Trivial Place Index

If you scan down this page, it roughly moves backward in time. I've begun cycling out older and less interesting things, so what remains is what I thought was really good, or the most recent.

authors: more info about my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett and Lois McMaster Bujold.

"Wicked: The life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire. This is Oz made hard-edged and real, with sex, genocide and concentration camps, idealistic college students, and dysfunctional families. On the back cover it suggests making a place for it between "Alice" and "The Hobbit" - DON'T! Though not "adult" in nature (no really graphic details about the sex), I'd not suggest it for children. The writing is beautiful, lyrical, witty, captivating. The theme which particularly resonated the most strongly with me were questions of forgiveness - who can give it, and what if you don't get it?

The Chanur series: "Pride of Chanur," "Chanur's Venture," "The Kif Strike Back," and "Chanur's Homecoming," by C.J. Cherryh. Lots of good adventure, really well drawn and distinctive characters, and best of all, non-human protagonists. The people who we follow most closely (hani, lionlike bipeds) think rather similarly to some humans. But the main character (Pyanfar Chanur, captain of a merchant ship) also has to figure out how to take into account other people's ways of thinking in order to stay alive. Being a merchant captain, she's already a little up on this over the planet-bound of her race, because she needs to understand people in order to trade well. Yet, she is a well-balanced amalgam of leader and trader, with perhaps more adaptability than her society usually encourages.

Male/female differences in Western society are played with and turned askew in the lion-prides of the han. Men are the lords of their holdings, yet are not truely powerful. They are considered to be emotionally unstable, verging on madness, and tempermental. Pampered, with little to do besides hunt, preside honorarily, father children, and eventually meet the challenge of some younger male and die. Families consist of several wives and sisters and their children. Since men can't be around each other without fighting with each other, at puberty the young males are run off, to grow to adulthood honing their fighting skills in Sanctuary. The women are the true powers, haveing a much longer socially effective lifespan.

The actions of the story are spurred by the encountering of a new race, humans. For Pyanfar Chanur this takes the form of one lost human, Tully, running from the people who attacked his ship and killed all the others aboard. Interestingly, Tully never manages, through the entire story, to get to communicate effectively with the han. Because his mouth is not made to speak their language, he continues to communicate with a combination of pidgin and the computer translator (which he has to work laborously over even to get marginal good out of - hooray for realism as a driving force in a sci-fi story!). Because of his difficulties in speaking, Pyanfar treats him much like a child throughout the story, but she is also deeply bothered by the fact that he is male. He surprises her by being relatively stable, and able to work as a member of the crew of her ship. Getting used to him enables her to think that perhaps her husband could do the same, and when she returns home to find that he has been defeated and driven out by her son, she takes him aboard her ship - a completely non-acceptable thing to do, by the standards of her society. This makes her an outcast.

Major themes: Different societies, different ways of thinking. Understanding and adaptability are necessary survival.

"Lords and Ladies", by Terry Pratchett. I got this for Christmas from Eor. "Lords and Ladies" deals with the nature of the responsibilies of being a leader, one of Pratchett's favorite themes. A former jester has been raised to the kingship of a small mountain kingdom by a trio of witches (those events took place in "Wyrd Sisters", which I haven't yet read). Now a group of young girls who want to be witches have opened a gate to another world, allowing Elves to invade. The Elves have no compassion or empathy, and the young girls who want to be witches have no understanding of the responsibility which comes with power. They are contrasted with the exJester-King, who spends all his waking hours working dilligently to improve the lot of his poor country, and the older witches, who keep the community in line and make sure that the needy are helped out. Pratchett always delivers his message clearly, (he has been accused of being preachy at times, but I don't find him so) has a few really sweet moments, and makes me laugh hard throughout the book.

Pratchett likes his older witches - they are midwives, healers, and the layers out of the dead, in the best tradition of paganism. They have magical power, yet they feel that it's better to have the sense to know when not to use it. He contrasts them sharply with people who seek only power (what my mother calls "following the sorcerer's path"). The younger witches feel that the older ones have nothing to teach them, yet they feel that old books and cards will give them "the wisdom of the ancients." They have no concept of their duties toward the land and the people, thinking that being a witch is about power and magic.

"Feet of Clay", by Terry Pratchett. Part of the "watchmen of Ank-mor-pork" series (dunno if it really has a name). Golems are animated clay slaves, unable to talk, who live only to work for their masters. Now, a golem is doing what everyone had thought unthinkable - killing the masters. The secondary storyline deals with someone trying to kill the leader of the city and make the scummiest guardsman in the night watch into "the lost king" (if you've already read the previous book, "Men at Arms", you already know who the lost king really is). Here Pratchett deals with the responsibilities of leadership (what makes a king different from a commoner?), the responsibilities of freedom, and the unfortunate tendancy of humans to get really nasty when something they considered to be a "thing" suddenly decides it has it's own thoughts. Pratchett's ability to make me laugh, while not watering down his opinions or derailing the story, continually amazes me.

"Men at Arms", by Terry Pratchett. Affirmative Action hits the night watch of Ank-mor-pork, and they are forced to hire dwarves and trolls and... women. Meanwhile an murderer has control of an evil and powerful weapon - which wouldn't be a big problem, except he's using it to carry out uncontracted assassinations. It's the lack of contracts and licensing which really annoys the Assassins Guild. Captain Carrot, the tallest dwarf in the watch (or probably anywhere, at over 6foot), deals with bigotry and "species-ism" while tracking his man, and being tracked by his woman.

