Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last night, I blew through a silly Harlequin romance novel (and I use that word lightly) in about an hour, so I admit, I am loathe to count it towards my tally. Not only was it very short, but I also wasn't reading it very closely, more like... scanning the pages. And no, I wasn't rushing to the sex scenes, I kinda scanned through those too.

So, why did I bother reading it? Because Nat lent it to me, it was on my bedside table and I was too lazy to get out of my nice, warm, cozy bed to get the actual book I'm reading, which was in my purse in the living room. Yup, I'm THAT lazy :)

Therefore, A Night With the Boss, written by Natalie Somebodyorother (sorry, forgot her last name) will be book 7.5 for the year. Heh.

It's your basic Harlequin, girl meets boy, girl has all sorts of reasons not to be with boy, they end up together anyway, break up for awhile and (here's the twist!) girl ends up pregnant, but they plan to get married at the end and live happily ever after. Nothing ground breaking or earth shattering happening here.

I admit, it did amuse me on the level that, well, I also dated someone I worked with. No, not my boss, but still, I did find some... universal similarties in the whole idea of inter-office dating. The keeping it low key thing, the whole trying to avoid the office gossip but knowing full well people are talking anyway thing, yeah, we had all that too. And yes, I did end up marrying my workplace romance, and we are living happily ever after. Heh.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Book 7 is The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. This is the first novel of her's that I've read, previously I've only been exposed to her short stories, and this only came about because I loved Brokeback Mountain so much, which was in her Close Range collection of short stories. So, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a full-length novel of hers.

The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994, so obviously some people thought it was a good book. And they are right, for I did enjoy it. I've often thought Proulx to be an American version of Alice Munro, another author whose short stories I really enjoy. Both are excellent at conveying a very set time and space, both portray small town life and all the quirks of character and life that go with it, and both have an... off-kilter style of writing that can sometimes leave you feeling... almost uncomfortable. But anyway, I bring Alice Munro up here as a comparison simply because she sets her stories in small town Canada (usually Ontario), whereas most of Proulx's stories I've read use Wyoming as a backdrop. But with the Shipping News, Proulx journeys to Canada as well.

The novel is set (mostly) in a small fishing village in Newfoundland. It is very much a 'fish out of water' tale, the main character, a rather pathetic individual named Quoyle, is taken advantage by pretty much everyone in his life. He doesn't have the best relationship with his family (his parents don't seem to really support him much, and the brother sounds abusive in that way siblings can be), he is repeatedly hired and fired from his job at a local newspaper, and his wife makes no secret of cheating on him and basically abandoning him to look after their two little girls, whom Quoyle dotes on. Problem is, he also dotes on his nasty wife, whom he always thinks will calm down and return the burning love he has for her. It's all quite sad really.

But Quoyle's life begins to change when his parents participate in a sucide pact (father loses his job and they have no savings), his horrible wife dies in a car accident (after kidnapping the two girls and selling them to a pedophile for a few grand) and Quoyle's tough old bird aunt arrives in his life and convinces him to accompany her to their family's ancestral home in Newfoundland. Acquring a job there in record time and realizing that there is nothing for him in the States, he agrees.

Slowly but surely, Quoyle does put his life together. He becomes good at his job (writing the Shipping News column for the local paper), his parenting skills are actually quite good, he is accepted by the town (he actually has a group of friends) and he slowly, but surely finds love with townie Wavey, whose treatment by her husband sounds rather reminiscent of Quoyle's treatment by his wife.

Proulx does a great job of portraying Newfoundland. She doesn't shy away from the social problems of living there, the lack of jobs due to government mishandling of our fisheries resources, the sexual abuse (this story was written not long after the Mount Cashel Orphanage story was already well known across Canada) and just the hardships associated with living on the Rock.

It's a hard place to live all right, constant storms, not a lot of arrable land, the fish stock so many of them depended upon pretty much depleted, and it would be easy to see that these people might be depressed or hopeless, but they're not. They're resourceful and they're pretty darn happy overall, and pretty fiercly devoted to their way of life. Its not a stubborn devotion either, but one fueled by love.

