dukedom_enough and his 2012 reading
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Happy New Year to all, and to another edition of Club Read!
I gave some thought to naming this thread "dukedom_enough under the moons of Mars," to note the centenary of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Under the Moons of Mars," later A Princess of Mars. This is the source for the upcoming movie, John Carter. Also, the Library of America is publishing a nice edition of the novel with a Junot Diaz introduction. But, after considering the racist and imperialist associations of Burroughs' book, I decided not to use the title. I do expect to take the opportunity to reread it, if only to have things to say about the movie when it comes out in March.
I have a number of books that I'm in the middle of, and will try to keep an up to date list of those, if only to keep my post count up!
And life's too short to try to reread everything. If you want to be up to date when John Carter comes out, Princess would be good, but of course it's good to read what you liked, too.
The Carytids by Bruce Sterling
Women hold up half the sky. But what if the sky is something to fear?
Once, there were seven of them, seven identical sisters, all clones of their sinister mother, being raised to wield power in the mid twenty first century. One of the many, bloody conflicts stemming from the world climate crisis killed three, and scattered the remaining four across the globe, while their mother retreated to an orbital habitat. As we meet each, we see another view of the high-tech, devasted world of 2065, a decade after their parting.
Vera has joined a project to reclaim, from environmental damage, the Adriatic Sea island where she and her sisters were raised. She works with intrusive neural technologies that enhance people's capabilities while leaving them no privacy. Radmila has married into a wealthy, civic-minded Los Angeles show-business dynasty, selling distraction to the global media. Sonja has lived in China, Earth's last true nation-state, working to rescue the survivors of terrible droughts and other disasters. Biserka - well, Biserka causes a great deal of trouble for the other three.
All Sterling's usual interests are here: the strangeness of social and technological trends we take for granted, the contrast beween how things work and how we think about them, the possible forms posthumanity might take, the ferocious consequences of ignoring climate change, the love of a good one-liner:
Radmila walked the artificial beach, vamped before the floating cameras, and gazed into the sun-glittering Pacific. Six lunatics were surfing out there. For the life of her, Radmila could not understand surfers in Los Angeles. Obviously riding on a wave was a nice stunt performance, but inside the ocean? There were whole chunks and shoals of broken China bobbing around out there, all glass, nails, slime, and toxic jellyfish.
Radmila was looking sexy today, as contractually required. Looking sexy was a basic theatrical craft. [...]
Certain men direly wanted to have sexy sex with professionally beautiful women: sex with the stars. Those men were delusionary. Sex with a star was an awful idea, like having sex with a rosebush. You were not supposed to get in bed with a rosebush.
Environmental terror and a witty observation in one short passage. For an observation on posthumanity, take this exchange between Radmila's husband and Vera, who, like everyone in her project, voluntarily wears a brain-scanning helmet for operating machinery and monitoring herself and others:
Montalban looked at her soberly. "You really look a lot prettier without that canteen on your head."
"Scanning helps me. It is a powerful tool."
"That," said Montalban, "is why that tool has been restricted to a very small group of users in an otherwise hopeless situation."
She could see that her tears were affecting him strongly. His face had grown much softer. He looked thoughtful and handsome, truly sympathetic. He looked at her as if he loved her more than anything in the world.
"If you never scan your own brain," said Vera, wiping at her cheeks, "how do you know what you feel about all this?"
I'm not sure if Sterling means this as satire. We do misunderstand our own motivations, and maybe that'd be harder with a continuously updated display of what major brain centers show about our emotions. Here as always, Sterling is brilliant on envisioning the profound (or are they?) changes wrought by technology.
But the focus of the novel remains on the women, who are all, really, unreliable narrators. Just behind them, a bit out of focus but present, is a world in which the population of China has dropped by half over twenty years, and all our technology still leaves the issue of human survival in doubt.
If you've never read Sterling, I suggest Distraction for a first try, but this novel well displays his talents.
