"The book I'm looking for,' says the blurred figure, who holds out a volume similar to yours, 'is the one that gives the sense of the world after the end of the world, the sense that the world is the end of everything that there is in the world, that the only thing there is in the world is the end of the world."
- Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stories, Sailing and Sci-Fi

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It 
by Malie Meloy

This is the best short story collection I've read since Olive Kitteridge, which was a VERY good collection that you should also read. The stories here are economical and full and poignant.  They're all about, in one way or another, what the title implies: characters who want it both ways, which is a powerful theme for literary stories, don't you think? I read the book in two days, because the stories are so lean. Amazingly, despite their verbal paucity, the stories never feel rushed or limited in scope.Thumbs up! A++++++ quick shipping would buy from again.

Hornblower in the West Indies
by C.S. Forester

I read the first Horatio Hornblower book (first by fictional chronology, not publication history) when I was a Junior in High School. This is the last Hornblower book! I haven't read any in between. And much like Hornblower, in the intervening period I have gone quickly from a seasick, press-ganged Midshipman to a grumpy, legendary commander-in-chief of the West Indies. I like the Hornblower series much more than the Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O'Brien. Forester's books are more readable, I think. The novels are broken up into stand-alone novellas. Anyway, great book.  Maybe I'll go back and read the rest of the series. "All hands to the tops'l main aft rigging lines! We're riding hull full bulwarks in a Maiden's tack, men! Full sheets on deck 'round the keel! Leeward, port-side!" (Sailing.)

by Stanislaw Lem

My feelings about this book are a little mixed. On one hand, it does a lot of things that I really hate in books: the writing is dense for no discernible reason, the characters are boring and uninformative and melodramatic, and (being written in 1961) the only woman is girlish and fatally dependent on the men in the story. The writing, in particular, is rough for me. Lem has an annoying Lovecraft-like tendency (at least in this book) to describe objects in unending detail which are supposedly beyond imagination anyway. He even uses the term "non-Euclidean geometry" to describe a confusing alien landscape, which is all sorts of Lovecraft. On the other hand, this is an idea novel. Realistic or informative characters aren't super necessary if the ideas are interesting enough. Here, unlike in the two Heinlein books I read earlier this year... the ideas are pretty OK! Basically, the novel is about humankind's attempts to make contact with the enormous, living, gelatinous ocean that covers an alien planet. And... we can't! Lots of science fiction takes it for granted that even very strange alien creatures would be able to communicate with us, using math or music or telepathy or whatever. But that's kind of a weird idea. We can barely communicate with chimps. It's a book about the potential limits of human intelligence, ability and exploration. Worthwhile!

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff spence, I think I'll buy that Meloy book. Or at least write it down somewhere.