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14th September 2019
Them Bones, by Howard Waldrop (2019-60)
1929: Archaeologists digging in a Louisana mound discover impossible things: skeletons of horses, brass rifle cartridge casings... :
(Offstage, but in 2002: In the deadly aftermath of World War III, scientists send a team back in time, hoping to prevent the war.)
Some indeterminate date in the past: Leake, the advance scout for the team, finds himself much farther back in time than was intended...
...the archaeologists fight against time as the nearby bayou starts to rise in the rain. They try to build a coffer dam...
...Leake, in the indeterminate past, becomes an adopted member of a native mound-building culture...
...the rest of the time team eventually arrives. Finding Leake missing they begin to build a fort...
...the archaeologists find what appear to be soldiers' dog tags, gathered into a necklace. They call upon Governor Huey P. Long for help against the rising water...
...Leake discovers that he is not in his own past...
...and then things get _really_ weird.
This is Howard Waldrop, after all. The guy who gave us "The Ugly Chickens", "Save a Place in the Lifeboat for Me", "Ike at the Mike", and "...the World as We Know't". Weirdness - and especially weird time-fuckery - is what you pay for, and what you get, from Waldrop.
This is very entertaining weirdness, too, but I can see why Waldrop is happier working at short lengths. The story gets a little strained at times, as if the joke were being carried on just a little too long. Fortunately for the reader, that's about when another bizarre twist appears.
I regret, truly, missing this one back in the '80s, and I'm glad it's available for Kindle.
Glarked from Cynthia1960
: 1. What would you do if you won the lottery?Get good financial advice and make damn sure all taxes were paid correctly. Then invest in real estate well above the anticipated waterline.
2. What era do you wish you had lived in?This one is fine by me, despite all its problems.
3. What kind of robot would you want?One that does the housework. All the housework.
4. What would you outsource if you could?See #3.
5. What superpower do you wish you had?Either shapeshifting or teleportation, depending upon the limits placed on each.
12th September 2019
The God Particle by Leon Lederman with Dick Teresi (2019-58)
There is only one good reason for reading popular science books that are going-on thirty years of age: and that is for entertainment. _The God Particle_, subtitled "If the Universe is the answer, what's the question?", entertained me. :
More: it told me things I didn't know, mostly about the history of science. The book is framed as a search for the indivisible particle, and it begins with Democritus of Abdera, who first came up with the idea that the universe was made of a-toms. Lederman fantasizes a dialogue in which he gives Democritus a tour of Fermilab and we are to be amazed by how amazed he isn't.
The book moves through the usual suspects - Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein - and a number of less-known folks who made their contribution to the search for the underlying structure of matter, with a wealth of amusing anecdotes (and the occasional wretched pun). In the last few chapters he brings the story up to the near-present of 1993, and describing the Standard Model as it was then, including the theoretical and experimental problems with it. The main problem was that, above certain relatively reasonable energies, the Standard Model predicted infinite quantities, which seems an absurdity on the face of it. Higgs proposed his field and its boson as a way of removing those infinities; explaining where mass comes from is a bonus.
The Higgs boson would not be confirmed until 2014, twenty-one years after Lederman (and Teresi) gave it its fanciful and misleading nickname. And, as it goes with real science, it didn't so much answer the questions as provide new ones. But for someone just seeking to understand what the Higgs thing is all about, plus a general non-mathematical introduction to the Standard Model, you could do worse than _The God Particle_.
(As a side note: Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate for his work with the neutrino, died late last year at the age of 96.)
9th September 2019
is Putin's bitch,
is Putin's bitch,
Steals from the poor, gives to the rich
Drives us all into a ditch.
Someone has to pay.
5th September 2019
A sort-of farewell to LiveJournal
While I am, for now at least, going to continue to crosspost to LJ, I won't be reading there anymore; too much duplication, not enough time. Also, the Russia thing. :
I think there are one or two of my friends on LJ who haven't made the leap to DreamWidth; if you're one of those, I'd like to encourage doing it, if only for the selfish reason that I'd like to continue reading your posts...
2nd September 2019
The Common Reader, Series 1, by Virginia Woolf (2019-57)
A collection of reviews and essays on literary topics. I don't actually have a lot to say about it. :
My ideal of good criticism, for what it's worth, has two basic characteristics. The first is that it sends the reader to (or, preferably, _back_ to) the primary work with tools to get more - and especially more pleasure - from it. There is only one writer discussed here to whom I can meaningfully "go back", and that is Jane Austen; I will definitely glean more from her novels now than I did in the past. Some of the writers I haven't read, she has nudzhed me a bit more towards reading: Montaigne, Margaret Cavendish, Addison, the Brontes, Joseph Conrad, and George Eliot.
Not all the essays are specifically about one author. "The Pastons and Chaucer" is a wonder like a James Burke "Connections" episode that ties the fortunes of a noble family to the reading of Chaucer, in complex but not tenuous ways. "The Lives of the Obscure" is a set of delightful glimpses into the lives of three persons whose memoirs are preserved in an unspecified library. "The Russian Point of View" seems to suggest that there is something at the heart of the great Russians - in this case, Dostoevski, Tolstoi, and "Tchekov" - that necessarily eludes the English (and, I presume, American) reader regardless of the quality of the translation.
