The Ships of Air (Martha Wells) (2004):
Second in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. Road trip, including worldbuilding, with political marriage of convenience, only by "marriage of convenience" the story means "and they actually are kind of MFEO" with the occasional secondary character death to make me feel vaguely like this is not pure
swashbuckling indulgence. Wells does really good ensemble work, which I really enjoy. The end of novel character reveal was... eh, I'd been spoiled by a Gate of Gods
blurb. But structurally, there'd been a little too much of Absent Character infodump to be anything but setup. The Gate of Gods (Martha Wells) (2005):
Final novel in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. More of the same! The later reveals about the Gardier were adequate, if not as much fun as Our Protagonists and their trans-universe journeys on the Queen Ravenna
, a close cousin of the Queen Mary
. I could read about Tremaine and the Rienish factions figuring out how to deal with the Syprians all day
. The larger scale politics aren't as much sheer fun
. I like Wells in "people in small groups work to overcome obstacles" mode. I like the sense of humor at work. ( Oblique spoilers. )
I'm mentally bookmarking that for the next time I need something to cheer me up. The Statue Within: An Autobiography (François Jacob) (1987):
The 1988 Franklin Philip translation. One of the scientists who netted a Nobel for lac operon work describes his life, 1920 to 1959.
It's difficult to tell what style is an effect of translation. A certain approach to the structure of a sentence, of a paragraph. Short sentences. Almost too short. The gulf between the writer and the reader, widened by a translation. Does the sense of familiarity, of a like-minded outlook, reflect true similarity, or an effect imparted by chance? Questions unanswerable without learning another language.
Without getting too bogged in the exercise of imitation, this is not the most brilliant or compelling autobiography ever. There's moments of character sketches, there's moments of contemplation, but when I thought Jacob was going to skip over his WW2 experiences I cheered, because I picked this up with science, and insight into the creation of science, in mind.
With that said, there are moments of great beauty and personal resonance in the book. Reflections of the roles luck, chance, serendipity play in life; that unfocused mid-twenty's period; the way Jacob describes falling in love. It's a mind I am glad I met in text, where I can read a presentation with unthinking absorption, and again with a critical eye, and maybe once more with both layers added to the context of a wider world. Especially when the narrative lyrically opens into meditation on some incident or theme, like here on isolation, and a particular moment after WW2:
Doubtless, one is always alone. But not to the same degree, not in the same way. In Africa, it was the sudden break with my whole past that had given me a sense of isolation. Returning to Paris, I should have found what I had been missing. But it did not work out that way. I felt out of step. I felt I did not matter a great deal to anything or to anyone. Loneliness had become a sort of natural setting, an element; and in it, I immersed myself, as both island and ghost. Perhaps I was missing the fellowship of fighting men. Perhaps I envied those who were active in a political party and could say "we." But I had an aversion to parties and their lies. For several months, the conquerors remained isolated by their victory, the conquered by their defeat. The time came to reunite. To smooth things over. Which revolted me. One evening near the Ópera, I entered a café. It was the hour when the colors begin to falter, to free themselves little by little from the sun before being lost in the oncoming evening: as the fish that one throws back in the river take on the color of the water before disappearing in it. Though the window of the café, I looked at the crowd going by on the boulevard. I was trying to identify people. To type them. To search their faces for signed. Signs of the hangman and of his victims. Clues to the torturer and to the tortured. To those who had fought the Nazis and to those who had done business with them. But everything was leveled, equalized in the evening's grayness. Nothing but smooth and neutral faces. All these people passed one another, ready neither to flee from each other nor to come together. The world was submerging the horrible tragedy that had lasted five years, closing over it like water over a stone. Then what would joining a political party be but a coat with holes? An illusion thrown over loneliness.
That moment of timeless theme and personal experience is sticking with me.Dreamsnake (Vonda M. McIntyre) (1978): skygiants read it
, so I decided it was time to reread this for the first time in more than a decade. The catalyst of the story is the novice healer Snake losing her dreamsnake, the symbol and tool of her practice, and setting out to explain her failure to her teachers - then switching up to seek out a new source of the rare, difficult to breed dreamsnakes to atone for her mistake.
The '70s, you guys. The Seventies
. The tail end of the New Wave. So the narrative structure is loose: Snake's goals change more than once as she interacts with and connects to new characters. The "hard" technology of the Campbell years, spaceships and nuclear power, is not an unmitigated good or the inevitable march of progress. In this postapocalyptic landscape, the desert Snake crosses is dotted with radioactive craters, the deadly aftermath of a conflict so distant the hard fallout is its only legacy. The speculative elements are the social structures and genetics. There's unquestioned polyamory, and pretty frank discussions of sex, but homosexuality is oddly invisible.
In my usual fashion, the only thing I remembered was the dreamsnake reveal at the end, and the irony that the healers' successful attempts to breed more dreamsnakes were accidents
; I'd forgotten 90% of the novel. Snake's rashness, pride, and self-consciousness about her failures, I'd spaced out on those. The three-ness of the human relationships, and the three-ness of the snakes, is something I'd also spaced on.
I'd like to say there's a three-ness to the structure or themes, too, but that's not quite right. The wandering structure drapes over episodes about fixing things, either injuries or attitudes, in a way that I'm still thinking about. ( Spoilers. )
It's definitely SF in the postapocalyptic vein, rejecting the Old and trying out new things. I like that; even when it doesn't entirely work, I like it when fiction stretches my brain.