wilderthan: ((Mitsuru) Angry)
The other promised catch-up post.

The Years of Rice and Salt (Kim Stanley Robinson)

Rather than a novel, this is more like a series of short stories/novellas. It follows the same characters through various incarnations. In some of them the connections are easy to make, in others it's not so easy. The alternate history aspect is interesting, and couldn't have been fully explored without this device, I suppose, but I found it jarring to be jerked from time period to time period, culture to culture, and I never really fell in love with the characters as continuations of the previous characters. There were characters I found interesting in each separate story, but I didn't necessarily like them in their other incarnations, I mean. If I had, maybe I'd have cared more.

As it is, I ended up abandoning this book for a while, and almost skimming to finish it. I really liked "The Alchemist", and kind of wanted more of it than that -- that and the first story especially stick in my head.

An interesting idea, but the execution didn't work for me. I might reread it someday.

Always Coming Home (Ursula Le Guin)

I expected to take a long time over Always Coming Home. In a way, I wish I had: there's a lot in it, and a lot to reward a slower, careful reading -- this time I went plunging through it for the narrative, such as it was, enjoying the layers of understanding that came to me, imagining and figuring out what I didn't know. I didn't read the "Back of the Book" section, this time: another time, I think I will. I just wanted to fly through it, this time, total immersion in a culture that does not exist.

Always Coming Home is a collection of stories, of fake-histories, of poems and plays and things that do not neatly fit into our genres, belonging to a culture that does not exist. The first note says it best, "The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern Carolina." It seems to be the story almost of the Native peoples, and then it begins to mention computers and other technologies of our day... The way the world came to be this way isn't really seen clearly, only seen in its effects on the people. It's very interesting to read this way: interesting, and frustrating, because like real history, it doesn't always show you the bits you most want to see.

Ursula Le Guin's writing is beautiful, as always, and easy to read and understand despite the invented words and concepts. I sort of imagine this as the way she might build up any culture, in any book, through the scraps of their literature and histories that come to her... It's quite a nice thought, actually.

I didn't read the "Back of the Book" section, preferring to keep things vaguer, not spelled out. I will probably read it one day, but not now.

Though I greatly enjoyed this, I don't know if I'd dare recommend it to anyone. For me it required some patience with the original idea, which turned into delight as Ursula Le Guin once more captured my heart. For others, who didn't find Earthsea compelling, it'd be dry as dust, I think. And as with many books, but particularly with those that are a bit different, someone might find they love it, when they have never loved Le Guin's work before -- or that they hate it, when they've always loved her work.

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit (Mercedes Lackey)

Mercedes Lackey's version of Guinevere's story is mostly distinctive in her choice of sources: she has taken elements mainly from the Welsh tradition, and tried to weave a coherent story out of them. The three Gwenhwyfars named in the Triads, the abductions by both Melwas and Medraut, Gwenhwyfach... It's very interesting that she chose to use the Welsh tales.

The subtleties of the relationship between the Christians and the pagans in this story were also an interesting decision. Normally people draw them as diametrically opposed: this co-existence and slow merge is an interesting way to look on it.

However, her characters and plotting are not particularly distinctive. The first three quarters of the book is rather slow, and she doesn't even meet Arthur in that time. Her time with Arthur is largely glossed over, too. She's a Celtic warrior-woman, and a scout, but ultimately that doesn't seem that important... the most important thing in it is her moment of sacrifice, sacrificing that to her duty when she goes to marry Arthur. And even then, I don't think that moment has the power it could.

The relationship with Lancelin is profoundly unsatisfactory, and seems almost a by-the-by to add a touch of romance. If something more was done with them at the end, maybe...

This is a fun enough read, and based on some interesting ideas. But it's a bit slow at times, and it's not exactly a deep and involved retelling

Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)

The Day of the Triffids is a book I've meant to read for a long time. Sometime way back when, I forget quite why, Dad told me the basic story -- not with characters, just the basic ideas -- and as an impressionable little daddy's girl of probably about eight years old, it stuck in my mind.