Probably my favorite essays in this series are "The Patron and the Crocus", which advises would-be writers to consider carefully for what audience their work is intended, and "How it Strikes a Contemporary", a discussion of the state of the novel circa 1920. These are witty without being catty or vicious. The latter makes an interesting case for a periodicity in fiction akin to Lewis's "Law of Undulation": that periods of experimentation (of which ca. 1920 certainly would be one) alternate with times of masterpieces, which benefit from the work done by the experimenters.
But I oversimplify.
I mentioned two characteristics of my ideal criticism. The second is that the criticism itself should give the reader pleasure. This collection of essays gave me pleasure.
28th August 2019
Connections in Death, by J.D. Robb (2019-56)
In the 2060s, Lt. Eve Dallas of the NYPD Homicide squad is married to gazillionaire-ex-conman Roarke, who often assists on her cases with his insight into the criminal mind, electronic wizardry, and, well, money. They also have hot sex two or three times per book, which is frankly getting old. :
In this outing,Roarke hires Rochelle Pickering to be the head of counselling at An Didean, a haven for lost children he is building. That very night Rochelle goes out with her boyfriend Winston (previously known to Dallas as Crack, a bar owner) to celebrate. When she returns, she finds her brother and roommate dead of an overdose on a living room chair.
Lyle "Pick" Pickering, an ex-member of the Bangers street gang, straightened out in prison. He's been working as a cook, and just got his two-year chip.
A quick bit of examination makes it very clear that he didn't overdose himself; he was murdered, which makes him Eve's job.When first one, then another possible source of information turns up dead, Eve has a big mess on her hands.
No problem. She'll wrap it up in plenty of time for a quiet denouement with Roarke. It's how she gets there that's the fun; these are police procedurals at heart. The future setting allows for Robb to present interesting new methods for murder (though not in this case), but humans being what they are, the motives are always recognizable. There is some future tech in the cops' (and crooks') hands, but not much that Dick Tracy wouldn't recognize: there are no magic solutions for this detective.
This (the whole series, not just this one book) is a story about second chances, some taken, more rejected. Without getting religious, Robb's stories leave lots of room for redemption of various kinds ... but some people make themselves irredeemable, at least by any means available to Eve Dallas. She stands for the dead and brings them justice, but Roarke and her best friend are living proof that people can become better than they are. So, in a more complicated way, is Eve.
These books are not "great literature", but there's something that has kept me coming back to them for nearly fifty books now. They're competently written, entertaining, and satisfy something deep in me. I will doubtless keep buying them - as I have from the beginning: in paperback. I'm not completely
obsessive, after all....
24th August 2019
Gravity Falls (2012-2016)
...which is, when you think about it, a long time for an animated show that lasted two seasons and 40 (really 41) episodes in total. :
Twins Mabel and Mason "Dipper" Pines live in California. When they are rwelve, their parents decide to send them to visit their great-uncle ("Grunkle") Stan Pines for the summer.
Grunkle Stan is a conman who runs a seedy tourist trap called "The Mystery Shack" on the edge of a seemingly sleepy town called Gravity Falls, in the dark heart of Central/Eastern Oregon.
On their first day, Dipper finds a strange tree that leads him to a mysterious journal, with a six-fingered hand and the number 3 on the cover. Inside are notes, some of them cryptic, about strange creatures and phenomena surrounding the town. He becomes somewhat obsessed with exploring the journal and finding "The Author". He also develops a huge crush on Stan's teenaged help at the Shack, Wendy Corduroy.
Mabel has her own obsession: she wants a summer romance and her first kiss. In the first episode she is smitten by a fellow named 'Norman' - who turns out to be some gnomes (pointy hats and all) in a trenchcoat. They (all 1000 of them) want to marry Mabel and have her be their gnome queen "for all eternity."
She gets out of this - with Dipper's help (but Mabel sometimes rescues Dipper too), and the game is afoot. There are several continuing enemies:
- Pacifica Northwest, the only daughter of the town's one super-rich family and a major snob;
- Gideon Gleeful, a cherubic (seeming) boy evangelist who seeks ultimate power (and Mabel's hand); and
- Bill Cipher, an interdimensional creature who resembles the Eye in the Pyramid and is really, really scary.
Then, there are the various creatures and people who populate the story as it goes forward.
At that, one or two episodes might be written off as "Monster of the Week" filler that don't advance the main story ... except that they then turn out to be crucial, sometimes in surprising ways, to Mabel and Dipper's character arcs.
And that's the main thing about this series. For all its weirdness, the Pines twins are real people at every level except the obvious one (that they don't exist). So to a lesser extent are their supporting cast: Grunkle Stan, Wendy, and Soos (short for Jesus) Ramirez, the Shack's handyman. So much so that as the final episode moved towards its postclimax, I had some genuine feels and perhaps a small tear.
