April 2012

Books read in April:

  1. The Grass is Singing. Doris Lessing.
  2. Christ in the Passover. Ceil and Moishe Rosen.
  3. Monsters of Men. Patrick Ness.
  4. Dune Messiah. Frank Herbert.
  5. Children of Dune. Frank Herbert.

Best (only) literary fiction: The Grass is Singing
Best (only) non-fiction: Christ in the Passover
Best (only) YA sci-fi: Monsters of Men

Apparently this month was mostly spent reading the subsequent books in science fiction series(es). I’ve already posted reviews of those books. As for my literary read for this month, I picked up The Grass is Singing on a whim. It was on the books-sharing shelf in the research centre common room. The only book I had ever heard about by Doris Lessing was The Fifth Child, which I’ve heard is very strange and somewhat disturbing. The Grass is Singing, however, caught my eye because it is about a white family in former Rhodesia, set in the early part of the 20th century. The descriptions of the land are stunning, and the white attitudes towards the ‘natives’ are appalling. I felt uncomfortable reading it from this side of the millennium. But it is supposed to make you uncomfortable. In fact, if it doesn’t, I think you’d have some serious soul-searching to do. The other non-science fiction book I read this month was Christ in the Passover, which is an explanation/introduction to the traditions of Passover and how this holiday foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection, written by two Messianic Jews. At times I found it elementary — but then, it was written for a lay audience. Overall it was a very informative, insightful book to read.

Also, only one of the books on the list is one I actually own. One of my goals for this year is to make good use of the library, and it looks like I’m succeeding.

Children of Dune

Opening line: ‘Muad’Dib’s teachings have become the playground of scholastics, of the superstitious and the corrupt.’

For eight years the Atreides Empire has been ruled by a regency that grows increasingly corrupt and violent. The Jihad spreads ever further, and in its wake follows a self-interested bureaucracy. Outside Arrakis, the planet of Dune, the Bene Gesserit continue to weave conspiracies and the fallen House of Corrino schemes on Salusa Secundus. On Dune itself, factions split the Fremen. Tensions rise, breaking forth in civil war. In the midst of all this are the Atreides twins, fighting within themselves to avoid the fate of their aunt. Myths and curses rise as mirages out of the sands, and out of the deep desert walks The Preacher speaking heresies, but whose voice no one can silence…

I must admit, I was not expecting to read Children of Dune right away after finishing Dune Messiah last week. Something about the planet of Dune stuck with me though; I wanted to know what happened next. The further along I get in the series the harder it is to summarise without giving plot details away. So I will only say that I continue to like Lady Jessica, Duncan Idaho, and Stilgar, and that Ghanima is my favourite out of the twins. A friend of mine warned that the ending of this book was enough for him to stop reading the series, but fortunately it was not as bad as I feared it would be. I’m willing to read the next novel, God, Emperor of Dune simply to see what happens to the empire, to Ghanima, and to Harq al-Ada.

We’ve moved!

Welcome to the new home of Memoirs of a Vagabond!

Please bear with me over the next few days as I play with layouts and settings. Posts will continue as usual, despite the ‘clutter’ of a work in progress!

Dune Messiah

Opening line: ‘Such a rich store of myths enfolds Paul Muad’dib, the Mentat Emperor, and his sister, Alia, it is difficult to see the real persons behind these veils.’

Twelve years after the close of Dune, Paul Atreides’s empire spans across a multitude of worlds. He has stolen power from the old sources of power: the Guild, the Bene Gesserit, and the Bene Tleilax, and now they conspire against him. The very forces that caused his rise to power might be his undoing. Paul, and his sister Alia, with their gifts of prescience try to see into the future to outsmart their foes.

Dune Messiah matched the tone and pacing of the first book so well that it felt like I was more than picking up the next instalment of the series, but reading the next two hundred or so pages of the first book. The world (or universe, I should say) that Herbert creates is incredibly complex. There is political intrigue, religious fanaticism; the scope is huge, cosmic. The problem this runs into, of course, is that the reader gets no real sense of how the emperor’s decisions are actually felt by his people. I also wanted to see more of Paul and Alia’s motivations and thoughts on the religious element — more than just showing how having a religion centred around them makes them both jaded about religion in general. I suppose I want to know the why and how Paul created his new empire, instead of just being told that he did and here’s what happens next. And though I know the universe is very complicated and that Herbert couldn’t possibly fit it all into one book, I would have liked to have at least heard of the Bene Tleilax before Dune Messiah. Even so, I enjoyed reading more about Paul and Alia and look forward to picking up the next book in the series soon.

