Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Old Goriot (1834)

Old Goriot (1834) by Balzac is a serial centering around a boarding house in contemporary (1834) Paris, and the fortunes of the mysterious fellow, Goriot.

In my edition, there were no chapter breaks. The whole work was a single piece.

The work is a serial, drifting between moralizing on one side and melodrama on the other. It's job was to hook you and keep you reading, and also to add in lots of extra words so that the author earns more money. The work is well padded for the story that it tells.

I found this period of Paris quite interesting, and now understand how middle-class midwest America could find such a tale shocking. The Parisians were entirely worldly, much to the shock of the Godly American, and the tale pursued this worldliness with aplomb, apologizing for nothing.

Although one co-worker called this an intellectual work, it's anything but intellectual. While there are bits that could be called intellectual, most of the work focused on the Parisian upper class, giving a voyeuristic view of the rich and famous to the Parisian masses, meanwhile tearing down those classes as self-centered, criminal, and no better than anyone else.

Most of all, this book is about unvarnished humanity, where hypocrisy rules and money is king. All together, I found this book an interesting travel in time and space.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Glorianna (1978)

Glorianna (1978) by Michael Moorcock is one of those novels that refuses to let itself get stuffed into a box, even though, by the end, you absolutely feel like stuffing it into a box. Often feeling more like a 1800's serial with its effusive narrative and idyllic pacing, the tale sits atop vicious powermongering and overly perfect villains. The tale demonstrates why fantasy should take a right turn off the browbeaten path and the hazards of taking such a direction.

(As a mild warning, here be rape culture. If you want, I can point out the page and paragraphs, but when you get there, you'll not need me to point out a thing.)

The novel earns its lauds through Moorcock's chops and literary ambitions, because where this narrative works, it works unwarrantedly well. The vast bulk of the violence of this novel takes place off stage, with the players aghast at the bloodshed. Indeed, I know of few fantasy novels so acutely aware of the humanity of all the characters, even the minor ones, so that when they die, they other characters both mourn and miss them.

I quite enjoyed the court itself, which wasn't merely all characters orbiting the Queen. Not only did the court function, but everyone in the court had a job,

Where this narrative fails, it fails in proportion to its ambitions. In many places, the narrative reaches a profuseness that demonstrates why we don't write like those wordy serials any more, where the text literally doesn't matter, providing no more than color. Likewise, the narrative often skims over developments should have been written out, instead summarizing what should have been interesting developments.

I suspect that the novel is operating on a level that I am too ill-educated to recognize, making me suspect that the whole things is a tragedy del arte, but with so many of the characters poorly formed, our view of the writer's vision is obscured by his own cleverness.

On the whole, I would compare this book to a wonderful looking building filled with frescoes and gilded furniture, but built ad hoc with shoddy materials. Walk through it, and the whole structure seems fabulous, but it's built on unsteady pillars and ill conceived hacks, that once identified, makes you wonder how the whole thing stands up in the first place. By all rights, this book should collapse under its own weight, and for many, I imagine that it does. For me, as story reach its final and happy conclusion, the entire tale imploded under its own weight.

I can't recommend the book unless you are particularly committed to reading it. It's a product of its time, leaping high, and landing on its face.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

If Wishes Were Horses (1998)

If Wishes Were Horses (1998) is a YA fantasy story by Anne McCaffrey. In the story, the Lord goes to war, and the Lady is left managing the valiant home front that could in a circa-1800's feeling English country.

The tale is fairly short and barely rises to the term novella, even if it is a stand-alone book.

The story advances very simply, with the precognitive Lady having the intelligence and resources to see her village through hard times. Meanwhile, the villagers don't seem very capable of taking care of themselves, nor of organizing, which annoyed me to no end.

There's nothing wrong with the tale, but nothing noteworthy either. It's a safe read, if a bit shallow.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Exchange of Gifts (1995)

An Exchange of Gifts (1995) by Anne McCaffey is a very sweet YA fantasy romance. My copy has illustrations by Pat Morrissey. In this short tale, a princess run away to live in the wood and pursue her true gift, gardening. The story itself is fairy tale like, existing out of time and space. The twists and turns prove simple and easy to follow. Forget realism.

There's nothing special about the story. I made the mistake of putting it down, so it stayed unfinished for a week. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with the tale, so once you get going, you'll roll through it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Coelura (1987)

The Coelura (1987) is a novella first published by Anne McCaffrey in 1983. The romance is a throwback to the pop SF of the 50's and 60's, with great regard to form and little regard to function. There's nothing amazing about the story, but it's an entertaining enough romance and an absolute representative gem of retro fiction. (Arguably, since Anne got her start with this sort of fiction, for her it isn't retro at all, just a little misplaced in era.)

Accompanying the story are some gorgeous ink drawing which capture the tenor of those simpler SF times. The future in these drawing is indeed futuristic, with a European opulence poured on top, to give an elegant, decadent, and skin tight feel.

Our heroine is harder to get than she looks. Our hero winds up the lucky man. Some La-La-La happens offscreen, and in the end, there's a happy ending. But you knew that because it's a romance.

If you feel like something retro and just a little decadent, check this one out.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Gift of Dragons (2002)


A Gift of Dragons (2002) collects together four Anne McCaffrey Pern short stories in a book aimed at the YA audience. The little hardback is well printed and bound nicely, making for a nice gift. One of the stories is new for the collection.

The stories pretty much unfold as you'd expect from a McCaffrey story. Bullies and egotists abound. So do dragons. The stories are all what they are, flowing well enough, twisting YA anxieties for all they are worth.

The new story in this volume centers around twins being searched, which triggers my anti-twin sentiments. (Since I'm a twin, I get to have anti-twin outrage and twin stereotypes.) The twins here, fraternal, look fairly alike and are inseparable. (Roll your eyes and sigh.)

Nothing here is fine literature, but they're perfectly good YA stories to keep a dragon lover occupied.