Thus, Dipper and Mabel provide an anchor that lets us experience the strangest things as if they were real. This is especially important as the animation is (at least by today's standards) fairly primitive. This is actually a good thing; cool effects and uncanny valleys don't interfere with our appreciation of the story.
And the final three parter? Mind blown. Seriously.
The Awakened Kingdom, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-55)
A pendant, of sorts, to the Inheritance trilogy. :
Behold: a godling is born, and tells her story. Naturally, it begins in a sort of baby-talk; but because she _is_ a godling, she picks up language (and storytelling) fairly quickly, fortunately for us, the readers. She learns that the Three - specifically, Nahadoth and Yeine - birthed her because the universe needed a trickster-god, and Sieh, for reasons detailed in the last book, is no longer able to fill that role. But her attempts to act as a trickster backfire, causing pain but no merriment.
She decides to descend to the mortal realm to learn her nature.
Here she meets Eino, a young man of Darr, and accidentally kills some people.Her siblilng,Ia, whose nature is negation, makes it didn't happen, but Eino remembers and commands a favor to forgive her: she must place a scroll, secretly, in the pile of legislation being considered (though she doesn't know that that is what the pile is).
Ia takes her to see Eino's grandmother, Fahno, who is a retired _enulai_ - a person both able and trained both to protect godlings, and to keep them under control. Here, our young godling chooses a name: Shill. Fahno agrees to keep Shill in her home until a proper (and not retired) _enulai_ can be found.
Now, being a young man of Darr means that he has no real rights, and will be married off without his consent to seal a family alliance. But Eino rebels against this, and wants legislation allowing men to inherit. He also joins other young men in a ritual dance-fight, an imitation of one carried out by the young Darre women. Shill, who has morphed to a male body for the purpose, fights him. When the Darre version of policewomen show up, Eino hides most of the others in plain sight, displaying a power he didn't know he had.
Things get a whole lot more complicated, especially for a fairly short novella, but in the end Shill finds her nature, and Eino gets what he really needs; what those are, is a bit of a surprise, but logical given what has gone before.
The writing is - as always with Jemisin - clean and better than utilitarian. Shill is an attractive character, for a baby god, and Eino and his family are well developed if not always _likeable_. This novella is much lighter than the Trilogy proper, but I think including it in the one-volume version is not a mistake; it serves as a sort of after-dinner apertif, to cleanse the palate. And, as such things go, it does an excellent job.
21st August 2019
The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-54)
Notes to catch you up: This is a world where the ultimate creative force is the Maelstrom. In the beginning, it birthed Nahadoth, the dark god/dess of chaos and change. After a few aeons it birthed Itempas, god of light and order. They fought and loved and fought and loved and after a few aeons more, the Maelstrom birthed Enefa, goddess of life and balance and all that. In pairs and all together they birthed many godlings, male, female, and other; they created Existence and Enefa peopled it with mortal things like stars and planets and living things, including humans. The eldest of the godlings was Sieh, a god of youth and mischief. He played a trick that set the Three warring against each other, resulting in the death of Enefa and many godlings, and the enslavement of Nahadoth, Sieh, and many other godlings to a family named Arameri. With the (unwilling) help of the gods, they built an empire called the Bright that brought peace on the world for two thousand years, which they ruled from a huge palace, on an immense pillar, called Sky.. :
Then a half-blood Arameri named Yeine ascended as a new Gray Lady, freed the Arameri's god-slaves, and punished Itempas by condemning him to walk the earth as a powerless mortal (except that he could not die, or at least stay dead). She interlaced Sky with an equally immense World-Tree.
Okay, you're caught up enough.
Sieh narrates this third book of the trilogy. He comes to play with twin mortal children on the Nowhere Stair of Sky; he would almost as soon kill them, because they are Arameri, but visits them once per year. He plays a deadly game with them, at which they surprise him by winning. For their prize, they request that the three of them make a blood vow of friendship.
But just as the bond is sealed, there is an immense release of magic. The two children are nearly killled. As for Sieh, he awakens several years later in the bosom of Nahadoth, who loves him as a mother. Nahadoth has protected him while he healed; and Nahadoth and Yeine are searching for a cure for Sieh's condition: he is becoming mortal, aging and losing his godly powers. When he returns to Sky he finds that the boy twin (Deka) has been sent away to become a scrivener, the mortal way of magic, while Shahar, the girl, is being groomed for headship of the Arameri clan.
Sieh discovers that someone is murdering members of the clan. There is no common cause of death, but the dead are always found wearing masks, their faces burned badly. Then, at the behest of her mother, clan leader Remath, Shahar beds Sieh, hoping to breed a half-godling child (a demon in the language of this world). Feeling betrayed, he decides to murder Remath; Shahar stops him, but he leaves Sky, to live in Shadow, the city at the foot of the World-Tree.
Here he meets Ahad, a young god formed when the enslavement was ended, and Glee, daughter of Itempas (this is explained in the second book). They send him a'spying, and he finds a conspiracy determined to overthrow the Arameri by use of magical masks; he also discovers a godling he does not recognize, but who says he intends to kill Sieh as a matter of vengeance.