I actually expected something a bit more trashy than this, after some reviews and comments I read. It's certainly got the seeds (heh) for a lot of horror writing -- Stephen King's work is quite similar in some ways, in The Stand and Cell. It's got some ideas that're creepy as all get out: the lurking triffids, genetic experiments, satellites full of plagues and nukes and god knows what, the return of feudalism...

In a way, I've read this book before -- nothing that happened really surprised me, because I've read enough post-apocalyptic fiction to have thought about how things would work out if [xyz] happened. It's a reasonably realistic guess at how things would've turned out if this was all the case, I think.

It's a reasonably compelling read, too. There's a chapter full of back story, which drags a bit, but for the most part it goes along at a pretty good pace, and there's genuine anxiety about whether Bill and Josella will find each other again and so on.
wilderthan: ((Delirium) Fish)
The Nibelungenlied (Anonymous/various, trans. A.T. Hatto)

Cut for length )

The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Anonymous, trans. G.A. Hight)

Cut for length )

Njal's Saga (Anonymous, trans. Robert Cook)

Cut for length )

Merlin and the Grail (Robert de Boron)

Cut for length )

The Death of King Arthur (trans. James Cable)

Cut for length )

Four Ways to Forgiveness (Ursula Le Guin)

Cut for length )
wilderthan: ((Delirium) Fish)
The Word for World is Forest (Ursula Le Guin)

This is a story with a familiar theme. I see a lot of people comparing this to Avatar, looking at the reviews. This is Ursula Le Guin, so it's better than Avatar, though not as flashy. The writing is not Le Guin's best, in my opinion, but it's still clear and expressive, and lyrical. The story is not new, and I get the impression from the reviews that it was very political and topical at the time it was written -- not a context I share in, so I can't comment on that. Le Guin isn't so shallow a writer that her politics become utterly irrelevant in so short a space of time, though, and the book still has thoughts to offer.

The thing that struck me most, reading it, was how quickly she sketches out the world. This is basically only a novella, so it's not as painstakingly drawn a world as, say, Earthsea, but there's still detail there, even just in the way that Davidson refers to people. Not necessarily overt detail, but implied. I love it.

Not my favourite of Le Guin's work, but interesting and worth a read if you're a fan.
wilderthan: ((AkihikoShinjiro) To touch you)
The Little Sister (Raymond Chandler)

Raymond Chandler's writing is still the most amazing stuff I've ever seen, don't get me wrong. This book seemed a little more worn than the others -- or maybe I'm getting more used to it. I still love the voice he's given to Marlowe, and I still think his work is probably worth reading no matter what, but this one didn't fill me with glee. It's easy to read, it's atmospheric, the actual writing is good, but... the plot is incoherent (no surprises there) and the characters, particularly the women, don't interest me at all.

It's the whole time capsule thing again -- the setting and atmosphere is one of a time I don't know, won't ever know. That's interesting, up to a point, but it doesn't count for that much. The female characters actively irritated me this time, all histrionic and taking advantage of our dear shop-worn Galahad. It's amazing the way said Galahad gets himself out of trouble. I'm surprised he hasn't spent more time being arrested in the course of all these novels.

I'd love to see Marlowe meet a decent woman or two. At this point, one would do.

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (Ursula Le Guin)

I love the way Ursula Le Guin builds (on) worlds. Some of these stories are about worlds we already know about, if we've read her other work; some of them are almost entirely new. I liked all of them, some more and some less: I particularly liked the opening essay, The Rock That Changed Things, and Another Story. I didn't get the "I'm not smart enough for this" feeling so much with this set of stories, which is good, and I enjoyed the way she writes as much as always, so clear and with wonderful images.

I think my favourite thing is the way she writes about people, though. Regardless of whatever trappings they come with of world-building or whatever, whether they're supposed to be aliens, you can relate to them and feel for them. The only thing I was sad about was that I wished that there was more written about the Night marriage between Hideo and Sota, in Another Story, because the love between them seems to me as notable as the love between Hideo and Isidri.

