Archive for May, 2011

What is this?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Non-fiction variety

Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Original Raidió Teilifís Éireann logo

Image via Wikipedia

I got into podcasts through the literary craft-friendly ones like Craftlit and Forgotten Classics, (both often referred to here) and I now seem to be downloading hours’ worth every day of many different types and topics.(Why no, I can’t really keep up!) It was actually Julie on Forgotten Classics (in the USA, ironically enough) who pointed out that RTE are podcasting their documentary archive, including old and new works. Having grown up in Ireland I appreciate the local references, and sometimes it’s good to be able to discuss programmes with my mother that she’s heard on the radio, but these are so very varied that anyone could find some to interest them.

Unfortunate ending

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cover of The Land of Painted Caves75. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

This is not going to be the only fairly negative review of this book out there. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it over the past few days who’s read it seems to agree that it’s very repetitive and disappointing. Personally I really can’t think of anything it even really adds to the story of Ayla‘s life that wasn’t to be expected from the end of the previous book. Admittedly I haven’t read The Shelters of Stone in about a decade, (ie I read it once shortly after it came out in 2002), but at the end of that book Ayla and Jondalar had made it back to his people after a long and unusual journey, had had their matrimonial and then the birth of their daughter, and they were settling down to stable positions within the 9th Cave of the Zelandonii, he as a master flint knapper, she as new acolyte (trainee) to the local high priestess. They missed the friends made along their journey, but didn’t expect to see any who didn’t come looking for them ever again. They were deeply in love, but as two very intense, talented and admired people from very different backgrounds were still capable of deep misunderstandings.

So the new book adds another six years to the tale, but I don’t personally think it includes anything not to be easily anticipated from that, except the rather bizarre implication that as a highly unusual and capable woman who’s fought against conventions she didn’t agree with all her life, Ayla is the one who’s going to eventually (over generations at least) and unintentionally turn a fairly equal matriarchy where jealousy is one of the worst crimes into a controlling  patriarchy.

My impression is that Auel felt she was shadowing the climax of The Mammoth Hunters, but it’s such a straight copying of the storyline that I was bored by it. Not quite so bored as by the constant repetition of all the verses of the Earth Mother song that I kept skipping. Realistically that should have appeared no more than once in the story text, with a brief refrain of a couple of lines some (but definitely not all) of the times, with perhaps the whole thing from start to finish put as an appendix at the beginning or end of the book. Were we supposed to be learning the thing by heart the way Ayla had to?

Basically this book was crying out for a good editor’s red pen (or equivalent) to just cut out vast swathes of the book, including some of the step-by-step paths through every painted cave the author ever got to visit/sent her characters to see, as well as the reminders of stuff that happened in earlier books that wasn’t relevant to this one at all. Obviously in any series where the reader may not be familiar with the previous volumes lately or at all there have to be reminders of things that happened before, but in my opinion these should be strictly limited to what is important to the events of the current work.

I kept reading to the end because I was really expecting all this to lead to something unexpected, and for me it really really didn’t. I simply feel that as a finale to the series this book added little or nothing, and wasn’t worth the nine-year wait.

Ever busier

Monday, 23 May 2011

We’re moving. And we’re planning a complicated holiday. And I have some real problems with the latest Jean Auel book, but I’m also reading it pretty solidly (I’m nearly finished it now). I’m listening to lots of podcasts while pumping, too. That’s when DD agrees to sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Awkwardness

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Something’s going wrong with the actual post, so will this publish?

ETA: It did, but now I need to sleep. Goodnight.

US strangeness

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cover of How I Came West74. How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

Fantastic. That kind of sums up how I feel about this collection of stories. Some of them really are just that good, others show features that decidedly belong in works of fantasy, and all 13 of them show great imagination. Issues of gender and/or sexuality come up in all of the stories, but these aren’t explicit tales; a worldly teenager shouldn’t be embarrassed by them. That’s about all I can say about all the stories at once, as they’re very varied. The character voice is very clear in each, even beyond the usually first-person narrator. Oh, and they’re all set in the modern US (hm, well one probably isn’t, but it isn’t clear that the narrator of that one really knows where within a continent she is anyhow).

This is a book I came across somewhat randomly, finding it in the BookMooch inventory of someone we were getting other books from at a time when we had points to spare (which we don’t now, but that’s a different issue) and I’m glad I took the chance on it. I think the first and title story is the most bizarre in its premise, but possibly the last story ‘Better Be Ready ‘Bout Half Past Eight’ is the best in my opinion. It tells a story from start to finish, and shows the characters coming to understand different perspectives on themselves and others.

