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text 2017-08-15 11:44
Reading progress update: I've read 8 out of 1100 pages.
Ursula K. Le Guin: Hainish Novels and St... Ursula K. Le Guin: Hainish Novels and Stories, Vol. 1: Rocannon's World / Planet of Exile / City of Illusions / The Left Hand of Darkness / The Dispossessed / Stories (The Library of America) - Brian Attebery,Ursula K. Le Guin

Rocannon's World.

 

The first Library of America volume of Le Guin collected all the works about Orsinia. The next two collect all the Hainish works. Earthsea next?

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review 2017-08-15 03:00
Nod - Adrian Barnes

Paul is a writer of small, erudite little books on etymology that sell just enough to get him a contract to write another. His partner Tanya makes most of the money at her 'real job' and does her best to get him interested in other people and life outside of the apartment.

One morning Paul wakes up from an unsettling dream to hear from Tanya that she hadn't slept at all. It soon comes out that almost no one can fall asleep anymore. The world rapidly falls apart after that. The news, before going black, informs Paul that in a week everyone will be insane and in a month they'll all be dead.

Nod has a great premise, and the structure, going day by day into the increasing madness of the world, was effective. Paul is set on a bizarre path and the narrative is completely his. That is where my problems with the book begin and end: the scope was too small. Limited to Paul's perspective you get insight into 'Nod' and a few others of the mad micro-societies that spring up as the world descends into madness.

I wanted an omniscient narrator to look over this strange, new world and, frankly, would have liked a little more insight into the last stages of the book. Paul is just one person and he's aware of just how limited his perspective is. Barnes consciously made the choice to frame this story the way he did, so I respect it was how he wanted it told. So these 'limitations' shouldn't have effected how much I enjoyed the book, but they did.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-08-13 17:04
The Birthday of the World, Ursula Le Guin
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories - Ursula K. Le Guin

Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Sooooo goooooood!

 

When I learned that Le Guin's father was an anthropologist it explained a huge amount to me. Her SF "what ifs" aren't much along the lines of "what if there was magic goo that could make and fix everything?" or "what if aliens built an interstellar subway system then disappeared?" They are more along the lines of, "what if the female:male ration was 1:16 instead of 1:1?" or "what if most people were bi-sexual, with a minority of heterosexuals?" or "what would the religion of people on a generation ship be like?" or "what if everybody was an introvert?" Not much about technology, a lot about society.

 

All of these stories are excellent. In my experience it's unusual for the standard of a short collection to be so uniform (and high).

 

Serious spoilers for one story ahead.

 

The one that I want to discuss is the novella, Paradises Lost. It's a generation ship tale, putting it square in the mainstream of SF and inviting comparison with all the other such tales there have been over the decades. Earth's major religions are represented upon launch but five generations in, they have faded away, shorn of their context and therefore relevance and supporting societies. However, a new religion arises that threatens the mission, because it suggests that only the ship is real and it's Heaven.

Le Guin seems to be saying that religion is an invention that en mass humans can't do without and that it fulfills some kind of psychological need to explain and make bearable one's circumstances - and that just as inevitably people will opportunistically use it to try to gain power over others.

 

In Le Guin's made up situation, the fictional religion gives greater meaning to the lives of people who's function is merely to produce the next generation and keep them alive for an event they will either be too old or too dead to fully participate in themselves (arrival at the Destination). That meaning is that the journey is the genuinely important thing and actually arrival is undesirable.

 

To have validity, this theory must apply to real religions. I can figure it out with regard to Christianity. It's the religion of the poor and oppressed: never mind your poverty and powerlessness in this life, in the next, eternal one, you will be rewarded with endless bliss in Heaven while your rich oppressors are eternally punished in Hell. The pantheistic "spirit of place" religions such as that of the pagan Celts or of Japanese Shinto also make sense in the contexts in which they arose - an apparently incomprehensible and capricious world. Every place, every thing and every type of thing must have a controlling spirit that, whilst wilful and unpredictable can at least be negotiated with - here's my offering, please don't harm me. It seems less obvious to me regarding other religions, which might just be a reflection of my lack of knowledge. Why did Islam deviate from Christianity? What changed circumstance or new need did it satisfy? I don't know. But, to come full circle, this theory seems a very anthropological one.

 

Great stories - read them.

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review 2017-08-13 11:44
Blood Bank by Tanya Huff
Blood Bank - Tanya Huff

An entertaining collection of short stories in the Vicki Nelson series. Each story is just as good as a full sized novel.

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review 2017-08-13 09:18
Progressive Rock SF: "Devices and Desires" by K. J. Parker
Devices and Desires - K.J. Parker

When Tom Holt uses his K. J. Parker heteronym, at his best, is a very good genre writer: which is not to say that genre writers can't be as good as (if not better than) their literary counterparts - but they have not been taken as seriously, which is true even now. I must admit I found Gene Wolfe's work to be good too, rather than something to be proselytised for, or raved about. Moorcock's essay "Epic Pooh" is a good analysis in some respects (though perhaps influenced by Terry Eagleton et al, and Marxist Lit-Crit in general) and admits the fact the LOTR writing is at least accomplished. Of Moorcock's work "The Dancers at the End of Time" series is both funny and readable and "The Condition of Muzak" to me seems still his best. Folk finding Peake to be overwritten just proves what sort of literary world we now inhabit: Orwell's plain English has come back to bite us on our collective arse, and we can no longer cope with sentences with sub clauses, or paragraphs full of metaphor via elision. Oh, well. It's just that when folk write stuff like "The Book of the New Sun" is the best fantasy ever written, I must assume that they haven't read much to compare it to, genre fantasy or otherwise.  No doubt all shall be well in the ground of our beseeching, if that's the phrase I'm stretching for. 

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

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