So that's about the first quarter of the book (and I've left out a lot, obviously) and I'll stop summarizing here. I'll add that Sieh, Shahar, and Deka are three of the most engaging characters I've met recently, and that their struggles with and against each other _matter_ in a way I rarely find in fantasy. I find the final chapter a bit of a stylistic cheat, as the narration suddenly shifts to another character. This is somewhat redeemed by the Coda, but it was severe enough to briefly break my "fictive dream". In the context of the immense Inheritance trilogy, this is something of a trifle, though I find it one worth mentioning.
The Broken Earth trilogy (which is really a single long novel) convinced me of Jemisin's importance as a writer; this book confirms it. Long may she write!
There used to be a political philosophy called "Conservatism." Though I disagreed with a lot of what it held (I did agree with : some
of it), I respected it because, well, it was held by respectable people.
That political philosophy has no more a place in our political system..
It has been replaced by the Trumpanzees' Cult of Personality. It is true: He could
kill someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote. Because "conservatives" no longer have a conservative philosophy (which stands, among other things, for the rule of law - one of the things I agreed with); indeed, they have no political philosophy at all
. They have only a lust for power, high and low; every Republican is blessed with someone to look down on and abuse, if only by proxy.
I miss conservatism.
I miss opponents (not enemies!) who had a respect for truth and facts.
I miss the rule of law.
I miss the Party of Lincoln and T.R.
It is not enough to defeat the GOP leadership in the coming election. They must be eliminated, crushed like a used cigarette butt, until the honest conservatives of America can again have a political voice.
May it be so.
15th August 2019
The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-53)
Book 2 of "The Inheritance Trilogy". :
Set ten years after the first book, this takes up with a new viewpoint character, the strangely-blind Oree. Oree is beautiful, except that there is something disturbing about her eyes, which are blind to everyday light but see magic in all its manifestations, including gods; indeed, her lover Madding is a godling. Oree lives in the city of Shadow (which used to be called Sky), making a living selling her crafts. She also paints, but only in secret.
As the story opens, Oree discovers a man in a trash bin, but with hints of magic about him. As she watches he dies and then comes back to life. She takes him in, feeds him, gives him a place to live. But he does not speak.
A few weeks later, Oree stumbles upon the body of a dead godling in an alley. This is, obviously, a bad and tricky situation. Nahadoth (god of darkness and change; one of the Three) declares that, unless the murderer is found and punished within thirty days, there will be Hell for Shadow to pay.
It's also bad for Oree's business. None of her crafts sells until her silent friend (whom she calls Shiny) is taken by the Order Keepers, a sort of church police. Looking for him with Madding's help, she finds herself among a disturbing gathering of godlings, who have just killed the Order Keepers. Those had just beaten Shiny to death, but he gets better. The godlings know who Shiny is (and so by now does anyone who has read the first book), but choose not to enlighten Oree.
Oree, not entirely knowing why, begins drawing in her stall, and is quite surprised when it attracts more customers than she can satisfy - and even more surprised when the picture opens and closes a gate, chopping several Order Keepers in half.
That would be in the first ninety pages or so; then the pace picks up.
_The Broken Kingdoms_ is a complex whirlwind of plot and counter-plot, with a faction that threatens to destroy not only godlings but the Three. The reader barely has time to respond to one plot twist than the next comes along. To call it a roller-coaster ride is to underrate Jemisin's pacing.
I'm well into book 3 already...
10th August 2019
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-52)
Jemisin is a wonder. Her "Broken Earth" trilogy amazed me - and, apparently, a lot of other people, because all three volumes of it won the Hugo. :
Here we have her first novel, and also the first in the "Inheritance" trilogy. Set in a fantasy world with, well, one hundred thousand kingdoms, centrally ruled by the Arameri people of the tower called Sky, this is the story of Yeine. Yeine's mother was the daughter of the ruler of the Arameri (and thus the world); she rejected Arameri ways, left Sky, and married a man of the Kingdom of Denn. Here she bore her daughter; here she died.
As the novel opens, Yeine is traveling to Sky. She has - much to her surprise - been summoned by Dekarta, her grandfather. Upon her arrival, Dekarta tells her why she is present: he is nominating Yeine as his heir.
This isn't the good news it might seem, because there are two other heirs, Dekarta's niece (Scimina) and nephew (Relad), and only one can actually inherit. When they meet for the first time, Scimina sics Nahadoth on her, and she barely escapes with the help of Sieh. They're gods.
Nahadoth, as we learn, was the first god born of the Maelstrom, a god of darkness and change. After some eternities, his brother, bright Itempas joined him, and they were alternately lovers and at war. Finally came Enefa, the grey Lady, and the Three were complete. But she created worlds and peoples, and the Three had children - daemons and godlings - with some of them. (Sieh, the eternal child and joker, is one of these godlings.)