There are other worlds contained in this relatively small book, and it's lovely.
wilderthan: ((Delirium) Fish)
Searoad is lovely. Quiet, reflective, a little melancholic. Perhaps not the best thing to choose to read on Christmas Day/Boxing Day, but at the same time, I'm glad I read it. Ursula Le Guin always writes beautifully, always makes me feel, always makes me want to write. I'm full of shapeless, formless ideas right now, of thoughts. There were parts of Searoad that I didn't connect with very well, or that I found confusing, but it paid off to keep reading, to pay attention to it. I especially liked the story "Quoits", with the two women, the one who died and the one who survived her, and the way it said that they wouldn't use the wrong words just because there were no right ones. It's not so much the case now -- I don't feel like "marriage" is the wrong word to use of two women's relationship -- but at the same time I can understand it, how the words are or were wrong. I love that this story is just in there with everything else, a normal part of life, so that I don't even want to shelve this book as LGBT, on goodreads, because that isn't really the point, as I see it. I will anyway, because maybe someone else will see that shelf and read this review and read "Quoits" and feel... understood.

This collection is basically just about a town called Klatsand, near a shore. There are connections deep in all the stories, between characters and themes, though it's easy to miss and you find them joining up in ways you didn't expect. It's not a strong, vivid stand-out work, I think, and only "Quoits" really struck me hard -- it's more gentle, wistful, reflective. Not depressing to read, I don't think, but not the kind of thing that grips you tight and won't let go. Don't expect high drama in it, or you'll be heartily disappointed. Don't expect Ursula Le Guin's fantasy or sci-fi here, because there isn't that, either. Just "ordinary" men and women.
wilderthan: ((Yuffie) Whoa)
Catwings is a sweet little book. I like pretty much everything Ursula Le Guin writes, so it's not surprising that I like her fiction for young children, too. It seems like it'd be pretty good to read aloud, but there are also lovely pictures.

And cats! With wings! Having adventures!

Catwings Return is sweet, too, following the Catwings from the first book and adding a new one to their ranks. It's nice seeing the Catwings all grown up and looking after their baby sister. Again, probably good to read aloud, and it's illustrated with lovely little pictures.

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings adds another cat (without wings) to the gang. He also teaches Jane, the youngest Catwing, to talk. He's a fun character -- overconfident, gets a bit of a comedown (literally, actually -- Jane has to help him climb down a tree).

Jane On Her Own is about the youngest Catwing. I think I like her best; she's adventurous and knows what she wants and doesn't just get somewhere safe and stay there. And it's nice to see her going back and seeing her mother. Again, lovely illustrations and a nice sweet little read.
wilderthan: ((Books) Stack)
Hmm. The three books of this trilogy aren't that directly related -- I think they can be read alone. I think Voices is probably the best, in that it has a plot as well as the other things that make Le Guin's writing so lovely. I might like this better on a reread, as I did with Gifts, but I think perhaps I found this the weakest -- and I'm not sure why I think so, really. It seems quite slow, and ponderous, and there doesn't seem to be much of a conclusion or climax. The themes of stories and learning from the other books continue, and the theme of liberty, and Gry and Orrec show up again...

There's a lot of world-building -- some beautiful, beautiful stuff. But it all seems a little meaningless. Hoby ties the beginning and the end together, but weakly: we see hardly anything of him, in reality. Characters like Yaven and Astano, who I wanted to see more of, ultimately meant nothing. Chamry, who I liked a lot, doesn't show up again. Diero ultimately has little part to play. Maybe there was something I missed in the reasons why he never sees these people again, but it felt like more could have been done.

Not my favourite, but it's Le Guin, so it's not bad, either.
wilderthan: ((AkihikoShinjiro) To touch you)
I love Ursula Le Guin's non-fiction -- her thoughts on writing, her thoughts about the genre. Her prose is generally easy to read, even when she's talking about something people are more likely to consider dusty, and she has a sense of humour that would probably make just about anything delightful. The only problem I have with Cheek By Jowl is more or less that I wish there was more of it. She has things to say about the importance of fantasy, and the way that fantasy is cheapened and used nowadays, and morality in fantasy and children reading fantasy and the timelessness of fantasy. I kind of want to run out and buy every book she discussed in her essays.

