Friday, December 2, 2016
book reviews, part one of ∞
Oh my god, I forgot!
"Friday" is very similar in construction to "Wednesday," ask any expert.
Rather than writing stupid capsule summaries of these books — you can look those up on Wikipedia or Amazon, you goddamn lazy bastard — I have tried to convey a general idea of what they felt like to me, and to communicate whether I found them worthwhile diversions, without going into elaborate specifics about their plots. I don’t want to spoil a great story for anybody, obviously, but also I frequently disagree with other readers about what constitutes a spoiler. I never really know what to mark. You should consider that all these micro-reviews contain bales and bales of unmarked spoilers — or perhaps no spoilers at all. We’re all mad here. Let’s do it:
Daybreak On A Different Mountain, Colin Greenland - Currently in purgatory. Although very well-written and intelligently plotted (it seems to contain the rudiments of some of the John Uskglass parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) (Greenland is Clarke’s husband, and the two met during one of Greenland’s writing workshops) (Daybreak was published in the 80s), this novel has two of the most obnoxious protagonists ever in history. One of them is an unrepentant pederast, and he’s by far the less-annoying one. The book does a pretty decent job of suggesting that its female and non-straight characters are worthily human, but it also features a bit of instructive, violent misogyny and a creepy association between physical deformity and spiritual impurity — which, to be fair, might get finessed in the novel’s conclusion in a way that could turn out to be inoffensive. (If I ever get there to meet it.) I absolutely loved Greenland’s Plenty Series when I was in high school, though, and I would certainly consider reading the author’s other works. And maybe also finishing this one, when I’m in a better mood.
Elidor, Alan Garner - A childhood favorite! It felt less cohesive and explicable to me as an adult, but that will happen. Also, the confluence and eventual intersection of recognizable reality and the novel’s fantasy realm is handled in a much scarier and more interesting way than similar events that appear in most children’s fantasy novels. I am looking at you, Harry Potter and the. (And also at all the other children’s fantasy novels.) Also, there is a unicorn. That’s very important. I would, and have, read other Garner books.
Lud-In-The-Mist, Hope Mirrlees - This novel is almost certainly the birthplace of John Uskglass proper, whose narrative forefather appears here in the form of a horrible, jolly, rapey Lord of Misrule named Duke Aubrey. One cannot help one’s relatives, of course; 47% of my fuckheaded family voted for Donald Trump. I’m trying not to hold it against him. The novel itself is quite weird, and suffers (as nearly all novels do) from a shortage of fairy action — but it’s still a haunting and beautiful work, and worth tracking down. If you’ve read it and think you know what’s happening in it, please feel free to look me up and explain it to me. ("Something something the transformations of magic as a metaphor for the ecstatic transcendence of death something something something"?) Also: It appears that "Lud" could be the Aulde Tymes word that mutated, eventually, into the modern name "London," a fact which you may or may not find edifying. And: The ebook’s cover borders upon "malicious vandalism." (A common problem for old books put out by philanthropic epublishers.) Many thanks to the Big Bad Bald Bastard for recommending this novel to me; I’m sorry it took me so long to say thank you. I would read more work by Mirrlees, but she’s been dead for ages now and her other two books are regular realist fiction :[
Among Others, Jo Walton - A really wonderful, unique fantasy novel. I read Among Others years ago when it first came out, but I couldn’t remember it very well & so I decided to go through it again. It’s a metafictional text, I guess, but postmodern novels usually go out of their way to be obnoxious about themselves, and this book isn’t like that at all. Narrative works as a symbol and a signifier in Among Others — as does magic — but it’s also just a story. Things that I’d remembered as textual flaws the first time around seemed on this reading to be sophisticated character work (subtle, unconscious misogyny as an expression of discomfort with your designated identity, for example), and the only element I ended up actively disliking was the boring rebellious super-gorgeous boyfriend. But, even he was a manifestation of the self-fulfilling powers of storytelling, in the end. (I think.) Recommended highly, and I would certainly read more of Walton’s novels/stories. (I hope she minimizes further readerly contact with ultra-beautiful dreamboats, however.)
