A person gains attention on the internet mainly by talking about themselves. To that end: here are the books I read this week, and how I feel about them. Why would you be interested in this? I have absolutely no idea.
This Week I read:
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin – Coming to Le Guin rather belatedly. She has a rare gift for portraying the complexities of alien civilization (alien in the sense of being unlike our own) without devolving into agit prop. I confess to feeling, however, it was more of an intellectual exercise in a certain sense then it was a real comment on the nature of humanity. At least with Left Hand of Darkness, the differences in basic human interaction were explained by the native peoples being dual-sex. By contrast in this one, certain core aspects of the behavior of the Libertarian planet did not ring true to me. It's hard to imagine any amount of education/indoctrination could breed out the basic selfishness and violence which is at the core of the human animal (I'm a Hobbesian – can you tell?) Very interesting all the same, I can understand why this book/her work is held in such high regard.
Were there swords: No, but there were aliens!
The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platanov: No one does despairing magical realism like the Soviet-era Russians. Foundation Pit was strange, horrifying, immensely depressing, like a lot of the Stalin-era books that were banned and have found posthumous release only in this century. Was it good? I guess it was. Did I enjoy it? Not at all. Did I understand it? To a certain extent – I admit that I didn't have the energy to sift through it to the degree that it probably deserved, but in fairness, I have at this point read many thousands of pages about the horrors of communism during this period. Was this a useful book review? No, it was not. Sorry, but there we are.
Were there swords: Absolutely no swords.
Dr. No by Ian Fleming: With the exception of Casino Royale, I never really enjoyed any of the Bond movies – dated as all hell. A toupeed Connery, half-baked puns, etc. Still, there have been innumerable bad movies made from good books, and prior to last week I had sort of vaguely assumed that original Iam Fleming books fell into this category.
Incorrect. False. Wrong altogether. Dr. No is an absolutely fetid pile of crap – it is a shit sandwich, it is falling face down into an open sewage tent. It is stupid from top to bottom, it is irredeemably horrible. I never give up on a book and I very nearly gave up on this one. Every bit of it is an inane adolescent fantasy – the writing is terrible, the pacing is execrable. There is nothing interesting about bond, there is nothing interesting about Dr. No, there is just nothing at all interesting in this anywhere at all.
Sidenote: I'm not the sort of person who criticizes works of a past generation for being racist – I assure you, you hold opinions your grandchildren will find horrifying – but Dr. No deserves particular opprobium not only for being casually racist but for being lazily racist. This is a book in which Bond, investigative genius that he is, realizes that a secretary working for the home office is in cahoots with the villain because, get this, she, like Dr. No, is also of Asian descent! Zing! A riddle wrapped in an enigma, my friends! I hated, hated, hated, hated this book.
Where there swords: No, but you'd need to hold one to my throat to get me to read another Ian Fleming book.
Anatomy of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: Strange, sad, funny, the back of my book compares this to Borges and Beckett and that sounds about right. About half of the stories missed me, but about half of them – one about a priest given control over all of the world's cracks, one about a man who tries to bite his own elbow, and the societal rage this sets off – I absolutely adored. Definitely recommended.
Were There Swords: No.
The Centurions by Jean Larteguy: Held in immensely high esteem within the Special Forces community around the world, The Centurions tells the story of a group of French paratroopers who are captured after the debacle at Dien Bien Phu and survive the communist camps only to return home and discover themselves estranged from capitalist, bourgeois France. I've actually been looking for this one for years, as being a classic text on the mind state of today's all-volunteer army, and it did not disappoint. Although it did depress—Larteguy's portrait of a society utterly consumed by hedonistic excess and bereft of a moral code; and of the men sworn to defend that society, who defend but are secretly loathed by it; both hit home in uncomfortable ways. I told Myke Cole he should read it, and he told me he was reading the Builders already, and I said this was better than the Builders, and he told me that was the sort of thing I shouldn't write in public, and then I went ahead and ignored him. Anyway – this was really excellent, deserving of the regard it is held in by a small portion of the population, definitely worth trying to find.
Were there swords: No, but there was some well-written, unheroic, realistic-seeming action, as would be appropriate for a book of this sort.
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware: My first encounter with the man, and I can see why he's so highly regarded. A very good pulp sci fi story and a strong digression into the personal history of the man who wrote it, both making use of the format in ways which I was unfamiliar with and enjoyed.
Were there swords: No.
Terror Assaulter (O.M.W.O.T.) by Benjamin Marra: A one note joke which quickly falls sour. The art is nothing really to speak of, and the hyper-stylized, childlike masculinity warrants a chuckle but not more than that. Not good.
Were there swords: Actually, There's one right there on the cover! Much good may it do you, you fucking dick. Yeah, I'm talking to you -- who the hell reads this shit anyway? Bring it on! You don't scare me!
Right Now I Am Reading: The Captain's Daughter by Alexander Pushkin.