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Overly Invested Outsiders Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

"Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars -- the other kinds of men, the other lives?"

The Left Hand of Darkness was even better than I expected. I don't know if I'm completely ready to talk about it yet -- I might make another post next week or a month from now, or I might just answer questions if you have any, but I loved it. It's very carefully built as a story about an alien envoy learning a new world, and built so that you become accustomed to the Gethenians slowly and incompletely, the way Genly Ai does, and there's an emotional undertow that creeps up on you so that you barely notice it until you're half drowned.

By "you" I mean "me," of course -- me and Ai.

I'm trying to think of a way to call this a "mature" or "literary" take on space diplomacy without being a jerk about it, because the things I'm comparing it to are also things I love. I keep wanting to say that it's George Eliot to Star Trek's Dickens: clear-eyed and grounded, I mean, and patient with its premise to a degree that Star Trek never manages. It's tough (I want to say "realistic," but who knows?) about the enormously complicated prospect of meeting anyone for the first time, let alone in space, even with the Trek-like cheat of common ancestry -- but it's also essentially hopeful. I was glad for that: Alien was a great movie, but I don't want all my first-contact stories to be Alien. Or most of them, even.

What I'm Reading Now

So I found this Georgette Heyer book at my mother-in-law's house (it's one of the books she bought as part of a Romance Novel Paperback Club in the early 2000s, most of which have titles like Fake ID Bride and The Billionaire's Secret Baby) and people keep telling me to read Georgette Heyer, so I took it home. It's called The Grand Sophy. The opening is not immediately arresting: a couple of middle-aged drawing-room types throw themselves an exposition party, in a plummy style similar to the one I associate with impending murder.

Sophy is a cousin of the exposition family, whom they have agreed to host while her father is away in South America. She is a blinding ray of human sunshine in lavishly described clothes, with unlimited funds and a little coterie of pets. From the minute she shows up, she's sort of exuberantly fictional, like an imaginative twelve-year-old in a playground that looks like the past. Sophy has noticed some dissatisfactions in the personal lives of her relatives and plans to fix them all up, Flora Poste-style, after waving away a bunch of perfectly sensible objections. It's a lot of fun, for the most part. I don't like how much humiliation is getting piled on the head of the one cousin's Excessively Serious Fiancee. She's a little pedantic and gossipy, sure, but her concern for propriety only seems excessive because she doesn't realize she's living in a frothy twentieth-century comedy-romance.

The Laughing Monsters is not really my thing at all, but so far it's been a little better than the first few pages led me to expect. How much better remains to be seen. There's a guy who's been hired to spy on another guy in a city with unreliable electricity, no one is likeable because no one's supposed to be, the streets are in bad shape and everyone is cagey about their intentions.

And I took both Under the Volcano and The Victim out from the library, because I was feeling optimistic. What I can say about Under the Volcano so far: it's got great weather and good drunkenness. Otherwise, I'm reserving judgment. I haven't read very far.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Victim, whatever's next on my bookshelf, assorted Victorians for tutoring. Work is going to be taking over my reading life for the next three weeks, so these posts might get sparse, or they might not, depending on how badly I manage my time.


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 3rd, 2016 08:27 am (UTC)
The Grand Sophy is one of Heyer's most popular books - I love it, though it's not in my top rank, but the rolling comedy and the sparkling dialogue is wonderful. And yes, the Fiancee is dumped on a bit, but at least she does end up with a matrimonial catch to take The Hero's place! (which, like in Austen, matters a LOT)
Feb. 3rd, 2016 03:13 pm (UTC)
What would you put in your top rank? Are they all pretty similar in tone to this one?

Poor Financee, I'm glad she makes it out of the Mart with something to show for her trouble. I hope she finds someone who appreciates her own special sparkle-free form of meddling.
Feb. 6th, 2016 02:55 am (UTC)
Let's see...