This book actually has a happy ending. Which kinda suprised me as so mahy of Proulx's short stories, well, they end badly. But here, things started badly and ended well, with a lot of weirdness on the way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Books 5 and 6 this year are also by John Varley, the continuation of the Titan series, Wizard and Demon.

I enjoyed these books obviously enough to continue reading them, but they weren't... great.

In Wizard, we continue the story of earth-born astronaut, Cirroco Jones, and her sidekick, Gaby Plauget, about 100 years after the events of Titan. Cirroco is well-established in her role as Gaea's Wizard, basically being more of the public face of Gaea's 'rule' amongst the people of Gaea. Cirroco's most important, and soul-sucking, role though, is that she is the arbitrator of who amongst the Titanides are allowed to breed. In order to keep the Titanide population under some form of control (as they have no natural predators, they would quickly overrun Gaea if they were allowed to breed unchecked. So, every year or so, the Titanides hold elaborate 'Carnivals', where they all present Cirroco with their breeding plans (Titanide genetics are extremely complicated given that Titanides have both male and female genetalia, and Varley seems inordiantely pleased to explain just how complicated this whole thing is) and she decides who's breeding plan will produce the strongest offspring, and these pairings (or quartets or whathave you) are rewarded with a 'fertilized' egg. But the weight of having an entire species depend upon her for their existence has taken its toll on Cirroco, and she spends much of her time drunk so as not to have to deal with the pain she causes most of the race in denying them their right to procreate.

So this is the state that two newcomers to Gaea, Chris Major and Robin, find Cirroco in when they arrive. Both Chris and Robin have come to Gaea to be cured of their mental afflictions. Chris seems to be a bit schizophrenic, he has episodes where he can't remember what he did, but basically, during these episodes, he looses all his inhibitions and can become rather dangerous. Robin, a young woman from an all lesbian outpost called the Coven that is in Earth orbit, seems to have a severe case of epliepsy. Both of them have an audience with Gaea, where she basically tells them that she will cure them, but they have to do something 'heroic' first. Gaea only rewards heroes.

Chris and Robin set off on an epic journey with Cirroco and Gaby to basically circumnavigate Gaea, as Cirroco, in her duties as Wizard, must touch base now and then with Gaea's 'sub-ordinate' brains, one governor for each region. Some of these regional brains are now openly hostile to Gaea (the one called Oceanus having led a rebellion against Gaea some eons ago), while others are allies of Gaea, and some are just insane at this point. But Cirroco must visit them all, and it turns out they are being visited for another reason as well, Cirroco and Gaby are thinking about instituting their own rebellion and would like Chris and Robin to be a part of it.

So, its basically another epic journey where we learn more about Gaea (specifically her regional brains), meet some new Gaean creations (buzz-bombs, which are like organic, WWII fighter planes) and are given yet more insight into Titanide sexual practices, including human-titanide relations. Also along the way, a main character is killed and Cirroco resigns her position as Wizard, killing Gaea's 'earth mother' incarnation of herself.

Book three in the series, Demon starts on Earth, where a particularly vicious nuclear war is raging, killing most of the Earth's population and rendering the planet pretty uninhabitable. No one really knows how or why the War began, but it doesn't really show any signs of stopping. We meet Conal, a young Canadian who is going to Gaea for one purpose; to kill Cirroco Jones.

He doesn't manage to do this of course, in fact, he finds Cirroco fairly quickly, but she gets the best of him, and after a round of 'torture', she also wins his undying loyalty. Cirroco is no longer the Wizard of Gaea, she is now in fact Gaea's sworn enemy, and given how insane and senile Gaea's acting of late, this is probably a good move. Gaea has become obsessed with movie making and watching Earth movies. She has adopted, as her latest incarnation, the form of a 50ft tall Marilyn Monroe, sexy and frightening at the same time. She has created countless new creatures all for the purpose of making movies. She doesn't seem to care about anything else. Cirroco knows Gaea must be removed.

