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Post-vacation catch-up (I)

Tomorrow there will be pictures of lobsters and sailboats and osprey and swing bridges. Today, the first step in post-vacation catch-up: reviews of the books I read while away.

Mara and DannYou wouldn't think that anyone could make four-hundred-plus pages of trudging through dust and heat intriguing. And yet somehow Lessing does it. The very end was a bit of an anti-climax, and I didn't really find it credible that Certain People (who shall remain nameless to prevent spoilage) could successfully track Mara and Dann across an entire continent that's decaying into anarchy and chaos. But if you can look past those two points, it's an interesting take on a distant-future slow-motion environmental collapse.

Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the SexesThis is a funny, occasionally warm, sometimes biting, and in places rather horrifying satire on gender. In the world of Egalia's Daughters absolutely everything gender-related (except the actual act of giving birth) is reversed: females are in charge of the government, hold most of the important jobs, and make all the decisions for the family, while males stay home, curl their beards, gossip and raise the children. The reversal extends even to language itself: females are wom (sing.) and wim (pl.) while males are manwom (sing.) and menwim (pl.) -- since it was translated from the Norwegian, major kudos go to the translator for successfully retaining such nuances. Written in the late 1970s during the height of the feminist movement, its historical context is reflected in the story in the form of agitation for equal rights for menwim(!). While I expected story elements like menwim being "homemakers" and wim running the country, the story incorporates the entire spectrum of gender-related experiences, including rape and domestic abuse; in some cases it was downright startling to realize how, even today, society is less appalled by certain behaviors from men than they would be from women. The preceding 200+ pages do such a good job that the last chapter, which consists of the opening paragraphs of a novel the main character is writing about a fantasy world where men are in charge, actually seems weird. Definitely worth a read.

The Savage Tales of Solomon KaneAn energetic blending of the sword and sorcery of Michael Moorcock, the mysterious jungle cities of H. Rider Haggard, and the lonely -- possibly mad -- knight-errantry of Don Quixote, with a smattering of H.P. Lovecraft. Solomon Kane is an incarnation of the Eternal Hero; he doesn't remember where he came from, but he has occasional fleeting memories of a far-distant past in which he -- or some earlier incarnation of himself -- battled the Old Gods of fear and darkness as proto-humanity tried to free itself from their bloody grip. And like The Gunslinger (Stephen King's high opinion of Howard is quoted on the front cover), Solomon Kane doesn't know where he's going, only that he is bound to protect the innocent, battle evil, and go forward towards an unknown destiny. (There is, alas, a discomforting racist element to the stories set in Africa; one paragraph in particular is a paean to the Aryan race's strength, intelligence, military abilities, etc. Like Haggard, he was a product of his times, I guess.) That aside, these are tremendously fun adventure tales in the classic Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermaine style, with a dusting of morals/metaphysics. Evil is always defeated, the damsel is always rescued, and the good guy always wins. (Admittedly, sometimes the good guy is the only one who survives, but hey, he is the hero, right?)

The Three MusketeersI re-read this on vacation last week. I'd forgotten what fun it is :) Milady the thoroughly evil, a sort of 17th-century Black Widow; d'Artagnan so chivalrously romantic, falling in love at first sight; Porthos the lovably pompous goofball, gambling away his horse and inveigling a replacement from his wealthy little old lady; Athos, very obviously A Man With A Secret; Aramis so endearingly bipolar ("I'm going to be a priest...no, she loves me!...no, I'm going to be a priest..."). And oh, the melodrama, the desperate races against time to foil yet another plot, the swordfights and duels and feathered hats! What more could one ask?

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHBest rat-and-mouse story ever, bar none. I so much wish there was a sequel -- I want to know how they're doing in that valley. (And I don't care what anyone says, Justin isn't dead!)


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Jul. 23rd, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
I have to say that Stephen King's Dark Tower Series nearly made me go postal. Someone warned me not to read it, but after the third story, as surreal and frustrating as it was, I had to keep going. Through the vanity fic portion, and the part where he just went off the rails, I had to keep going. Through the death of every character I'd loved and mourned, I had to keep going. Even to the last chapter, where he warned us all NOT to read it, I had to keep going - it was the only reward I could give myself for suffering (and I mean, really, really suffering) through the thousand books of this series.

And the ending nearly made me deranged. I have never hated an author so much. I can't even applaud his genius. He killed something in me that day. I will never, never trust Stephen King again. Never. Uh uh, no way.

Jeez, Teddy, rant much?
Jul. 24th, 2013 12:22 am (UTC)
LOL! Yeah, I can understand your reaction -- I hated that certain characters were killed off, and the ending freaked me out. I couldn't decide if it was amazingly profound or a complete cop-out. On the other hand, I enjoyed/was fascinated by the world he created, enough so that I've re-read the series three times so far and will probably read it a few more. I feel like there's more there every time I go back to it. I keep hoping one of these times I'll "get" the ending :D
Jul. 23rd, 2013 04:03 am (UTC)
So good to know you enjoyed Egalia's Daughter. I'd read that over 20 years ago, but your review brought back so much of it. One of these days, I shall have to read The Three Musketeers...
Jul. 24th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
I did, very much -- thank you! It started off a little slow; the reversals were so blatantly in-your-face that it felt a little forced, like the author was beating you over the head with it, but somewhere about 25 pages in it all clicked and I was totally engrossed. It reminded me of listening to Shakespeare -- the language sounds really weird for about half an hour and then your ears and mind adjust and it sounds completely normal :) I loved Spinnerman Owlmoss, and that last chapter just finished it off so perfectly. I'll be reading it again.

My favorite Dumas is actually The Count of Monte Cristo. I just finished listening to it again on Librivox.
Jul. 26th, 2013 06:07 am (UTC)
It sounds like you had fun reading :)

I think you may have missed this wish from me Happy birthday
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