Favourite things

Birdsong:

I miss the calls of cardinals, bluejays, and mockingbirds, but I love hearing the songs of blackbirds, chaffinches, and thrushes. The other night I was serenaded by a mistle thrush on my way home, it was singing away into the evening from atop a very tall tree near my house. I could not capture the beauty of that moment — the fluty song filling the cool air, the wisps of cloud blowing past — but I can share the silhouette of the tree and the bird and the bright star of Venus shining in the blue of the twilit sky.

When in doubt…

Make soup.

I haven’t really kept up with grocery shopping the past week or two. I’ve been working long hours in the office so dinners were more likely to be from the chippy or panini place down the street. Tonight I pulled my meagre provisions out of the fridge and tried to decide what to do with them.

So what do you do with two large carrots and half a jar of roasted peppers? You make soup.

Two carrots, one and a half red bell peppers, 750ml of water, one vegetable bouillon cube, some lentils (I just finished a bag), and ground coriander, cumin, chili pepper, and lots of paprika. I like that red pepper countered the lentils so that the soup still came out orange.

It made enough for two. I know what lunch will be tomorrow…

Chaos Walking

Tag line: ‘War makes monsters of men.’

Following from my review of The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, I can now review the rest of the series. The second book, The Ask and the Answer picks up right where the first book leaves off. Todd and Viola are in Haven, but neither are they safe. Split apart by Mayor Prentiss,  Todd and Viola both fight to find each other again, both being drawn into a war in which they are on opposite sides. What is the price of freedom? What is the cost of peace? In a novel just as fast-paced and enthralling as the first, Todd and Viola struggle with these questions and with their own part in a world that is much bigger than they are.

The stakes are raised even higher in third novel, Monsters of Men. What was an invasion met with rebellion turns into a full-scale war when the indigenous species of New World, the Spackle, come to avenge the genocide of their people. Not only that, but the convoy of new settlers is only weeks away; another scout ship lands after the first never reported back. In the midst of all this are Viola and Todd, both fighting to stop the war, to create peace — real peace — and most of all, to save each other.

I have to reiterate that I loved the first novel, so I had very high expectations for the second and third of the trilogy. Fortunately, Patrick Ness did not disappoint — I just couldn’t put these books down. There was actually a period where I went into the public library weekly, and for a while daily, asking if the third book had come in. For reasons unknown to me, the public library took a month to bring in Monsters of Men, and all during that month I pined for it. What would happen next? How on earth would Ness bring everything together? How would it end?

What I particularly loved about these books is the characterization of Todd and Viola. They are definitely not your perfect heroes. They get things wrong. They don’t see the big picture. They don’t know how wars work. But deep down, they are good; they regret, they change, they grow. You end up loving them and caring for them because they are flawed. Redemption is a strong theme in this trilogy. No matter how far you fall, how much you fail, what matters is that you get back up again.

Another thing I liked is that Ness is anything but predictable. I never knew what was going to happen next, and I certainly didn’t know how he was going to end it all.

Yes, I do think the third book could have done with some more editing. At times it did feel like Ness was trying to do too much. But the ending brought everything together in a satisfying finale that wasn’t at all sentimental or frayed. I think he hit just the right note for novels of this type, which so often end either overly optimistic or terribly pessimistic. I appreciated that he did neither, and both, striking a balance.

Of course, inevitably, I’m left asking: but what happens next?? If Patrick Ness writes any more about this world, he will definitely have a reader with me.

‘Low Sunday’

This is what the vestry looked like this morning:

Well, sort of. Today was ‘low Sunday’, so the choir was allowed a day-off after Holy Week madness, and the Jonathan and Sheila were on holiday. We had a baptism today which included an extra clergy and the new lay reader was standing in as sub-deacon. Also, nothing in the vestry had been laid out over the weekend. It was a bit manic this morning preparing for the service, and it took all of us whispering to each other to make sure the service ran smoothly and in order. Thank goodness Sheila will be back next week. We fall apart without her!

Questions

After finishing the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (tune in tomorrow for a review), and having already read The Hunger Games trilogy, where am I going to get my YA folksy/sci-fi dystopia fix?

I’ve been trawling Amazon, looking at other recently published YA sci-fi trilogies that are labeled dystopias. A few I’ve even added to my wishlist to give them a go (when I have money to buy books, or, you know, my birthday is only a month and a half away…). While reading the summaries and the reviews, I’ve come up with a few more questions:

What makes a story ‘dystopian’? (As opposed to, say, ‘post-apocalyptic’.)

(Surprisingly) Why do so many dystopian/sci-fi trilogies feature female protagonists? Are there other such books that feature male protagonists other than the Chaos Walking trilogy?

Any ideas?