Cotillion is I think the absolute funniest she ever wrote, and has my favourite Heyer Hero in the adorable Freddy. Sylvester and Frederica are both comic gold and prove her to be that rare thing, a popular writer who can write genuinely adorable children :)

Venetia and Blck Sheep are wonderful examples of her mature style, still funny but with more depth.

The Unknown Ajax is a wonderful sendup of a particular vein of Gothic historicals, with the requisite gloomy house, family tyrant and smuggling subplot... and has my second favourite of her heroes :)

And although the book itself is not her best, The Talisman Ring has my favourite character in the absolutely splendid heroine Sarah Thane, who I would happily have read ten books about...
Feb. 3rd, 2016 08:33 am (UTC)
:lol: To be fair, occasionally, Georgette Heyer will oblige with a murder, even in her romances. :-)

The Grand Sophy is a good one (although watch out for a thing, a v. typical bit of mid-century/historical prejudice that unfortunately pops up briefly in the middle before it goes back to being huge fun, and with bonus ducklings. Having coped with mid century detectives, I'm sure you'll weather it, but since GH at her best is such froth, it sometimes really knocks people out of that one).

I'm glad you enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness! (I promise I will finish it one day, but in the meantime I'm reading some nonsense that doesn't give me headaches, which is rather a relief.)
Feb. 3rd, 2016 03:03 pm (UTC)
Prejudice? In my Regency matchmaker holodeck program? Oh, well, thanks for the warning. So far it's just been High-Spirited Antics with Horses, and Sophy is arranging for her cousin Cecilia to spend as much time as possible with her unsuitable suitor (a cartoon poet) so she will get acclimated to his beautiful face and start to notice his personality. Very clever, Sophy!

The Left Hand of Darkness is very good once you can get at it (that is, I hope you'll enjoy it once you do), but yes, stay headache-free if you can!
Feb. 3rd, 2016 05:47 pm (UTC)
Heh, good! :-)

Btw, completely off topic, but where are you up to in DW now, or have you slowed down a lot with all the missing eps to contend with?
Feb. 4th, 2016 12:03 am (UTC)
I've slowed down a lot due to RL time and technical issues, mostly. But I've just watched "The Myth Makers" and it was DELIGHTFUL, even with all the missing footage (I wish all those glorious hams hadn't been lost to the fire). I actually thought it was a much better/smarter take on the Fall of Troy than the movie Troy -- maybe because the goofiness of Who cuts against pomposity, and it frees everyone up a little -- though admittedly that's a low bar.

I'll probably make a post about it when I get to the end of S3, though that might be in a month or so due to aforementioned RL.

(I'm going to miss Vicki, though).

Oh, and I found the Grand Sophy prejudice bomb! It was worse than I expected!
Feb. 4th, 2016 10:17 am (UTC)
That was why I warned you! I think it is the worst one in any of them, but I'm not sure because I read them all as a teenager and swallowed them whole as sort of historical fantasy & I tend to only go back and notice when other people are shrieking about it on the internet, I am embarrassed to say.

Anyway, more importantly, I am so glad you enjoyed The Myth Makers! I really liked it, too, even just listening on audio & am also very sad that it has been burninated. Good luck with the time-consuming rl things and I look forward to that S3 post whenever it happens!

I believe, though, you have The Dalek Master Plan coming up next, which at least has 3 out of 12 eps surviving, lol. :-)
Feb. 5th, 2016 06:31 am (UTC)
The benefit of reading things for the first time as an adult is that I can't go back later and feel betrayed, I guess.

I believe, though, you have The Dalek Master Plan coming up next, which at least has 3 out of 12 eps surviving, lol. :-)

:O Is this master plan going to be as UNCOMPROMISINGLY RATIONAL as the Dalek's previous master plan to turn the Earth into a giant spaceship? Oh, Daleks.

Edited at 2016-02-05 06:31 am (UTC)
Feb. 5th, 2016 08:50 am (UTC)
I think I've read too many mid-20thC novels, social history and diaries to even feel betrayed at this point. Just annoyed that I have to attach 'but's to my recommendation. I'm probably a terrible person, although I hope not.

