Tuesday, April 27
One has to be in a certain mood to enjoy a book like this - or at least, I have to be - not unlike the mood where I'm prepared to enjoy Cervantes or Sir Walter Scott. But since I am in such a mood right now, I am enjoying it very much.
It's certainly a rambling tale, but it rambles it's way past and through many points of interest, so I have few complaints. I was under the impression that the Old London Bridge had been destroyed by the time the novel is set (the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries), but it turns out that this is not the case - although the bridge was burned down in 1014, destroyed by a storm in 1091, burned down again in 1136, and the site of catastrophic fires in 1212 and 1633. It was replaced in 1831 by a less combustible stone structure, which was widened in 1904 whereupon it sank into the swamp. Well, it sank slowly, but still...
That sort of history boggles me just a little, as Sydney's famous Harbour Bridge is only seventy years old and has so far not been destroyed even once. To paraphrase someone: In England, a hundred miles is a long distance; in Australia, a hundred years is a long time.
Friday, April 16
Stopped by Galaxy Bookshop this evening when I was done comparison-shopping for washing machines. (I'm torn between the low price of the Simpson front-loader - my old washing machine was a Simpson and lasted 14 years without servicing - and the convenience and gadget-value of the Omega condensing washer/dryer - put your clothes in, press a few buttons, and a couple of hours later they are clean and dry! Given that I have a bad habit of forgetting to take clothes out of the washing machine, sometimes for days, this is a good thing. It costs about twice as much as the Simpson, though.)
Well - (Oh, and I was reminded that I have a very small washing machine. Had a very small washing machine. Or have a very small ex-washing machine. Some of the models I looked at were huge. Convenient, I suppose, if you have three teenagers and a dog, but not something I need myself.)
Are you finished? (Yes, do go on.)
Right. Got to Galaxy and there's this huge pile near the door of Neal Stephenson's latest work, Confusion. It's the sequel to Quicksilver, which I hadn't bought previously, and both apparently have some connection to Cryptonomicon, which I never managed to get all the way through.
Stephenson is a good writer - I particularly enjoyed Zodiac and Snow Crash - but one of his points, for good or bad, is to wander off into diversions, sometimes for a dozen pages or more. (Speaking of which, most of my comparison shopping was done at Myers - what was Grace Bros., a fine and traditional name, before the mob from Melbourne bought them up. Actually, they've been trading as Grace Bros. for years even after that, but suddenly decided to change the name... A couple of months ago, I think. I sort of missed it, being occupied with other things. After that I went to Bing Lee, who have a new city store where the Sky Garden food court used to be. Wonder what they did with the food court... There used to be a restaurant there that did wonderful barbecue ribs. Anyway, Bing Lee is in theory a discount chain and Myers a mid-range department store, but the prices there were really no better than at Myers, and sometimes worse, and Myers were offering 10% off the marked price of all whitegoods.
What really struck me at Bing Lee, though, was the number of large-screen flat-panel televisions. They're everywhere. And they're not exactly cheap, so either people are buying these things and the economy isn't doing so badly after all or Bing Lee is about to go broke. I have a perfectly good Sony, a 34" model (84 cm to me) about six years old, which I bought just before the changeover to flat screens (flat CRTs, that is, rather than flat panels). It's vertically flat, at least; it's like a cut-away section of a cylinder, which is much easier to do without distorting the picture than a truly flat screen like my monitors. (Also Sony. Which have this horrible tendency to go over-bright over time - my third and final Sony monitor is not long for the world at this rate.)
I have no interest in buying a new TV, since my old one is both large enough and good enough, unless it is both high-definition and reasonably priced. And I have no real interest even then until high-definition material becomes available. And since I never watch broadcast TV these days and can't get cable because the cable companies are run by morons (I'm sure I've ranted about that here before) that means a new high-definition DVD player (which no-one currently makes) and new high-definition DVDs (see above). In the meantime, I have plenty of other ways to burn my money. I could buy a new washing machine, for a start.)
The diversions in Cryptonomicon, though, were rather too much for me. A friend noted how much he enjoyed the book, largely because of the diversions, which he found both entertaining and educational. For me, though, while they were amusing enough, my mind seems to run too closely to the same frequency as Stephenson's and my reaction after the first 400 diversion-packed pages was either get on with the story or I'm ditching the book.
