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Thicket of Worlds Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

The Light and the Dark was (mildly) interesting and (moderately) engaging. Roy bobs around in academia, struggles through cycles of depression and mania, cheerfully breaks a few hearts, flirts with Nazism as a symptom of his craving for authority, and eventually signs on as a fighter pilot (for the British) in a fit of self-destructiveness.

He's pretty dull as fictional geniuses go, and constantly smiling wryly or sadly or knowingly out of the narration, as though for a camera.

C. P. Snow is not quite my poison. The Light and the Dark was like a paler, calmer TV adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham story. It moved quickly enough and I didn't mind reading it, but it didn't leave anything behind or steal anything on the way out. But there are nine books left in the series (!) and anything can happen. I won't be at all surprised if I get some kind of cumulative gut-punch by the time I finish them all. I also won't be surprised if I don't.

What I'm Reading Now

The war is in words and the wood is the world. Maply me, willowy we, hickory he and yew yourselves

Finnegans Wake is still at my ear. I've been reading about 1-2 pages per day because that's usually all I can read without starting to skim. Part of me thinks it was a mistake to try to read the whole thing without the helpful scaffolding offered by Reader's Guides, because I have no idea what is going on, if anything, or if there are "characters" the way the back-cover copy sort of alleges there might be (in a very plausible-deniability way) but anyway, it's interesting. The thing it reminds me of most right now is a very rapid-fire and tangentially expanding stand-up comedy routine. Every joke branches into forty jokes, and just like that, you're lost in the woods again.

My overwhelming constant underthought while reading Finnegans Wake is that this book must have been hell to proofread.

The Left Hand of Darkness is my first novel by Ursula K. LeGuin, but it shares a lot of the virtues that impressed me in her short stories a couple years ago. In particular, she is excellent at introducing unexpected situations and details (in this case, the narrator is a Space Ambassador from a large multi-planet trade network, trying to open negotiations with an alien society) without clumsy infodumping or "as you know" lectures. It's also a space-exploration story in which time dilation is a factor, so that's cool. I also like that the planet is politically and culturally homogeneous, which should be a low bar for multiple-inhabited-planet sci-fi, but is still rare enough in my limited (mostly TV-based) experience.

(One obvious but neat detail: both the ambassador and the Gethenians refer to their own planets as "earth." I'm assuming that Terra, listed among the members of the Ekumen, is "our" Earth, though I could be wrong)

Genly Ai is the space ambassador; he's just had an unsatisfying interview with the king of Karhide, one of the nations of Gethen (called Winter by the Ekumen, because it's so cold all the time). Now he's heading up into the mountains to meet some space monks. Every other chapter is a Gethenian folk tale. The politics are a little hard to follow, but I'm enjoying this book a lot so far.

What I Plan to Read Next

Next up in 99 Novels: The Victim by Saul Bellow and Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, two more books I know nothing about! Plus more from my bookshelf, and this Denis Johnson book I haven't started yet, hmm.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
scripsi
Jan. 27th, 2016 07:28 am (UTC)
The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books I read in my early teens and largely went over my head. One of these Days I will have to re-read it. I love LeGuins original Eartsea-trilogy, though.
evelyn_b
Jan. 27th, 2016 03:05 pm (UTC)
I'm sure a lot of it is going over my head even now! It's so good, though.
wordsofastory
Jan. 27th, 2016 06:50 pm (UTC)
The Left Hand of Darkness is really good! I read it years ago, but remember enjoying the experience a great deal.

Edited at 2016-01-27 06:50 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b
Jan. 28th, 2016 02:57 am (UTC)
I love it a lot. It's everything I could ask for in a space-exploration-with-humanoid-aliens story, so far, at least. It's so deftly confusing and vivid and thoughtful. And Ai's constant discomfort on this glacial planet is so cozy, which is a shallow thing to like about a book, but true. Like, it's a great book to wrap myself up in an afghan and make a cup of hot chocolate for.
wordsofastory
Jan. 28th, 2016 07:27 pm (UTC)
Did you know about the central conceit of the book before you started? I was pretty familiar with the basic idea before I started reading it, but it would have been very cool to come into it with no expectations.
evelyn_b
Jan. 28th, 2016 10:13 pm (UTC)
Not a clue! I had some vague idea that space would be involved, and I'd read a short story by LeGuin a few years ago where there was slower-than-light space travel, so at some point it clicked for me that the Ekumen was the same organization from that story, but nothing beyond that.
wordsofastory
Jan. 29th, 2016 06:04 pm (UTC)
I'm really interested to see what you think once you've finished!
lost_spook
Jan. 28th, 2016 09:27 pm (UTC)
I am sort of reading The Left Hand of Darkness, too, but it might take me a year or two, because I found other things that were easier to go on with, but the beginning is definitely intriguing...
evelyn_b
Jan. 28th, 2016 10:14 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're intrigued! I hope you make it through; it's been definitely worth sticking with so far.
lost_spook
Jan. 29th, 2016 05:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, it's more that I'd rather wait till the mythical time when I have more brain to avoid spoiling it. (When I'm bad books have been hated and flung across the room for no fault of their own; merely that I have trouble making sentences and paragraphs live in my mind.) I'm intrigued so far & obviously it's good to know the classics of a genre.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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