Vacillating between 3 and 4 stars for this one; I'd give it a 7/10. It's a beautifully written story about lush Florida jungle, the joy of swimming, a...moreVacillating between 3 and 4 stars for this one; I'd give it a 7/10. It's a beautifully written story about lush Florida jungle, the joy of swimming, and institutionalised racism. It crosses three generations, starting in the 1930s, when Mayola Williams, a fifteen-year-old black girl goes to get a job at an upmarket "Whites Only" hotel where a Tarzan movie is being filmed. With its crystal-clear water and abundant wildlife, Wakulla Springs is a jungle paradise with a hint of mythical monsters. There's no real plot and not much conflict in this story, but the setting and the characters are strong enough to carry it.
It's a smooth, pleasant read, but I also kept reading in anticipation of the fantasy elements, since this is a tor.com story and was nominated for a Nebula award. However, "Wakulla Springs" can be called fantasy only by the slimmest and most disappointing of margins. Most of it is merely implied, with rumours of monsters lurking in the jungle. There is also something slightly mysterious in the recurrence of gorgeous characters who are tall, tan, powerful swimmers. Then, towards the end, there are two brief fantastical encounters, but their effects on the story are subtle or negligable. The fantasy is interesting, but arbitrary, so even though "Wakulla Springs" is a good story in its own right, it'll be disappointing for many genre fans and seems underserving of a Nebula nomination.
Still, despite feeling completely let down by the ending, the feel and imagery of "Wakulla Springs" stuck with me after I'd finished it. (less)
Meh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and wh...moreMeh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and white. The polytheistic city of Ansul was famed for its literary and scholarly culture, until the Alds of Asudar invaded, raping, murdering, and wrecking. The Alds are religious extremists who believe that the written world is evil. They destroy every book they can find, kill anyone in possession of written material, and make reading a crime. Seventeen years later, their priests and soldiers occupy the city.
Memer was conceived during the invasion, when her mother was raped by soldiers. She hates the Alds for all they have done - raping her mother, torturing the beloved Waylord of her home Galvamand, wrecking the estate, denying the gods she worships, etc. Galvamand was once a university, and now people bring any books they find to the house for safekeeping. They are kept in a secret room that only Memer and the Waylord can access with magic words. When a famous storyteller and his wife are invited to the city, it signals an opportunity for change.
In this context, all books take on a grand, magical quality, and Memer and the Waylord become grand, liberating figures simply because they love to read and do so in secret. How many times have we seen the glorified reader rebelling against the book-burners (or in this case, book-drowners)? Obviously I'm on the readers' side, but it's an old, boring conflict.
It doesn't make sense either. How is anyone supposed to run a business without writing things down? The Waylord actually suggests that business will suffer or collapse in future, but it's amazing that it hasn't already, or that the Alds have managed to thrive without writing of any kind. This is a quasi-medieval society, so there are no machines to do their record-keeping for them.
Le Guin is taking things a bit too far with the Alds, as well as taking a cheap shot at Islam, on which their religion is based - it's strictly monotheistic although there is a devil, and the Alds touch their heads to the ground four times when they pray. It resembles the more fanatical versions of Islam in its gross intolerance, violence, and the oppressive treatment of women (in Asudar they're not allowed out of the house). Of course Islam is quite different in that it has a holy book, and the first word of the Quran is "Read", but on the other hand the Prophet Muhammad was supposedly illiterate, as all the Alds obviously are.
In terms of narrative, it seemed a decent if bland coming-of-age story for a while. Memer's a strong character, and I still like the idea of a secret library, but as the conflict intensified it got thoroughly boring - too predictable, with too many easy, convenient resolutions. After being just as disappointed with A Wizard of Earthsea, I think I'll steer clear of Le Guin's YA and children's fiction from now on.(less)