Nice review of what sounds like an intriguing book! Is he doing anything in particular with gender here? ...Clearly he is, but is he saying anything in particular? (like: awful warning of scary, uppity women)
Excellent review of The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling. He is such a smart writer with all those wise cracks, but as you say you are never quite sure where he is coming from.
Somewhere a character notes that women generally do better as refugees, because they cooperate, instead of fighting stupidly as men do.
He's very concerned by the environment, but seems to think that quips are more effective than sermons in getting his point of view across.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I noted at the start of the year that I planned to reread at least some of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels, because this is the centennial year of the appearance of Under the Moons of Mars, later retitled A Princess of Mars, and because of the impending release of the film version, John Carter.
In Princess the never-aging, fabulously gallant warrior, John Carter of Virginia, travels to Mars in the year 1866, via some sort of astral projection, to become Mars' greatest warrior, and the husband of the incomparable Dejah Thoris, Princess of the city-state Helium.
I first encountered this book with the 1965 Ballantine reprint whose cover is shown. I strongly suspect that this book has been available in print for the majority of the century since its appearance (first book publication in 1917). I can't add much to the vast literature on Burroughs and on his Mars. The Library of America will soon publish an edition of the book with an introduction by Junot Diaz, which will undoubtedly be worth a look. Meanwhile, some thoughts.
Princess certainly shows that Burroughs did not leave behind his era's racist, sexist, and imperial ways of seeing the world. His tale does include a degree of reconciliation between the warring red and green Martians - but then Kipling wrote "The Ballad of East and West;" this sort of story fits into imperialism well enough. Geoff Ryman, in his excellent short story "The Film-makers of Mars," has a character note that Carter is "a warrior for slavery and an Indian fighter; the opening of the book swiftly combines all of America’s racial catastrophes."
Maybe someday this story will have no power to move readers, but Burroughs' propulsive storytelling puts that day far off, and, for me, holds up well enough. Here, the fierce, green Martians are fourteen feet tall and have four arms, and thoats are eight-legged mounts standing ten feet at the shoulder; on a dying planet, a group is traveling across the bottom of a sea that dried up ages ago:
We made a most imposing and awe-inspiring spectacle as we strung out across the yellow landscape; the two hundred and fifty ornate and brightly colored chariots, preceded by an advance guard of some two hundred mounted warriors and chieftains riding five abreast and one hundred yards apart, and followed by a like number in the same formation, with a score or more of flankers on either side; the fifty extra mastodons, or heavy draught animals, known as zitidars, and the five or six hundred extra thoats of the warriors running loose within the hollow square formed by the surrounding warriors. The gleaming metal and jewels of the gorgeous ornaments of the men and women, duplicated in the trappings of the zitidars and thoats, and interspersed with the flashing colors of magnificent silks and furs and feathers, lent a barbaric splendor to the caravan which would have turned an East Indian potentate green with envy.
The enormous broad tires of the chariots and the padded feet of the animals brought forth no sound from the moss-covered sea bottom; and so we moved in utter silence, like some huge phantasmagoria, except when the stillness was broken by the guttural growling of a goaded zitidar, or the squealing of fighting thoats. The green Martians converse but little, and then usually in monosyllables, low and like the faint rumbling of distant thunder.
Not as enthralling as when I was an adolescent, but not clunky either, at least to my ear. A lot of popular fiction from the era reads as very slow and clumsy now, but Burroughs could keep that plot moving. The incomparability of the red-Martian Dejah Thoris is also a factor:
Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.
She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.
In 1965 I was a 14-year-old, straight, cis boy, and I approved this message - sexist though it certainly is. Don't type "Dejah Thoris" into Google image search at work, even with safe-search on. Despite looking perfectly human (and humanly perfect!) the red Martians reproduce, not by live birth, but via eggs that hatch after several years outside the mother's body. It's almost worth reading this book just to get to the scenes where Carter and his bride Dejah gaze fondly at the royal incubator, wherein their progeny egg is developing.
This novel is the prototype planetary romance. For a century since, tough men and daring women have bravely ventured into the cities and wild places of strange, yet sufficiently Earthlike worlds. Writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin have shown ways to free this story type from its racial, sexual and imperial roots. However, the popularity of the Avatar movie shows that we still have a long way to go.