You are forgetting that their actual previous masterplan at this point was actually to get up one morning and chase the TARDIS through time and space pausing only to scare a few humans and fight Frankenstein before making a really unconvincing double of the Doctor to go and kill him for them. Anyway, only time will tell what sort of mood they were in when they came up with this Masterplan. ;-)
Feb. 3rd, 2016 12:19 pm (UTC)

I read Left Hand of Darkness a long time ago but it stayed with me, particularly the journey across the ice.  I enjoyed the build very much. I really should reread it.

Feb. 3rd, 2016 02:47 pm (UTC)
I recommend it! I'll probably come back to it myself in a year or two. Have you read any of LeGuin's other books? I won't get to it right away but I want to read The Dispossessed next.

The ice! I'm having some trouble expressing myself at the moment, but yes.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 02:49 pm (UTC)

I read Lavinia, which was Ok but not that memorable. I have heard Dispossessed recommended before and I do want to give it a try.

Feb. 3rd, 2016 07:45 pm (UTC)
The journey over the ice is what I remember too. And meeting the king.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 02:55 pm (UTC)
the ice crossing is one of my most beloved pieces of literature ever. if i had to nail my favorite le guin novel it would probably be threshold/the beginning place, but still - this one is special in a circle of very special books.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 03:17 pm (UTC)
It's so good! I wish I'd read it years ago, but that can't be helped. Is Threshold/The Beginning another one involving the Ekumen, or is it separate?

I should try to prevent myself from getting sidetracked by a bunch more LeGuin before I've read some other things, but I might get a little sidetracked eventually anyway. We'll see.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 03:20 pm (UTC)
no, it's unrelated to ekumen - it's a fairly unusual portal fantasy that's mostly about two people growing into themselves and not about the portal fantasy world per se. it's WEIRD, but i love it.

there's also always coming home, and it's a cross between a memoir, an adventure novel and an archeologist/anthropologist report of a made-up world and culture. it's also weird and just... amazing. i need to reread it one of these days.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 06:55 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked Left Hand of Darkness! There's a short story set in the same world, but from the perspective of a young Gethenian, that gets more into the sexual and gender roles, if you're interested. It's called "Coming of Age in Karhide", and I'm pretty sure you can find it online, if you don't have any of Le Guin's story collections.

The Grand Sophy is a lot of fun! I find it's better to think of Heyer's books as comedies than romances, and definitely not as accurate histories.
Feb. 4th, 2016 12:21 am (UTC)
Thanks! I might be able to read a short story sooner than another novel, but I defnintely feel like I want more things in the same vein.

The Grand Sophy feels like an entirely fictional meringue princess castle, but it's (mostly) such an amiable and funny and more or less coherent meringue princess castle that I don't begrudge it anything. Heyer does seem to have done a lot of research into types of carriages and what street to buy horses on and that sort of thing, but it's a little like the "upcycled vintage inspired" earrings they sell where I work, where someone has bought a lot of old things and turned them into a big glittering new thing that is supposed to remind you a little of the old thing.

But in a good way! (mostly)

Edited at 2016-02-04 05:43 am (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2016 07:10 pm (UTC)
Re: t
The Grand Sophy feels like an entirely fictional meringue princess castle

That's an excellent description of Heyer in general, I feel! She has a few works with a more serious tone, but in my opinion, they never work quite as well as her frivolous comedies.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 08:07 pm (UTC)
Did you read a he or she version of Left Hand of Darkness? I read the original were the Gethenians are called he throughout. I suspect one would "read" the book differently if Reading a she version.

I really want to read Planet of Exile by Leguin again.

Hmm, I seem to have missed Grand Sophy. I have several Heyers, but not that one.
Feb. 4th, 2016 12:29 am (UTC)
Oh, that's really interesting! I didn't know there were two different editions. Mine is a "he" edition, a hardcover from 1969.

