Jan 29, 2008

new book hunger

I tell you what, I've been laid up since last Wednesday, fighting a brutal cold. But now I'm coughing up the last bits of green goo, and I'm in need of new reads. Tomorrow I'm going to take my happy ass down to the Paperback Rack and pick up a handful. So expect (brave) new things by this weekend.

In the meantime, enjoy a little tin-foil hattery from Alan Grant.

Jan 25, 2008

suggested addition

La Ciudad Ausente (The Absent City) by Ricardo Piglia

Jan 22, 2008

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time

Back when I was a wee nerdlet in the grade school gifted program, this was definitely a Series To Read. I think I read all four, but honestly, at this point that's a little hazy. I only really remember this one and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

This past week, I lost an aunt and an uncle, in unrelated circumstances, which made for a pretty damn crappy time. I'm glad I was rereading Wrinkle, which is a hopeful little book, and not some Russian soul-killer.

L'Engle doesn't bother to specify one misery as the main villain driving the dystopian elements. Yes, IT ("the Happiest Sadist" - a great phrase) powers the conformity of Camazotz culture, but IT is only one face of that larger pall. Look at the names given as examples of those who have fought the good fight against this universal enemy: Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Bach, Einstein, Euclid. Discovery, love, peace, empathy and affection for your fellow beings. It's no wonder that so many of the hippie-raised kids I knew growing up were given this book early on in their reading.

And it's just a great story. You've got all the right elements for a kid's tale: missing parent, daring rescues, strange creatures, wide travels, new thoughts, misfits finding their places. Now I want to find a grade school student with a quick mind and hand over my copy.

Jan 17, 2008

reading and rereading

You may have wondered, if you glanced at the Big List, why I have not yet read certain obvious classics in my long history of reading whatever comes to hand. I mean, what bright kid didn't read A Wrinkle in Time back in grade or middle school? Basically, I didn't cross something off if I don't remember the specifics well enough to feel comfortable blogging about the story and my response here and now. I like to reread, anyway. You never catch it all the first time around.

Jan 13, 2008

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

Back to straight up, state control dystopia.

People USED to imagine that knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value. ...People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years' War. That made them change their tune all right. What's the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled -- after the Nine Years' War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since. It hasn't been very good for truth, of course. But it's been very good for happiness.

Anthrax bombs as an excuse for state control. You know, what makes classic dystopian fiction powerful is the ability to apply it to any generation's reality and still come up worried.

I'd honestly never read Brave New World before now. It's one of those classics I just never got around to. I read it right after First Men in the Moon by, more or less, accident, but it worked out well. Both concern societies in which the citizens are made, body and mind, for their alloted tasks in life. This prevents the longing and hustling that creates societal tension and individual angst. Of course, it also robs us of free will, creates a slave class, and prevents the striving and work that can carry us to the loftier heights.

You know, I'm going to look around for written defenses of the World State as outlined in BNW. It's no good for me simply to say, "This is obviously a horrible and frightening vision of the future," with no one offering any of the other side's arguments. I suspect such defense will just make me either disgusted or angry, but at least it would help solidify why it's such a disturbing image of society to me.

final thoughts: Beats the hell out of Rand any day.

Jan 10, 2008

a quick read

"An End to Hunger" by China Miéville

does this book exist?

On the Big List (which, remember, I mostly just grabbed from wiki as a good jumping off place) is a book? story? called Prison Planet by Chris Whatley. Does this book exist? The only reference I can find to it is, well, the Big List. Is it a joke? A vanity publication? Anybody have a clue about this?

The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells

The First Men in the Moon

First off, I have to say that one trick of Wells' I truly admire was that of having a narrator who is not the main scientist of the story. That allowed him to present an idea like cavorite, an antigravity metal, without having to dive too deeply into a practical explanation. The narrator just says something like, "Oh, and I don't know how it worked, but then, I'm just a businessman," and then get on with the more important stuff like fighting moon-based insect beings or traveling millions of years into the future.

(I hear this bugged the crap out of Jules Verne, who was quoted as saying, "I get my voyagers to the Moon with gun cotton - something you can buy in any store - and Mr Wells uses a totally mythical substance. Pah! Where is this Cavorite? Let him produce it!" Which is probably why I prefer Wells to Verne.)

You know, I'm glad we've been to the Moon and all, but we have lost a certain opportunity to simply guess and invent what might be happening up there on our nearest neighbor.

Anyway, things don't get good and dystopian until the last few chapters, when Wells managed to hide a creepy little statement on colonization and specialization in his adventure yarn. The image of the young Selenites cramped into bottles with just their arms protruding in order to be modified to perform their assigned life task squicked me out the same way stories about comprachicos do (no shock - it's basically the same idea, and I have to guess that Wells was at least partially inspired by Victor Hugo's take on it in "The Man Who Laughs", which was published in the 1860s).

final thoughts: Did Cavor deliberately tell the Grand Lunar about humans' taste for violence and war? And if he did, was it to save us from them or them from us?

Jan 9, 2008

And if we can't get there, we'll make it up.

"What is this spirit in man that urges him for ever to depart from happiness and security, to toil, to place himself in danger, to risk even a reasonable certainty of death? It dawned upon me up there in the moon as a thing I ought always to have known, that man is not made simply to go about being safe and comfortable and well fed and amused. Almost any man, if you put the thing to him, not in words, but in the shape of opportunities, will show that he knob as much. Against his interest, against his happiness, he is constantly being driven to do unreasonable things. Some force not himself impels him, and go he must. But why? Why?"
- First Men in the Moon, HG Wells