Oct. 18th, 2015

ewx: (penguin)

…and some post-holiday reading, as it happens.

The Last Light Of The Sun and The Lions Of Al-Rassan (Guy Gavriel Kay). I thought I’d reviewed some of his other books in this forum but I can’t find any evidence of that. GGK’s favorite strategy is to take a more or less well known historical era and its actors, lightly rename them, add a bit of magic, and then write a compelling story in the resulting setting. In this case we are mostly dealing with Viking era England, with Alfred the Great renamed Athelbert and the Vikings renamed Erlings in the former, and a renamed Spain during the reconquista in the latter, with the most famous of the character templates being El Cid. I got on well with both books, which meditate in various ways upon the passing of ages. Specifically, in the former, the subject is the end of a heroic age and the dawn of powerful medieval states, with the arbitrariness and brutality of the violence of the former contrasted with the inexorability and totality of the latter. The latter concerns the existential conflict between a sophisticated and cosmopolitan society with a more primitive but more vigorous one, to a great extent making the same sort of contrast.

Tigana and A Song For Arbonne (also Guy Gavriel Kay) have a slightly weaker connection with real-world history, though both take inspiration from past cultures in their settings. It seems to me that Tigana is really about how the weak can hope to fight the powerful and monstrous: direct open confrontation in force is impossible, so the indirect, covert and personal must be employed instead. A Song For Arbonne covers some of the same territory as The Lions of Al-Rassan, really, but draws quite different and ultimately more hopeful conclusions.

Cider With Rosie (Laurie Lee). The author recounts his Gloucestershire childhood, early in the C20th. Beautifully written, engaging characters, interesting events: it’s completely obvious why it’s considered a classic.

The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting (Holly Bourne). Teenage girl struggles with friendship, popularity and love at school, packing in a multitude of (some of them perennially) topical misadventures. Entertaining.

The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides). Slightly unusual narrative structure fails to rescue a story that I found essentially dull. But not half as offputting as…

The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell). Jesuits In Space sounds superficially promising, though the idea of a bunch of friends deciding one night to mount the first manned interstellar mission and succeeding made me laugh in disbelief. Putting that aside, however, the flashback structure means that the body horror aspects that might otherwise have been localized to a disaster towards the end of the book instead relentlessly impinge upon the reader throughout. I couldn’t finish it.

The Shell Collector (Hugh Howey). A bit of a departure for Howie. The post-apocalyptic scenario is familiar, albeit that it’s a more realistic and less drastic one than usual. But rather than the usual engineering-fiction romp that he does so well this is actually a straightforward love story. More strikingly still he doesn’t massacre enormous numbers of his characters, which I can only imagine must have been a wrench. Joking aside I got on pretty well with this, while the science-fictional element may be there just to support the primary romantic plot it’s still nicely done and the side-character interactions are enjoyable.

Also recently Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie) but (i) I suspect people are still hoping to avoid spoilers just now and (ii) I don’t think 2145 on a Sunday night is a time at which I can do justice to it. So maybe another time.

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