But I wish there was more. I came to the end and thought, yes, okay, but she could say more. I guess I might wish it was a volume more like The Wave In The Mind, eclectic and full of surprises, whereas these were all pretty close in theme. Or that it was just longer.

None of it exactly came as a surprise to me, either: I know Le Guin and her thoughts on fantasy reasonably well. Still, she says some important things -- particularly in "Assumptions About Fantasy" -- and she should be listened to, for many reasons. In fact, I know several people whose faces I kind of want to rub in it, just to make it quite clear that they're not the only wonderfully enlightened people in the world. But that's petty.
wilderthan: ((Dr Horrible) Status quo)
A lot more seems to happen in Voices than in the first book of the trilogy, Gifts. It has more tension, more drive, and it feels more full. Ursula Le Guin has a habit of writing very beautiful books that aren't very immediate or exciting because they have very little by way of plot. I still like them, but plenty of people won't stop to read them. Voices isn't like that -- there's a plot, as well as compelling characters, beautiful writing and careful worldbuilding. Nothing slips, here.

Gry and Orrec, from the first book, are important in this book, too. Orrec, particularly, in terms of the plot, but in terms of the emotional part of the book, Gry is very important to the narrator, Memer. It's good to see these characters, good to see how they've grown. But then again, if you haven't read Gifts, it's actually okay, I think, just to read Voices. You're missing out, I think, but you could read Voices on its own.

Le Guin's "agenda" is more obvious in this book. Parts of it -- the idea of the people of Ansul being peaceful people, and "set free to be free" -- remind me of The Eye of The Heron. For most of the book, there's a powerful, oppressive, occupying force, which has to be overturned. I really like that the people of Ansul remain relatively peaceful -- not unnaturally so, stretching belief only a little, but still, peaceful. There's food for thought about the nature of liberty, religious/cultural conflict, politics...

Funny that I have rather less to say about this book, in which rather more happens than in Gifts. Perhaps that's because it's easier to let it speak for itself.
wilderthan: ((Mitsuru) Angry)
I love Ursula Le Guin's writing a lot. Gifts is a YA book, technically, but it doesn't have to be just for young people. It's a lovely story, like a fairy tale, and it's very easy to read, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading for people who are older. The main character is a young boy, but the emotions of other characters, like Orrec's father, are there and it's important to understand them and try to identify with them. And Ursula Le Guin's writing is simple and lovely, easy to read but also bewitching. I love her Earthsea books more than I liked Gifts, but Gifts is something different -- no epic quest, mostly just a boy coming to understand himself, and to some extent, his father.

I like the way the chosen blindness is explored. I love reading about blindness in fiction and this is something that's maybe more interesting -- voluntary blindness. I like the character of Gry, perhaps even more so because when Orrec wanders around with his eyes blindfolded, she blindfolds herself for a day to try and understand him. And the friendship between her and Orrec is left to grow quietly -- I don't feel like Le Guin intrudes and forces them together, only that it seems natural when they do get together.

The descriptions of Orrec's mother's death are painfully real. The metaphor of the sandstorm not being able to pick him up and whirl him past that part of the story, and the way he withdraws... Sometimes I felt he was just a little too inactive to be really, really interesting, and I liked Gry for trying to push him out of a it a little, but it's also understandable considering his circumstances.

The end feels abrupt, but then, it ends on a quietly lovely note, and I assume that the next book picks up on at least some of the threads from Gifts. I'm looking forward to finally reading the rest of the trilogy -- I first read Gifts when it was first out, I think, and didn't rush to get hold of Voices and Powers.

