I got this book a year ago, partly because I kept hearing how this 'Vance' character was a master fantasy writer that I had somehow missed, and partly...moreI got this book a year ago, partly because I kept hearing how this 'Vance' character was a master fantasy writer that I had somehow missed, and partly because it followed one of my rules for purchasing books (if it has a wizard or a spaceship on the cover, buy it!). The moment I started reading the first novel in this book, I knew Jack Vance was something special. It took me a year to read it because the writing was so good, I wanted to stretch out how long I could read it for the first time. Of course, as soon as I started reading each novel in the book, I couldn't stop; I would be done with a day or two.
Vance has got to be one of the greatest writers I have ever read, and quite probably the greatest stylist. The writing is unreal and pleasantly full of words that I don't know or that make me think. Vance does not talk down to his readers. His books are full of humor, but so dry as to make sure these are not "humorous" books...if that makes sense. Still, each book is populated with understated declarations by characters attempting to make themselves look superior or to save face. There are short sentences that speak volumes. It makes me swoon!
The novels follow similar patterns, either being collection of short stories or being stories made up of shorter stories. The theme is consistent: the world amoral, and everyone's path follows a random walk up and down, but over time averaging out so that they end up where they began. Until they die. It is bleak, but appealing. I don't know how much more I can say about this book. Read it! Or you've missed a great piece of literature.(less)
Horacio Oliveira is a typical pseudo-intellectual who would rather sit around discussing metaphysics while sipping mate than do anything practical. Li...moreHoracio Oliveira is a typical pseudo-intellectual who would rather sit around discussing metaphysics while sipping mate than do anything practical. Living in Paris while occasionally finding work, Oliveira wanders listlessly through life, trying to find something in life to hold on to. Tragedy strikes in the form of La Maga, his girlfriend/mistress/lover. Not only is La Maga something of a tragedy herself, a catastrophic event in her life sends Oliveira careening back to Buenos Aires.
The book is notable mainly for its 'hopscotching' style: a series of 'expendable chapters' at the end allow for a different route through the book, primarily following the linear plot of the book but with occasional outbursts of further plot, fragments of poetry, commentary on the ideas developed throughout the book (in the form of a critic 'Morelli'), and other miscellanea. These tend to be hit-or-miss: the extra plot is usually interesting is at least always additive to the sum of the book. Many of the fragments, while interesting, are a bit of a waste of space. The criticism developed by Morelli is essential to understanding the book as a whole.
Hopscotch is tremendously sad and depressing. It is also ruthlessly intellectual. This second theme sometimes goes to extremes with pedantic excursions that get a bit overloaded at times. Yes, this is Oliveira's character, but it could be toned down a little. More irritating to me was the layer upon layer of metaphor in each chapter. It is like an onion in which each layer tasted exactly the same with only subtle variations in form. English teachers should love it, everyone else could do without it; it was a wasted opportunity to expand on his ideas, rather than present them in a subtly different form.
But these are minor faults. Cortazar's writing is nothing short of amazing. Example 1: in the final chapter, repetition of "patient X rolled his malignantly beautiful green eyes" lent an extra bit of beauty to the already-beautiful phrase. The story, as I mentioned, is tremendously sad and emotionally powerful in an understated manner. There is so much to dig into in the book, it can only become more rewarding with more readings.(less)
I'm somehow finding more and more quality fantasy as I get older, and wondering how I missed it in the first place. Exhibit A being Gene Wolfe. How di...moreI'm somehow finding more and more quality fantasy as I get older, and wondering how I missed it in the first place. Exhibit A being Gene Wolfe. How did I miss this guy?
Shadow & Claw collects the first two novels in his Book of the New Sun Tetralogy, and are quite distinct from each other. The first novel mainly centers around our protagonist Severian's time as an apprentice torturer, and how he sets off on his journey. The entire time is either spent in his citadel or in the remains of the capital city of Nessus; imagine Detroit, but with a mix of far-future relics and quasi-medieval society and technology. This introduction to his world is the most powerful setting I have read in a long time, and his use of language works better here than in any of the other books in the tetralogy. So strong and original - dark, futuristic, medieval, swampy, decaying, bright, turbid, and explosive are all good adjectives - is the imagery that you'll ask yourself why you read other fantasy. Clearly inspired by Vance's Dying Earth, this Urth is set in the far future where historic time is measured in 'chiliads' - roughly the length of time it takes to exhaust a mineral resource. One appendix tells that 'mining' is more like archaelogical excavation, exhuming the remnants of older civilizations to make use of their metals.
The debt owed to Vance is greater than setting, though. The turgid and baroque language is another. But where Vance is whimsical and humorous, Wolfe is dour and serious. Another literary inspiration, clearer in the first two novels in the tetralogy than the last two, is to Borges. But Wolfe somehow manages to miss the poetry of Borges' language while retaining the intellectual puzzles. The language is fascinating, and Wolfe does a better job of coming up with words for new concepts that are both familiar and foreign, even if it is overall a bit dry.
And make no bones about it - this is an intellectual series. I feel like I need to go back and reread it a few times to fully understand everything that happened. Don't take things at face value: this is a book you'll have to think about. Take the character of Severian. Even though he often seems reasonable, helped out by a strong voice, he is a pretty terrible human being. A torturer, a frequent abuser of women, clinical and detached and somewhat emotionless, you shouldn't really take what he says at face value.
While the first book was grade A classic, the second one was both better and worse to me. Plenty of characters from the first book show up needlessly in the second book, often in weird situations. The whole House Absolute seems a bit off to me, though I couldn't say why. I really feel like I have to reread that novel to decide if I didn't like it because I had a problem with the characters and stories or if I just didn't get everything that was going on; I would not be at all surprised to find out it is the latter.
Shadow & Claw contains two of fantasy's classic books and some of its best writing. To miss it would be criminal.(less)
Anyway, I learned more about World War II and the treatment of Jews from this book than I think I have in the rest of my life com...moreDidn't I review this?
Anyway, I learned more about World War II and the treatment of Jews from this book than I think I have in the rest of my life combined. If you want to begin to understand what the Final Solution was like - bureaucratically, politically - then read this book. It explores the trial of Eichmann, a man who was both vain and a huge fool. It seeks to understand the answer to the question of how a genocide could happen and finds the answer in the eponymous banality. Arendt decides it is the mechanical efficiency of the modern state that allows it, with cooperation from the genocidees themselves. A truly arresting and insightful book, the chapters on how the Solution worked in various countries is fantastic. Those countries that didn't cooperate - including, in a pretty humourful fashion, Italy - often simply just by saying 'no' and leaving it at that had no death camps. It was the complicity of a strongly anti-semitic European elite that was truly at fault, but it is oh-so-much more complicated than that. So read this book!(less)