Sunday, July 26, 2015

Some Catching up...

The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis (2015) by Darryl Cunningham is a great book, essential reading—in graphic novel form—to understand the current political malaise in America.  It is divided into three parts.  The first gives the biography of the patron saint of selfishness, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), showing her many errors and contradictions.  The second section, “The Crash,” shows how Rand’s devotees, like Alan Greenspan and the Tea Party advocates, who follow her economic ideas but not her atheism, set up the ridiculous unregulated market, that with the attendant self-interests of Wall Street brought about the market crash of 2008.  The third section, “The Age of Selfishness,” analyzes the current financial and political world and calls for a much needed re-evaluation of where things are heading.  This is one of the best books of 2015.

The Tropes of Fantasy Fiction (2015) by Gabrielle Lissauer sounded like it would be a book I would like. The cover blurb notes that it shows how the tropes and clichĂ©s that go into making a story do not make it good or bad, but how the author applies them does.  “The book also explores the concept of text versus meta-text—that is, when the story’s world and character actions contradict the reader’s expectations based on the tropes being used.”  Alas, it does no such thing.  This book reads like an enormous blog-post, with a know-it-all blogger of limited capacity. Witness a few random quotes:  “One thousand years ago in our history, the Holy Roman Empire still existed. Europe was in the beginning of the Middle Ages, and Islam was in the midst of its Golden Age. Algebra didn’t exist yet, nor did the printing press—though movable type was on the horizon. And a great many people still thought the sun revolved around the Earth!” (page 162).  “Elves are the creatures that are found in books like Lord of the Rings and fairies are like Tinker Bell. Elves are tall, stately creature that are in tune with nature and better than people. Fairies are tiny, silly things with insect wings and also in tune with nature. They are of the natural world, whereas man is of the urban and technological world. Fairies and elves are mysterious and magical; men are mundane and must beware lest they stumble into their realms and never to be seen again.” (page 143). Nevermind that these statements are massive simplifications, inapplicable in their details to most literary productions; yet they are trotted out like pearls of wisdom. The whole book is written in this trite, patronizing tone. This book should be jettisoned into the nearest Crack of Doom. 

Naomi’s Room (1991) is the first novel published under the pseudonym Jonathan Aycliffe.  It is a commercial supernatural thriller, in which Charles Hillenbrand loses sight of his four year old daughter Naomi while Christmas shopping, and she is abducted and soon afterwards found mutilated. Supernatural forces that are based in their house are involved in some way, and their reawakening involves further deaths and mysteries which Charles Hillenbrand must solve.  Compelling, and interesting in parts, it nevertheless remains merely a page-turner with (as is so often the case) an unstasfying resolution. 

The Lost (1996) is the fifth of Jonathan Aycliffe’s supernatural novels.  Here a modern British man Michael Feraru makes a trip to Roumania and delves into his family history, reclaiming an isolated castle that his family had abandoned during World War II.  The tale is told, like Dracula, in documents—letters, journal entries, clippings. Bram Stoker did this very effectively; Jonathan Aycliffe less so. The revelation of the family secrets are anti-climactic, and the novel as a whole is much less interesting that Naomi’s Room.

Belin’s Hill (1997) by Catherine Fisher is a young adult novel centering on a boy Huw, who (with his sister) comes to live with his uncle’s family near Caerleon (Arthur Machen country) after his parent’s deaths. Huw himself had been in the train accident that killed his parents, and is still not really recovered.  In this new place he is both distracted and haunted by various things to do with the legend of a haunted family on Belin’s Hill.  Huw finds some Celtic stone faces, hinting at more ancient magic, but the local legend of the witch and her cursed family is also involved. Ultimately the various threads of story don’t mesh very well.    


Machen’s Gwent: ‘A Country Hardly to be Known’ (2015) is Catherine Fisher’s talk from the 2013 Caerleon Festival which honored the 150th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Machen. It is an essay of strung-together quotations from Machen’s works, highlighting his comments on Gwent. Nothing really revelatory to be found here, but it’s a pleasant essay acknowledging Machen’s interests by one of his modern appreciators. 


Speculative Horizons (2010), edited by Patrick St. Denis, is a collection of five original stories by C.S. Friedman, Tobias S. Buckell, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Brian Ruckley, and Hal Duncan. The slickest tale is that by Modesitt, which is related to his other writings, and feels rather ephemeral on its own.  The Buckell story is promising and shows some good imagination. The Ruckley is a fantasy of a society of hunter-gatherers, and the Friedman begins as a more routine tale but it has an interesting twist at the end.  The standout of the volume is the final tale, “The Death of a Love,” in which a kind of cupid is formed when couples fall in love. Duncan explores how couples kill destroy their own loves by killing their cupids.


The Book of Dreams (2010), edited by Nick Gevers, is also a collection of five original stories, centering on dream adventures.  The opening story, “The Prisoners” by Robert Silverberg, is the most routine of the five. Jay Lake’s “Testaments” is the most imaginative, though its episodic nature makes it less of a story.  Jeffrey Ford’s “86 Deathdick Road” is one of those quirky modern stories that suddenly turns (unsatifyingly) surreal.  Kage Baker’s “Rex Nemorensis” mixes the dreams of a Vietnam veteran with a particular locale.  And finally, the oddest story of an odd lot, Lucius Shepard’s “Dream Burgers at the Mouth of Hell” gives a glimpse at the backward and surreal workings of Hollywood and its scriptwriters.

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