10/14/2013 by syrbal-labrys
(Yes, this is my escape from the news of impending shut-down, because the media coverage of happy Confederate flag carrying numb-nuts at the White House renders me too depressed to cope with reality.)It has been a long time since I caught up, I’ve been so busy/sick/busy…I spent all of yesterday cooking in various ways to catch up with what I should have done in September. I have a pile of journals on various topics on my desk awaiting a catch-up, too. But books—I have been reading, continuing my effort to see if I will finish what will add up to at least one per week in this “Fiction only” year. (As you know, I’ve cheated on that a couple times, and will discuss the latest deviance from fiction in a separate post tomorrow.)
#30 “A Darkness More Than Night” by Michael Connelly – I’ve never read this author before and likely won’t again. This mystery/thriller wasn’t that bad, it entertained but the cover “reviews” said this was his “most riveting thriller”. I wasn’t most riveted. He had an interesting plot that revolved around a series of murders based on a work of art by Hieronymous Bosch. It comes down to the worrying fact that the murderer is likely a cop — but WHICH cop, of course. I won’t ruin it for you, but I knew which cop. So yeah, not riveted. (Maybe being a former analyst gives me an unfair advantage?)
# 31 “Consider Phlebas” by Ian M. Banks – back to sci-fi soon as the library got my intra-library loans in, yay! Another of Banks’ “Culture” novels. This one was almost unrelievedly depressing, tho’ Banks flipped around and tells the tale at first from the viewpoint of enemies of the Culture. It is an excellent technique for overcoming the human habit of de-humanizing and demonizing the enemy. And just as you get acquainted and sympathetic to all the brilliantly drawn characters, he corpses everyone out worse than “Hamlet”. Damn!
#32 “Use of Weapons” by Iain M. Banks – another “Culture” novel, tho’ the last one gave me such pause. This one would be unpopular with the happy warrior mentalities. Banks showed off the ‘dirty tricks’ department of his imaginary space empire, “Special Circumstances” to a very unsympathetic degree having them force a reluctant agent into action in spite of his suffering from what sure resembles PTSD. It is rewarding that the agent, Zakalwe, hoists them upon their own petard: he was set to fail on purpose, but he succeeds!
#33 “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks -more “Culture” Special Circumstances hijinks. By this time, I’m wanting a break from nefarious CIA-on-steroidal-crack stories. No luck. Special Circumstances sets up a game player so they can blackmail him into a new-contact planet’s societal-involvment game that actually crowns the RULER. The alleged need is to halt a brutal, rapacious empire…but damn. I was really disliking the image of machine minds — ships and drones being all wise and knowing while people are decadent, self-involved and stupid. Machines instead of gods, yeehaw. Of course, that is Banks’ point — that to create ANYthing to do OUR work for us renders us into narcissistic asshats.
#34 “Excession” by Iain M. Banks – This was the least credible Culture novel for me. Possibly not for the usual reasons. As is often the case, his most engaging characters are the sentient ships’ minds, and in this novel, a group of them plot and plan to bring down a very objectionable species that goes by the given-by-others-insult name of “Affronters”. That falls in line with the usual kind of story Banks likes to tell us, and it has a fair share of the usual people being dipshits (his “ambassador” falling in love with what passes for culture among the Affronters, ewwww!), and the ships creating plans within plans and then wanting to run away from the reality thus created. The part that made me go “Oh, fuck are you NUTS?” Was a human female, pissed off at an ex-lover, who decides that rather than birthing the child they conceived together, will just STAY pregnant by the science/medical advances of the Culture because she is pissed off. Right. Hey, I’ve been pregnant (7 times) and I’ve been pissed off (uncountable times); NEVER would any pissativity have induced me to EXTEND a pregnancy FORTY years.
