|Books read, early September
||[Sep. 17th, 2010|10:49 am]
Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl. This won the Hugo, so I may be the last person in my immediate social circle to read it. I don't know. It was not what we might call upbeat, and while I think I get what Bacigalupi was aiming for both in his treatment of the titular character and in his worldbuilding, there are several spots where I would have just quit reading if I didn't work in the field and want to keep up on influential, important works, because I am just kind of done with the graphic, humiliating rape scenes for the moment. Just--done, thanks. But it was in the service of--done. But the character later goes on to--done. Really. We can find some other way for this particular metaphor to be expressed, this particular point about humanity to be made, I would hope. I do hope. Because I'm going to have to keep reading important, influential works in this field, since, y'know, this is what I do. Professionally. Socially. This is what I do. And I am very, very tired. (Before anyone says so, no, I have not called for censorship of graphic, humiliating rape scenes; I have not called for a moratorium on you writing whatever is in your heart or your mind. Do your thing. I have just said that I would really like to be done reading them for awhile. And I'd like you to think about whether that is the best, most creative way for your thing to be done. If it is, go to. It's just that when I get there, I will probably not race through the book turning cartwheels of joy at that particular bit.)
James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers. Grandpa's. This is the story of the Marines who raised the US flag on Iwo Jima in the iconic photograph of that event. Bradley's father was one of them. It was a fairly recent book, and in some ways an odd one: there were places where it pulled far fewer punches than I expected and was much more straightforward about things like VD testing and alcoholism. And this was in some ways inevitable: one of the six Marines involved died of alcohol poisoning after his return to the US. While a more modern book probably has less temptation to be a patriotic hagiography than one closer to the event, it was still a great deal more balanced and thoughtful than it had to be to sell. There were a few passages where he was trying to sell the East/West culture clash thing, where it would have surprised the heck out of the Chinese or much of the rest of Asia to learn that Japanese military culture represented them at the time. Where in this case "surprised the heck out of" is Minnesotan for "offended beyond belief, and rightly so." Bradley does better when he's sticking to the American soldiers and their specific action than when he's trying to place the war in context.
And yet--a little problematic even on the personal level. Because Bradley's father was the straight-arrow, the good guy, the one whose story was the least iffy. He lived the longest, raised a family that loved him, ran a solid business, and really does appear to have been a pillar of the community. And it's got to be easier to choose not to pull punches when your dad is that guy, the Catholic kid who helped the priest with mass on Iwo Jima and came home from the war to cry himself to sleep instead of drinking himself to death. It's got to be easier when the punches you're not pulling are in someone else's family member's face. But on the other other hand, Bradley can't help it that his dad was that guy. I know how that goes. Some of the stories about my grandparents are of the form "and your grandma sure bailed me out of that one!" or, "Boy, I don't know what I would have done if your grandpa hadn't come along, sober like he always was, and gotten me out of that jam." You can't manufacture iffy decisions or terrible diseases for the people you love just to make it more balanced; sometimes the people you love really are the lucky ones or the ones who come out smelling like a rose.
And I think Bradley dodges some of the worst judgments people have made of Ira Hayes, the flag-raiser who died of alcohol poisoning. He explicitly rejects those who blame it on his ethnic background (Hayes was Native American), pointing out that many white men who fought in that war came back from it with similar drinking problems. I think this could have used a little more examination, but on the other hand it wasn't a history of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in WWII vets, it was a broader thing than that, and also more focused. In general, if you're interested in this kind of focused history of American servicemen in WWII, you could do worse, but there are very obvious things to look out for and discount.
Don Cook, The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies, 1760-1785. logovore recommended this at 4th St. when we were talking up Fred Anderson's Crucible of War; I still think if you're going to read one book about British/North American relations of that period, the Anderson is a better choice, but they're doing very different things. The Cook is covering the period after the 7 Years' War, the bit where England's relations with its colonies are going to heck. It's sort of a companion piece to a knowledge of the Revolutionary War. It assumes that you know, more or less, what's going on with Washington and the like, and it fills in what the British politicians were doing at the time in regards to the situation. Which is highly relevant and interesting, but sometimes it gets a little unfocused, and if you don't have a thorough grounding in the American Revolution, better go get that first, before you read this, or you will be fairly adrift.
Diane Duane, Omnitopia Dawn. Joining This Is Not a Game and For the Win in online-gaming-related fiction I've read recently. There were really obvious character things I thought she was doing that she was not, in fact, doing (alecaustin: those things I said in IM: I was wrong), but the things she was doing were not much farther afield. This was a fun read--Diane Duane can write, always--but not a ground-breaking one. Which is all right; not everything has to be.
Dave Duncan, The Alchemist's Apprentice, The Alchemist's Code, and The Alchemist's Pursuit. A fun set of alternate histories set in Venice, good for reading while sick. The Alchemist in the title is Nostradamus's fictional nephew, whose prophecies seem to be more immediately useful, though still in quatrain form. There are swords and cloaks and costumes. These books will not change your world, but they may well while away your afternoon.
Nevil Shute, Pied Piper. The last Shute I read was bad Shute. This is good Shute. This is a story of an old man getting an ever-increasing number of young children of varying ethnicity and religion out of France ahead of the Nazis. It is charming and practical and really well done, and also a fast read. It's the sort of book that makes me wish my grandmother could read books that had anything to do with war, because it is that rare thing, a plot we could both really enjoy, not treacly but really sweet. (Grandma lost a favorite brother in WWII and has been officially Done With War ever since. The world has, in its inevitable way, not complied with this request, and she has coped whenever the nonfiction world has demanded it of her, but she does not see that she should volunteer for more war in her worlds of fiction, and I don't see why I should make her.)
Janni Lee Simner, Thief Eyes. Contemporary YA set in Iceland! My alley: you are up it! Janni has, as I knew she would, done her research very thoroughly, and not in a direction that makes the book suffer, and also not in a direction that's unsympathetic to my own reading of the sagas. And the modern teenagers are a thorough delight and make believably teenage choices, and I loved the ending, and this is highly, highly recommended.
Frank Noel Stagg, East Norway and Its Frontier. This disappointed me. Stagg is, I think, too much a product of his times (mid-1950s): he wanted to write a regional history and still focus too much on kings and crowns. There were a few of the things I wanted to know, but not nearly enough of the peasant cloth of the land. Ah well; win some, lose some, on a used bookstore gamble like this one.