tisdag 8 oktober 2019

Good Reads, September 2019

Hereby some short and fast reading tips. This time, we give you "four fantasies" followed by "three realities". A similar post is this one.

C. S. Lewis. The Silver Chair (1953). -- One of the best Narnia books. Superficially it's a bit flimsy and lightweight; yet, seen as a whole, it's rather well-crafted and well-paced. A comparatively serious fantasy in popular, easy-read style. -- The plot is about a quest by two kids, heading for the north of the Narnian world, a quest accompanied by a "marsh-wiggle". They meet giants, they come to a mysterious city of ruins. And they go underground. And they finally meet the man chained to "the Silver Chair"... a very telling denoument of an elegant, witty novel.

Ursula Le Guin. The Tombs of Atuan (1970). -- I had low hopes for this one; however, it was as good as its predecessor, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). Atuan has a female hero, a priestess ruling over a certain system of caves. A lot of the action is about lurking in these caves, which "drama-wise" might sound odd but it's actually rather exciting. Le Guin has a gift for the fantastic, even for things religious; that is, this isn't exactly an apology for being a trad-style priestess, rather the contrary, but the religious life as such is well depicted.

Roger Zelazny. Nine Princes in Amber (1970). -- A "tough guy" fantasy -- or, an outing into "active nihilism," so to speak. People in fancy renaissance garb battle for power in Amber, a higher realm, the only "real" realm; our world (and other, parallel worlds) are mere shadows of it. This ontological strain gives the book its edge. You might tire of the nihilism and cynicism but the whole of it is rather alluring. -- Zelazny reads like an American Moorcock; and, beyond that, the Yank is overall rather more energetic than the often dejected Brit.

Roger Zelazny. Lord of Light (1967). -- This is an oddity: settlers from Earth create a high-tech civlization on a remote planet, a world where they can style themselves as Hindu gods. How? With the aid of machines of course... So there is no holism, no will, no astral reality in this concept; instead, it's based on the operation of serially working machines. -- To the traditional mind this sounds like an abomination. Why read of plastic gods when you can have "the real thing" in Purânas and Mahabhârata etc.? However, from a literary point of view the story unfolds rather well. It comes to occupy a grey-area of myth and SF, a mix of the archaic and the modern. The mere stylish ability of Zelazny paints an alluring, magical world. So this is a kind of religious fantasy, having the SF basis as a mere, outer framework. -- To depict gods in latter-day fiction is hard. Wagner kind of succeeded in his Nibelungen opera, even though there was always the risk of dragging the figures down into "everydayness". Zelazny runs the same risk here but he kind of pulls it of -- at times. An odd novel, there aren't many like it.

Correlli Barnett (ed). Hitler's Generals (1989). -- Not exactly original but it was OK. It's a "polygraphy" = a collection of bios, written by several authors. On 550 pages we get to hear about cirka 20 German WWII generals. And there is some repetition and some divulging of not so sensational facts. However, some things were new even to me and I liked to read about these guys: Ludwig Beck, Franz Halder, Alfred Jodl, Walter von Reichenau, Erich von Manstein, Kurt Student.

Nick Carter. The Treason Game (1982). -- Of course the author isn't "Nick Carter". This is one of the modern Nick Carter novels, the "Killmaster" working for the fictitious US agency AXE. The author of the book is (according to this source) said to be one Joseph L. Gilmore. The book is rather unusual; it plays in the US (Washington DC; Utah; and not some in exotic outpost), and as the title intimates it's about treason. This time, Carter can't just operate and fulfill his task, no; due to infiltration of the US government Carter finds himself alone and double-crossed in his own land. But he keeps his honor clean, does some mopping up in the treacherous ranks and succeeds in saving the US in the end. Overall rather tight and comparatively credible. And, it's told in the first person; that's how Nick Carter novels should be. The third-person narrative just doesn't work so well in this series, giving a comparatively weaker and more pallid impression. -- In James Bond terms, this novel presents a philosophically interesting "license revoked" situation. Cf. the 1989 Bond film, "License to Kill," whose working title was "License Revoked". And I figure that, overall, a comparison with Bond is apt because Nick Carter was a viable American counterpart to James Bond. Carter was created with JB in mind (secret agent licensed to kill, the boss of the agency is a kind of father figure, some beautiful women are encountered during the operations, the Cold War is a constant reference etc.). Bond is British and Carter is American; Bond has his unique style, Cartes has his.

Cooper, Bryan (text) and Batchelor, John (illustrations). The Story of the Bomber 1914-1945 (1974). -- The prominent feature of this book is the illustrations. Except for a handful of photos every picture in this book is hand-drawn; profiles, perspective drawings, cut-away drawings, all done especially for this volume. In both black-and-white and color. This makes the book a good read in the realm of large format fact books. The text is also OK, telling the story of bomber aircraft from before WWI and up and until the end of WWII. The most interesting part was reading about the inter-war years, when in the 30's a great step toward modern aircraft construction was made by having all-metal monoplanes, symbolised by American designs like Lockheed Electra and Douglas DC-2. Before that the norm was (kind of) double-deckers of wood clad in doped fabric.

Good Reads, May 2019
The Faustian Era Goes Ever On

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