FF: Great Contrasts

This week my reading varied widely, but was richer for the contrasts, sort of the way a patchwork quilt made from seemingly random bits of fabric makes each bit more distinctive.

I didn't see the camera...

I didn’t see the camera…

Just in case you’re new to this feature, The Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include either short fiction or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas by Michael Bishop.  An odd yet completely absorbing novel.  Surely a more unlikely group of heroes has never been gathered under a more unlikely leader.  Their goal?   Overthrow a totalitarian government headed by fourth term president Richard Nixon by means that even their leader — the possibly resurrected Philip K. Dick — is not completely certain will work. Note: Bishop’s rewritten version of the original 1987 Tor novel, The Secret Ascension, will be out later this year.

Lord of Runes, “Pathfinder Tales,” by David Gross.  A good sword and sorcery novel, built around a mystery, but with plenty for the action junkies who can’t wait for a rousing fight scene.  Although the novel is set in the Pathfinder gaming universe and is the fourth featuring Radovan and the Count, enough background is supplied (without ever falling into info dump territory) that I had no problem picking up the story at this point.

In Progress:

Island Dreams by Gerald Hausman.  A poetry collection spanning many years and many places.  It’s rich enough that I’m reading a little at a time.  I asked Grery if I could share “Zelazny’s Advice” with you.  He gave me permission. The spacing between lines is off.  Wordpress would not cooperate!

Zelazny’s Advice

“After a while

you get good at this.”

“Then why does it get harder?”

“You’re getting better.”

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby.  Audiobook.  Saying this is YA fantasy is like saying a slice of bread with a slice of tomato and another of American cheese is pizza.  But that’s all I can say right now, except that I like the characters.  Also, non-linear narrative seems to becoming a trend in YA.  I like it.  Reflects the continual process of discovery that’s key to coming of age.

Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers.  I felt like visiting an old friend.  No apologies!


I think that’s it…


12 Responses to “FF: Great Contrasts”

  1. Jay M. Says:

    Only one book to mention this week (spent too much time grading papers):

    In progress: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
    So far, it’s a rather despair-inducing book, with cynical, jaded characters. It’s an “edginess” I’ve come to recognize from authors whose characters are people who don’t find joy in anything, in spite of the literal magic in their lives. Okay, but no one has to be miserable ALL the time, and right now, I don’t like any of these decadent sad sacks. I’m hoping that changes by the end of the book, that this ISN’T another book in which there are no such things as good, heroic people but only miserable wretches trying to get by. (I see enough of that in my daily life.)
    I’ll let you know.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Sympathies, both on the grading and on the book…

      I need to love characters to love a book — they don’t need to be “nice” (Ronan in THE RAVEN BOYS is anything but), but I need to feel for/with them.

      As for the grading. People ask me if I miss teaching. I say sometimes, because I had some great experiences. However, I always add that I Do Not miss grading hundreds of papers each term.

    • Heteromeles Says:

      Amen on not missing the grading. Hope you find something decent in all those papers.

      I thought The Magicians wasn’t bad, but I agree. It didn’t suck me in the way Harry Potter did. I didn’t care so much about the characters, and the world oddly felt more trite and derivative than Harry Potter, bizarre though that is to say. Thing is, I don’t think there’s one scale of good or bad, and I can see why some people really loved it. Conversely, there are some stories, like the Da Vinci Code, which totally sucked me in while I read it, but made me realize even as I was reading it that it sucked in other senses. I mean, when I can solve a puzzle faster than I can read on the page how they solved it, that’s not a very good mystery now, is it? Addictive isn’t the same thing as good.

    • Jay M. Says:

      Just finished the book. SPOILERS AHEAD

      I didn’t like the book.

      I understood the metafictional references. I understood the lit fic sensibility. I saw the whole “fantasy world is as bad as the real world if you really go there” thing 30 years ago, with a Joel Rosenberg series. One reviewer wrote, “if you don’t mind having your expectations challenged, The Magicians delivers a very rewarding reading experience.” I don’t mind having my expectations challenged. What I mind is having my expectations shot in the head, burned, and dumped in a shallow grave just because the author could do so. The thing is, even after everything else – after the students’ decadent sad sack ways, after the ennui-fueled depression, after the dark side of Fillory, after the manipulation by the Watcherwoman – I was willing to say this was a book whose author understood and even liked fantasy … until the author decided Martin became evil and did all those things because he was molested by the guy who wrote the Filllory books. That was just crapping on the entire genre of fantasy in a way that revealed the author’s true opinion of it, and that told me the whole book was INTENDED as a slap in the face of fantasy readers.