But the struggle for ultimate power continued, and eventually Itempas won. He killed Enefa, and bound Nahadoth and the godlings to serve the Arameri, which is a large part of how they rule. Two other powers coexist with the Arameri: the priesthood of Itempas, which wields moral authority with an iron hand; and the Council of Nobles who, under the Arameri, rule the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Yeine's immediately obvious problem - that she lacks the brutality and ruthlessness of Scimina, who is determined to inherit - is quickly compounded by a number of nuances. Dekarta, she learns, never intended her as a serious competitor for the throne, but to decide between the other two and deciding, die. And Nahadoth and the godlings have chosen her for their plot to regain their freedom.
The story treats (without lecturing) of freedom, of necessity, and of free will trapped by circumstances - as well as many other things. It is a deeply serious story, but told so that it remains at all times mysterious and entertaining.
It is, indeed, _almost_ as good as the books of "The Broken Earth."
5th August 2019
The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie (2019-51)
Every once in a while, in this world choking with Generic Extruded Fantasy Product, something truly original comes along. :
Ann Leckie's first fantasy novel is narrated by a god. (Not, please, a God.) It takes a while to learn this, and quite a while longer to figure out what this particular god has to do with the plot.
The god is speaking to one of the characters, Eolo. Eolo is an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation; he is the trusted aide of Mawat, a war-leader and the Lease's Heir - which is sort of like a prince, but not really. This requires just a little explanation.
The city of Vastai, and the surrounding country of Iraden, are under the protection of a god called the Raven. The Raven speaks directly through _a_ raven, called the Raven's Instrument. The Raven's Lease rules the land, but not exactly: his power is limited by a Council of Directions; the Directions are representatives of the land's various districts. In addition, there is the Mother of the Silent, who serves the god of the Silent Forest. Between Instruments, the Raven communicates only through rune-carved tokens, thrown at seeming random and read by a expert.
When the Raven's Instrument dies, the Lease is expected to sacrifice himself to the Raven. And this is the crisis of the book: the Instrument has died, and the Lease is nowhere to be found. Mawat is recalled to the city, only to find out that his uncle, and the Lease's brother, named Hibal, has taken the Lease's bench, with the permission of the Council and the Mother.
This is a bit Hamletty, but fear not, this tale of court intrigue takes unexpected directions, with which I will not regale you, leaving mysteries to be resolved only by actually reading the book.
1st August 2019
For mercy's sake
Mitch McConnell apparently : hates
being called #MoscowMitch
, so, for pity's sake, whatever you do, don't use that hashtag. I certainly wouldn't.
28th July 2019
The Pirate Queen, by Samaire Provost (2019-50)
The second entry in the "Paladin Princess" series. :
Charlotte, a princess turned adventurer (after being abducted by pirates... Oh, hell, just read the review of the first book) is taken by surprised when her ward Kym (a six-year-old girl who is actually a millenia-old chimera) finds a map hidden in her (Captain's) cabin on the ship that she and her troupe "liberated" from the same pirates. It leads, it says, to a Book of Mysteries full of valuable information about magic and healing and interstellar travel(!) It is, of course, guarded by centaurs. But even to approach the centaurs, they'll have to get past the Kraken...
Like the first book, _The Pirate Queen_ features the (mostly) non-stop adventures of a troupe of likeable adventurers with (mostly) a sense of ethics. The writing is smooth and, while there are again things an editor should have caught - mainly homophones and anachronisms - the story barrels along well enough that they only disturb, but do not break, the fictional dream.
(An interesting detail, which I kind of noticed in the first book: the title of each chapter tends - not always, but usually - to show up in the last sentence or two of the chapter. Likewise, the title of the book appears somewhere in the last chapter. Kind of a cute structuring trick.)
There's already a third volume, but it's time to read something heavier for a little while.
27th July 2019
The Pirates of Moonlit Bay, by Samaire Provost (2019-49)
Okay, so this somewhat-spoilt princess (Charlotte) and her personal servant (Caroline) stray a leeetle bit too far from the castle, and get nabbed by pirates, and not the kind who have any code of honor - nor, for that matter, soap. They are stuffed into the hold with other prisoners and taken South to a slave market in an Arabian Nights kind of desert land, where they are sold to an elderly Sheikh whose oldest son, a brutal sadist, really runs things,but on the way to his camp, they escape, during a fight with manticores, along with the Sheikh's doctor. :
Then things get _really_ strange, in, well, a very Arabian Nights-y way. And if that paragraph seemed a little breathless, that was intentional; this is a breathless sort of book where adventure follows adventure pretty much continuously, with only brief breaks to set up another adventure or two.
This is the setup for a series of novels, in which Charlotte and her band of women (and the occasional male, but only towards the end) will have further adventures. They live on the moral high ground (mostly), resisting a number of temptations that I would have trouble with in the circumstances, and behaving with heroism. Thus, the arc of the story is Charlotte's transformation from the aforementioned princess to the leader of a group of adventurers.
This is not going to be a contender for any of the major awards, but it _is_ a pleasant read, and I am already diving into the second (which is how many there are, so far) book in the series. Whose title, incidentally, is THE PRINCESS PALADIN.
If I have a complaint, it is with the editing. Several times a homophone sneaks in (site/sight, for example), and there are a few anachronisms (high-fiving comes to mind, as well as several turns of speech) that a competent editor would have queried bigly. Nothing that spoils the book, really, but enough to interrupt the flow of the story momentarily. Call me Captain Quibble; I have the soul of a proofreader.