Great review! (though I suspect I find your review far more interesting than I would the book)
>12 dukedom_enough: - my guess is that scene will not be replicated in the forthcoming film although if it is I forecast lots of 5-star reviews from 14 year-old boys.
Gotta love the cover for A Princess of Mars. Reminds me of a Charlton Heston movie poster.
Great review dukedom of A princess of Mars It is available for free on Project Gutenberg. I can hardly wait to download it to take that trip down memory lane.
As part of the Edgar Rice Burroughs celebration I feel I should track down the Kevin Connor/Doug McClure films of the 1970s - The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth's Core, The People That Time Forgot & Warlords of Atantis. (I know the last one isn't a Burroughs adaptation but it feels like one - and I loved it when I saw it at the cinema). Who needs a $200m film when these already exist?
Jargoneer >14 Jargoneer:,
The trailer shows Dejah well-clothed. It is a Disney film, after all. John Carter is not wearing much, so maybe they're going for the 14-year old girl vote.
Nickelini >15 Nickelini:,
The Planet of the Apes director probably knew Burroughs' work. Heston would've been perfect for Carter.
The cover artist was Robert Abbett, who's apparently better known for outdoor subjects. I know that from this article on the TOR site, which has a bigger view of the Burroughs cover. We can think of Abbett doing this in between assignments for Don Draper of Mad Men.
baswood >16 baswood:,
Project Gutenberg says they've had just 8731 downloads of Princess. I would have thought more. Of course, one of those was to the Apple iBooks store, which is where I got it; if one could count the second-tier downloads the number would be higher.
Jargoneer >17 Jargoneer:,
I thought Kraken was fine, but had maybe a bit too much sheer stuff in it, as though he needed to clear out his notebooks. Fun, but didn't cohere like the other books.
Have you gone to see John Carter? The critics have been particularly virulent but I've been told it isn't as bad as they made out, not a masterpiece but better than some recent blockbusters. Unfortunately it looks like it is going to cost Disney $200m although they may make all that back on DVD and TV sales. Looks like the curse of Mars strikes again - every time a film references Mars it seems to lose a fortune now.
I read some of the Mars books as a kid and remember them reasonably fondly - and I'd rather Hollywood keep its sticky fingers off the landmarks of my childhood. So actually I'm kind of pleased that it's flopping, and intend to contribute by staying away from the theater. I'll get the disc when it comes out.
Burroughs wasn't that big a deal for me, really. Now if anyone ever does Slan or The Stars My Destination or Galactic Derelict or "The Star Pit" or "No Truce With Kings", they'd better be perfect or ELSE! :-)
Interesting: an obit for a woman SF writer I don't think I've ever heard of.
OK, this is amazing: a jumping robot:
By now everyone must have a fair idea of The Hunger Games. Twenty-four teenagers must fight to the death, in a televised spectacle meant to remind subjugated Districts of their submission to a ruling Capitol. Katniss Everdeen, 16, sees her baby sister selected by lot for this nightmare, and volunteers to take her place.
Collins' book is smart, making good choices everywhere. Of course the games would be televised. Of course the games' producers would supply their audience with appealing personal vignettes, and engaging storylines about the contestants. Katniss' woodcraft and level head are more important to her survival than her aim with a bow; finding water and food is as important as the climactic battles.
And that the rulers keep the districts in line by openly murdering their children might not be politically entirely realistic - bound to stir up unnecessary trouble - but it has a brutal, emotional rightness about it that convinces. Collins strikes a note perfectly attuned to the insane moment we live in.
The story is told in the strictly first-person voice of Katniss who, after all, hasn't much needed storytelling skills yet in her life. This is both strength and weakness. It provides a relentless pace that held my attention - Katniss doesn't get time to catch her breath, and neither does the reader. It makes Katniss potentially an unreliable narrator - we can speculate on what she does not see or understand. However, it also makes for a degree of flatness in the prose, a uniformity of tone in describing both table settings and murders. Reading from Katniss' point of view, we should be getting more showing and less telling than we do.