Rejoining us again is Robin, this time with her two children in tow; Nova, 19 and Adam, 18 months old. Both are basically 'virgin' births, as Robin went back to the Coven, where everyone is a lesbian. But the fact that Adam is a boy is problematic and he (and Robin) are viewed as abominations. Knowing that Gaea is somehow responsible for both pregnancies, Robin returns to Gaea for some answers.
So basically, this novel deals a lot with sprituality, belief, free-will, and what to do when 'god' is insane. There is a lot of war in this novel, from the backdrop of the devestating nuclear war on Earth (discovered to have been manipulated by Gaea) to the overthrow of Gaea herself through Cirroco building herself an army of Earth refugees and Titanides, there is a bit of 'might makes right' questioning as well. But of course, there is a happy ending and Gaea is overthrown and basically a lot of questions are asked, but some are never answered, but that isn't annoying as you might think.

They're a good read overall, not too science fictiony for me and decent enough characters. Varley's internal consistency is well done though, he's obviously put a lot of thought into the world of Gaea, and it shows.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Book four! Whoohoo!

Book 4, which is Titan by John Varley, came about because, as I put it to my husband, "I've read all my Christmas books." This earned me a moment of disbelief, then an exasperated roll of the eyes, and then Titan and its sequels appeared on my bedside table.

These were books Graig purchased used, recommended by someone, but put aside by him as not really liking them too much, there was too much fantasy, not enough sci-fi for him, so he thought I might like them, seeing as how I like fantasy literature.

True enough, but upon reaching the end of it I smiled and said, "yeah, not bad, but there's too much sci-fi and not enough fantasy in it".

The gist of Titan is simple, group of astronauts are on mission to Saturn, discover something strange near one of Saturn's moons, are taken 'prisoner' on strange celestial object, discover it is an entire organic world/alien, make friends, have adventures and talk to 'god', or rather, the entity known as Gaea, the alien world itself.

The main character of this book is the Earth ship's captain, the oddly named Cirroco Jones. She's not a bad character, strong-willed, smart, not gorgeous, not infallible, she kind of puts in mind of the Ripley mold of space heroines. Jones and her crew all go through a lot upon their arrival on Gaea, some come through it ok, some not, and one completely looses her humanity.

The greatest discovery Jones and her crew makes though is of a race of natives called Titanides. They are pretty much like centaurs of Greek mythology, human heads and torsos attached to the torso and hindquarters of a horse. They are a friendly, complex people whose speech is all done in song, which is something Cirroco instinctively (she's not sure how) understands.

Cirroco and her remaining crew members settle in with the Titanides for awhile, but eventually, they are restless, not necessarily wanting to leave Gaea, but to get some questions answered, so, in undoubtedly what is the most fantasy like trope in this book, she and two companions go on a quest, a quest to come face to face with Gaea herself. This quest involves the extremely difficult journey up one of Gaea's support cables (think of a cable on a suspension bridge, except it would reach outerspace, and not just the top of the Golden Gate Bridge) to Gaea's central hub, basically on the roof of the world. Along they way are many trials and tribulations, suitable for an epic journey. In fact, once Cirroco and her remaining companion Gaby reach Gaea, Gaea is sufficiently impressed by Cirroco as to give her a job as Wizard to the world, basically Gaea's emissary amongst the people. Cirroco agrees (cue sequel).

Overall, its a pretty good book. Enough mystery and character development, but as I said, there is a little too much sci-fi in it for my liking. The descriptions of the ship and the structure of Gaea herself leave me a little uncertain, and after too much of the techo-babble, I start to tune it out.

There is a lot of frank talk about sex in this book. Not so much descriptive sex scenes or anything like that, but all the characters are comfortable with it, have it and think about it. Homosexuality is not presented as much of a taboo at all, and it is nice to read that Varley obviously thinks that society will be much more open minded in the future. However, there is also a double rape in the book, and that's the sort of (non)sexuality I can always do without.

So yeah, I did enjoy this enough to move onto the next book in the series, Wizard. Titan is nothing spectacular, but its a good quick read with enough going on to keep me interested.