August 16th, 2006

baby dragon

Planetary Semiotics

So it appears that Pluto is, in fact, a planet -- and so are a couple of
other astrological bodies.

I'm no astronomer, but I find the subject fascinating. What's
interesting to me about the whole debate is the idea that something as
apparently straightforward as the solar system is not, in fact, fixed --
it can change. Most of us non-scientific types don't know a great many
"scientific facts", but the planets of the solar system... that's one of
the things we think we know. And yet, it turns out that's just a matter
of interpretation -- it's not a fact at all. So how absolute can any
facts be?

I'm also pleased that Ceres is going to be a planet... and here's hoping
"Xena" gets a female official name as well. Persephone, maybe?

I'm sure the makers of those styrofoam build-a-solar-system kits are not
too happy today...

Catching Up on Books

Since I'm leaving for Vancouver/Victoria tomorrow afternoon, I figured I should get this book post (which has been in the works, getting longer and longer, for some time now) up before I went... Take a deep breath, we're going to be here a while...

37. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land (John Crowley)
This was much better than it had any right to be. The complete text of an imaginary "rediscovered" novel supposedly written by Byron, interspersed with textual notes written by Byron's daughter, Ada, and the story of its discovery, told via e-mails. It should have been terrible. It wasn't. And, more, it was actually very good. The linked themes of the three narrative levels felt honest and accurate, not artifical and "literary". The story(ies) was/were absorbing (the frame stories more so than the internal "novel"). I really can't find anything to complain about. *****

38. When Nietzsche Wept (Irvin D. Yalom)
This, on the other hand... I suppose I had my hopes raised by Lord Byron's Novel. But this story of an imagined proto-psychoanalytic treatment between Josef Breuer and Friedrich Nietzche was terribly disappointing. It wasn't utterly terrible, I suppose. But it felt over-researched ("like most Viennese of the time", "she served x, a sort of Viennese y", and so on), overly-full of Ideas (leading to long philosophical passages that we're supposed to believe are people's conversations), and full of mid-life-crisis adolescent angst. The whole novel is contrived and artificial. **

39. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (Elaine Showalter)
This is the kind of book I'd like to be able to write as an academic. It's got lots to say, lots of ideas to explore, but does it in a clear, engaging style. It's not so abstruse and theoretical that the general reader couldn't understand what's being said, but neither is it a shallow piece of pop-culture analysis. It draws an interesting parallel between the end of the nineteenth century and the end of the twentieth, although I remain unconvinced that these are purely end-of-century phenomena (as opposed to phenomena that have persisted throughout the twentienth century). ****

40. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965 (Samuel R. Delany)
This is a very interesting memoir. Delany talks about his experiences as a black gay writer of science fiction, married to a white woman, learning his craft, honing his ideas about art and aesthetics, and coming to terms with himself. It's beautifully written, and has lots to say. But oh my goodness, there's a lot of sex. I feel like such a prude by comparison. ****

41. Y: the Last Man (Brian K. Vaughan et al.) vol. 7: Paper Dolls
You can tell in this volume that they can see the end of the series approaching; loose ends are beginning to be, if not tied up, gathered in preparation for being tied up. So there are significant revelations and dramatic occurences aplenty. They must have succeeded in engaging me: I was gasping out loud as I read. The narrative momentum is picking up again, and it's definitely for the good. Oh, and there's at least one panel in this volume in which Dr. Mann actually looks Asian. Which is nice. ****

42. 1602 (Neil Gaiman et al)
I feel I must once again announce that I'm not, really, a reader of superhero comic books. This is relevant because 1602 is a transplantation of the Marvel superhero universe back into the 17th century, and a reader of superhero comics would, without a doubt, have picked up on many more nuances than I did. That said, I did recognize most of the people involved. Neil does a lovely job of making the whole thing more-or-less credible -- or, at least, it's no less credible in the 17th century than it was in the 20th. The ending's a bit of a cop-out, but probably inevitable. The art is really very pretty indeed. ****

43. Lucifer, (Mike Carey, et al.) vol. 1: Devil in the Gateway
A new-to-me comic series, provided by (guess who) in order to ensure my continued graphic novel addiction. It's a Sandman spinoff, but, judging from this first volume, seems to be doing a decent job of establishing its own territory. I am quite optimistic that I'll enjoy the rest of the run (it's already completed, but now I get to collect the graphic novels at my own pace, without having to wait for them to come out! Huzzah!). ****

44. The Salt Roads (Nalo Hopkinson)
I have absolutely no idea how to categorize or summarize this book. Its characters include Jeanne Duval (who was Charles Beaudelaire's lover), an Alexandrian slave named Thais, a slave on a pre-revolution Haitian plantation, and gods/lwa/orishas. It's not a fantasy, in any conventional sense, but neither is it strictly realistic. Unless you accept supernatural beings as "realistic". It belongs, I suppose, to that genre-bending area of "literary fiction" where it's too good to be traditional genre. There's a lot going on there. My only complaint is that it didn't feel entirely resolved by the end -- and maybe that was the point. And I'm sure there's more going on there, waiting for a few re-readings. ****

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