Jul 30, 2008

Perelandra by C. S. Lewis


Jesus isn't my god, but anyone raised in this society knows the Adam and Eve story well enough to follow along with this one. Honestly, even if you didn't, the book stands on its own feet as an adventure in the classic early sf style.

I'm fascinated by the image Lewis creates of the floating lands of Venus. A world-wide ocean topped with a few islands created by plants matting together, rolling with the waves, supporting animals and trees on their surfaces. A valley one second becomes a tall hill the next, as the flexible matting forming the "ground" skims along the ocean surface. I've always wanted to live on a little island - Florida kid, you know - and I can't help but feel drawn to this image of a watery world. Too bad we know now that Venus ain't a damn thing like that. Well, maybe somewhere in the universe.

When the plot slides from that sort of almost lazy beauty into the endless days of hate and evil, I have to admit it chilled me. I have this phobia of frogs, see, so when the possessed Weston is caught torturing and mutilating the frog-like creatures of Venus, I had to put the book down for a little while. They doesn't happen often, I'm usually pretty comfortable with gross out fiction.

Also, like I said - I'm no Christian. So I never spent much time considering the Adam and Eve myth. Lewis asks us, what if Eve said no? Would the devil simply have given up and slithered off? Wouldn't he, instead, have hounded her every day of her life, lying and tricking and bribing? And, honestly, no matter how long she put him off, he had eternity on his side - one of her children would eventually give in. I'm interested in the fact that the forbidden act in Perelandra - sleeping on the "fixed land" - is only slightly portrayed as being something that would impart great wisdom by its very action. Un-Weston makes a great deal of God wanting Eve to disobey him in order to stand as her own being, but Lewis never suggests that the fixed land is "the land of knowledge" or some such parallel to the apple. Different time, different tactic?

final thought: The Christian philosophy gets a little thick on the ground toward the end, but that's the nature of the novel. I'm looking forward to the third and final book in the series, when I can get my hands on it.

Jul 23, 2008

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Player Piano

You could see Vonnegut's genius in his first novel.

On a blog I read, the Devil Vet's been thinking about hope and hopelessness in dystopian fiction. I think Player Piano is good example of how hope plays into dystopian narratives. The Ghost Shirt Society of the book rises in rebellion against the soul-numbing mechanized society even though they know they will fail. Why? Simply to show that it can be done. That there can be light at the end of that tunnel, if power is wrested from the managers and engineers who hold it in that society. "Hope in hopelessness" indeed.

But then, that's one of Vonnegut's favorite themes (literally from the beginning, as we see) to kick around. You might have the whole world against you, you might know from the beginning that stretching your wings will just result in being shot out of the sky, but the exercise of whatever freedom you can snatch is worth the fall.

Of course, he didn't rely simply on ideas. The man could spin a yarn. The whole section of the book where Proteus has to go on an annual weekend team-spirit-building retreat had me chuckling through my anger. I hate that kind of workaday pep rally crap, and that particular scenario sounds like my idea of four days of hell. And the chapter in which Proteus buys a small, old school farm - thinking that will calm his need to get out of the "we are all cogs" system - and his wife takes it completely the wrong way sort of broke my heart. Though, I have to admit, I felt some for the wife - it's not like he spent any time communicating his feelings or situation to her.

The running thread of the Shah of Bratpuhr touring the US, with his guide in more and more dire straits, was a nice touch. Sometimes that kind of show-and-tell subplot can feel tacked on or unnecessary, but Vonnegut's storytelling allowed it to weave in and out of the major action.

final thought: No surprise, I agree with him. If you take away a person's chance to do for themselves, you take away a major reason to get out of bed every morning. I'm not saying we all have to work hard or die. I'm just saying, yeah, we all need that feeling of dignity that honest work can provide, whether for decent wages or just for our own benefit.

no cash no books

Oh, it's been tough times here in dystopia land. What with the near-dystopian reality we all seem to be living through these days, I'm down to a pot to piss in and a window to throw it out of. That is to say, I haven't been able to stockpile more books. I've got two that I need to blog and one on deck (hey, did you notice? look down at the bottom of this page to see my dystopian shelf), but then I need to go trade some shit in at the local used paperback store or something.

Jul 14, 2008

Thomas M. Disch: suggestions?

Thomas M. Disch passed away this 4th of July. I hear I should add at least one of his works to The Big List. Is anyone familiar with his novels? Which one/s should I pick up, which have the most dystopian bent?

Jul 3, 2008

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet

This is the only Lewis I've read aside from the Narnia series. Being as I was raised dirty heathen, I didn't pick up on the Christian aspects of his writing until later, and that still isn't the first thing that springs into view when I read him. Just so you know.

I think my favorite parts of this one are the descriptions of Ransom lying in the spaceship, watching space go by. For someone who'd not only obviously never been to space, but didn't even have any descriptions from others who had, Lewis paints a detailed and engrossing picture of the teeming heavens. The whole book is obviously influenced by HG Wells' First Men in the Moon, but not enough to keep it from being very much its own novel.

Now, don't get me wrong - there's a fairly simplistic "man is often evil due to the presence of Satan/bent Oyarsa on Earth, but the peoples of Mars are good, kind, and wise because they have true angels/true contact with God" theme running through the novel. Being as it's Lewis, I guess that's par for the course, and it didn't keep me from enjoying the story itself. I was intrigued by the idea of the various Martian races seeing each other as both human and animal (and thereby not needing pets in the way that Earthlings seem to, as a connection to the animal world within our own culture). I suspect that some folks right here see other races/nationalities the same way, and not in the respectful way Lewis lays on his creations.

You know, I think this book (or the whole series - I haven't got far enough into it to know) helped inspired L'Engle when she wrote A Wrinkle in Time. Ransom's discussions with the different races is echoed in some of the childrens' encounters as they travel outward from Earth. Plus, there's the image of our planet being shrouded or silent - set apart from the rest of creation.

final thought: It really all comes down to whether your believe that "Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower." I don't, and I enjoy the case made by Lewis on the matter as much as I enjoy his descriptions of the petrified Martian forests and the bright, warm stretches of space.

Jul 1, 2008

in case y'all missed it

If you want to see an example of an author who can't take criticism, make sure to read the comments on the post before this one. The one about Alongside Night. I've never seen anyone get so fussy so quickly about so little.

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night

Maybe I'm not enough of an economist to get this book, but good god. As far as I'm concerned, you could lock all copies of this one in the same underwater vault where I'd like to hide everything ever penned by Ayn Rand. If there is one thing I hate more than whiny libertarian characters, it's underage, endlessly noble, upperclass libertarian characters who believe in anarchocapitalistic revolution.

Seriously. The story was no great shakes. The protagonist bumped along, the sex interest was ideal in every way (she can fight! she can fuck! she believes in the ideals of open markets and hates taxation!), a few people died to make the reader feel that the economic revolution was justified, and so on. Blah blah blah. I got mine, screw you.

final thought: Not worth reading, not worth any further blogging about.