As for what the book explores -- since Ursula Le Guin usually seems to have something in mind to explore... it's not as obvious as in some of her books. Family relationships are important, and expectations, and I like the idea that someone else mentioned, that the gifts they have, unmaking or calling animals or whatever, are an analogy for things like engineering and aspects of science that get misused. The fact that the gifts grew out of healing and working with animals, and the way Gry refuses to use hers wrongly, might be another of Ursula Le Guin's lessons. Either way, her 'agenda' is subtle in this book -- you can read it just as a story, if you wish.
wilderthan: ((AxelRoxas) Together)
The Other Wind is a beautiful book. I don't think I liked it all that much the first time I read it, but now I see exactly how it fits. It's less incongruous than Tehanu, for me, but follows on neatly enough -- and it does use all the ideas and feelings that are brought up in Tehanu. Set a long time after it, it makes most sense if you've read Dragonfly, from Tales from Earthsea, before you read it. The first time I tried to read it, I don't think I had, and I had no idea who Orm Irian was or why she was significant.

One thing that I disliked in The Farthest Shore was the picture painted of death. It was difficult to think of it as such a crime to come back from there, when it was so miserable, where lovers could pass each other in the street and not care. The Other Wind sets this right. It's interesting to me that, at the end of The Farthest Shore she thought the series had ended, and presumably also at the end of Tehanu, but this book fits so cleanly, so clearly, as if it was intended all along.

The writing is once again beautiful, in places. I found it rather commonplace in Tehanu, matching the subject matter, but there are some really gorgeous quotes in this book. This one is perhaps my favourite:

"I think," Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, "that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn't do. All that I might have been and couldn't be. All the choices I didn't make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven't been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed."

Along with the recurring theme of life and death, and the one giving value to the other, we also have more criticism of the male-dominated system, and of the male way of thinking in Earthsea. How much of this is meant to be political commentary, and how much of this is Ursula Le Guin exploring her own world, I doubt we need to know. It's interesting that she introduced what is basically a burqa, without any particular comment on whether it is anti-feminist or not. Sesarakh comes out from behind her veil, of course, but I didn't feel like Le Guin was saying omg burqas r evol!

Character-wise, we have a lot of characters from other books, but there are some new ones as well. Chief among these is Alder, and Sesarakh. I don't think it's really explained quite thoroughly enough why Alder is the centre of all this -- it doesn't really make sense, when he's just a town sorcerer -- but it does break the pattern of Roke-wizards being all-important, as does the inclusion of Seppal, and it is something that would happen... an 'ordinary' person getting swept up in great events. Also, isn't Ged ordinary, at the beginning? So maybe it needs no better explanation. Anyway, I didn't get as attached to him as to Ged or Lebannen, but he did make me smile sometimes, reading about him. And I was sad, at the end.

Sesarakh is an interesting character, another vector for the discussion of the female in Earthsea. I didn't get to love her as a character, or really feel the romance between her and Lebannen, but that wasn't really the point. I did want to kick Lebannen rather, for the way he treats her and thinks about her. But Tenar had him well in hand, really.

I was going to say that The Other Wind isn't my favourite book of the series, but really I don't see why it shouldn't be. It has a complexity that A Wizard of Earthsea doesn't, it carries on the work that, in retrospect, all the other books began. It offers some bright, beautiful images and some hope for what happens after death, and I don't see why it can't be an education and a comfort to us, too. "Only in dying, life," is a truth for us, too.
wilderthan: ((SamDean) Facts and weapons)
Tales from Earthsea is a collection of short stories, rather than one whole new novel. It adds quite a lot to the world of Earthsea, consequently -- more breadth, certainly, and some more depth. I preferred it over Tehanu: it seemed as if it fit better until the world we already know. Only one story features Ged, and only one of them is set after Tehanu.

The first story, The Finder, is set quite a long time before the books begin, before Ged is even born. It begins following one boy, Medra, and you don't realise how much significance it has for Earthsea. It's one of the more important stories in the collection, though, giving us details we haven't really learnt about before, about the founding of the school on Roke. It's much more fair to the women than the system we see established in A Wizard of Earthsea: the women are the founders, they have power and influence. It's interesting and something I, for one, always wondered about.