Oh, and it's available on Kindle.
25th July 2019
Beloved, by Toni Morrison (2018-48)
This book is just damn creepy. :
And I mean that in a good way: no buckets-o-gore, no springloaded cats, no big sudden shocks: it just starts with a small haunting and gets weird from there.
Sethe is an escaped slave. When slave-takers came to reclaim her and her children, rather than give them up, she tried to kill them all and herself; failing with all but her two-year-old daughter. They certainly looked dead enough to fool the slave-takers, but, after they left, the Sheriff arrested her for murder. She is freed, but becomes a pariah in Cincinnati's black community.
As the novel opens, the Civil War is over. Sethe is living with her mother-in-law, her surviving children, and the ghost of the two-year-old, a situation which quickly causes her two sons (nearly men now) to flee the house; of her children, the only one remaining to her - other than the resentful baby ghost- is her youngest, a daughter named Denver after the white woman who delivered her while Sethe was making her escape; and the mother-in-law passes on.
A man from Sethe's past, Paul D., enters their lives, becomes Sethe's lover and, on his first night there, drives the baby ghost away.
A few days later, Beloved appears. Beloved is a well-dressed young woman, eighteen-ish, with no real past or memories - though she talks about strange things like the "men without skin". She joins Sethe's household ... yes, you know who she is, but Sethe doesn't, not yet ... and seems fixated on her hostess.
Then things get really creepy.
This novel is about slavery, family, love, fear, pride, community, and one ghost. It is about as beautifully written as anything I remember reading in a long time, and that writing is manipulative as all hell, but in a good way, making the reader's emotional ties to the characters strong, strong. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
19th July 2019
Letters from Amherst, by Samuel R. Delany (2019-47)
In an early _Peanuts_ cartoon, Linus pesters his sister Lucy to read him a book. Finally, she takes the book and says: "A man was born. He lived and he died. The end." "What a fascinating account," Linus says. "It almost makes you wish you had known the fellow." :
Generous is the word I tend to use when describing Delany's letters and essays about his own life (_1984_, _The Motion of Light in Water_, _Heavenly Breakfast_...). I can't explain too well what I _mean_ by that, but reading this collection of five long letters, the word came to mind again - along with the word amiable. Together these two characteristics make for very pleasant reading, even when describing something bloody awful.
(Okay, I'll try a little bit on "generous." Delany's world seems to contain no villains, no secondary characters.Everyone he meets, from his dearest friends to a brief chance meeting on a bus, is spoken of with respect and honesty, and clearly lives in his or her own world as real as Delany's, mine, or yours. Objects to which he attends are filled with thing-ness and have weight and color. And he is always _specific_: in the very first paragraph of the first letter he mentions, in passing, that he has just paid several bills. "I just paid several bills" would be a satisfactory way of saying so, but no, Delany "Spent the morning at home, making out checks for $316.89 worth of bills." So he is generous to his subjects, and at the same time to the reader.
"Amiable" I hope speaks for itself!)
The letters range from early '89 to late '91, during which time Delany was teaching in the Comparative Literature department (and twice its Acting Head) at the University of Massachusetts at, yes, Amherst. During this time he had an apartment in Amherst while maintaining his fifth-story walk-up in New York, and incidents and adventures in both places fill its pages. So we see Delany, an utter New Yorker, as a fish both in and out of his native water.
The temptation with a writer like Delany who publishes so richly and so intimately about his own life (_Times Square Red, Times Square Blue_, "Shadows", "Ash Wednesday"...), is for a reader to assume that they "know" the writer because they have read "all" of his books. Even worse, some readers will assume that the writer somehow knows _them_. (The late Harlan Ellison encountered this all the time, and summed it up in his speech at Iguanacon in 1978: "I don't know you, and you don't know me.")
Then there's the Appendix: Ten letters written over five years to Delany's daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany, at her summer camp in Vermont. The textures are similar, but the contents are slightly simpler and the letters shorter (they average about four printed pages, while the "main" letters average about twenty-five).
The letters' contents range from the quotidian (the paying of bills, a description of his Amherst apartment's seemingly-random furnishings...) to the intense (the self-immolation of a neighbor, the funeral of an uncle...) Perhaps the most charming anecdotes concern Delany's partner Dennis Rickett; their first meeting and getting-together is described in Letter #2 (occasionally in words similar to those in _Bread and Wine_...), and he appears regularly thereafter.
When talking about a new Delany, the subject of the book's sexual content inevitably comes up. It is here, and intimate, but never excessively detailed, will not raise any but the bluest of noses. In fact, except for his initial encounter with Dennis, things rarely go beyond "I went to bed with him."
I was unsatisfied by this book, but only because it's so short (171 pages); I wanted more.
18th July 2019
To the MOON, Alice!
posted his memories of the Apollo 11 mission. Mine are not dissimilar to his, except that I was much more emotionally involved in it than he was; I was very much a Space Baby.
