Though this book kicks off a much longer series, it can be read as a satisfying stand-alone novel, which is, in itself, sort of refreshing these days.Though this book kicks off a much longer series, it can be read as a satisfying stand-alone novel, which is, in itself, sort of refreshing these days. It's a perfectly child-sized epic, hitting on all the nebulous things that scare kids the most - unreliable and possibly hostile adults, injustice, abandonment, and, of course, ravenous and impossibly crafty packs of wolves - as well as all the little details that make a story really and truly alive for young readers. I remember as a child being mesmerized by the descriptions of the kids' clothes, the meals, the downy geese, the flowers in the lanes, the chill of the frozen river. Accomplishing all of this in less than 200 pages makes Wolves a model of economy. As an adult reader, I found myself admiring Aiken's world - an alternate England where the industrial revolution never really took hold - and her craftsmanship, things I hadn't noticed as a kid, as well as enjoying the story all over again. There's a reason it's a classic: it remains a satisfying story for readers of any age. I look forward to re-reading the rest....more
Something was missing. I kept reading, thinking surely Indians would appear. Maybe the narrator was too young to pay attention to un-European culturesSomething was missing. I kept reading, thinking surely Indians would appear. Maybe the narrator was too young to pay attention to un-European cultures, too wrapped up in her own family dynamics. Maybe they hadn't gotten far enough West? Maybe Indians would appear in the next volume?
Well. No Indians at all simply didn't occur to me, until I took a look at the blogs on the Tor site. Wrede decided to skip them, being uncomfortable with the only two options she perceived for portraying white/indian relations: either the Indians could be savages, or they could be ecologically advanced sages. And after all, they massacred the megafauna, right? So without them, she could also have mammoths. And then the Indians wouldn't have crossed the landbridge and therefore they're all still Siberian.
Uh huh. So, leaving aside any debates my fellow nerds might want to throw around about the theories of mass extinction, or about migration patterns to the New World - none of which are so simple - and maybe even leaving aside questions about moral responsibility (after all, an author should have the right to simply tell a good story, right?), it seems to me that this omission has raised some really troubling issues.
It's weird, right? Weird that such a capable writer would only see two unappealing stereotypes as her options for depicting Indian cultures. Weird that she'd think that readers wouldn't see that absence and feel uncomfortable, to say the least. Her vision of 'empty America' is too close to that old propaganda about Manifest Destiny - the Indians counted as wildlife, not people. Is it OK just to erase a gigantic episode of genocide from history because it's inconvenient to your story? After so many attempts to erase native americans from the official narrative, is it OK to do it again, for different reasons, in a popular kid's book? I suppose that's where the question of moral responsibility comes in.
I've seen other readers compare this to "Years of Rice and Salt", arguing that Robinson's story killed off Europeans wholesale and no one objected, and that this is just more of the same - a clever plot device. I don't know. At least Robinson accounted for the fact that there had been Europeans in his story, and that something terrible had befallen them. It just seems sinister, somehow, that in Wrede's world the Indians never even existed, like they'd not just been exterminated, but erased. Like those creepy Soviet photos, with executed former officials edited out. History re-written by the victors, so that no one will even remember what is lost.
I don't think that's what fiction should be used for. I have really, really mixed feelings about the book. It's got so many interesting facets - the characters are great, the magical system is fresh and intriguing - but the overall emotion I'm left with is sort of a queasy disgust.
I was pretty bitter when Night Shade dropped this series. I'm glad to see that this has been picked up by distributors at last. It's not quite as wellI was pretty bitter when Night Shade dropped this series. I'm glad to see that this has been picked up by distributors at last. It's not quite as well edited as the previous installments - it drags a little in spots, could be tighter, and the short story at the end has a few outright typos - but fellow fans of the series will not be disappointed. I maintain that Williams is one of the sharpest writers working in sci fi, and though the Snake Agent books are breezier than her stand alone novels, they remain rewarding entertainment....more
This was one of the more controversial books we carried this year. A quick look at the online reviews will tell you the same thing - people are workedThis was one of the more controversial books we carried this year. A quick look at the online reviews will tell you the same thing - people are worked up about this thing. Lierre Keith is a brave, brave woman. I wouldn't want to pick a fight with every vegan in the world at the same time.
What I think has been lost in the furor is that her point - the heart of her point, at any rate - is very simple, and very hard to argue with. We take turns eating and being eaten - we consume today, but will be consumed in our turn. If you stop to think about this simple fact, and how it weaves all of us on earth together into an unending cycle of renewal and need, it can give you shivers. It's holy. And it's an idea that encourages us to be more reverent towards all of our food - not just the food with faces, but all of it, the seeds and fruit and leaves, and even the soil itself, richly and deeply alive.
