Monday, October 06, 2008


Human Variety

There's something that keeps turning over in my mind, from The Shadows of Ghadames (blogged 9/6/08); it is this kind of thing that got me started doing this in the first place. The sequestered women of that book take turns hosting a regular women's market. They trade goods, but not for money: out of their powerlessness and poverty, they erect a framework of social support and personal favours. Each trader, by giving of what she has when she has it, assures herself of the blind eye or loaf of bread she or her loved ones will surely need somewhere down the road. Hey! It's a reputation economy! just like in ...

Extras by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2007). This clever little addition to the Uglies cycle posits a post "mind-rain" (Tally Youngblood's nano cure for the bubblehead operation) city which decides to curb its rampant consumption problem by the institution of a "reputation economy": in order to get more or better clothes, food, accomodation, stuff, and leisure time, you have to earn merits (ie, do chores or labour for the common good) or fame; to facilitate the earning of fame, every citizen above littlie age gets a feed—their personal port of call on the information superocean. So they go around with hovercam floating above one shoulder, trying to get the attention of the city, the country, the world. Once again, SW does a great job building up this world; the ending (the answer to the mystery of the "inhumans") is a bit cheesy and unbelievable (the reason for the eye-surge, for example: pshaw! SW only wanted us to expect aliens) but it was awfully fun getting there.

The Samurai's Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard (Hougton Mifflin, 1984), another Japanese historical fiction novel from this excellent author, follows the career of the son of a minor warlord murdered by an enemy, as he grows from captive kitchen boy to trusted right hand of a great samurai. This is Medieval Times from another part of the world.

I read Voices by Ursula K. LeGuin before I read its prequel, Gifts (Harcourt, 2006), simply because it looked so good that I couldn't wait. Now I've read the latter and discovered there was no harm done in reading them out of order. These books, though linked by common geography and some characters, stand alone. But so richly! They are much better than the Earthsea books, at least the trilogy. They're a tribute to human imagination, in all its forms—and especially in story.

A Taste for Rabbit by Linda Zuckerman (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Inc., 2007) is a interesting tale, in which an outcast member of a society of intelligent foxes comes face to face with a troubled citizen of a city of intelligent rabbits. There's an intelligent badger, mixed up in it, too, and a pair of lesbian raccoons; and despite all this, the story manages to be quite courtly, old-fashioned and a bit philosophical. The writing is a touch clumsy at times, but how the author deals with the whole prey/predator thing is deft.

The Pull of the Ocean by Jean-Claude Mourlevat (Delacorte/Random House, 2006; translated from the French L'enfant ocean) was puzzling. I'm given the impression that it is supposed to be deeply meaningful, but the meaning escaped me. In looking for it, am I doing what the author cautions the reader not to do, in the voice of "Jean Martiniere, sixty years old, skipper, merchant marine"? To whit:
...this child wasn't real, [...] he had stepped right out of a fairy tale. [...] he was granting [us] the right to enter the tale for a moment [...] willing to take [us] in [as long as we] stop asking stupid questions.
Intellectually, I might deconstruct the tale along the lines of "The story is told in many voices, the voices of all the individual's who "read" Yann's silence and the story which unfolds from the escape he engineers for himself and his brothers , much like a Biblical parable or fable of Aesop is "read" people from all times and places" etc., etc., as you will; but if I can't get pleasure from the first reading, what's the point? If the author doesn't want me to ask questions, then he should do a better job of wooing me. Give me some kind of satisfaction of language or imagery to go on with. Strike my heart's bell.

Is the lack of resonance the fault of the translation? Is French meaning untranslatable? (Was the American Library Association's Batchelder Award for the French original, or English translation?)

Being by Kevin Brooks (Puffin [UK]/Chicken House/Scholastic Inc. [NA], 2007) was a bit gory for Son, who didn't like the idea of cutting yourself open to fish around in your insides. The fact that the person doing the fishing was not-quite-human didn't help at all, I think. But what an interesting way to look at the deeply adolescent "who am I?" question, all wrapped up in a very cool, bite-sized version of the Bourne story. And how strangely cold, yet right, the ending was, with not one of us, not even the not-quite-human himself, knowing who or what he is, beyond what the story tells us about him.

I should point out that all my reading is done against the background hum of The New Yorker, as I keep up with my new subscription. Sisters in the province who are interested in the back issues as they accumulate should speak up!

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