More for the collection! :)

Friday, 20 May 2011
Cover of "Shakespeare's Planet"

Cover of Shakespeare's Planet

We finally got to the post office this morning, for the first time in a couple of weeks, to send off a couple of BookMooch items, and receive several more, plus a couple of much appreciated gifts from my mother. Nothing for the baby this time (although there is one children’s book, it’ll be a few years till she’d be ready for it), and a good few of them were DH’s choices (mostly classic science fiction) rather than mine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t read them even before he does…

    • The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. (My mother and I both read the first five books in this series in the 90s, so now that the last one is finally published she very kindly got me a copy. I don’t have copies of the others, but with that gap I presume Auel will remind us of any details we need to know. I do remember the basic story, and I’m sure the rest will come back to me.)
    • Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. (Both parents have recommended this as an interesting read, so I’m intrigued.)

    • Timescape by Gregory Benford. (One of DH’s choices whose back cover makes it sound like apocalyptic SF.)
    • Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner. (The second of the Boxcar Children Mysteries, as recommended by a couple of my lovely readers/commenters here, so I’ll try to get to this one relatively quickly.)
    • Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman. (I requested the entire set of Hillerman’s Chee/Leaphorn novels on BookMooch, so they’re gradually arriving. I may wait for the rest and then read them through in chronological order.)
    • The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman. (As above.)
    • Cover of The Lovely Bones

      Cover of The Lovely Bones

      The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (I never read this when it was so popular, but it did sound interesting, so we’ll see.)

    • Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak. (DH’s. I haven’t read any Simak yet.)
Cover of "The Planet Buyer (U.K.)"

Cover of The Planet Buyer (U.K.)

  • The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith. (As previous.)
  • Destiny Doll by Clifford D. Simak. (This too.)
  • The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. (And this.)

A moment too long

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cover of Moments73. Moments by Nachman Seltzer

I was enjoying this collection of stories, but wouldn’t have said I was really engrossed in any of them. Then I missed my stop on the bus this morning! This is a bit of a big deal, since it doesn’t stop again for about 15 minutes or so after my stop, and then the line ends and I have to wait for it to go back again. Instead of being at class precisely on time, I was 50 minutes late, which I really really hate!

So I did enjoy the stories – some more than others, of course – although I can’t yet speak as to how practically inspiring they’ll really be. (The basic theme was the difference a moment can make in a life.) I have the sequel too, as well as another collection by the author, so more should come through.

False expectations

Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Cover of 2001 hardcover edition

Image via Wikipedia

31. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

That’s basically what this book is about, and sums up what I previously knew of Le Guin’s work: practically nothing besides that she is well known for her fantasy writing.

In this classic of science fiction Le Guin really tackles issues of gender, stereotyping and cultural clashes. Genly Ai, our main narrator (although several chapters are by other major or minor characters, all in the form of official reports in one form or another) is the only alien on the planet known to outsiders as Winter, since it’s deep in an Ice Age, or locally as Gethen. He is openly there as the ambassador of the Ekumen, a loose federation of the known worlds with human-like life, and trying to negotiate the local etiquette and politics with particular difficulty because he just can’t get used to the fact that Winter’s natives are hermaphrodite, and spend most of their lives without gender. They are sexually active only cyclicly, and during any cycle may ‘turn’ either male or female. A temporary female who becomes pregnant will remain so until she has and then weans her child but will not necessarily be so again. Many Gethenians are mother to some of their children and father to others, with the distinction meaning little or nothing beyond infancy.

Genly knows intellectually that his constant instinctive attempts to assign male or female-ness to the people he meets are both useless and counter-productive, but even after some years there he can’t do it, and this will become just part of his downfall.

First published in 1969, the novel gets to openly discuss issues of gender, sexuality (including homosexuality and bisexuality), marriage and family relationships as well as those of culture clash and relative value. It took me awhile to get into the story (DH did not have that problem though) but it was definitely worth the read for simple enjoyment even beyond the thought-provocation. Recommended.

Excess

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Can a baby’s dress be too ruffly? I’m still working on the skirt of DD’s summer dress and trying to decide what I want it to look like and I’m not sure I’m mentally picturing my options correctly. I do like the pattern I’m making up, but may well find the second sample more shareable than the first…

Probably going (back) to sleep now, but I might put up a picture of it as is later.