I’m way behind on the grand project I embarked on almost a year ago, which was to actually keep an annotated record of the books I read. So, to try to get back on an even footing for the all-too-quickly-approaching New Year, here are some thumbnail sketches of some of the the science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction novels that I’ve read in recent months (actually, more like the past six months or thereabouts) and haven’t yet written about.
The World of the Fae Trilogy – Anne BishopShadows and Light The House of Gaian
I wrote briefly about the first volume in this series back at the beginning of the year. It took a while, but I have at last finished the trilogy. It’s interesting – what first interested me about the series was Bishop’s elves – the fae – and their relationship with the witches – almost all women – who are the physical and mystical bond that maintains the link between the human world and the world of the fae. However, what came to dominate my perceptions of the books as I read them was the horrifying and all-too-believable war on women that drives the storyline. Think of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
, of the male-dominated society portrayed in the early books of Suzy McKee Charnas’ Holdfast Chronicles
, of the utterly evil misogyny that almost destroys both elves and pagan humankind in Gael Baudino’s Strands
series. In many ways, Bishop’s trilogy reminds me most of Baudino’s work, in fact, because in both, the answer to hatred and misogyny comes from the mingling of traditions, elven, pagan/wiccan, and human.
The Darker Jewels Trilogy – Anne BishopDaughter of the BloodHeir to the ShadowsQueen if the Darkness
A very different setting and cast of characters from Bishop’s World of the Fae series, although it’s interesting to see that the themes of gender-based power struggles, separate but interconnected worlds or dimensions, and the discovery of lost heritages are also strong elements in the Darker Jewels series. This series is an interesting exploration of power – political power, psychic or magical power, sexual power, the power of conviction and honour, the power of love and hate. And there’s also a nice twist on the standard light=good, dark=bad iconography in a great deal of modern fiction: The devils and the undead are, as much as anyone can be, the good guys here. The Big Over Easy
- Jasper Fforde
Jack Spratt is a detective. He works the Nursery Crimes beat. His latest case: who killed Humpty Dumpty and why? Only Jasper Fforde could have written this book, and I’m glad he did. Absolutely hilarious, and full of not-so-subtle digs at the entirety of the detective genre.Starship Troopers
- Robert Heinlein
After I did the “50 most influential” meme, I just couldn’t resist. I have, after all, been on a project to reread some of the science fiction I grew up with, and Heinlein is a big part of that. I’ve written elsewhere about my love-hate relationship with Heinlein, and this is one of the ones that really pushes all of those buttons. It’s a fun action story, but, and but, and but… tell me again how flogging people publicly makes for a crime-free state. And why military service is the only kind of service to the state that demonstrates one has a sense of responsibility and commitment. And why men are big infantry lugs and women are dainty ship’s pilots and in the future there are no tough ass-kicking grunts like Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez in Aliens
who can smash Bugs with the best of them.The Puppet Masters
- Robert Heinlein
This was the uncut version, although to be honest, it’s been so long since I’d read the original that I didn’t realise this until my partner pointed it out. Then it was sort of obvious – the sex wouldn’t have been quite so explicit in the early 50s when this was first published, but I’ve read so much of Heinlein’s later work, where the sex is pretty much unending, that I didn’t notice. glaurung_quena
, who actually compared the versions as part of a grad school paper on Heinlein, also tells me that the first publication had also toned down some of the elements intended to evoke the horror of being possessed, but I remember finding it chilling back in the 60s when I first read it, and it’s still chilling at that level. What I didn’t see so clearly when I first read the novel, although I’ve long since figured it out, was how the puppet masters are so openly paralleled with Russian state communism/totalitarianism. And how much this is a cold war, McCarthyist horror tale in which the communists could be anywhere, even in bed beside you, and you’d never know unless you practised unrelenting vigilance.
One thing that I had not noticed before was that for once, Heinlein’s super-competent, super-sexy, gun-toting female protagonist has a real psychology behind her. Mary, who we learn in the last chapter of the book has undergone horrifying experiences as a child including one of the more traumatic kinds of abandonment imaginable, is almost certainly overcompensating out of a form of PTSD – even if Heinlein didn’t have a clinical description of the condition available to him at the time. Which finally clears up one aspect of her behaviour that always bothered me – her about-face virtual submission to the male protagonist after he rejects her emotionally and assaults her. Smoke and Mirrors
- Tanya Huff
The second of the Tony and Fitzroy novels, though this one is somewhat Fitzroy-light. Doesn’t matter, Tony does just fine. And let me assure you, this is one killer of a haunted house story. With all the insanity of a TV location shoot thrown in for laughs. I’m really loving these books.
The Wizard of the Grove duology – Tanya HuffChild of the GroveThe Last Wizard
I first read Child of the Grove
years ago, alerted by a friend who knew Huff and had read the book in manuscript, and it was this book that made me an instant fan of Huff’s work. It’s always been an interesting duology – the first book is heroic, mythic, epic in nature, all about the wars of nations and the clashes of ancient powers, a classic good versus evil scenario, although with a greater degree of sophistication than many such. The Last Wizard
is much smaller and more personal book – what is the life of the hero after the quest is over. Of course, there’s magic and adventure and all of that good high fantasy stuff, but it’s more about the last wizard herself, and what does she do now that she’s met her destiny and survived. An unexpectedly mature sequel to a fine high fantasy epic.
More to come....