He didn't, so I did. (One thing I did find, and which I have been looking for for some time, is a small, reasonably priced stereo that will play DVD-Rs full of MP3s. I don't know what appeals to you, but since a DVD-R costs me just over a dollar, and even with 256kb/s encoding will hold 40 hours of music, this seems very cool indeed to me. Pop in a disk, hit shuffle play, and that's music sorted out for the duration of the party.)
Now, though, I seem to be in the possession of both Quicksilver and Confusion, 1700 pages of 18th century diversions. (At least, I think it's 18th century. Benjamin Franklin's in it, I think.) And that's 1700 trade paperback pages, so it would probably be over 2000 in mass-market format. Not that there is a MMPB release yet - that I've seen. They're really milking this one.
Also Dan Simmons' Ilium. Dan Simmons is another writer I have mixed feelings about. His Hyperion is a fascinating work, a spin of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales in a distant future on an enigmatic planet. The books that followed - The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion, progressively rubbed away at the enigma until nothing much interesting was left. In fact, I never actually read the final volume, having given Endymion a resounding blah on the Pixy Misa BLO scale.*
Well, the Book Shop Guy recommended it very highly, and I have enjoyed some of Simmons' recent non-SF work (specifically Hardcase and Hard Freeze. Darwin's Blade, on the other hand, was clearly written entirely on autopilot. It made me wonder if he has a word processor with functions to insert 500 words on guns here and ramble on about auto engines for 800 words there.), so I bought it too.
And Steven Brust's Sethra Lavode. I don't really have any conflicts about Brust - He's brilliant! Read him! - but this latest work, the third part of his homage to Dumas (The Phoenix Guards being The Three Musketeers, Five Hundred Years After being Twenty Years After among an elf-like race that lives a lot longer than we humans are wont to do, and The Viscount of Adrilankha being of course The Vicomte De Bragelonne. Viscount is itself split into three volumes, namely, The Paths of the Dead, The Lord of Castle Black, and this, the third. Sethra Lavode, remember?) hasn't grabbed me in the same way, possibly because it is divided into three parts like Gaul, and is filled with garlicky snails.
Or possibly just because the parts of what should be a single novel are appearing a year apart, just long enough for the previous volume to fade in the mind but not quite long enough for it to be an attractive re-read. I didn't finish The Lord of Castle Black because I really needed to re-read The Paths of the Dead to enjoy it properly, only I didn't. Now I have all three volumes in hand, and can do the work justice - and I just need to find the time.
Finally, Guy Gavriel Kay's The Last Light of the Sun. Guy Kay is one of my (many) favourite fantasy authors. Though admittedly his first work, The Fionavar Tapestry, was something of a mess (belonging to the fling fantasy tropes at the page and see what sticks school of writing), he redeemed himself and more with Tigana. His writing has improved since then, with A Song for Arbonne, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and most recently The Sarantine Mosaic, but none of those have resonated with me quite the way Tigana does.
Partly, it's the settings. Tigana has some vague flavour of the warring Italian states of, say, the 15th century, but it's clearly its own world, not just Italy with the names filed off. Arbonne is France, more or less, but again not just a cut-and-paste. Al-Rassan, though, is obviously Moorish Spain, and Sarantium is Byzantium, Constantinople, without any real effort to distinguish or disguise it.
I don't like that very much, even when the writing is good - and in Kay's case, it is.
More than that, though, there's the theme of Tigana: A country, defeated in war, and punished for its resistence by having its name taken away, wiped from the memories of its people by magic. And of the struggle of those few who remember to reclaim the memory of their land for their people. This struck me as a terribly, terribly painful thing - to be unable to recall the name of your own land, the land that you grew up in and loved. If you enjoy fantasy and haven't yet read Tigana, do. Even if you've read Fionavar and have since sworn off Kay's work - which would be akin to reading The Number of the Beast and swearing off Heinlein, as one of my friends did for years.
So, and so; 1700 pages of Stephenson, 600 of Simmons, 350 pages of Brust, who is normally commendably succinct, unless I should decide to re-read the whole of Viscount in which case the number is closer to 1100, and 500 pages of Kay.
If you don't hear much from me in the next few days, well, I'll be in the laundry.
* Book-Like Object. A term used to describe things printed on paper and bound between covers that cannot justly be described as books.
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