"The word is the making of the world." - Wallace Stevens

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Telling - Ursula K. Le Guin

I read The Left Hand of Darkness years ago and loved it very much. I really don't know what my excuse is for not reading more of Le Guin sooner! (Although I have read and love the short story Catwings and had read A Wizard of Earthsea before.) As I said in my review for the Earthsea trilogy, she is the master world builder. I borrowed my mom's copy and read this Locus Award winning novel while staying at my folks' farm last month.

The Telling is set in the Hainish Cycle. Sutty is an earthling and an observer for the Ekumen (like Genly Ai on Gethen in The Left Hand of Darkness), staying on the planet Aka. The society there is run by the Corporation, currently in "The Time of Cleansing", and systematically destroying all knowledge, writing, and practices of the planet's past. Anyone caught using the old ways is "re-educated". Sutty digs carefully but deeply into the culture she's observing, starting out in Dovza City and traveling to Okzat-Ozkat, far up in the mountains. What she finds there can only be described as the truth.

I LOVE Le Guin's style! The people of her stories are fictional but live in perfectly crafted, realistic, complicated societies. There is no window she doesn't look through in her writing; there are anthropological, historical, ecological and environmental themes going on, and like in The Left Hand of Darkness, she addresses sex and sexuality. She takes relevant swings at our own contemporary culture with the Dovza people's favorite morning drink 'akakafi', which can be purchased at the Corporation brand 'Starbrew's'. And on page 127, Le Guin made my day with the phrase, "a world of words". Darned if I can remember the exact sentence, but that's what I get for taking so long to write about it, rats. I can't recommend this author's writing enough. If only the people making decisions like this were required to read these books, I think the world would be a very different place.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Gripping Hand - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

"Humanity's finest minds have spent the past quarter century analyzing and agonizing over the deadly threat posed by the only aliens mankind has ever encountered- a race divided into distinct biological forms, each serving a different function. Master. Mediator. Engineer. Warrior. Each supremely adapted to its task, yet doomed by millions of years of evolution to an inescapable fate. For the Moties must breed- or die. And the single wall standing between them and the galaxy beyond is beginning to crumble...." -excerpt from the dust jacket

Another trip to Jupiter for the Mind Voyages challenge. Last week I finished The Gripping Hand, the sequel to The Mote in God's Eye and a book that was apparently eighteen years in the making. It takes place 25 years after mankind's first encounter with the alien species known as the "Moties". There is a wormhole that allows ships to pass from the Mote system into normal space, protected by a military blockade to prevent the Moties from leaving their solar system. The Moties two biggest problems are that they are in a state of constant population explosion and exhausted resources. A new Alderson Point (wormhole) is expected to materialize, although exactly where and when is open to interpretation. And so the plot begins, with new and returning characters.

There were elements to the story that left me disappointed, in both the book and the authors. One was a saying that was frequently used by male characters to express exasperation or surprise that left me kind of angry and to be honest...well I can't honestly say why the phrase "rape my lizard" bothered me, but it did. I'll just leave it at that. And there were characters (Jennifer and Terry) whose fate was never concluded to the reader, and I was looking forward to that part. And lastly, as a woman reading this novel, there was a lot of blatant sexism. I was really starting to like the character Commander Ruth Cohen, who isn't heard from again after Renner's had his fling and leaves her behind. The only female characters that have any real bearing on this story are an overly sexualized aggressive reporter who (surprise!) uses sex to get information and a just turned legal age "I have authority issues" aristocrat who bats her eyes at her sometimes boyfriend to get him to fly her into the Mote in his racing space yacht. The MD to Horace Bury turns out to be an assassin/martial artist/concubine, and her job is to be whichever her master needs when he wants it. It's like the authors are working out sexual fantasies through their characters. The pilot turned Captain is a man, the Imperial Trader with Motie experience is a 116 yr. old man, the scientific advisor/astrophysicist is a man. Although Glenda Ruth Blaine, the young aristocrat, does have the important job of carrying a special cargo that may help the Moties to change their fate. But once this is done, her importance in the story fades out too.

There were elements to the story that I enjoyed too, such as the authors making use of different aspects of human cultures to explain how the Moties dealt with their situation and communicated with humanity. The phrase "on the gripping hand", as in "on the other hand", was picked up by human people from the Moties, since most Motie biological forms have two slender six fingered right hands, and one big muscular left hand. The human characters are also picking up Motie body language, learning to shrug without moving their shoulders, for instance. There are a lot of scientific and mathematical explanations of space travel and space warfare too. I think Niven and Pournelle have some sort of obsession with coffee too. Every chapter mentions coffee! Drinking it, trading it, producing it. If they were trying to tell me something while referencing coffee, I couldn't pick it up. Unless it was that their characters are caffeine junkies?

I would definitely recommend reading The Mote in God's Eye first. And I definitely enjoyed that novel more. This isn't a sequel that can be easily enjoyed or understood without understanding what happened 25 years earlier in the storyline. But honestly, if you don't get around to The Gripping Hand for a while, don't sweat it. Entertaining, sometimes. Disappointing, YES!