You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2008.
I called the Irish embassy in Canberra today to enquire about applying for Irish citizenship through descent, only to find that they knock off at 12:45 PM. How… appropriate.
5. Making Money by Terry Pratchett (2007) 349 p.
Every year Pratchett writes a book, and every year I get it for Christmas and then read it while I’m camping. It’s like seeing an old friend again. Making Money continues the adventures of one of his most recently-introduced characters, Moist von Lipwig, a conman-turned-entrepreneur who was responsible for re-establishing the Ankh-Morpork Post Office in previous novel Going Postal. In Making Money, he is appointed head of both the city’s largest bank and the royal mint, and oversees a switch from gold standard to fiat currency (I had to look both those words up).
It’s not really Pratchett’s best work, largely because it lacked the dramatic climax most other Discworld books have. This is one of my favourite aspects about the Discworld series; while the books are satirical, usually zany and always funny, they also have serious plots underpinning them, which always come to a head in matters of life and death (most noticeable in the City Watch books). Much like the average sitcom, they reflect real life – or perhaps my own view of life – in a far more accurate way than stories that are purely drama: amusing and funny most of the time, sobering up into seriousness when the situation demands. While still present to a degree in Making Money, this trend is still diminished somewhat, and the conclusion was disappointingly abrupt.
Nonetheless, even when Pratchett’s major plot is weak his writing remains excellent, brimming with awful puns and dry observations on every aspect of society. Perhaps I’m just prejudiced against his fresher characters.
4. Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein (1974) 607 p.
I had high hopes for this book. I’ve read a few of Heinlein’s juveniles, and he’s by far my favourite of the Big Three sci-fi authors. This was my first exposure to his more serious work, and his politics.
Frankly, I didn’t care for it. The book focuses on the life of Lazarus Long, a two-thousand year old man (born in 1912; there’s that optimism about the technology curve again) who relates stories from all over his life, throwing in his “wisdom” along the way. Some of these stories are interesting, such as Lazarus’ experience in freeing two slaves and then teaching them to live in the real world. Others are not, such as Lazarus’ time-travelling escapades to 1917 where he does little more than tell his mother how much he wants to fuck her.
Sex features quite heavily in this book. Heinlein tells us that love is much more than sex, and then proceeds to have his characters involved in constant orgies – in the bad, socially conservative, tell-don’t-show kind of way. The main character alone has sex with several of his descendants, his mother, his adopted daughter and even himself cloned into a woman. The general idea seems to be that everyone should have sex with everyone all the time (even family members!) because sex is great fun! Don’t worry about the emotions that would get in the way of such a complicated network of sexual relations, like jealous! It’s all about being free!
The messages the book promotes are so weird and conflicting that they overshadow the (bland) story entirely. Despite Heinlein’s attitude towards SEX ALL DAY EVERY DAY, other aspects of the book are firmly entrenched in the social mores of the mid-20th century, particularly regarding women. I counted at least four female characters who insisted that Lazarus simply must leave a child in them, and many other female characters seem to be idiots who fluster around, getting in the way, reliant on a big strong man to show them how to do things properly. Observe:
Dora wanted to stop drinking when her husband did. He said to her: “Listen to me, you stupid little tart, you’re pregnant. Understand me? Or will it take a fat lip to convince you? I held out four litres when we served the mules; you saw me.”
“I don’t need four litres, Woodrow.”
“Shut up. That’s for you, the nanny goat, and the chickens. And the cats – cats don’t take much. Dorable, that much water means nothing split among sixteen mules, but it will go a long way among you small fry.”
Reading that out of context, it seems as though you’re supposed to disagree with the husband. If only.
And this is to say nothing of Heinlein’s politics. Besides the somewhat disagreeable notion of space colonists living the ideal libertarian life by raping and pillaging the unspoiled planets of the galaxy, Heinlein has curious ideas about independence. This is a man who claims that “those who refuse to support and defend a state have no right to protection by that state” (p. 363, New English Library edition) yet also believes that “TAXES ARE EVIL YOU FUCKING NARCS” (not a direct quote, but that’s the gist of it), a clear contradiction.
On the whole, I think I’ll stick with his more light-hearted juveniles from now on.
3. The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson (1985) 351 p.
Set about a thousand years in the future, this space opera follows the story of famous musician Johannes Wright as he embarks on a grand tour of the solar system, progressing from Pluto to Mercury and beset along the way by sabotage and assassination attempts by a mysterious cult known as “the Greys.”
This book was obviously a breeding ground for ideas Robinson later used in his more famous Mars Trilogy, but it also stands on its own as a cool little novel that works with a number of different themes. As usual with Robinson, advanced scientific theories rear their ugly heads (even in discussions about music), but you can hardly fault him for being true to the genre’s name. Personally I found the most interesting parts to revolve around the character of Dent Ios, a journalist who falls in with the tour and later aids the chief of security in unravelling the mystery surrounding the Greys, despite his inexperience and incompetence. The ending also came to a rather… cinematic climax, which pandered to my tastes perfectly well. Overall, probably my favourite read so far, even though The Road is objectively far superior.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) 307 p.
This overwhelmingly bleak and depressing book by Cormac McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. It follows the story of a father and son travelling across the south-eastern United States many years after some cataclysmic disaster (implied to be a meteor strike that resulted in an impact winter). The trees are dead, fires have swept across the countryside, and clouds of grey ash blot out the sun. There is little food to be found, and most other humans they come into contact with are savage cannibals and rapists.
While it may rival Nevil Chute’s On The Beach for conveying a mood of utter despair, there are moments of lightness to be found; the father occasionally recalls happy memories from times before the strike, though he berates himself for doing so, and the resolution of the book is heartening. Similarly, although the nightmarish hellscape the pair travel through would appear to be devoid of any beauty, McCarthy still achieves a sad kind of poetic description. And the relationship between the father and son can be, at times, heart-wrenching. By far the best line of the book is when they finally arrive at the ocean, and as they stare at it, the father says,
“I’m sorry it’s not blue.”
Not like that, of course, since The Road doesn’t use quotation marks, which was one of two things that irked me. The other was that it got somewhat repetitive after a while; McCarthy probably could have cut 100 pages from this and had the same effect. But then, who am I to tell a Pulitzer-winner how to write?
(Read a lot while I was camping, which is why these are all clumped together.)
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (1968) 256 p.
Arthur C. Clarke has never been my favourite science fiction author, and I think the book is overshadowed by its more famous cinematic counterpart (which I haven’t seen). The book and film were co-written, so neither can claim seniority over the other, and frankly I expect the film would surpass this rather unremarkable book in every way. For the most part it was amusing just to read how starry-eyed and optimistic Clarke was about the future, which is also somewhat depressing, since he probably would have been right if the Soviet Union hadn’t thrown in the towel on the space race and gone off to sulk in a corner.