Friday, September 09, 2011

...What I've Been Reading

The Telling - Ursula K. LeGuin: Set in her universe of the Ekumen and the Hain, this is a striking story. While some folks find her work preachy, I enjoy a lot of it even when I disagree with her thesis; I have always had a soft spot for any writer who can dream up her own personal utopia, spot the glaring flaw in it, and build a novel around it. (The Dispossessed). Utopias are hardly to be seen in her latest work, though the dystopian results of attempts to build them abound; even the dimly-glimpsed alternative has its flaws. A carefully-wrought world with a distressing problem, LeGuin manages to get across the essential problem with any society or system that won't leave people be, and moves the arc from problem to.... Not quite solution. Which is perhaps where the story should end, and the telling begin. Wonderfully well written. Recommended.

Strata - Terry Pratchett: It's not a spoiler to let you know this is Discworld before Discworld. Nor that he had not quite found his narrative voice yet; it begins with a unique notion that turns out to be balanced atop one even odder and more fascinating, turns into a kind of Ringworld parody, and then offers a very brief look at what will become the author's most famous creation. By the end (taking yet another sharp turn), I was starting to hear the Terry Pratchett I've come to enjoy -- and you won't believe which resident of later Discworld is the first to show up! Out of print as far as I know, but can be found used.

Antarctica - Kim Stanley Robinson: Philosophically, I often find myself somewhat to completely at odds with his notions but Robinson may be one of the best writers working in English. And to his credit, there's a strong anti-authoritarian streak in his work; but while he's no communist, he is a definitely-Left libertarian. If you can get past that, he tells compelling, flowing stories and this one manages to move fluidly from a relatively familiar exploration of the U.S. base at McMurdo to...but that would be telling. Alas, you will be reading that "there are too many of us on the planet," with no solution directly offered; but you'll be pleased the learn the villains of the piece are the sort who spike trees and torch tractors; even the ecologically-attuned Robinson can't give 'em halos -- and for that matter, the worst eeeevil corporation simply treats its employees a bit worse than W@lm@rt. While I prefer his earlier work, Icehenge, etc., he is a brilliant writer, able to capture the complexity of human relationships like none other. Worth reading.

As ever, if they sound interesting, please buy via the Amazon link at Tam's.

* * *

An aside -- I think with left-libertarian writers like LeGuin and Robinson, it's easy to get hung up on points of difference and miss the huge overlaps on things like suspicion of bigness and Authority, attitudes towards mercantilism (any corporation is very much a creature of the State), and the importance of voluntary association and of letting people do as they wish as long as it doesn't interfere with others. For example, an important part (and one the author appears to admire) of one culture in The Telling is square dealing, trading value for value, cash on the barrelhead. Yep, LeGuin and Rand, swappin' gold coins at that same table; how 'bout that? Arguments are easy, even a child can do it; finding and holding the common ground where things get done? That requires grown-up interaction.
PS: I missed all but the very end of The President's big speech last night. What I heard sounded like a mishmash of JFK and FDR, as assembled by Kafka or Stanislaw Lem. Will our Five Year Plan for a Great Leap Forward into the Iron Rice Bowl succeed? ...Don't bet on it. Economy, like gravity, eventually does as it must; Presidents and Congresses flail alongside, pretending to herd the avalanche and occasionally succumbing.


Drake said...

I can be pretty forgiving if the story is good. Robinson lost me, however, during the Mars series.

So we are terraforming Mars and starting to cool down Venus by the end, while Earth is having environmental disasters due to global warming. Why not terraform Earth? It never seems occur to any of the supposed geniuses in the book.

The Jack said...

For me the Mars series really went of f the rails in the "fourth" book.

Where *spoiler*

all the terraforming starts to be undone by the "will of Mars" and the character shrug their shoulders and act like that's a good thing.

The massive loss of life or that many many Martians would use all their power to try to reverse the process is simply ignored.

I guess an early warning sign was in a previous book (if memory serves) when the Martian constitution is written up and guns are explicitly banned. And everyone (including all the terrorists and freedom fighters and those that simply want to be left alone) sagely nod about how that's good.

Because, violently independent people that just fought two revolutions and are very worried about this new government would be more than happy to hand over their guns.

Drang said...

O-kay, KS Robinson is off the list. Not that there's list, or he was ever on it.

Anyway. Besides Kauai tour guides, I finally found the safe place I put my ebook reader during the move, so I had to--HAD to!!!--start Tros of Samothrace over again.

Roberta X said...

I would not pass Robinson up because his politics are unfortunate. He is a gifted writer and storyteller. I won't buy his books new, but I'll certainly buy them used.

wrm said...

I only last night learned that PTerry wrote Strata before COM, I thought he wrote it around the same time as the bromeliad three (Truckers Diggers Wings).

I also learned that he's seriously into assisted suicide.