Friday, May 27, 2005

Olympos, Dan Simmons, and Winner of the National Book Award

HarperCollins First Look Books sent me an ARC of Olympos, by Dan Simmons, and it got to my house too late. They'd sent it at the beginning of May, but I didn't get it until the 17th, so I've only had 10 days to try and wade through it.
You honestly have to be an Olympian reader just to get through this huge tome of 688 pages. I found it rough going, and I like Greek Mythology!Simmons has taken the famed classic Greek characters and turned them on their respective ears here, with lots of sex, violence, swearing and behavior that, though somewhat in line with modern characters, seems a bit too much gore and horror with no moral payoff for archetypical people who seemed to have some good reasons for what they did in the original myths. On the other hand, techno-geeks who are very fond of long, technical explanations and fantasy sex with gods and goddesses will be all over this book. I can imagine tons of male teenage geeks who lament the loss of Star Trek and are bored with Stargate reruns will find this book breathtaking. It's the kind of book Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates would have enjoyed as teenagers. Unfortunately, I am a 45 year old woman who is not amused by an author having his way with Shakespeares Prospero (The Tempest is my favorite play) and turning him into a violent, ruthless man who kills at a whim. My guess is that Simmons enjoys being a world-maker and bringing the gods of mythology down a notch or two, just for fun. He certainly takes his readers knowledge of Greek myth for granted, which is refreshing, as I don't like being condescended to, and many authors, especially those who have technical backgrounds, write as if they are talking to a dim 10 year old.
I enjoyed Jincy Willett's "Winner of the National Book Award" a great deal more than Olympos.
"Winner" was funny, fascinating and a sister-story that didn't let the "bad" sister off the hook with little or no reprisals for her actions, as did Jennifer Weiners "In Her Shoes." Dorcas had a clear and strong voice, and was witty, ironic and way too kind to her nutty, slutty twin, Abigail. Though I am generally not fond of "victim lit" this book made sure everyone got what they deserved in the end, and Dorcas didn't flinch in her honest estimation of herself or the other characters. Plus, she's a librarian with an arched brow and a solid sense of self, which I appreciated.
I also just finished Tanith Lee's sequel to "The Silver Metal Lover," called "Metallic Love" and I was saddened to see how cynical and cruel Lee had turned, in making her characters give no quarter, and even turn ugly on her original protagonist, the wonderful Jane. No one comes out of the book unscathed, and all the lovely romantic and tender sentiments of the first novel are smashed and revealed to be nothing more than cheap tricks in this book. Shame on you, Ms. Lee, for taking a hopeful and lovely novel and smearing it with your bitter cynical vitriol.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse

"Archangel Protocol" by Lyda Morehouse impressed me because it was a combination of Syne Mitchells "Technogenesis" and Melissa Scotts book about the internal internet (I can't remember the title of the book, but it was written at least 10 years ago) with a bit of Vonnegut and Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" thrown in for good measure. There was also a bit of "The Handmaids Tale" by Margaret Atwood in the milieu of the book. And though I'd read this kind of book before, I was amazed she was able to take those books and make a fairly decent, tasty leftover stew of them.
Diedre McMannus was an interesting character right from the start, as an excommunicated cop who is contacted by Michael (an archangel in disguise) to try and rout a plot by false internet 'angels' to take political power and kill the opposing candidate.
Supposedly known as a "jezebel" I didn't see any real evidence of McMannus as someone who sleeps around...She seemed almost too good in that respect. But I liked her courage and her determination to take responsibility for her actions and decisions, whether she actually made them or was just accused of them. She had guts, and style, and was very real.
I enjoyed the way that Morehouse took archangel mythology and turned it on its ear by having the archangels be a Mafioso, a shark, a transvestite and an African sage. My only problem with them was that they seemed to be rather vague on their theology, and unable to present a strong view of their faith, when I would think that archangels would have dogma woven into the substance of their being. They are close to God, therefore they should be of perfect faith, as they don't really have "free will" as humans do.
I also enjoyed the "Mouse" character and his "page" and the way the internet was presented in such a lively manner...You could tell the author had read William Gibsons famed book on the future of the internet.
Using first person to write a tale is always a crapshoot, in my opinion. If not done right, it can appear quite amateurish. Morehouse started out sounding like an amateur, but managed to use dialogue to good effect, and with strong characters, kept the whole thing afloat until the end.
The end was rather abrupt, in the sense that we don't know what happened with McMannus and her beloved and their baby, but it did tie up everything else rather nicely. The authors liberal/Unitarian stance is very evident throughout the book, so if you're an evangelical republican/conservative, this book is not for you.
If I were to rate this book on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I'd rate it at 7.5.
I will be looking for Morehouses next work, and hoping that she is able to create another good tale in the religious/political milieu of "Archangel Protocol."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Books that moved me, In a Sunburned Country Review