      So, no, I didn’t like the book. Your interpretation and mileage may vary.

      • Heteromeles Says:

        Good points. While I didn’t read it that way, it does get at three problems. One is that, of course, many abuse victims do not become abusers in turn. The other problem is that some do, and the third problem is whether an author should use abuse as a way to explain why the antagonist is evil, or whether they should go with the idea that they were evil to begin with.

        Do we want evil in stories to be explicable, or not? Do we want characters to have some built-in moral compass, or do we want their back stories to shape how they make moral decisions? Either way there are pitfalls. As a mental experiment, it’s worth considering how Martin would have gotten to be the big bad without the whole abuse thing. Would he have been a garden variety psychopath? A sociopath who found magic rather than business school?

      • Jay M. Says:

        Even if Grossman had just said that the magic of Fillory was like a poison for humans and that’s why they shouldn’t stay in Fillory long-term, and since Martin did, it corrupted him … that would have fit with the rest of the book. But no, he not only played the molestation card, he played the “gay people molest kids” card as well.
        In a way, this book is similar to “Bimbos of the Death Sun” in that the author clearly understands the world of fantasy and fantasy fans, and satirizes those fans, but I never believed Sharyn McCrumb hated the fans and I think maybe Lev Grossman does.
        Anyway, that’s enough of this book. Back to pre-World-War-2 mysteries for now.

  2. Chad Merkley Says:

    Jane, are reading while you should be gardening? I thought that was what audiobooks and headphones were for.

    I finished read the Iliad, and really enjoyed it. I’ve decided that it’s really not a story or narrative in the way we usually think of it: plot and character development are secondary elements. It’s actually kind of a “scriptural” narrative, in that the most important part of it is describing mans’ relationship to the divine. The gods are responsible for the most intense human feelings, such as fear, courage, lust, hubris, and so forth. The gods ordain success or failure. They can be moved and influenced by human actions, such as prayer and sacrifice. There’s also a strong note of “be careful what you wish for”; Achilles and Thetis got Zeus to humble Agamemnon for insulting Achilles, but that led directly to the death of Patroclus. I think also it’s a culturally unifying document—the people of ancient Greece could listen to or read it and say “Our people/country/polis sent men and ships to fight at Troy. We were part of this.” One thing I hadn’t realized was tightly circumscribed the events of the Iliad are. The actual events cover only a few days. The rest of the Trojan War is found in other sources (many fragmentary or existing only as later summaries). I’m reading the Odyssey next, and then maybe some Sophocles, and then I’ll decide if I’m tired of Greece for a while.

    I’ve also read several of Diane Duane’s So You want to be a Wizard series. Extremely good stuff. The main characters have a lot of depth and are very realistic and sympathetic. The books deal with all kinds of serious themes (bullying, death of a loved one, autism, sibling rivalry, personal responsibility, depression…) and does so in a way that show how those things can lead to personal growth. I’ve got about three more to read before I’m done with the series. Highly recommended to fans of YA literature.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Nice analysis of the ILIAD. You get an A!

      I’ve only read a couple of the “So You Want to be a Wizard” series. I see I need to move it up on my list.

      Thank you!

      • Chad Merkley Says:

        I didn’t mean to make you grade something, Jane! 🙂 Mostly, it’s just that I’m coming out of several years of physical and mental illness and suddenly realizing how much fun literature can be.

      • Jane Lindskold Says:

        May the joy continue, Chad!

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      I’d be interested in seeing your assessment of Sophocles, particularly regarding those questions of plot and character. I’m not at all sure when those notions were introduced, but have the distinct impression the Greeks misfiled the memo – at least, that’s what I get from the modern versions I read. For Homer, of course, that’s not a surprise, since, like the Norse sagas, these are accounts of heroic doings, and heroes don’t plot, they do. The Norse, however, seem to have devoted much more attention to the shape that character gives to doing, and to how character is shaped in turn. Mind you, the sagas are products of a 1000-year younger and somewhat different culture. They are also, by and large, the stories of people not that many generations dead when they were recorded; in some cases, there were still people around who remembered them.

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