"They Fly At Ciron", by Samual R. Delaney. Delaney's typical choppy, childlike, poetical style, focusing in tightly on several characters, some on the "good-guy's" side (an idyllic little village - it does seem a bit too utopian, though I'll admit he tried to not make it so, with little human abrasions), some on the "bad-guy's" side, why they do what they do, how they are changed by war, by the clash of cultures. He dissects "heroism" and "courage", "good" and "bad" acts. The people who save the day for the village against the invaders (the Flying Ones, "They" who fly at Ciron) are not exactly "nice" people.

"Robin Hood: A complete study of the English outlaw.", by Stephen Knight. Occationally wordy and obtuse, but with flashes of wit. He isn't interested in finding the "real" Robin Hood, someone whom the legend might have accrued around. (In fact, I think it's probably best not to try, not so much because it's such an impossible task, as he seems to portray it, but because if we did manage to find someone way back there, we'd probably be disappointed by how little they actually resembled what we want.) Instead, he dissects how the whole legend has grown and changed, and what purposes it has served for different people at different points in time. Knight feels that the true core of the tradition is a rebellion against authority, which often takes the form of mischievous humor, and apparently does quite well that way.
I'm actually somewhat more interested in Maid Marion, and, since she wasn't the main focus, information on her is scattered and confusing throughout the book.
"Sherlock Holmes in Orbit", an anthology of stories and 'pastiches' (I guess that's what they're called - little sort of scenes or background sketches which don't go anywhere as stories. But they're kind of neat to read.) which were requested from the authors for that book. Some of them are really neat, there are a couple which I just can't see, but over all it was very good reading - I gobbled it up.
"The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes" by June Thomson. Much as I hate to say it, because I think that Thomson has the potential to produce good things - I can't fault her writing, that seemed pretty solid to me - I didn't like this one as much. It didn't really hold a lot of surprises - the mysteries were easily figure-out-able, mosly of the "purloined letter" sort (things spirited away by people who are 'invisible' by virtue of being so familiar, or hidden in plain sight by making them look different). Holmes kept things mysteriously from Watson, which is what I think of as the worst tradition of Holmes. It makes Holmes look like a charlatan, and Watson look stupid - or at least a doormat. I rather wish that she had invented 'new' characters, and billed it "in the spirit of Sherlock Holmes", that might have worked better.
"Memory" by Lois McMaster Bujold. Wicked good. How can she make it so interesting to watch someone be depressed, moody and introspective? Miles is definetly manic-depressive. Well, she also weaves an interesting "almost-murder" mystery in with the story. And, if you want to read a real review, someone already wrote one at the Bujold Nexus.
"Wheel of Fortune", an anthology on the theme of gambling. Roger Zelazney dunned most of the authors to write something for this book, and he wrote an introduction to each story, and most of the authors also wrote an afterword. I am quite impressed with how inspired the authors appeared to be about the theme of gambling - most of them point out in their afterwords how writing is a big gamble. The writing, for the most part, is uniformly good, (with the exception of a story about virtual racehorses, which both Eor and I gave up on after the first few pages as 'unreadable', but upon later re-scanning I decided was also pointless.) and the stories upbeat, exciting, or at least fun to read. Some of them are comical, some are more serious, one is billed as horror.

"Off Limits: Tales of Alien Sex", an anthology about how people preceive sex and relationships, and interact upon those perceptions. The writing in "Off Limits" is generally pretty good, but the outlook of most of the stories is not exactly positive. That doesn't mean I don't like the stories - I especially liked one about an English prostitute who gets caught up in the Spanish Civil War. Really depressing ending, but excellent characterization of her and the Spanish prostitutes who are her co-workers.

"Burning Chrome", by William Gibson. Short stories. These seemed to me like sketches of outlines for novels. However, Eor prefered these to his novels, saying that Gibson stretched his range a bit more in these short stories, doing things which aren't as pigeonholable Gibsonesque. There are a couple which really didn't sound much like Gibson at all. But, Eor prefers short stories, I prefer novel-length.

"The Warrior's Apprentice," Lois McMaster Bujold. I love this series - Miles Vorkosigan is an excellent hero. Although he does have the advantage of coming from a highly placed family, he has the disadvantage of being dwarvish of build, with a twisted fragile skelaton, in a society which is highly paranoid about mutants. I've been reading these books out of order, but that doesn't matter. Each book stands on it's own as a story, and Bujold is a skillful enough writer that she doesn't give away the last book in the next. For instance I knew that a certain character would die in a certain book, but -nowhere- did I get a clue as to exactly -how- he died. When he did, the manner of it was a major shock to me.

"Warrior's Apprentice" encompasses Miles's inglorious washout at the Imperiel Academy, which his family has graced for generations, and his subsequent decision to try to be some sort of hero for his bodyguard's daughter, in a desperate and hopeless attempt to win her affection. His own desperateness causes him to feel sympathetic to other desperate people, and he pickes up a couple of 'strays' who he attempts to help out. From there on out, his facile wit and lying ability, couple with the tricks which he learned from his parents for making people feel good about themselves (even while he internalizes self-loathing) to create an ever-increasing illusion which people happily buy into. His balancing act mushrooms as he turns each defeat into a greater victory, which in turn gives him more to lose at the next turn of his fortune. "Forward momentum!" becomes his water-treading battle-cry.

There -were-, I admit, a couple of points in this particular book where I went "um, I'm not sure I buy -that-." But all in all, there wasn't a whole lot of suspension of disbelief required, and it was worth it for the sake of the tale. And Bujold always has some quirky sort of moral or a twist which gets me thinking. She's the first writer I've ever encountered who was able to make me feel sympathy for a rapist, and without taking the attitude that what he did was right in any way.

authors: more info about my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett and Lois McMaster Bujold.

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