Actually, the only thing about The Left Hand of Darkness that feels at all dated to me is that Ai occasionally ponders the inscrutability of women (he's asked about the sex situation on Terra, and reflects that women are more alien to him in a way than the Gethenians). It's probably not "dated" -- I mean, there are people who feel that way now and there probably will be in the real future -- but it was a very Space Sixties moment just the same.

I'd be interested to read a "she" edition, just to see what happens.
Feb. 4th, 2016 05:52 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I felt very sure that there was an edition where the he was changed to she, but I can't find any information about it, so I Think I'm wrong. I know LeGuin choose to use gendered pronomens for readability and was critizised for chosing male pronomens as some felt it showed how masculinity are used as norm. I do know that the short story Winter's Guest use female pronomens, though the King is still King, not Queen.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 10:42 pm (UTC)
I just read The Grand Sophy! It's my first Heyer, and I adored it. By the end, everyone gets their happy ending. Sophy's a bit interfering, but no worse than Austen's Emma. Sophy's plans are so outrageous and outlandish (wait until you reach the climax), but she's got a good heart.

Edited at 2016-02-03 10:43 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2016 12:35 am (UTC)
Perfect icon for a perfect coincidence! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'm still a little way from the end, but I feel confident that all the meddlng threads will come together.

Sophy's kind of like Emma's ideal of herself, isn't she? :)

Edited at 2016-02-04 12:35 am (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2016 12:40 am (UTC)
They all come together marvelously. Especially starting with Sophy's party.

Sophy is exactly what Emma thinks she is! I understand another one of Heyer's heroines is like Sophy but less successful; I'm not sure of the title, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be reading lots of Heyer in the near future. :D
Feb. 4th, 2016 02:58 am (UTC)
I can never seem to balance pleasure and work. Tis always one or the other it seems!

Feb. 5th, 2016 06:14 am (UTC)
I'm exceptionally bad at it myself! Or maybe just ordinarily bad; I can never tell. Just now I got up to answer some time-sensitive! work emails and decided to check LJ first, "just in case." Just in case of what, I ask you?
Feb. 5th, 2016 07:35 am (UTC)
I guess it depends on the day of the week? Or moon phase? *CACKLES*

Just in case one of the emails snuck into your ElJay inbox? Never hurts to check there. Just in case. Of weevils. *coughs*
Feb. 6th, 2016 10:37 am (UTC)
I'm embarrassed to say I have never got around to reading Left Hand - I know, classic! I read the original Earthsea trilogy, some short fiction and I'm halfway through Lavinia, in which the heroine is a character from the Aeneid who married Aeneas. Thing is, she is communicating with Virgil, who is on his way home to Rome in his own time and place and very surprised that his own fictional character is talking to him and is actually a lot more wonderful than he had imagined her. I am firmly determined to download some of her books to my iPad where I will be more likely to read term than in print.

I've read some Heyer and have an audiobook of Sylvester, read by the gorgeous Richard Armitage, who could read the phone book and delight me with that mellow voice! I stopped reading The Grand Sophy when I reached the prejudice bomb.

Ooh, they've put out The Mythmakers on DVD? Must look for it! I have a Patrick Troughton one with an entire missing episode animated, using the voices they got from someone's audiotape. I used to audiotape TV shows I loved before I had a VCR. Who could have predicted those could be useful one day? But The Mythmakers! Stephen and Vicki(Vicki's last story). And very funny. Can't remember how I saw it recently enough to remember bits, though I confess to having been around, if very young, when it was first shown. I have The Aztecs and The Romans, both delightfully funny, something I'd forgotten till I saw them again. Ah, the look on the Doctor's face in The Aztecs when he suddenly realises that sharing a cup of chocolate with a nice Aztec lady means he's engaged to her(but he pulls himself together and makes use of her contacts)! And his giving Nero the idea of burning Rome - chuckle! I wonder if the William Hartnell stories were just regularly played for humour?
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )


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