To be reverent and respectful is to think about where your food comes from. It's not enough to give up animal products and think you're doing the world any favors. Monocrops and industrial agriculture, reliant as they are on huge amounts of water, fossil fuel, and chemicals, are not sustainable. And they're slaughtering animal and insect life all around them, so that even your vegetarian meal carries a heavy toll. And who is growing and processing your food, and how? How much fossil fuel is used to get it to your plate? It's at the very least a gross mistake for vegans to feel that their dietary choices have exempted them from considering these things. At worst it's a self-serving lie.
Honestly, I don't care if people are vegan or not. I have known healthy vegans and seriously emaciated unhealthy vegans, who really just needed to eat a steak or something. Keith's nutritional arguments in favor of meat eating are well constructed and meticulously footnoted, but I think it's a little beside the point. Which is hard to argue with: we are not, as a people, healthy, and we are quickly fucking up the earth.
There are some flaws in the book. People have taken issue with her flowery, personally revealing narrative, but I thought it was lovely and compassionate. She could have drawn from a wider range of books for her research, but that's a minor quibble. A larger point of issue is her attack on agriculture. It seems clear that the advent of large scale single crop agriculture brought with it a decline in ecological and human health. But the hunter gathering model, which she favors, isn't an entirely unagricultural enterprise. Many such societies managed certain resources - plants, berries, shellfish - for maximum yields, or controlled the environment in other ways, like by burning. If this is the model to strive for - semi-wild, with a diversity of plant and animal life mixed in (including meat and dairy animals) - then what we're looking at is starting to sound a lot like permaculture. Right? Maybe I'm just being too picky about terminology.
Anyway, there is a great deal to chew on in this book. I can see it stimulating some great discussions, and helping spur people to action. It's unfortunate that the online discussions I've seen have sort of devolved into mudslinging, though given the deep philosophical feelings of the vegan community, it's not surprising.
Here's the thing about Bordertown: it's more than it appears on the surface. As a shared world project, it's a solid one - the premise is interestingHere's the thing about Bordertown: it's more than it appears on the surface. As a shared world project, it's a solid one - the premise is interesting (for new arrivals: Fairyland has returned, causing various calamities and upheavals, and creating a 'border' region between the two worlds, where neither human machines nor elven magic work reliably), the writers work well together, and the voices were fresh and compelling at the time. They still are, more or less, but that's not why we love it so much.
When I was young, we didn't have Youtube, much less anything like the "It gets better" project. Yeah, ok, we had zines and we had records, and sometimes you could travel to a bigger town and mingle with a larger group of freaks, but we didn't have a lot of older freaks to tell us the things we desperately needed to hear. In the Bordertown anthologies, the original writers - a mix of queer folk and musicians and former street kids and other assorted weirdos - found a way to reach us. They told us that sometimes running away is ok, depending, but that you still have to make a home out of wherever you end up - it's not enough to just survive, though survival comes first. They told us that it was great to be strange, and that we didn't have to outgrow it if we didn't want to, that we could go on to be weird adults and be proud and happy, if maybe totally broke as well. They told us that we had to take care of each other, and that the families we chose were as real and important as the ones we were born with. Most importantly, they told us that the million small acts of creativity and self-sufficiency that we practiced every day - making our own clothes, baking bread, growing food, making music, telling stories - were as vital and as magical as anything any Elfland could ever produce.
Bohemia is always changing and always the same, but like any other culture, it needs a certain amount of continuity. The Bordertown books gave us that sense of solidarity, and they still seem to - which is why you find them creased and bent all to hell, passed around from person to person to person, and why people will shell out as much as fifty bucks for an old paperback copy. They're a lifeline and a beacon and a map. Like the best books for young people, they show us how to navigate the route between childhood and adulthood and arrive in one piece. I hope they bring comfort to the strange - young and old - for many more years to come....more
It's pretty much heresy to say this in the SF community, but I don't really like Neil Gaiman. He's a perfectly competent re-worker of myth, but there'It's pretty much heresy to say this in the SF community, but I don't really like Neil Gaiman. He's a perfectly competent re-worker of myth, but there's just not that much in his stuff for me. There are other writers who really know how to craft an old story so that it sings in a living voice, and for me, he's just not one of them. There's no there there, as the lady said. It's like watching a mediocre episode of Star Trek NG. Some tepid drama, a little moralizing, some fancy sets, and you're done. But, and this is a big but, his short stories are much, much better. Maybe it's the enforced constriction, but suddenly it's all there: beauty and terror, wild and alive. "The Problem of Susan" is worth five stars on its own, not only for being as perfectly constructed as one of those miniature cakes you find in fancy bakeries, but for pointing out the big, gaping flaw in the heart of CS Lewis' cosmology - not just as it pertains to Susan. This is no mean feat. I used to think to myself, when I saw a new Neil Gaiman book, maybe this will be the one that's brilliant. But I don't think that anymore. He's clever, and he's rich, and he's adored. I think he'll just keep churning out more of the same. At least we'll always have "Fragile Things"....more