Lots of Reading

24 June 2002

I'm not sick today. I mean, I wasn't sick yesterday, obviously, but today I'm really not sick. Spent yesterday taking it easy, some work on the Not The Moose and a lot of reading.

I finished The Eye in the Door. Good, good stuff. I think that in speculative fiction, we suffer from the Myth of the Cohesive Military. Misfit Finds His Place In The Unit -- that's a subplot or plot that seems to be almost required in SF and/or fantasy that deals with military groups. It was nice to see recognition that the military didn't erase all differences, or even make them unimportant. It was also nice to see someone deal with the idea that a society could be in legitimate internal conflict over the war it was waging, pre-Vietnam.

And Regeneration and The Eye in the Door were anti-war and/or pacifist without stacking the deck. That was my biggest complaint about The City Not Long After, was that it felt like the magic was there to prop up the philosophical system. By showing pacifism working under such purely fantastic conditions, I felt that the idea was undermined: "Look, if the city itself was able to be personified and help us disable the aggressors, we would win the day!" Yes, and if I could send everybody mean into a deep fairy slumber, we might live in happyland, but it's kind of a big if. Perhaps in that case Pat Murphy was meaning to say that the unexpected might happen if you committed yourself to your principles. But it seemed like the magic was entirely too much of a solution to me.

I understand why World War II and Vietnam are the prototypical wars in our culture right now, and it's very convenient that they are, to a lot of people, The Good War and The Bad War. Simple. (I honestly wonder if Korea would get more recognition if WWII and Vietnam weren't so neatly dividing up Good and Bad.) But I do wish that we saw more speculative stuff that wasn't simplistic one way or another. Characters in the same book who were people of goodwill and were in opposition to each other philosophically, and remained in opposition at the end of the book. It's another case of "if you really understood me, you'd agree with me" -- give the warmonger or the pacifist a transformative experience, and it will All Become Clear. Then they (and, one presumes, the reader) will swerve into agreement with the writer, the point will be made, and the utopia will be built one stone at a time.

I'm all for one stone at a time. I really am. But I am not at all convinced that a book that hands you the answer at the end, tied neatly with a bow, is the best way to do that. For one thing, it's much easier to reject a packaged answer whole, much easier to say, nope, sorry, doesn't work like that, and leave off the bits that might work like that, or that might make you think of how else it could work. For another thing, I think asking good questions leaves more room than having good answers that the author could be wrong and still do something good. And as "the author," I like that idea. I just wish I saw it more.

After I finished The Eye in the Door (which also had some funny bits, as if it needed to be better -- oh, and I should clarify that it's not speculative, it's just that I read a lot of spec stuff, as you all know, so that's why I was comparing it that way), I read Lost Languages. Argh. What a terrible horrible book. It was about deciphering ancient writing, but I have very little idea how much of it was accurate, because the author didn't seem to have much of a clue on the stuff I did know, modern Japanese writing. He was willing to say "Linear B has 47 characters," but either unwilling or unable to count up the hiragana to say how many there were. (This is not hard. It's not as though the Japanese go around making up new syllabic characters to trip Westerners up. I could sit down and mentally go down the list: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko.... I came up with 41 characters. His repeated phrase was "around 50.") He seemed not to know of the existence of katakana, and when he was discussing the evolution of forms and the Japanese writing system, he seemed totally ignorant of the development of the kana systems, even though it was a point on which both my Japanese I prof and my Japanese Lit prof felt comfortable lecturing. And they didn't claim to be experts on writing systems. He seemed to think that the kana were pulled from some orifice whole. Fabulous. So. If he's willing to go on about something where I know he's ignorant -- because it's not just that he omitted sections I thought belonged there, it's that he was vague or wrong -- how do I trust the information that's new to me? Answer being, I don't. I finished reading it anyway, with the thought that any of the stuff that looked interesting could send me off to verify it elsewhere, but none of it was really particularly inspirational. So.

So I read Kate Wilhelm's Seven Kinds of Death to get the taste out of my brain -- I found the two omnibus volumes of the Constance and Charlie mysteries when we were bookstoring, and that was the only one in the first volume I hadn't read. I enjoyed it, although it wasn't particularly special. And then I started in on Starlight 3, and I guess I'm disappointed. Not because it's been bad so far -- it hasn't. None of the stories have been bad, although a few of them have emphatically been Not My Thing. It's just that this anthology series gets such raves that I expected it to be better than reading a few issues of F&SF. The reputation ruined it for me, I think. Then stories like "Senator Bilbo" (which daringly attacks racism, conservatism, and The Lord of the Rings -- the latter of which no would-be-hip fantasy author has ever questioned) just make me roll my eyes all the more, because I have been instructed that they are The Best, Powerful, Original Stories. And I know, nobody is going to agree on all of what's The Best. It's just that I was hoping that it would seem to be some kind of cut above the magazine fare I usually read, and it doesn't seem to be.

The magazines I read are almost never labeled "BEST!" and the stories in them aren't, either. And that's good, because then I can enjoy and evaluate them for themselves, instead of constantly thinking about what is or isn't better.

I haven't read the Best anthologies much. They're on my list largely because it's easier than tracking down a dozen magazines from the last N years. But I fear the same problem will come into play there, too.

So. A lot of reading, a bit of writing, and I'm feeling much better now. The couch, however, is not. The couch now has a saggy side and a pokey side. Usually I sit smack in the middle, which avoids some of the problems, but as weeks go by, the problems with the couch become clearer. We need a new couch. Sigh. Or a futon or something. Any suggestions for location? We'll probably look at the futon place near us, and go back to Ikea, and...anybody? Bay Area people? Ideas?

Have a good Monday.

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