Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin
Outer Space, Inner Lands is the second of two volumes collecting together the best of Ursula Le Guin’s short fiction. It’s also the one containing all the SF work, or at least all the less realistic work, and it contains stories like ‘Those Who Walk Away from Omelas’, one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous stories (at least among people I know) — though not my favourite, as I think the moral is obvious from the beginning.
As always, Le Guin’s writing is clear and strong, and the stories chosen here span her career and showcase all kinds of different ideas and different phases of her work. I prefer it to the first volume, because I find Le Guin’s speculative fiction more accessible.
She’s brilliant. Do yourself a favour.
Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
I could have sworn I reviewed this back when I read it, which was quite a while ago, but apparently not. So this review will be pretty short. Basically, I felt that Sookie wasn’t convincing as a protagonist — she’s just so stupid (“oh, I’ll just wander into a dangerous situation, everything will be fine!”) and yet so lucky (everything is indeed fine). I didn’t find those decisions she made plausible, at least not for a character I’m meant to like.
I do actually enjoy Harris’ books as light reading, or at least I liked the Harper Connolly books. So unfortunately it’s probably mostly that I really didn’t take to Sookie.
This is the second of my scheduled way-in-advance posts, so it’s not the most up to date, but next week I’ll be back with your regularly scheduled update. I don’t have a new bunny picture to share, since the buns are off at the babysitter’s, but here’s an older one of Hulk begging to be pet, and one of Breakfast cleaning his face!
How have I deserved such cute buns?
Books bought this week:
Again, just a tiny selection from a rather larger haul. Calgary’s bookshops probably fear me, by now.
Books read this week:
Not much reading this week, given roadtrips and such!
Reviews posted this week:
–Acadie, by Dave Hutchinson. I was along for the ride, nodding at the fairly predictable beats — and then wham, the ending jacked it up a star. 4/5 stars
–Why Dinosaurs Matter, by Kenneth Lacovara. Nothing much new if you know your dinosaurs, but interesting all the same. 3/5 stars
–The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley. Give me moooore of the archaeology, less of the ghost story! 3/5 stars
–Hengeworld, by Mike Pitts. Fascinating discussion of the mythic landscape of Paleolithic Britain, although I don’t always agree with Pitts’ assessments. Lots of depth on the archaeological digs and so on. 3/5 stars
–The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. …I don’t get the fuss, sorry. 2/5 stars
–A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. More insular and intimate than the first book, this feels less easily resolved too. I enjoyed it a lot, and it can stand alone if you’re interested. 4/5 stars
–The Making of the Fittest, by Sean B. Carroll. Basically looks at the “forensic record” of evolution encoded in DNA. Interesting enough, especially if you’re looking for examples to cite… 3/5 stars
–WWW Wednesday. The update on what I’m reading and what I might read next.
I know I’ve been away, but I’ll be back soon after this goes up, so let me know how you’re all doing!
The Making of the Fittest, Sean B. Carroll
The Making of the Fittest is really about that subtitle: “DNA and the ultimate forensic record of evolution”. It’s all about showing that DNA holds the record of evolution, and essentially proves what is difficult to see in real time. There are some good examples, but overall I found myself wondering if anyone who wasn’t already convinced would become convinced by this book. DNA isn’t exactly a secret, and the fact that many species share DNA isn’t either, and yet people still doubt that that means anything.
It’s a good enough read if you’re looking for examples, though, and good if you really want to get to grips with examples of convergent evolution, too.
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit felt even more insular and intimate than The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which was pretty closely focused on its crew. This book features Lovelace — the base AI Lovey developed from, but without her memories — and Pepper, who is a side character in the first book. It’s mostly about Lovelace, or Sidra, as she decides to call herself, and how she finds her way and figures out how to be herself, how to be a person, but it also follows Pepper’s past and shows how she got to where she was too. Found family is a theme here again, and there’s the same diversity of characters that a lot of people (including me!) loved from the first book.
This book does improve on The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet in a key way: it doesn’t feel as much like the conflicts and problems are resolved too easily. It does feel as though the characters have to work for it, and have to compromise rather than get an ideal outcome. There were one or two cases of that in the first book, but overall it felt too easily solved; that’s not the case here, in my opinion, which makes the payoff the sweeter.
Again, if soft SF is your thing, and you’re looking for something with interpersonal rather than intergalactic conflicts (though there’s some hints of the wider world as well) then this may well be your cup of tea. I’d start with the first book, though; it’s not necessary, but it gives you some context.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
Being me, the answer is “too much at once”. I’ve got two non-fiction books on the go — Imagining Head-Smashed-In, by Jack W. Brink, which is about the buffalo jump in Alberta, and The Atheist and the Bonobo, by Frans de Waal. I’m finding both of them interesting, and at least Brink’s book has been praised by First Nations people.
