Tag Archives: Fantasy

“The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel

I’ve read four books by Neal Stephenson.

  • Seveneves
  • Anathem
  • Snow Crash
  • Cryptonomicon

All are LONG. I almost bailed out on Cryptonomicon. Too long, too many characters, etc.  (See my blog entry dated September 27, 2017.)

Stephenson benefitted from having a coauthor on this book (or maybe he found a better and more assertive editor, or maybe he just improved). The story had a more comprehensible narrative course. In the middle, the plot began to wander, but the ending was captivating. And “only” 742 pages!

A recurring theme in D.O.D.O. is language. Protagonist Melisande Stokes is a hardworking graduate student in ancient and classical linguistics when she is recruited by a “shadowy government entity” to translate some very, VERY old manuscripts. Everything about her work is “classified”. Soon she is deeply involved with…time travel and witchcraft!

The authors single out academics and government administrators for scathing parody. If you’ve worked in either of those settings, you may enjoy seeing pomposity punctured.

I haven’t read Nicole Galland, but I’m looking forward to checking out her contemporary and historical fiction.

 

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“Finding Dorothy” by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy: A Novel

This book was given to me when I made a purchase at an independent bookstore in North Carolina. There was a stack (several feet high) of pre-release volumes from which I was invited to choose. The official publication date is February 12, 2019. My copy is marked Advance Reader’s Edition. Maybe there’s too much competition if you release a book right before Christmas?

The “Dorothy” of this book is the heroine of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who spoke the immortal words “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.” The book falls into the genre of fictionalized biography. (I disapprove, in principle…)

Elizabeth Letts begins by introducing Maud Gage Baum as an elderly woman, in 1938, during the months when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by her deceased husband, was being rendered into a movie.

Flashbacks then reveal Maud Baum’s life story, beginning with her arrival at Cornell University in one of the first groups of women permitted to study there.

Many aspect of Maud Gage Baum’s life are distressing. She suffered from the rampant sexism of her day, poor medical care and economic instability. Her mother, Matilda Gage, was a well known suffragist at a time when the vote for women was widely considered a joke.

The book would be depressing, but L Frank Baum was such an engaging, imaginative and kind man that we understand how Maud was able to carry on.

One well developed theme was the Women’s Suffrage movement. Additionally, both Christian Science and spiritualism are touched in passing. Maud Baum lived in interesting times!

What about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Letts describes Frank Baum as a man of vast creativity and optimism. His book is described in Wikipedia as “the first American fairy tale”. What a wonderful accolade! Its popularity was sensational. Children believed every word of it, loved it, read it, dreamed it.

Somehow, I never read the book and never even watched the movie all the way through. But now I feel inspired to do both. I think that makes Letts’s book a wonderful success.

PS: Why have I read two works recently in which a DOLL figures prominently? The Dorothy of Letts’s novel is not a person, but rather the beloved doll owned by Maud Baum’s suffering niece, who is tragically mired in poverty and loneliness. The doll is destroyed and Dorothy is reincarnated as an imaginary friend. Think about the doll in the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante. Kind of witchy, right? Can anyone explain to me the end of that long saga, when the doll reappears?

“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke

Do you believe in magic? Do you like historical fiction? If you answer “yes” to either question, this book is for you. It falls into the oddball category of fantasy historical fiction.

The setting is England (mostly) during the Napoleonic Wars. A number of characters are historical figures, like the Duke of Wellington and members of the British royal family.

Despite the title, there are many more than two important characters in this book, and sometimes I had trouble keeping them straight. Some characters that seem minor become the focus of important plot twists.

The author has a “grand scale” imagination, creating a world in which the supernatural intersects with “ordinary” life. The plot is mostly an adventure story. The language is lively.

Unusual for a work of fiction, this book has footnotes! I skipped them because my e-reader is awkward, but you will enjoy the book more, I think, if you read them as you go along.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is long, but you couldn’t do better for a rainy weekend at the beach.

“Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book One” by Karina Sumner-Smith

Another post-apocalyptic dystopian Young Adult novel, with a female protagonist. Main themes, magic and ghosts. Some kind of zombies. Also socioeconomic inequality, bonded labor and other glimmers of our current world.

What does the reader get out of this? The heroine has POWER. Not the same kind of magic as her peers, but something that is different and very, very dangerous. And she is entirely independent. I can understand the appeal to young women.

Would a young man read this book? No idea. I just realized I have NO clue what young men read. (My readily available sample size has n=2.) Science fiction, perhaps? But this is not sci-fi but rather fantasy.

This book kept me reading, but I don’t feel impelled to go on with the series. Maybe later.

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth – further reflections

I took a look at the Amazon entry for this book, and what do I see at the bottom of the description?

Supports the Common Core State Standards”

Can somebody tell me what this means? Divergent is part of an American education? Why? Is it “literature”? Is it being taught in high schools? It is reasonably grammatical. Is that what it takes to “support the Common Core Standards”?

So why am I surprised? I know that The Giver, also decidedly dystopian, is taught in middle schools.

On the one hand, I’m all for books that youngsters will actually (and enthusiastically) read. I was delighted by the Harry Potter series. But that was FANTASY. It got “darker” as the story line progressed, but was ultimately a story in which good (including hard work, loyalty, intelligence) triumphed. When the last book came out, a friend posted on Facebook “Thank you, JK Rowling, for helping me raise my children”. I know what he meant. I think many families found that Harry, Ron and Hermione became “part of the family”. We cared about them.

The Harry Potter series does not bear the “Common Core Standards” imprimatur, at least not on the Amazon website.

So I guess this means I don’t think every book that gets kids reading is equally worthwhile. What about the Twilight series? Vampire romances… It’s not marked “Common Core Standards”. I think I read one volume and was not impressed. If my child brought it home from high school, I would be on the phone complaining.

So what do I have against Divergent, besides personally finding it depressing? Does it glorify risk taking? If so, is it any different from all the high risk action on TV and in the movies? Here’s an issue – it emphasizes corruption in people in positions of authority, a problem I acknowledge. Would it “push” a person towards conspiracy theory, the fear that ALL authority is hopelessly corrupt? Is it asocial or antisocial?

Enough… I like literature with some element of transcendence. I like to see people learn, resolve, grow, accomplish, and often this takes place in the face of daunting challenges. I suppose I should read the whole trilogy to see if Divergent supplies this. But I’m not sure I want to invest the time.

Does Divergent belong in the high schools? I’d love to hear your opinion! And what’s the BEST (contemporary) book currently being taught?

Guilty pleasures – “A Song of Ice and Fire” aka “Game of Thrones”

Recently I prepared for one of my infrequent airplane trips. I was pleased by the prospect of loading my Kindle and taking a dozen books while traveling “light” (always a relative concept). I browsed the Amazon Kindle store and made my selections.

Mine was a “working” trip. Not the same as traveling FOR work, but I was busy. So what did I read in my scant free time? Just one book, A Clash of Kings, book two of the “Game of Thrones” series. Many of my friends are hooked on the TV series, but I’m hooked on the books. Once I watched about five minutes of an episode. It looked like a standard “costume drama”. By now, having finished two of what I think is a six book series, I’m so involved with my own mental images for the characters and action that I don’t think I would enjoy someone else’s visual presentation. 

I do wonder how closely the books and TV episodes match. I mean, some of the action seems difficult for TV or a movie. The scene where the “priestess” gives birth to a shadow demon?? 

I have favorite characters (Jon Snow, Bran, Catelyn) and will even skip around to follow their stories. I can’t wait to find out what’s really going on beyond the Wall. I hope Tyrion turns out to be a good guy.

I won’t download the next book right away, but it’s great fun knowing it’s there for my future indulgence. I’ll have to watch what I read on Facebook, lest I find out too much too soon.