I was recently asked on the bookworm message board of America Online if there were books that moved me or changed me as a person during my reading life.
I had to respond that there were too many such books to mention in one posting.
Of Mice and Men, To A God Unknown, Travels With Charley, all by John Steinbeck, all books that moved me in a profound way. But I was also moved by Shakespeares "The Tempest" and by Ray Bradbury's short stories (and by his book about writing the script for Moby Dick and filming in Ireland...can't remember the name, but it was a wonderful book). I also loved Helene Hanff's "Q's Legacy" and "Underfoot in Show Business" and Patricia McKillips "Winter Rose" and a childrens book called "The Crystal Child" by Barbara Wersba....there are so many books that gripped me emotionally or changed my life in some way. Wm Faulkners "The Unvanquished" made me want to be a writer, back when I was 10. Robert Heinleins "Glory Road" made me want to be an astronaut, and Ted Sturgeons "Godbody" made me realize that everyone experiences God in a different way. Lois McMaster Bujolds Miles Vorkosigan books made me realize that if you have a handicap, it can be an advantage, not a detraction from leading a great life. Steinbeck's works made me realize that writers can uplift and enoble the human spirit with prose that is art, because it makes you think, feel, see the world in a different way. Some of his books are like a prayer from humankind to the infinite. Some of McKillips books are like a poem from the heart of humanity to God.
At any rate, I finished the overly long "In a Sunburned Country" by fellow Iowan Bill Bryson, and though it was by turns funny and fascinating, it also had a few too many ribald moments that I felt were inappropriate. Bryson seemed immature and ridiculous when cursing or fuming, and his salacious take on "Walking Matilda" was just plain stupid. Grow up, Bill.
I also finished Marianne Williamsons "Everyday Grace" and I found myself feeling as if specifc paragraphs had been written with me in mind. Perhaps it was because I gave my two-week notice at the Mercer Island Reporter Friday, 5/7/05, but it seemed that after 8 years, I am ready to move on to another chapter in my life. And Williamson had several chapters about change, fear, leaving one job, one aspect of a life to find another waiting around the corner. I can't say that I agree with her idea that the ego or self is at fault for all the worlds ills, and for keeping us from closer communion with God the Almighty. I think that having a sense of self and belief in ones self is important to having a healthy mind and heart. I don't pretend that I am ready to be what she terms "a modern mystic" however, so perhaps I am just not ready to rise to a new level of consciousness....whatever.
I do agree that we humans need to work on our souls and be more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate when we can be. But it's way too idealistic and unrealistic to expect us all to give up striving to make a living and just live on the streets and starve, too. I don't think God is going to provide me with a steak dinner every day just for worshipping Him. I also agree with her idea that we need to pray and be grateful to God when we are not in crisis mode. That's something both my husband and I need to work on, in addition to our need to learn to live without fear. But those are long-term goals, and not things that can be accomplished overnight. I do think that we are deserving of miracles, and that there is an infinite realm of miracles and love, I am just a regular mortal with a tiny speck of the universe within me, however, so my ability to access that is limited, I believe. I must learn to pray with my whole heart and soul, with honesty always, and Williamson has some excellent guidance in that respect, and some sensible words on the fragility of life and time.
I am currently in the third chapter of a Lucille Ball biography called "Ball of Fire" by Stefan Kanfer. So far, it's quite entertaining, though he makes Ball sound like a bit of a head case.
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, like me, who seem to spend every Mothers Day taking care of not just their own children, but other peoples kids, too.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Another ARC, Fair Folk Review and What I'm Reading

I received notice today from HarperCollins that I've been selected to review "Olympos" by Dan Simmons. This will be my fourth ARC for HC, and I am looking forward to reading this particular SF author, who has garnered a lot of buzz since he published a best seller about two years ago.
I just finished "The Fair Folk" edited by Marvin Kaye, who co-wrote a book called "Winter Mind" that I read, and loved, back in the 70s. This was a good anthology of stories about Fairies, Elves, Brownies, Red Caps and other wee folk who have been known to wreak havoc on the lives of us muddy mortals. My favorite stories in the anthology were by two of my favorite fantasy authors, Tanith Lee and the fabulous Patricia McKillip. Lee's "Uous" is set in modern times, and puts quite a spin on the Cinderella story and the three-wishes myth, and "The Kelpie" by McKillip is marvelous storytelling that keeps you wondering up to the very end. It's also more of a modern spin on some old tales, but it's done in a very graceful fashion. One other standout is "Except the Queen" by Jane Yolen, which had Yolen's typically rich use of metaphor and language going for it, though I am not sure what Midori Snyder, who is the co-author, added to the mix. "An Embarrassment of Elves" was just that, goofy and embarrassing, and "Grace Notes" was a so-so story, not bad, just average. Kay added a precise little afterword about Fairy Folk, which was kind of him, though I do think he could have edited some of the stories down more (a couple were as long as a novella) and added further works by some other fantasy authors. I'm almost finished with fellow Iowan Bill Brysons comedic "In a Sunburned Country" about his travels through Australia, and I am hoping to get a copy of a book by Stephen King that is supposedly not frightening from the library soon. Meanwhile, I am also trying to read Tamora Pierces "Tricksters" the story of the daughter of Alanna the Lioness. Pierce writes great "coming of age" stories for pre-teen and teenage girls, but her world-building is hard to beat for any age reader.