titled ZERO FILL, which tells the story of how Dryden got his gun, how he met Raisy, and where that damn cat fits into it all. After that will be a direct follow-up to DEADSTOCK called LAND OF THE NEVER-RISING SUN. ZERO FILL will be longer than DEADSTOCK, but still novella-length, while LAND OF THE NEVER-RISING SUN will be a full-on novel.
yahoo! I am particularly looking forward to more of the cat, August Finch.
Stephen King's moving novella "The Body" depicts a summer when four young friends from a small town decide to take a look at a rumored dead body. theStephen King's moving novella "The Body" depicts a summer when four young friends from a small town decide to take a look at a rumored dead body. the boys are all good kids who support each other in a world of bullies and dysfunctional families.
James Everington's absorbing novella "The Shelter" is about a summer when four young friends also go on a brief journey to see something best left unseen. except in this story, the four boys are not really friends, they don't support each other, two of them are bullies, and they don't find an actual body. what they do find is something much, much worse.
The Shelter does not suffer in comparison to The Body. it is well worth reading and comparing the two novellas actually added to my enjoyment. The Shelter both parallels and functions as a negative of The Body in many interesting ways. I wonder if it was intentional. probably not - the author's afterward notes that his piece is also based on events from his life. another intriguing parallel. and one major difference: unlike King, I do not get the sense that this author is a sentimental humanist. not remotely. as a sentimental humanist myself, I felt the lack - but it didn't take away from my positive experience reading the tale. it's not my favorite tone, but I can do bleak and hopeless. it's like an anti-vacation from my own personal outlook on life.
Everington certainly knows how a too hot summer filled with "friends" you actually don't like should feel. he put me right there; the boys felt real and so did their late 1980s milieu. his descriptive powers are strong and the boys' visit to an abandoned air raid shelter is genuinely unnerving. the sense that something is goading them to anger and feeding off of that anger, the dank shelter itself and the visions it contains, the bleak ending... well done. it gave me the creeps. 'tis the season.