Some complaints: I was bothered by a general issue of scale. District 12 has a population of 8,000 - a good number to fit into a town center, for the lottery than sends Katniss to the Capitol, and a number that means everyone must fear that they or their children will be "reaped". But if that number's typical, we have only about 100,000 people in the Districts, supporting a Capitol population that seems to be in the millions. The nation of Panem sprawls at least from the Appalachians to the Rockies, and sustains high tech and a sophisticated, modern media industry; it ought to have a population at least in the tens of millions. District 12 mines coal. The coal industry in the modern USA employs about 80,000. There are too few Districters by one or two orders of magnitude.
And on the very second page, Katniss puts her boots on before she puts on her trousers. Where was the copyeditor?
But these are minor problems. As I write, The Hunger Games is LT's most-reviewed book, with an average rating of 4.49. Much of this stems from its being the current hot book at a time when LT has grown so large, but I think Collins has found a generational touchstone. When I was young, I was reading lots of stories involving nuclear war. Now, I hear about puzzled complaints from commentators who wonder why dystopian stories like The Hunger Games are so popular. But it's so simple: every generation betrays its children - because no generation has ever given all of them the safe, nurturing world that we all need. Young readers see that and respond. I see that my generation is doing especially badly, leaving an environmentally and politically damaged planet for today's kids, and I wonder why they ever read anything but dytopias.
I see that my generation is doing especially badly, leaving an environmentally and politically damaged planet for today's kids, and I wonder why they ever read anything but dytopias.
Perceptive and sad, but I would think there is also a need for escape fiction, whether of the commercial kind or of the more literary kind (i.e., something long, absorbing, and very far away in time and place). And aren't kids still interested in sex and love?
That review of Hunger Games completely confirms to me that I'm a skim reader and not a deep reader at all!
I didn't spot the population size of the districts being odd but I did find the whole way through the book I wondered where the boundaries of the districts are across the USA. http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/67583769.html was the best I found as it gave justifications for the choices and locations. Apparently Denver-onians are the "bad guys" in the Capitol!
>36 rebeccanyc: - And aren't kids still interested in sex and love? I thought all the violence was designed to stop them being interested in them. Sex and love could lead to a really bad sin, like having a baby: better to have them shoot their classmates.
>35 dukedom_enough: - in the UK there has been some questions about the novel's originality - it does have some strong similarities to Battle Royale.
Completely agree with your review - especially the comments about Katniss' voice. Will you be reading the next two?
Excellent review, Dukedom! (no one can call me objective though)
>38 Jargoneer: I don't think the story is all that original (I immediately thought of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," which so many of us of roughly the author's age had to read in school), but it puts together various things in just the right mix to hit that magic formula to create a piece of fiction that speaks to a specific time (And thus becomes a blockbuster. I just read a book on Bestsellers :-)
I also don't think violence is replacing sex (see: the last YA blockbuster: the Twilight saga).
rebeccanyc > 36,
OK, I'm being hyperbolic. And I read plenty of happily-ever-after stories back then, too. And there is a romantic part I didn't mention. Katniss and the boy from her district, Peeta, are perceived to be in love, and maybe even are, and that influences the games. Collins has a Twilight-like romantic triangle developing for the sequels, I suspect (haven't read them, though they're out).
C4RO > 37,
Well, it's a nitpick, really, but we'd all be better off if everyone thought about numbers in the news more carefully. (Grumble.)
Jargoneer >38 Jargoneer:,
I'm vaguely aware of the Battle Royale question, but haven't seen the movie. Is it good?
As I'm sure you know, SF stories have featured gladiatorial combat in the past. I especially remember a Mack Reynolds story from the 1960s where the games were televised as bread-and-circuses for the masses, very like the Collins book.
wandering_star >39 wandering_star:,
I may read them, but will likely wait for the movies. I already have another YA to read this year when China Mieville's Railsea is published.
avaland >40 avaland:,
Right, you're not objective. :-)
>40 avaland: - I thought the point of the Twilight saga was not to have sex.
