Friday, September 9, 2011

this badland beyond my ken

Stuff I've been reading:

From Truth-Out: Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed: Let's Get Serious About Cultivating Creativity

From the Washington Post:  PAPA Festival highlights Christianity, anarchism and community spirit

From the blog Red-Letter Christians: Moving on the Block: What White People Can Do About Racism


Perdido Street Station, China Miéville: It's...fantastical. Weird. Bizarre. I read a review that says that one reads this book for the prose more than the plot. The prose is certainly kind of wonderful and voluptuous and a bit overwhelming--as is the world that Miéville builds. For example:

New Crobuzon was a city unconvinced by gravity....The city thrust upwards massively, as if inspired by those vast mountains to the west. Blistering square slabs of habitation ten, twenty, thirty storeys high punctuated the skyline. They burst into the air like fat fingers, like fists, like the stumps of limbs waving frantically above the swells of the lower houses (55).
Miéville weaves his story into this world, giving us flawed, sometimes despicable, characters. The main thrust of the plot is this: Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is a scientist who's something of a rogue. He is visited by a (half-bird, half-human) garuda, who has had his wings cut off as punishment for a crime. The garuda, Yagharek, enlists Isaac in his search to fly again, and in researching flight, Isaac accidentally unleashes a monster into the city. There's one main twist at the end that was surprising enough that I had to re-read it. Perdido Street Station is not a happy book. I wouldn't suggest it if you want something uplifting. But it's sure as hell worth reading.

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler: Butler sets this story in a dystopian United States, in which the government has fallen apart and people live in walled communities that protect them from the outside. The protagonist, Lauren Olamina, suffers from a condition called hyperempathy, in which she feels others' pain. She's been raised Baptist--her father is a pastor of sorts--but she develops her own religion called Earthseed, in which the principle tenet is "God is Change." When her community is destroyed, she leaves and starts a journey north, picking up people as she goes and trying to convert them to Earthseed. 

Dystopian fiction's gotten bigger these days--we can see that in books like The Hunger Games and The Road. Parable of the Sower was written a bit earlier (1993). There's a second book, Parable of the Talents, and Butler had been planning a third book, but she died before she could write it (which is a shame). Butler was a pioneer of science fiction, especially as she was one of the few African-American women writing in the field.

I just started Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. It's a bit of a departure from what I've been reading.

Anyway, bits and pieces, hints and guesses, all that. I am happy for the sunshine after a week of rain.


  1. love the blog links - thanks for the reading :)

  2. Glad you liked Perdido! I am definitely in a phase where I love my fiction to be weird or somehow transporting. Which isn't to say it needs to be fantasy, but the prose needs to be exceptional or the world-building, and preferably both. "The Name of the Rose" is not fantasy, but I love it on that level, and I still very much love Virginia Woolf and Joyce, even though their worlds are really rather mundane, they are both such avid prose experimenters that there is always something surprising to uncover.

    I can't remember if I asked this before, but have you read any of the comic series "The Unwritten"? It's by the creative team that did "Lucifer," and it's really fun, especially for literature geeks. It's not finished, but there are quite a few trade paperback collections of the initial issues already released.

    Also, have you read "The Magicians" by Levi Grossman? It's a little meandering at points, but it's basically Harry Potter with college students and a better-developed magic system meets Narnia viewed through the lens of theodicy. And it features the best wizarding duel I have ever read. There's a sequel called "The Magician King" that's supposed to be even better, but I haven't read it yet, and "The Magicians" certainly stands well enough on its own.

  3. I had mixed feelings about The Magicians. There were some beautifully written passages, some interesting magical speculations, much food for thought in the Fillory/Narnia sections.

    But Quentin Coldwater is a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist, as are most of his associates, and not in a way that I found particularly compelling either. The Fillory sections were, in the end, disappointing. And I hate-hate-hated the ending, which seemed to completely negate the entire point of the whole book.

    I haven't read The Magician King either, but I hear it spends a good deal time with a minor character from the first book who sounds much more interesting than Quentin and company, so we'll see.

    @Rebecca: if you like "transporting" fiction, have you read Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel? I found it completely immersing, so to speak, an intense experience of looking at the world through somebody else's eyes. Also, I'm currently raving over Madison Smartt Bell's Haitian trilogy, All Souls' Rising, Master of the Crossroads, The Stone That the Builder Refused. (Of course, it's understandable if you might not exactly want to be transported to Haiti during the revolution, but the worldbuilding effect is excellent if you can stand it.)

  4. Ack! More books for my already-long reading list!

    @Rebecca: I haven't read "The Unwritten." I read the first 6 books of "Lucifer" a while back.

    Wolf Hall is an experience.

  5. I haven't read Wolf Hall, but it's on my list of "to read very soon." I agree that Quentin Coldwater is unlikeable, but I didn't find him horribly off-putting; I tolerate a lot of unlikeability from my protagonists as long as I find that unlikeability "true." And now that I'm back at grad school hanging out with a lot of 22 year-olds again, I'm kinda forced to realize just how true Quentin and his associates are (to what they are, to what I was, at that age.)

    But I thought the ending was pitch-perfect; I don't think it un-did the rest of the book so much as tempered it--the world is not easily reduced to one or the other, and--well, I'd say what I thought it meant outright, which I thought was rather profound, but I can't seem to express it without spoilers. I guess we'll see if QC has indeed grown any in the next book, eh? And yes, I've heard the same thing about the Magician King, regarding the minor character from the first book, and it does seem quite intriguing.