Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: Decoding Gender in Science Fiction

Decoding Gender in Science FictionDecoding Gender in Science Fiction by Brian Attebery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I had written a lengthy and rather glowing praise of this book, but my browser saw fit to skip to some random page and delete the whole thing, which has rendered me too disgusted to attempt a rewrite at this moment.

Suffice it to say that I found this book so readable, so accessible, and so interesting that I am determined to shell out some $30+ to purchase my own copy after I return this one to the library, because as much as I tried to absorb the information and as many notes as I took (yes, I actually took notes on the book), I am sure I did not catch everything and that this book will stand up under repeated reading.

Do not translate "gender" into "feminism", because while that is one topic touched on in the book, that is not the sole subject, just as "feminine" is not the sole gender. This book is excellent for anyone who reads SF and identifies with "The Other" implied or overt, or for anyone curious about how exactly science fiction has stretched itself to explore issues attendant to issues of gender and otherness.



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Review: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal the NecromancerJohannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Johannes Cabal is, as the title says, a necromancer. He's a madman, that's for certain. But he's rather brilliant and a dedicated scientist. He's audacious in his single minded determination to continue his work, whatever the cost. And it has cost him -- his soul, for one thing, which he traded in the usual way to Satan. Only now he needs his soul back. Why should this be a problem?

I liked this book much more than I expected, and perhaps a bit more than I wanted. Johannes Cabal is not what you might call a likable character. He's a very broken person, but he has no idea that he's so very damaged. He verges on to real evil as he tosses away anything he thinks stands between him and his goal. Yet I developed a real sympathy for him, which surprised me.

Set in some indeterminate, alternate "now", Cabal takes a trainload of satanic carnies on a soul-gathering tour of the countryside -- it felt more English than American, but there are no real geographical points for reference, save that there is a Europe of some kind, and there's been at least one World War. Really, the time and place felt incidental to the plot. It's intended to be timeless, a fable.

Now, the whole idea of the Evil Carnival is well known -- Howard includes a thank you dedication to Ray Bradbury on the acknowledgments page -- but this particular angle on it is new to me. The idea of selling one's soul to the Devil is well used, too, as is the idea of wagering with Satan, but, still, I liked this particular twist and turn of it as the story developed. The part of the book I found most difficult -- and the part that engaged me emotionally -- was the relationship between Johannes and his brother Horst. They are both monsters, you see, but I kept getting echos of Frankenstein here, in that even monsters have feelings, and it is perhaps actions that determine who is the monster and who is not. I can't go further without spoilers, but the relationship between the brothers was a rich mine which, while not fully exposed, was at least very involving. I'd have liked it to turn out differently, but it was authentic to the characters. However, there is a sequel and this is a rather magical world, so I can foster a tiny hope.

As for the humor -- and this book is intended to be funny -- this isn't a laugh out loud sort of book, at least not for me. I'm fine with that. The humor was mostly dry and subtle, which is my preference, although Howard does take a few wild swings in his metaphor. It echoed Pratchett and Fforde with hints of Monty Python and avoided the sort of clowny winking and nudging I tend to find annoying.

If I wanted to dig up a quibble (and I really am not driven to quibble about this book) I'd say that the rather obvious Giant Questions are left barely sketched in. Why is Johannes so obsessed about defeating death (we get a tiny bit of explanation at the very end)? What really caused Johannes' damage, his particular kinds of blindness? Why does he both hate and love his older brother? What happens to certain other essential characters in the book after their brush with the Carnival? There's also a bit of playing with the presentation of the story -- one chapter is told in odd pieces via intercutting the much accented/misspelled/dialect-ridden school report of a young boy with the author's third person voice. I understood what was being attempted (trying to create a boy's version of being tempted and saved in his own voice) but it felt like a lot of work to make the couple of points the author was going for.

I guess I'll have to pick up the second book (sophomore efforts are so often weaker, but I'm rather hoping the whole story existed and was just broken into chunks). If any of the above sounds appealing, then you might want to take a peek into Johannes Cabal's journey, too.



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Just so SOMETHING shows up

Hey, now I can easily cross post my book reviews to here. Aren't all of you so lucky? At least it means something happens and maybe I'll get around to talking again.

Not that much is happening to talk about. Life is still somewhat suspended. Husband is still awaiting a permanent job. I'm still waiting until I'm not waiting for something else to happen. The puppy is still growing (and growing). Sure, I could tell you about Caliban and the Mouse. I could tell you about how Ben loves our new screen room. Ophelia chugs along. Bea is fatter than ever. I even have pictures I could post if I'd just take them off my camera.

But I don't and who knows when I will?

Well, maybe guilt will help.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh, Yeah, I have a Blog

It isn't that nothing much happens to me -- I never let that stop me from writing here before -- so much as nothing I felt like typing about has happened. Life tumbles from moment to moment. I do things, I see the results, but at this particular point in my life, yelling it to the ether (and the 12 stalwart souls who follow this blog) doesn't seem so crucial.

That could change, which is why I haven't taken the silly thing down. So...a summary of the first few weeks of 2011.

We have a dog. He is a standard poodle named Zeus and -- despite all my efforts -- he runs our lives.

We have four cats now and they run whatever parts of our lives the dog does not run.

We joined a Unitarian Universalist church in the area and are enjoying it very much. I'm very involved there with committees and choruses and running a group of my own. That runs the parts of our lives we can wrest away from the dog and the cats (although the dog does come with us on certain meeting nights).

We are back on that "where will the next job be?" treadmill. No guarantees, lots of promises and wishes. This is more stressful than I can really describe, since I do my best not to let even myself know about this stress.

I've lost about 40 lbs, with more to go, but hardly any of my pants fit anymore and I shall be forced soon to drag out the sewing machine and Start Taking In. However, it would be dreadfully easy to gain the weight back again. But, I had about 3 months of no aching hips or back and I got rather used to living with a minimum of pain. Then, about 2 weeks ago, I slipped and fell onto my back at the park. That, coming at the end of 2 weeks fighting a sinus infection, helped me stop losing any weight and start letting it sneak back up on me. I go to the chiropractor tomorrow. I LIKED living with minimal pain, I liked roaming around at will (well, with knee braces on) and I liked losing weight. My blood pressure is getting back to normal and I hope to get off the damn pills soon. I have little daydreams of what I'll be like when I lose the next 40 lbs.

We are still in SC, I still am allergic to the place (allergy season just started a few weeks early) and I'm hoping the rain will clear up today as I am quite tired of constant rain.

I'm reading a lot more, or trying to. That feels surprisingly good. I'm not knitting as much, which bothers me a bit. I'll get it balanced in time.

So, that's pretty much my news. How're all of you?