The Lottery is a genuinely creepy story. Just finished Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House which is an interesting take on the ghost story; surprised how closely the (excellent) film stuck to the novel.
>41 dukedom_enough: - I've seen the first two Battle Royale films. The first is surprisingly good but brutal - not one for the faint-hearted viewer. Watching it reminded of a story that Hammer Studios used to add more gore for the Japanese market. (The second one is mediocre).
I don't remember that Mack Reynolds one (but then he did write dozens of novels) - I always liked his work, perhaps not the best written but usually intelligent and interesting. I used to pick his novels up in Woolworths who used to sell remaindered US paperbacks for next to nothing - the covers always promised non-stop action and Reynolds delivered politics and sociology.
>42 Jargoneer: That may have been the point, but it's still a book about sex... :-)
The beginning of the HG movie seems right out of The Lottery, with everyone carefully dressing up...etc.
>41 dukedom_enough: I remember an SF book, Hand of Prophecy by Severna Park where the main character was enslaved and fought in the gladiatorial arena. http://www.amazon.com/Hand-Prophecy-Severna-Park/dp/0380791587/ref=sr_1_3?s=book...
Just catching up with this thread.
Re #12 and Princess of Mars/John Carter
Hilariously, I have the very same false memory of reading Princess of Mars as a small-sized Ace "F" paperback. And while several of the Barsoom books were in Ace "F", I don't think Princess was one of them. (The copy you show at #12 is also an edition I recall, but that's the similar-vintage Ballantine. (And let's pause a moment to recall that the small F-series paperbacks were forty cents....))
When the hype for the Disney "John Carter" movie started, I saw the TV spot and remarked to my family:
"I spent about ten hours with the Barsoom books nearly half-a-century ago - and just about ALL I remember about them are that Dejah Thoris had red skin, laid eggs, and she makes her entrance naked. I can't say that I'm optimistic about Disney getting her right."
(I then dug up the Ballantine Princess and read them the very same passage describing Dejah Thoris' entrance that you quoted at #12.)
That said, one of my kids recently MADE me go see the movie in the theater, and I found nothing significant to object to. They got an awful lot of Barsoom right: and even managed to leave behind most of 1912's racism and sexism.
Whoops, mine wasn't a false memory, but a typo - that is indeed the Ballantine edition I show above. Corrected.
We'll probably watch the DVD when it comes out.
An interesting review of the Hunger Games film, going into more detail on its good fit with the Zeitgeist.
>46 dukedom_enough: Actually, I think he goes overboard in his comparative analogy beginning around paragraphs 4 and 5. He's reading a bit too much into it, imo (and didn't I say that the author's experience writing for television had a lot to do with the novel/story---that I think he got right).
I don't know; if I were an unemployed twenty-something, crushed by student loans and living in my parent's basement, I might read the story's Capitol as parallel to the older generation and our catastrophic mismanagement of the economy.
Just now catching your thread. Amazing how many places I hear about The Hunger Games. I don't normally talk about books in RL. But, yet, people I barely know tell me I must read this series, and then a few days later ask me if I've gotten to it yet.
Unlike some books that catch on widely, it's reasonable well-written and smart. Maybe I love the idea of it more than the actuality, but the actual book isn't bad.
>51 dukedom_enough: LOL! It won the 20112 award? That somehow seems appropriate...
Rats. I liked 20112 better. ;-)
ETA: Have you read Jessie Lamb? I know that avaland and I have very different opinions about it.
Just pulling your thread up, dear. I know you are reading even if you don't post here: many selected short stories, poetry, articles and varied blog posts... Yeah, LT favors the cover to cover type of reading, another title for the annual list, but we all know reading can be completely 'free range' too.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love being hooked up/married to a reader, someone who understands only too well, my attachment to books, reading, the smell of paper, the feel of a book in my hands, the difficulty of sometimes letting them go...etc? 14 years of accumulating, collecting and dispensing of books together, and of reading in the same house (occasionally even the same book - but not at the same time). Happy Anniversary.
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