November 19th, 2010

breaking bad

Bright green wings

This is an extract from Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens

What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.

I posted this because it reminds me of how I felt in Barbados.
breaking bad

Dark Matter and The Half-Made World

I was busy this week so I didn't read much. I did get pissed at a beach bar and read Four Quartets, which was a bizarre and intense experience. But anyway, I finished the short horror novel Dark Matter, and it was as jolly good as I had expected it to be. I do recommend it to anyone who likes frightening ghost stories - there aren't that many new ones that are any good - plus it is a touching portrait of an all-male arctic expedition, which is another little niche I like.

I have also begun The Half Made World by Felix Gilman. This book has a fascinating premise, which is very well worked out. It's not the type of book I would normally read - it's a combination of steam punk and magical realism - but it got a glowing review from Ursula Le Guin
"Vivid and accurate prose, a gripping, imaginative story, a terrifically inventive setting, a hard-bitten, indestructible hero, and an intelligent, fully adult heroine -- We haven't had a science-fiction novel like this for a long time."

So I thought I would try it. It is well written, though I always find magical realism quite hard going. I must have said this a million times - I like each page, but I don't feel a compulsion to go on to the next page.

The premise, the conceit if you like, which underpins the book is a good one, really intelligent and complex but consistent. I think all magical realism is a metaphor within a spirit-infested world for the development of a country, usually a colonial nation. This is the most effective magical realist metaphor I have ever read about the opening up of the American west.
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Here is a short Crooked Timber review of Half-Made World.
If The Half-Made World fits into a line of thought within f/sf, it’s less steampunk, then a set of arguments which come out of Gene Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerberus and go through Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide and Paul Park’s Celestis about the ways in which colonialists imagine the aboriginals that they are violently displacing, and the ways that the aboriginals imagine them. I’ve no idea whether any of these books are conscious or unconscious influences on The Half-Made World – but it’s helpful for some purposes to think about them together.

(NB Celestis was published as Coelestis in the UK I think - brilliant)