Sunday, May 17, 2020

Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is the second of three volumes of the "Annals of the Western Shore" series.  It begins several years after the end of Gifts, and starts with a new main character, Memer, a young nine-year old girl growing up in a town that was defeated by religious zealots some ten years earlier, now a place where books are banned and burned, and freedoms (especially for women) are unknown. After Memer turns seventeen, Orrec and his wife Gry (of Gifts) come to town to tell stories and perform. The town is rife for rebellion, and Memer helps to bring it about. Like Gifts, this volume is an extended meditation on power and responsibility.  Voices is a more substantial book that Gifts, and both are fine achievements even if they fall short of the majesty Le Guin created in her Earthsea volumes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is the first volume of a young adult trilogy that has the overall title "Annals of the Western Shore." It is a coming of age novel, about a young boy Orrec and his best friend Gry, a girl of the same age, who are both learning about their inherited "gifts"--certain magical powers that manifest along family lines. The book is also a meditation on power and its uses and abuses. It's a much softer work than Le Guin's deservedly acclaimed Wizard of Earthsea, but it's well-done and engaging. I look forward to the two remaining volumes.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys

It's really hard to believe that this book, published in 1960, could ever have been considered a great work of science fiction, but it has an entry as one in David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels (1985). The passage of time has not sat well on it. All the characters are manipulative and unpleasant people, shackled with the attitudes of the late 1950s. Worse, the characters are incompatible with the psychological drivel they spout at each other in long passages. Their expressed motivations actually do not fit their actions. And then there is the plot--most of which doesn't make any logical sense. Rogue Moon reads like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone, fleshed out a bit more into a cheezy novelization, but lacking in the zinger ending. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Recollections of Oscar Wilde, by Charles Ricketts

Charles Ricketts was a painter, illustrator and book designer who was a friend of Oscar Wilde from about 1889 until Wilde's death in 1900. Their friendship was much closer before Wilde's trial and imprisonment, though they corresponded until shortly before Wilde's death. These recollections were written thirty years later, and one year before Rickett's own passing, and they were published in an elegant limited edition by Nonesuch Press the year after Rickett's death. (The version I read was a slim paperback published in 2011 by Pallas Athene as a "close copy" of the rare original 1932 edition.) While these memories have a great deal of interest based on acute observation, they seem at times a bit inhibited and occasionally stiffly written. It's clear that it took Ricketts's a long time to feel able to write about his dead friend, but there remained a lot that he must have felt he couldn't write about at all. Yet here are some nice observations by someone who knew Wilde well before he became the famous playwright, and before the tragic downfall and exile. Ricketts found Wilde to be a man who embodied kindliness and who engaged in scintillating conversation:  "there were two personalities in him: the exhibitor of well-rehearsed impromptus, of which he had a stock, and the spontaneous and witty critic of Life. In the cadenced phrases of his prose, in the elaborate retorts of his actors, we miss the flash and glitter of his speech. Then, many of mechanical epigram, or inversion of some common saying, would be told with humour and conscious exaggeration, a smile, a wave of the hand, gave it its proper significance, the quality of his laughter preceding it (for he often laughed before speaking) gave the key to the temper in which an epigram should be understood." These recollections entice the reader; yet one wishes for more than these guarded observations that Ricketts eventually decided to share with posterity. .

Monday, March 30, 2020

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

The third book of the four volume Raven Cycle accelerates the downhill trend begun in the second. While the first book was tightly constructed, the third is sprawling  and unfocussed.  Again, the characters seem to act solely to move the plot in whatever direction the author wants it to move, rather than with any interior logic to their natures and development. And the "bad" characters are not only caricatures, but actually silly. Yet there are still a few interesting aspects to the story (though less here even than in book 2), and if there were more than a single final book remaining to read I'd probably give up now and cut my losses. We'll see if it's worth it.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Okay, The Dream Thieves is the second book of the four volume Raven Cycle, of which the first, was The Raven Boys. The second continues on with the main story-line, expanding and making it all more complex. The first volume was more taut, conceptually, and the second more sprawling, and in some central ways disappointing. That is, some of the characters appear to be motivated entirely by the author's needs for the plot, and that is a failing, especially when it pulls you out of the story as a reader and makes you think what-the-fuck. Overall I still enjoyed the book, primarily because as a fantasy novel it is unusual in what it attempts to do. So I found aspects of it surprising and intriguing. But I'm beginning to think it would make a better tv series than it does as books. I'll see what happens with volume 3. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

This YA book is an odd volume. Slow to find its groove, and set-up from the beginning with some strange plot strictures, it nevertheless comes into its own in the second half of the book. It's set in Virginia, where a young girl (from a family of psychics), with four boys from a privileged prep school, continue an improbable quest for the burial of Welsh historical figure Owen Glendower along ley lines in America. This is the first book of a four-book cycle, and it just ends without much plot resolution. But I am interested enough to check out the next volume.