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Time for some book reviews!

Her Fearful SymmetryI liked Her Fearful Symmetry quite a bit. It was unexpected in a lot of ways, constantly surprising me by going in directions I did not anticipate, and presenting me with complicated situations and emotions that challenged me to think about things differently. The turn towards darkness was so gradual that I didn't even notice it until all of a sudden I found myself in the midst of the horrifying stuff -- like when the sun starts to go down and it's late afternoon for what seems like hours, and then suddenly it's night.

The Favor of KingsWritten in 1912, The Favor of Kings is possibly the earliest novelization of the life of Anne Boleyn, ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII. Bradley's Anne is passionate and lively but also young and headstrong and proud. She initially enters into her relationship with Henry partly out of awe for THE KING! and partly out of a hot desire to revenge herself on those who have insulted and hurt her, seeing him as her path to power at court. She does so with a certain innocence about his character, without fully understanding the consequences, and once in she has no idea how to extricate herself. Once she has begun, she has no choice but to see it through. In this she is probably closer to the real Anne than many later incarnations, which attempt to turn her into either a scheming witch or a religious reformer. (As a side note, the author is the mother of noted science fiction author James Tiptree / Alice Sheldon.)

Tours of the Black ClockI think I liked Tours of the Black Clock, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- but I always felt as if the actual meaning was hidden just around the next corner. Or as if the true meaning had trickled out of the sentences just before I got there, leaving only enough shape to hint (or misdirect?) as to what was going on. Mulholland Drive meets Jorge Luis Borges meets The Guns of the South?

This is a story about...well, I'm not just sure. It's about Geli Raubal (but not the real one). It's about Dania, a woman who isn't Geli Raubal (except sort of, in someone else's head). It's about Banning Jainlight, who is in love with Dania (or maybe he just invents her). It's about Jainlight's pornographic stories about Dania (or maybe they're true stories of his love affair with her). It's about "the most evil man in the world," i.e. Hitler, who is obsessed with Jainlight's porn about Dania because in his head it's about Geli Raubal, (and who ends up a sad, pathetic, senile old man). It's about Marc, the son of Hitler and Dania, or maybe Jainlight and Dania, or maybe just Dania herself (or maybe he's fictional too).

All these people cross back and forth between realities, or maybe between reality and unreality, in a weird braiding of time and space. Some of them seem to have doppelgangers, or alternate versions of themselves, like Jainlight/Blaine, or Dania/Geli; sometimes their worlds intersect or bleed into one another; sometimes one is the other's dream. It's never clear what's real and what isn't. The most extreme example may be the silver buffalo, which you'd think pretty much have to be a metaphor since they come perpetually pouring out of a black cave and some people can't even see them, but yet they're substantial enough to trample Dania's mother to death in Africa and rampage through the streets of Davenhall Island off the coast of Washington state. Are they the hours and minutes of one reality pouring out into another?

But the book is also about love and hate and cruelty and pity and obsession and fear and loneliness and forgiveness and good and evil. The main character, Jainlight, refers to Hitler as the most evil man in the world, and about himself and occasionally the entire twentieth century as irredeemably evil, but I ended up thinking that this book is much more about the redemptive power of love/forgiveness, although it's sort of tucked into the corners of the story as it were. I don't know what Erickson's intent was, but I ended up feeling desperately sad for every single person in this story, even crazy senile pathetic old man Hitler.

If all of this makes it sound like the book is strange and puzzling and perhaps unsettling, that's good because it is. Don't let that stop you from reading it. But don't expect a straightforward narrative: it's more like a spiral or a double helix or one of those complicated Spirograph patterns.

(NB: I have to admit the metaphor of the "black clock" was entirely lost on me -- no idea what that was meant to be about. Why black? Why a clock? What is this about numbers falling? Why is Marc listening for ticking icebergs at the end??)



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