Fiction-wise, I’m reading The Bear and the Nightingale, and trying to finish it. I’m also partway through The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers, which is interesting but a little overwhelming.
What have you recently finished reading?
I haven’t actually been finishing much this week, since I’ve been in Canada and going on long car trips, etc. But I did finish The Gods of Olympus, by Barbara Graziosi. It was interesting, but not exactly revelatory — I seemed to know most of the stuff about the development of the way people perceived the Olympians.
Before that, I think the last thing I finished was A Wrinkle in Time. I know it’s a classic, but… it kind of left me cold. Sorry?
What will you read next?
I don’t quite know. Possibly the next Vlad Taltos book — I reread Jhereg last week. Or I should start Caliban’s War, which I still haven’t read, even though it was last month’s book club read. Oops.
What are you reading?
The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
I’ve been vaguely aware that this book existed for ages, but never picked it up — I’m pretty sure I didn’t know anything except the title, in fact, because I wasn’t sure what to expect when I did pick this up. I know it’s supposed to be a bit of a classic and it won awards and all, but I didn’t really get into it. The mystery is so-so and there’s too many characters crammed into a small number of pages — and yet I found myself wondering when it’s be over.
Turtle is a fun character, for sure, and I found myself a little bit caught up in how she and her sister navigated their issues… but otherwise, I mostly didn’t get into this at all, care about the characters or really wonder about the mystery. Meh?
Hengeworld, Mike Pitts
For the most part, Hengeworld is a thoughtful discussion of the various discoveries about henge sites, mostly in the Wessex area. It looks at dating and old digs, piecing together as accurate a story as possible and trying to put together the context of Stonehenge and the places like it. I’m pretty happy that, at least in 2000ish when this was written, Pitts was saying nothing controversial — his work aligns with that of Francis Pryor (notably not referenced, though) and Mike Parker Pearson.
One note, though — where Pitts discusses people protesting the dig at Seahenge, he insists that the protestors didn’t understand what was going on. Surely, he seems to think, if they’d understood the circle was going to be destroyed anyway by the sea, if they’d understood the importance to archaeology, they wouldn’t have had anything to protest about. But that ignores the link people still have with the prehistoric monuments like Seahenge. It was built of timber, so surely our ancestors knew it would rot in the end. It was built on the shore, for goodness’ sake — a liminal, impermanent place if there ever was one. They meant for Seahenge to be taken by the sea, perhaps. It may even have been important to them. Who is Mike Pitts, or any archaeologist, to claim that’s not worth respecting?
I share the curiosity about megaliths and henges — obviously. I’ve read this book. But sometimes I do wonder why we privilege our understanding of them over the symbolism they had for ancient peoples. On the one hand, of course those people are gone and won’t know what’s happening. On the other… maybe rescuing Seahenge is not a sign of respect for the past, but a desecration. However important you think the archaeology is, I think there should be room to consider that and accept that some people may feel it trumps the opportunity for radiocarbon dating, and freezing the remains of Seahenge in time in a climate controlled environment. That is not, after all, what Seahenge was built for.
When Pitts concludes that different eras have made what they will of Stonehenge and the other megalithic and megadendritic structures out there, he’s closest to recognising their real power, I think.
The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley
The Shadowy Horses is another delightful romance with a strong sense of place and a bit of a mystery/ghost story factor, this time set in Scotland in the midst of a dig to find remnants of the Ninth Legion. There’s no proof of what happened to the Ninth Legion, so stories like this and like Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth that try, in different ways, to puzzle out some of it have always fascinated me. That’s not the primary story here, which is a little disappointing, though I didn’t really expect it to be.
Primary, of course, is Verity’s story, and the stories of the characters around her; how they intersect and intertwine, and in some cases, part ways. The ghost story might feature a Roman ghost from the Hispana, but it could be any ghost with a tragic story for all that it really matters.
It’s a fun story, and I really need more books like it and like Mary Stewart’s books. The sense of atmosphere and, secondary as it is, the historical background give the romance its flavour.
Why Dinosaurs Matter, Kenneth Lacovara
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 19th September 2017
The idea of this book is pretty much encapsulated in the words from the summary: “What can long-dead dinosaurs teach us about our future? Plenty.” It’s the story of the dinosaurs as a highly successfully set of creatures who ruled the world — for a time. It’s also the story of their decline and fall, so to speak, and the lessons we can learn from them. Also, a reminder that a penguin is very literally a dinosaur, just as we’re very literally primates.
There’s nothing revelatory here if you’re into dinosaurs, but if you’re looking for something more general than David Hone’s The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, something to get you up to date on current dinosaur scholarship, this isn’t a bad place to start. And I agree with Lacovara: dinosaurs shouldn’t be viewed as synonymous with something obsolete. They ruled the world for a reason.