• [Book Browsing]

    It’s been roughly two weeks since I last reported on my recent excursions into literary lands.
    As per usual, despite the stresses of my world, I’ve been busy at the books again. While I may have made a mistake of starting again on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon on my handheld, I don’t need to concern myself with it anymore because I’ve finished. I did, as usual, enjoy it immensely, although it did seem to drag somewhat in the last third. The first two-thirds, however, more than makes up for any lack I might perceive in bringing the long, winding story to an end.

    I was so inspired that I went on to start a collection of Zimmer’s short stories entitled The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley, of which I read about 56%. The stories are OK, but I sort of lost interest and instead picked up The Ruins of Isis which I had never read before. I found the premise of this somewhat intruiguing. Isis is a planet excluded from a galactic coalition of planets due to its policies in the treatment of men. On Isis, all men are owned and are believed genetically inferior to women, so they are relegated to labour positions and glorified household pets. A male scholar is offered the chance to visit the plan to do some archeological work, but he is forced to have his wife, an anthropologist, pretend to be the distinguished archeological scholar and he is her assistant. This, of course galls him, especially as he comes from a world itself only recently admitted to the coadunate due to its slightly less than equal treatment of women. Explore the themes of men and women and how their roles affect the societies that they build, both on the macro level of the family and on the city or planetary level. The story is a decent twist on the familiar male fantasy fiction we have all encountered, but not Nebula or Hugo material.

    Also on my handheld, I have gone back to exploring my Canadian roots by picking starting to pick through first a collection of Spider Robinson short stories in the anthology By Any Other Name). I have perhaps read about half of that. The most compelling notion that occurs in that collection is the idea of a psychotropic truth drug which gives people who take it together a kind of primitive intimate telepathy. This drug appears in a few of the short stories, including one detailing the consequences of people and societies being completely truthful with one another. Is a truthful society a safe and happy society, a kinder, gentler place? Perhaps it is. At any rate, it is a very interesting idea. Although I did not finish the short stories, I moved on to a full novel, also by Spider Robinson, Callahan’s Lady. The protagonist of this story seems to be a streetwise prostitute who has just lucked out by falling into the hands of the mistress of a very high-class establishment who does not want her to entertain the clientele. Why has she been saved and what does the “Lady” of the “House” have in mind? Is this “Lady” Callahan’s Lady, as referred to in the title? Time till tell, as the story continues to capture my attention. I believe this is one of many Callahan stories that Robinson has penned, although I have yet to read any of the others.

    My print collection has not been neglected either. I started and finished World of Wonders, the last in Canadian Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. After the slog that was The Manticore, World of Wonders was a breath of fresh air and so neatly tied together so many of the main characters, mostly in ways I would not have guessed should you have happened to ask me when I started the series. Most of World of Wonders ties together the previously missing and unknown years of the great magician Magnus. From running off with the circus, to the sleazy streets of London, and back to Canada, it’s a carnival of fascinating detail and sketches of people and places. Of the three books in the set, I have to say that this is my favourite.

    I followed the Davies up with Robert Harris’s Pompeii: A Novel, a historical novel covering the few days leading up the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius near Pompeii, Italy. This was utterly fascinating. The story is tied together by the Aqua Augusta, a very large, very long aqueduct that fed Pompeii and 8 other cities around the area. The main character is an aquarius, a Roman aqueduct engineer, who discovers the secret of Vesuvius too late, after the aqueduct matrix has been compromised and the supply of water cut off to most of the cities. There’s historical fact, intrigue, lust, and nifty tidbits. I could barely bring myself to put it down and finished it off in two relatively quick sessions. If you are interested in historical fiction or have an interest in the works of the Romans or life of Romans, slaves and freed persons, I definitely recommend it as something of interest to read.

    I am just starting the last book I have in Christian Jacq’s Ramses series: Ramses: Under the Western Acacia. This is the fifth in the set and there is more intrigue, Egyptology, gods, men, and traitors in the two lands of Egypt, but nothing to write home about. I guess not every book can be award-winning. There is nothing wrong with the series, mind you. It is a pleasant enough read, but mostly mind candy for me, even though it is also historical fiction. I found Harris’s Pompeii much more meaty and historically interesting than the Ramses books.

    Finally, from Audible, I have finished listening to the unabridged version of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. One thing I did not remember from my previous reads is one of the characters asserting that children should be raised just like puppies: with plenty of discipline and rubbing their noses in their mistakes to make them remember not to do it again. I had to wonder if that is not a fallacious analogy: dogs are not believed to be reasoning beings on the same level as even human children. That is, humans inherently believe that they are better than animals because they have the ability to reason. So, if we have the ability to reason, do we need to be trained the same way as puppies with corporal punishment to bring the lesson home? This and other Heinlein extremist philosophies at 11, but I do keep going back, so there must be something appealing there.

    Also from Audible, I am about halfway through the unabridged Timeline by Michael Crichton. I did not read the original novel or see the movie, but I am utterly fascinated and cannot seem to stop myself from wandering around crooning, “Quantum foam makes me roam!” If you are a fan of the multiple universe theory and want to hear some cool, cutting physics linking quantum states and wormholes to travelling through locations in different universes, this is a great read, plus some knowledge about how to do more modern archeological digs to boot. The narrator in the audio edition is definitely making this very pleasurable. A bad narrator can completely ruin an otherwise good story (try Transit of Earth read by Arthur C. Clarke, for example), but there are no worries here if you are looking for a decent audio listen for exercising or driving.

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