Monday, August 24, 2009

Readings 2K9: Port Eternity

Port Eternity
by C.J. Cherryh

This is a bit of an oddity. Certainly it left me with mixed feelings. The story of a group of artificial humans created to be the servants of a rich woman on her private starship, and what happens to them after an accident in hyperspace, it is on one level a straight-ahead sf adventure. But the artificial people all have names out of Arthurian legend, and it’s hard to shake the idea that some meaningful parallel is intended. I can’t really see any, though, so perhaps it’s more the contrast between these characters and their originals that’s the point. Certainly the characters act in (sometimes amusingly) non-sf-standard ways — faced with a mysterious alien spaceship that’s captured their own, they choose to barricade themselves in their ship rather than go exploring (even when that seems the only way back home).

The really strange thing about the book is the sudden shift in tone it takes in its last few pages. A shift for the better, I should say. As noted, the book reads as a straight-ahead science fiction story, crossed with a certain degree of soap opera, until those last pages — when style, diction, and point-of-view shift dramatically. It becomes more mythopoeic, striking a genuinely Arthurian note that’s been notably absent for the rest of the book. It’s much more interesting to me than everything that’s led up to it, and it sets up a kind of end-state which would also work as a status quo from which to launch another story. In point of fact, I can’t figure out why Cherryh told this story, and not that one. So, ultimately, this is a decent book that didn’t particularly grab me — but the sequel to which I’d grab in a flash, if it existed. As noted: an oddity.

Readings 2K9: Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges

Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges
by Richard Burgin

A book-length transcript of a series of interviews with Borges, conducted by Burgin. They’re interesting, but seem to have relatively little focus — each ‘chapter’ skips around a fair bit. Unsurprisingly, the interviews focus mainly on literature, and Borges’ favourite authors. But there are also some insightful thoughts on politics and war; on the nature of fascism and violence, for example (if Hitler preached strength and the goodness of violence, then does it follow that to exert one’s will through strength is necessarily to partake of the nature of Nazism?).

There’s a palpable sense here that Borges is not really caught in the book, for all that he talks candidly about major events and themes in his life. It’s as if he’s too subtle to be caught so directly; there’s some quality to him which comes out really only in his writing, and of which one has only an intimation when reading the interviews. While it’s not surprising that the writer can’t be depicted in a series of conversations, the presence of that intimation — the hint that there’s something more to the man than what we’re reading — is perhaps the most Borgesian thing about the book: if the interview reduces the man to language, this hint is the sense that he has yet other books within him than this one, books that are far more important than the book that comes out of his life and speech. Which is to say, the sense that Borges is a major writer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Slow recovery

Anticipation ended ... what, three days ago now? ... and I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting back to normal. It was a blast. Most of my thoughts on it can be seen at the Narratives blog on the Gazette’s web site (specifically, at this link), but I’ll throw out a few notes here as a last look back.

First off, given what I’ve been writing about on this blog, I should note that between free stuff, review copies, and things picked up in the dealers’ room and elsewhere, I ended up adding more than half-a-dozen unread books to the apartment:

Crossing the Boundaries: French Fantasy from Bragelonne
Science Fiction: The Best of the Year 2006, edited by Rich Horton
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
Sang du pierre, by √Člisabeth Vonarburg (I’m hoping to lay hands on the English version, Blood From a Stone, soon; published at the same time, and sharing a title in translation, the French and English versions have different stories)
Objects of Worship, by Claude Lalumière
Magic Mirrors, by John Bellairs
Curse of the Wise Woman, by Lord Dunsany

... and then wandering around yesterday I bought The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance, so what the hell, let’s throw that in there too. Eight, then, nine if I get the other Vonarburg title.

Second, it was a lot of fun meeting people. And interviewing people; attending as a member of the press allowed me a useful perspective, and of course led to interviews with fine people like George R.R. Martin, Lev Grossman, and Felix Gilman.

Third, and related to the above, it was a powerful sensation being at an event of that scale dedicated, at its core, to writing. Sure, there were a lot of other elements to it — media, filk, gaming, and so on — but most of the programming had written work as its focus. I learned a lot, but even more, the sheer volume of writers, and of discussion of writing, seemed for me to reach a kind of critical mass. I don’t mean that it was inspirational, or even that it was a reaffirmation of the value of imagination and storytelling, though in fact it was both these things; what I mean is that it suggested to me, or reminded me, that writing and literature and language and dreams can be made a way of life. Or more precisely, a way of being in the world. Which is to say: a way of survival.

So there’s some value in that. Grace and I are looking at going to Con-cept, a local convention, in early October. We’ll see.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Readings 2K9: July summation

Got a lot of stuff to read with Worldcon almost here, but this is a quick note to say: 16 books read in July, 4 added to the apartment. Up by 12 in total. So, 44 fewer unread books in the apartment, 87 read so far this year.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Article up

A quick note to say that my Gazette article about Neil Gaiman is now up.