#35 “Look to Windward” by Iain M. Banks – my final Culture novel read. This one might be my favorite, but it so depresses me that I STILL can’t say for sure. It deals with post-war costs of armed conflict, and is so evocative of the horrors and miseries of war. It features the endlessly varied Special Circumstances mission that goes above and beyond in a cock-up that launches civil war in a stratified caste-world. And a religiously motivated sadistic revenge against a Culture “orbital” is barely stopped in time. His “Chel” denizens remind me of C.J. Cherryh’s “Chanur” novels, or even “Thundercats”. And his vision of the “Don’t fuck with the Culture” revenge is stunningly brutal. Kind of like, if the Mossad or Spetznatz had a space program/CIA cross-trained bunch!
#36 “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Atwood – This gripping novel of a woman’s life, from childhood onwards in the “boomer” generation revolves around a childhood wounding/scarring at the hands of three other girls. We never learn the complete motivation behind the cruelty, although one is goaded into cruelty in the name of religious orthodoxy. The three ‘mean’ girls are so fleshed out that the reader finds oneself dreading the re-appearance of the bitches! I used to think my own childhood as the “outsider” to be shunned or harassed in turn was an exception to the rule; this novel depressingly suggests that it WAS the rule!
#37 “Daughters of Copper Woman” by Anne Cameron — this book is folklore, and consists of updated and somewhat extended legends of the Amerindians of the Pacific Northwest and Canada. And the “Grannie” stories of “how it was” struck me as a pan-feminist dream of how it could/should/would be if only…if only. I enjoyed the book at first, then I read the latest news on rape and misery for women and was left with a profound mental hangover of wishing for what is not.
#38 “Without Mercy” by Lisa Jackson – this was an entertaining, but unsurprising mystery. A somewhat trite rejoining of high school sweethearts seeking a murderous plot at an elite school. The reader is supposed to think that the religious nutjobs running the school are the only villains and never see the ‘shocking’ conclusion coming. I won’t spoil it for any of you who want to seek secret societies in the plot, but again, the killer was precisely who I thought it was….blah!
#39 “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown. I swore I wouldn’t read this book, becuase Brown’s oh-so-chic-academic style really aggravates the hell out of me. Specially his entirely too frequent attempts to drop little “elite” bits into his stories to make it look “Cool”. Note to Mr. Brown: “pure beeswax candles” do NOT smoke unless some idiot made them with metal wicking, and if that is what your evil Sith-character was using, he was a moron. But I digress.
As usual, codes and ciphers and secret society crap (the Masons, this time) oh, and the CIA doing stuff on US soil that it has NO legal right to do, but post 9-11 sheeple go right along with it. Bah Humbug! All a plot allegedly deriving from the Founder’s Masonic roots, and the Bad Guy indeed gets his just desserts at the end; BUT then the book goes on and on and indeterminably ON. Apparently, in this one? Brown fell in love with his own research about the Masons and had to share alleged Masonic “Truths” with us all about how we are meant to all become gods. One part of me wants to say, “Well, that is a nicer ideal, than being ‘wretches’ that have to be saved,” as in that one hymn that makes me grind enamel off my teeth; but the other part of me reminds me that the alleged God hasn’t done THAT well either in terms of behavior. We need something better to emulate than the dominant paradigm, if you ask me.
#40 “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle STop CAfe” by Fannie Flagg – this one was re-read and is the ultimate how-you-wish-it-had-been book about the South, the Depression, love, revenge and anti-racism.
Maybe it is just me, but this, too left me depressed because of how it actually is instead. I still think making BBQ of abusive husbands is an admirable use of waste products…
#41 “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame – I was sure I had read this as a child, but reading it recently convinced me it is not the elusive childhood read I have been seeking. It is a rather charming early 20th century children’s book, all the same with animals in place of people. A vainglorious toad is the rich egomaniac, a mole and a rate are the sensible down-to-earth homebodies and a wise badger is the mentor in all things constant and blessed. My favorite part that would never make it into an American child’s book now?
The appearance of the Great God Pan/Cernunnos as the woodland deity that saves lost creatures and lets the memory of his intervention fade! It was very close to a numinous moment there, for me!
The other two books were a foray into non-fiction, and I will deal with those tomorrow…as they both inspired me and pissed me off.