I do remember being puzzled: Why, if it was a Moon shot, did they name it after a Sun god?
Some years ago I wrote this song (it has a tune, and, yes, it is copyright ME):
I was only twelve1
, my parents let me stay up late
I'd dreamed this day since I was five. Now I could hardly wait!
That afternoon I'd tried to sing, but I couldn't find a tune2
'cause just that day they'd gone and set a fire on the Moon3
Now Houston, Houston, do you read? I'd mortgage half my soul,
If I could see it one more time - Apollo; Ground Control,
I can't forgive the men4
who killed the dream that died too soon
And all my dreams are haunted by a fire on the Moon.
I don't mind unmanned probes, but you can ram your SDI:
I don't need damned war machines cluttering up my ski.
Every day at midnight, and every night at noon,
I raise my eyes and howl to see a fire on the Moon.
Now Houston, Houston, do you read? I swear I'd sell my soul5
If I could see it one more time - Apollo; Ground Control,
The Devil take the men who killed the dream that died too soon
And all my dreams are haunted by a fire on the Moon.
1. Okay, I was actually eleven, but that didn't scan.
2. Yes, I really did
try to make up a song about it that day but failed.
3. Yes, I know that's Mailer's title.
4. Yes, it was men
who killed Apollo prematurely. Nixon and co.The fuckers.
5. No, I would't actually
sell my soul to bring back Apollo - but I'd be tempted.
14th July 2019
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, by JRR Tolkien, more or less (2019-46)
As is well known, JRR Tolkien has published far more since his death than in his lifetime. But this is something really quite rare in the Tolkien postmortemabilia: two long poems that are actually complete. :
The first, longer, poem concerns the Norse heroes Sigmund and Sigurd, in stories quite different from the stories in the _Nibelungenlied_ or the _Ring des Nibelungen_. While Odin (pardon; Odín, but I'm going to stop using the accent marks except for first introduction of a name because they're a big pain on this keyboard) does indeed manipulate the events - indeed, in a much more hands-on manner than in the operas - there's no Rhinegold, no building of Valhalla (Valhöll), and while there are many cognate scenes they are, not only in detail but in significance, quite different.
The second takes place after the deaths of Sigurd and Brynhild at the hands of the Gjúkings (well, Brynhild dies by her own hand, but it's the fault of the Gyuking women really). Gudrún, who was briefly married to Sigurd, becomes "wild and witless" for a time, then settles down to weave a tapestry summarizing the first poem. But her brothers and scheming mother determine that she must marry Atli (Attila the Hun) for political reasons. She resists at first but ultimately cannot refuse her mother. And all is well until Atli decides that he wants the Nibelungs' gold (complicated, it was the hoard of Fáfnir - no Fasolt, here, though he *does* murder a brother- and wound up with the Gyukings, who are apparently the Nibelungs also...), and comes up with a scheme to get it by ransoming the brothers. It winds up with the brothers all dead, and Atli murdering Atli's sons, feeding their blood to him, and murdering him in his sleep.
Good clean fun in the nifty Norse manner.
The poems are written in stanzas (staves?) of eight alliterative half-lines each, quite skillfully wrought. There are occasional variations in the stanza form, but most of the poem by far is in this form and it never becomes tedious.
Then there is the (inevitable) apparatus surrounding them. Christopher Tolkien (whom I shall refer to as "Christopher" and his father as "Tollkien" because why not?) provides a lengthy introduction, incorporating Tolkien's various notes on the Eddaic and other Norse poems, as well as the Nibelunginlied - oddly, there are almost no notes or workings surviving regarding the two poems.
In this introduction, as well as the copious footnotes and the first Appendix, Christopher uses available lecture notes and similar to reconstruct Tolkien's views of the origins of and "proper" content of the stories here related. As a result, we do not get Christopher's opinions on the matter; nor do we get Tolkien's opinions on the matter; what we get is Christopher's (well-informed) opinions of Tolkien's opinions on the matter.
...which has, really, been true of almost everything Christopher has edited since his father's death in 1974. I'm just dumb enough not to have realized it till now. Never really thought about it.
8th July 2019
The Aggrieved Parties, by Mike Guest (2019-45)
Kind of a thriller, sort of, not really, but in that neighborhood. :
Also, parts of it may be a bit triggery. You have been warned.
When Phany Som was a little girl in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, she saw a neighbor and two others beat and torture her father; this led to their desperate escape, along with her mother, to neighboring Thailand and ultimately to the US. In the present she works in Cambodia for UNESCO, as does her lover Thom.
Alder Noren, an Australian, lives in Japan with his Japanese wife Remi and their daughter. They might as well be estranged; indeed, Remi has procured the services of the Pintan detective agency (Ping-On Tsu, proprietor) to get the goods on him: She is sure he is having an affair. (He isn't,but he does "pay for play" at a local business supplying, ah, specialized personal services.) Also, he has met Phany professionally and they quickly became friends.
When Alder loses his job in bad circumstances, he decides to disappear and hires one CD Derkatch, of "Strategic Solutions" in Thailand, to help him make the break.