Darkrose and Diamond, the second story, is not really about magic, and is more about love. I prefer the magic and high adventure, but it's not a bad story. Just not what I'm visiting Earthsea for.

The Bones of the Earth is interesting because we learn more about Ogion/Aihal, and the man who taught him. I liked this one a lot. It gives background to one of the big things we learn about Ogion, that he held an earthquake on a leash. It's quite short, though.

On the High Marsh is the only story of the collection to have Ged in it. He doesn't play a major part, really, but we do get to see him as Archmage and learn a little about his short reign. We also get to see a little more of Earthsea!

Dragonfly is the bridge between Tehanu and The Other Wind. It introduces another part of the world, briefly, but the important part is really Irian. It explains a bit about events on Roke, and carries on the thread about dragons from Tehanu. I think I tried to read The Other Wind before reading this, originally, and it didn't work so well.

The history and background section at the end is also worth reading. It's not shaped like a story, so it's mostly just a bundle of facts, but you learn some interesting things. I liked the background about Erreth-Akbe and Maharion the most.
wilderthan: (Default)
This book is probably my least favourite of the series. It's so much less about adventure and so much more about domesticity, which is strange coming from Tenar and Ged. Such ordinary thoughts and fears, after all the high and mighty adventure! Even the confrontation at the end of the book feels like a placeholder, more because those things will not leave Ged alone than because it's actually still a part of his life.

There are parts of this book I like a lot. Ged and Tenar's love scenes are worth reading, because they do fit together and I did have to wonder whether no wizards ever had sex and how there could be mages born without wizards having kids. The little glimpse of Arren was nice, and the discussion of the role of women in this world was interesting. Women had so little place in the first book, and not much in the third...

Perhaps that is something I like this book less for, though. From high adventure to keeping house, yes, but also from a philosophical but still mostly adventurous story to one about the role of women. It's an interesting topic, and almost necessary after what little part the women have in other books, but this doesn't exactly fit into what I originally expected from the world. Unexpectedness isn't a bad thing, of course.

The other thing is that this book just doesn't taste as nice. There aren't so many beautiful images. With the everyday lives come everyday images.
wilderthan: ((Gale) Demons)
When I first read Earthsea, this was probably my least favourite book. Probably because throughout it the world I've started to love is dying and in pain. The pain isn't just the characters, it's the whole world; it's less a personal journey and of significance for the whole of the world. I mean, it wasn't like a Ged-gebbeth wasn't a big threat to the world, or finding the ring of Erreth-Akbe wasn't important, but the story in this world is all about the failing of the world -- not a single thing going wrong, but everything. I know that in the end everything is fine, but that takes a big sacrifice on Ged's part, his power. And Ged isn't just his power, I know that, too, but it still saddens me a lot now that he has to lose it.

I guess this story changes the world of Earthsea in a fundamental way: returns a king to the throne, changes magic, has the world decaying, has wizards losing their power.

Even though I like the story better now than I did when I was younger, I still feel a little resentful about that.

It's still beautiful, of course -- the ideas, and the descriptions. The raft-city, and Arren, and dragons, and the Mountains of Pain. It's all very vivid and appeals to my synaesthesia. The discussion of the importance, the value, of death, is interesting, too. And always relevant, no matter who you are. I'm closer to Arren's point of view on this than Ged's: the Ged of The Farthest Shore is older and wiser than when we last saw him, and certainly far wiser than when we first saw him. He's a bit beyond me, still. But the things he says to Arren about the importance of death do resonate with me. I wouldn't want immortality anyway, I think it'd get boring, but Ged makes a good case for the importance of death as a part of life -- not as a waste, the end of life, but as something that gives value to life.

It's a difficult subject to catch in words, I think, and Ursula Le Guin does it well.

Still not my favourite book, though... oh, Ged.
wilderthan: ((River) Walk alone)
Much as I love A Wizard of Earthsea, there isn't much feminine about it. It's a male society, it seems in that book, shaped by men and only inhabited by women. I don't know how much thought Le Guin put into that, originally, but the women in the story don't really have much of a place. There's the witch and Serret and the Kargish woman and Yarrow... but they don't have great parts in Ged's life. He's taken away from the tutelage of the witch because only a man can teach him wizardry, and there's the sayings, "Weak as women's magic" and "Wicked as women's magic". Le Guin addresses those issues later, in Tehanu, but women aren't really present in the first book.