This Census-Taker, China Miéville - I have no real idea what the material events in this novella actually consist of, which I gather is more a feature than a bug when it comes to Miéville, but I had an intense emotional reaction to the story & I read it from cover to cover without stopping. Effortlessly attuned to the humanness of its characters, no tacky world-building, lots of very original detail which rendered his setting explicable while also dislocating it from anything identifiable as reality. Frightening violence which was not instructive at all. I’ve never read anything else by Miéville despite the fact that he’s a heavily-hyped critical favorite; I’ve always been skeptical of the "urban fantasy" aesthetic in general, and also my only other contact with the author was a whiny editorial he published on the Wall Street Journal website (?) complaining that hyperrealistic CGI effects in movies like Avatar will murder the imaginations of the children of the future (???). Nobody’s perfect. My only real problem with This Census-Taker is that it used as an epigram (and praised in a postscript) the writing of an author named Jane Gaskell, whose novel The Serpent I made the terrible decision to subsequently purchase. The Serpent is one of the worst pieces of shit I’ve ever tried to read. It’s a fucking romance novel. It’s not even a good romance novel!!! It praises the feministic virtues of tanning!!!!! At this point I was going to say, "it was so awful that the next time Miéville comes to the US I’m going to go to a book signing and throw a shoe at his face," but I just Googled him to find that WSJ link and he’s pretty scary-looking. So I’ll just frown at him from afar. Anyway: I have purchased Perdido Street Station and I intend to read it next. (Or "next," probably.)
A Darker Shade Of Magic, V.E. Schwab - "How can I combine my mindless love of otome games, Doctor Who, and Game of Thrones in a way that suggests all my writing experience was earned in the creation of erotic Sherlock fanfiction?" thought author V.E. Schwab, who is a moron, one day. And then he or she or etc. wrote A Darker Shade of Magic, an incredibly shitty and boring novel (with a weary magical bishounen hero), which I read 38 pages of before deleting. No more V.E. Schwab novels.
A Knot In The Grain, Robin McKinley - I am a major McKinley fan, to my continuing surprise, but this short-story collection isn’t her strongest. However, its first two stories, "The Healer" and "The Stag-Man," allowed me to spend some time in the company of Luthe the Mage-Master, one of my favorite characters ever (shut up, you don’t know him). Don’t let this be your first McKinley (your first McKinley should be Sunshine, which is fucking amazing) — but it’s okay.
A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, Harry Harrison - This book stars out with the kind of vicious misanthropy I associate with British writers, who can bleed you dry of human sympathy before you even notice you’ve been cut, and so I was surprised to discover that Harrison is American. There are, indeed, reasons for this secretive contrivance of narrative identity, but if I tell you what they are I’ll spoil the novel’s Twist, and then there would be no reason for you to read it. So I won’t do that (don't waste my love and look it up) — I will, say, however, that it’s all disposed of very elegantly, considering the large number of novels that feature similar Twists and are terrible (Newt Gingrich, I'm looking at you). As a matter of fact, it may be that A Transatlantic Tunnel was the first book to perform this particular Twist in public! (It was written in the 60s.) But I don’t know for sure, sorry. I didn’t like this book enough to finish it, but I can see where someone else might think it’s really terrific (NEWT). I would try other Harrison novels.
And Other Stories, Emma Bull & Will Shetterly - A very uneven collection, with stories that are unreadably boring ("all of the stories written by Will Shetterly") and stories that are pretty great ("most of the stories written by Emma Bull"). I don’t know what to tell you. If you’re into slightly less than half a book of short fantasy stories with a crummy cover, this might be your new favorite. I like Emma Bull, but I’m not sure I would go for any Shetterly books in the future.
More on Monday, or on whatever day of the week I happen to remember I have a blog.