But there is a tie between Strategic Solutions, which also fences stolen artifacts from Cambodia, and the man who nearly killed Phany's father.
The situation is rife. Everybody is aggrieved, and some are out for revenge - and some of them get it. Whether it makes them happy is another question.
The plotting here is as tight as you could ask for, with everything coming to a head at the same time (because that's how thriller-type-things work, when they work at all). The characters are vivid and, while most of them aren't exactly _likeable_, they are identifiable, which is more important. The last 50 pages or so kept me up well past my bedtime.
The writing is "clear," almost never getting in the way (except for a few spots early on where the writer unnecessarily addresses the reader directly). Guest uses the "omniscient third person", but uses it responsibly: we always know whose mind we're supposed to be in.
This is one great ride.
5th July 2019
The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie (2019-44)
This is a rather strange book, but then Rushdie has always been a rather strange writer. Two stories are being told here, one on top of the other. :
The bottom story is the story of the "Golden" family, Indian ex-pats (though they never say where they're from or why they left), they move into a big house in Greenwich Village on the day of Obama's inauguration as President. The Goldens are:
--Nero Golden, paterfamilias and provider. There is clearly something shady in his past but we are not to learn what until much later. He is a stern, demanding father who plays a violin for relaxation.
--Petronius "Petya" Golden, the eldest son, an inhabitant of the autism spectrum and agoraphobe.
--Apuleius "Apu" Golden, the middle son, an artist of some merit.
--Dionysius "D" Golden, the youngest son, who harbors a secret he keeps even from himself.
The sons are reasonably likeable characters; the father not so much.
Their story is a classical tragedy, their flaws (and especially those of the father) bringing on their respective Nemeses. The Goldens and a reasonably-sized supporting cast play out their roles, if not with relish, at least with flair; and they all have their various lovers/romantic partners/crushes. Perhaps the most important of these is Vasilisa Arsenyeva, a stupendously beautiful Russian woman who charms (in every sense of the word) Nero Golden and plays her own part in the grand tragedy.
I'm avoiding too much plot information because the twists come thick and fast. I consider the blurb on the hardcover edition to be fairly spoily; you might want to avoid it until you're a hundred pages or so in.
So then there's the story on top of the story, the story of René, a film student / filmmaker who, with a group headed by the young genius Suchitra Roy, works on a variety of projects, mostly political campaign films. René lives on the same garden square as the Golden house, and decides to make the Goldens' story the subject of his first feature film. To this end, he connives to learn more and more about them., and becomes closely entangled in their lives: in fact, far too entangled, creating moral and personal dilemmas for himself and others.
The prose is sparkling, occasionally dropping into other forms akin to film scripts and soliloquies. The close observation is what we would hope to find in a filmmaker - or, indeed, a novelist. And the storytelling, pacing and plotting and such? Simply masterful. I'm beginning to think Rushdie may be Nobel-worthy (though, due to A Certain Incident in his past, I feel certain that he will never get the nod).
25th June 2019
The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town, by Gregory Miller (2019-43)
Well, this is a right return to the October Country: thirty-three stories, loosely linked, all purporting to hail from a town in Western Pennsylvania called "Uncanny Valley". There are witches, vampires, all manner of living dead and dead dead (but no zombies to speak of), people with special abilities, murderers, and just plain weird stuff, and the writing really _does_ resemble the early Bradbury (in a good way). :
H'mm. I guess that's all I really have to say about it, because I don't want to go through it story by story. It's a lot of good fun.
23rd June 2019
Jacob's Room, by Virginia Woolf (2019-42)
There's a sea change between _Night and Day_ and this book, and that change seems heralded by the stories in _Monday or Tuesday_, where Woolf is clearly experimenting with different ways of writing. :
Well, _Jacob's Room_ is an explosion, the experimentation become technique. It's a book with a hole in its center, and that hole is the main character, Jacob Flanders.The book follows him from his childhood in Cornwall to a bit after his death during World War I (possibly, indeed, at Flanders Field). That death, like most of the significant events in Flanders's life, we never see. We see Jacob from many angles - the angles being the perceptions of other characters - but rarely do we get inside his own head. We also have scenes featuring those other characters in which Jacob is present only as an absence.
Except for that odd fact, this might be a classic novel of character. It is certainly a kind - an odd kind - of bildungsroman, for we do see Jacob's character formed, but (again) from every point of view but his own. Jacob grows up, goes to Cambridge, is moderately successful, and - just before the Great War breaks out - goes for a holiday in Paris and Greece. He has lovers. He has opinions, and argues for them. But, somehow, the reader never feels Jacob as a personality, a person (a "character").
In fact, I suspect that this is Woolf's whole point, suggesting that we can never really know another person, can only have impressions of them. It's a view with which I feel a certain amount of sympathy; at times those I am closest to are utter mysteries to me. But it is the opposite of the "novelistic" tradition in literature. It is, in short, one of the root points of "modernist" writing.
Plot? There hardly is one; rather than the flow of Jacob Flanders's life, we have a series of set pieces, individual gems that seem almost unrelated to each other, strung together only by the tenuous thread of his enigmatic self.