So it's just nice to have a book framed by women: Tenar and Thar and Kossil and Penthe, the priestesses and novices of the Tombs. Women are the only ones allowed to serve the gods, or at least the Nameless Ones -- well, women and eunuchs. The fact that Arha/Tenar is the main character, and not Ged, gives it a whole different slant. She has a different kind of life, so her story is rather different. Her story is less of an epic quest than Ged's -- there's tension, and danger, but they're not going to something, they're escaping something. She has to grow as a person in a different way. The quest is Ged's, as before, but we see him coming in from outside this time. It's interesting.

The language and descriptions and images are all as beautiful as the first book. There's something very compelling about the Tombs, the dark rituals. You can feel the cold, the routine hardness -- you feel stuck in the rut that Arha has been stuck in throughout her many lives. You can feel the slow unchangingness of the place. And you feel the joy and weight of the escape, too. I like the rhythms and tastes of this book the best in the whole series, I think. Some of the descriptions have just stuck in my head -- the drum struck at a slow heart-pace, the little thistle growing beside Ged's hand. And some of the things Ged says, his descriptions of Havnor and his speech that is essentially about "nature red in tooth and claw".

This is really the only book that steps out of Ged's own culture. The others are mostly rooted in the Archipelagan traditions, which is interesting enough, but this provides a bit more worldbuilding. Which is awesome.
wilderthan: ((Gale) Demons)
I've always loved A Wizard of Earthsea. I think it was my very first exposure to Ursula Le Guin, although that might also perhaps have been The Telling. In any case, I didn't know anything about Ursula Le Guin at that time. The first time I read it, I picked it up randomly in the library and read it aloud in the space of an evening. I read it to my teddy, Helen, and it was well worth reading aloud. Ursula Le Guin's writing can be very lyrical and lovely, and it definitely is in the Earthsea books. It's one of the few books that has a 'taste' I remember long after reading it, that I can taste that thing in real life and think of the book immediately. The words themselves are like that, and the descriptions more so: you can smell the smoke, the herbs, the fish. You can hear Ogion's silence, feel the cold in the Court of the Terrenon. Or I could, anyway.

(Helen loved it too, by the way. She wasn't complaining, at least.)

I actually prefer it to the rest of Le Guin's writing, really. It's quite short, and I found it easy to read, although my sister couldn't get past the first page, and I've read a couple of reviews saying it's difficult. I think reading it aloud helped, to catch the rhythms of it.

I don't really know where to start, talking about the plot and the characters. When I think about it, I feel quite distant from the characters -- I don't feel as if I get inside Ged's mind or Vetch's mind or anything, but I still get to care about them. And you do get to know them in some ways. You know that Vetch is a very good guy, if not very complicated. You know that Jasper is rather weak in reality. You know that Ged is very, very proud. It's almost like a hamartia in him, actually: a fatal flaw that brings his fate down on himself. He's a sympathetic character despite the pride: he works very hard, is willing to work for what he wants. He's just young and impatient and slow to learn the things that he most needs to learn. When he's older and sadder and scared and just muddling through life, he's even more sympathetic a character.

There are some very touching events/moments/chapters: for example, anything involving Vetch or Hoeg, Murre and Ged observing each other, and of course, the child-adults on the little island Ged is wrecked on.

The whole story weaves together very well, and prepares the way for the other books of the sequence too. Things that happen early in the book -- for example, Ged bringing up the mist when the Kargs attack Gont -- are used later, the witch-girl shows up again later, everything is linked and everything has a purpose. It's very neat writing. Take notes, writers of modern epics! A satisfying story need not span four volumes!

Some people find the ending anti-climatic. I think it was clearly telegraphed throughout: that it would be less a big showdown than Ged facing himself. Which is one of the scarier things I can actually think of. The text itself says that what he does is "embrace his own death", after all.
wilderthan: ((Sam) Helpless)
Ursula Le Guin's The Eye of the Heron looks like an easy, short book. My copy is quite slim, the writing is a reasonable size, and the prose is as polished as hers always is, and it's easy to read. There are some absolutely amazing quotes, that I loved to read just for the perspective she always brings to the discussion. These are the ones that struck me the most (in parts of them, description has been taken out to make them more universal).

a. "You know, if we sit in the back room, with babies or without babies, and leave all the rest of the world to the men, then of course the men will do everything and be everything. Why should they? They're only half the human race. It's not fair to leave them all the work to do. Not fair to them or us. Besides," and she smiled more broadly, "I like men very much, but sometimes... they're so stupid, so stuffed with theories... They go in straight lines only, and won't stop. It's dangerous to do that. It's dangerous to leave everything up to the men, you know. [...] I get worried they'll go too fast and too straight and get us into a place we can't get out of, a trap. You see it seems to me that where men are weak and dangerous is in their vanity. A woman has a center, is a center. But a man isn't, he's a reaching out. So he reaches out and grabs things and piles them up around him and says, I'm this, I'm that, this is me, that's me, I'll prove that I'm me! And he can wreck a lot of things, trying to prove it."

b. "If you marry a man like that and live his life, then I agree. You may not really want to hurt people, but you will."
"That is hateful. Hateful! To say it that way. That I haven't any choice, that I have to hurt people, that it doesn't even matter what I want."
"Of course it matters, what you want."
"It doesn't. That's the whole point."
"It does. And that's the whole point. You choose. You choose whether or not to make choices."

c. "If I don't speak truth I can't seek truth."

d. "It takes courage to really be a woman, just as much as to be a man. It takes courage to really be married, and to bear children, and to bring them up."

What I also find interesting is Ursula Le Guin's sympathy and understanding of all her characters. It would be easy to dismiss "Boss Falco", not intentionally being unsympathetic to that side of the divide, but not feeling that he has anything valid to say and so just letting him be a cypher. He isn't, there are some bits of his characterisation which break my heart a little.

It's interesting that I found what would happen quite hard to predict. Not that it didn't make sense, but that one has certain expectations from a book like this: that the People of Peace will simply prevail right away, like because their way is right it is the only possibly outcome; that Lev and Luz will prevail and get together; that Boss Falco will be irredeemable... And it doesn't always happen the way you expect.

The worldbuilding in itself is lovely. I liked the "wotsits", and the ringtrees. It is also easy to just make other worlds other earths, and this doesn't happen in The Eye of the Heron.

This in no way covers all my feelings about this book. I think Ursula Le Guin has said some lovely things in it, and I may have to reread it. It isn't as easy as it would seem, either. Sometimes I had to put it down to think through what a certain part is trying to say. It's a good thing.

A warning, though, that this is not so much a novel in which things happen, as a novel in which things are thought. There are actions and consequences and all of that, but I don't think that is the most important thing.
wilderthan: ((Gale) Demons)
Ursula Le Guin's writing is as lovely as ever, in these stories. They're all beautiful and clever and full of her own particular brand of magic. The first one, "Half Past Four", was rather strange -- but that's not surprising, coming from the mind of Ursula Le Guin. I especially liked "A Child Bride" and "The Poacher"; I love the Demeter/Persephone/Hades legend, in the former case, and the latter is just lovely, the slow reveal, the slow realisation of what's going on. I'm really happy I finally got to read this one.
wilderthan: ((Simon) Can't take the sky)
I've been in Wales sans internet for a weekish, so here are all the reviews of things I read in the meantime. I've been busy!

King Rat )

The Overcoat and the Nose )

The Picture of Dorian Gray )

Beowulf (Seamus Heaney's translation) )

Three Bags Full )

An Abundance of Katherines )

Wuthering Heights )

Lavinia )

To The Lighthouse )

A Passage to India )


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October 2013

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