Abigail – The Cat Who Walks through Walls – Robert A. Heinlein
If you’ve ever considered trading sexual favors to protect a bonsai tree against the crushing, non-atmosphere on the moon, then Robert A. Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks through Walls is for you!
I’m halfway through The Cat Who Walks through Walls and I’ve yet to encounter its titular feline. But that’s okay–I trust that the reveal will be worth the wait.
All other promises made by the book’s cover have been met. Faux space geisha? Check. Burly man with an eyepatch and weaponized cane? Check. Sadly absent is the burly man’s Shriner fez. Perhaps the cover designer thought the fez would push it into absurdity.
It took me a few chapters to get past the protagonist’s, Dr. Ames’, episodes of pervy chauvinism, his insistence on censoring some of his new wife’s, Gwen Novak’s, more “unladylike” retorts, and the fact that every female Ames’ encounters wants to sleep with him. But I’ll chalk it up as another addition of Heinlein’s satirical tone.
Ames and Novak are two evenly-matched, larger-than-life characters whose teasing, scheming, and suggestive banter drive the story. Their dialogue is quicker than Novak’s gun and sharper than Ames’ cane-dagger.
Together, the couple encounters murder mysteries, gun fights, political corruption, and rocket ship crash landings. I’m curious to see what’s in store for them next…
Meg – For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
“You like terse writing and lots of dialogue. Read some Hemingway,” he said. “It’ll be fun,” he said.
So I asked him which one to pluck from the bookshelf in the office. For Whom the Bells Tolls may have not been the best freshman choice.
I’m nine chapters in now and just getting the hang of the thees and thous. I remember the epiphany I had about forty pages in as I was reading through a section featuring the foul mouthed Augustin that the placeholders were for swears and the odd dialogue pattern and syntax were meant to mimic the native language the characters were speaking in.
“That we blow up an obscene bridge and then have to obscenely well obscenity ourselves off out of these mountains?” (Pro Tip: replace the “obscenities” with obscenities for a smoother read.)
Duh, Meghan. It was smooth sailing after that.
After that hurdle, I’ve been enjoying how kick ass and take charge Pilar is and the nuanced conflict between her and her husband, Pablo, the rebel leader. I’m not as much a fan of Robert Jordan’s awkward late night sleeping bag rendezvous, or the fact that Robert Jordan is always ROBERT JORDAN. (It’s like Hemingway was writing a nano draft and included the whole name for extra words.)
For Whom the Bell Tolls falls into the “it’s good for me” book camp and I read before bed with a pile of bookmarks and tag any passage that makes me see an image clearly. How Hemingway portrays action, intent, and tension with simple descriptions of character body language and motions is blowing my mind. It’s something I want to learn more about.
Enemy planes have just buzzed by so I’m sure there will be a use for the Chekov’s dynamite in my future.
Carolyn – Dawn – Octavia Butler
I’ve just finished Dawn by Octavia E Butler. Told largely through the internal thoughts of the main character (Lilith), it’s an excellent deviation from some of the more action based books I’ve read recently. The story itself picks up with Lilith in unexplained captivity and from this first chapter establishes the dependence of the reader on her perceptions of her space and her situation. The more internal style of this work further sets the tone for some of the large questions it dares to ask of itself and the reader: what truly defines humanness and can it be overcome?
Lilith is told that she was rescued from a dying Earth at the end of the war. Most of the revelations about humanity that follow are presented in direct contrast to her captors, the Oankali. LIlith’s attempts to adapt to her new situation (with varying degrees of success) leave her as both teacher and student in the new normal. While all of this leads to a writing style heavy in world building and internal monologue, it’s still a case study in how not to overwhelm with details, and how to use those details to sow uncertainty. The first encounter with one of the aliens gives the reader an early glimpse into Lilith’s reliability as a narrator as the alien is described more than once as her brain slowly allows her to process how very foreign the creature is.
By the end I still wasn’t entirely certain whose view of the big questions I agreed more with, and it has left me incapable of diving head first into another book. I have a suspicion that this is a trilogy that will refuse to be read in separate pieces, but I am quite certain I’m okay with that. Onward to book 2…
Chappy – Republic of Pirates – Colin Woodward
The pirate mythos is the seed for many mediocre fictions– A reality that is made even worse by wonderful works of non-fiction like Colin Woodard’s Republic of Pirates. It is a survey of the biggest names of the Golden Age of Piracy, roughly the 1650s to the 1730s, during the age of sailing ships and burgeoning trade empires.
European powers plied the Atlantic and to a lesser extent the Pacific furthering the slave trade, the spice trade, and the forced movement of precious metals from the New World to the Old. Muslim traders plied the Indian Ocean moving trade goods of the Orient nearly as far as their western counterparts.
History moved between wars and trade expansion with poor sailors caught between the powers of Commerce and Country. Some rebelled against heavy-handed merchant captains and some rebelled against vindictive naval commands and some were dreamers and world makers.
Woodard places perhaps too much power with these last, these believers in a more equal share of profits among all workers. It is hard to deny their existence, though. Most pirates were neither the horrible monsters that the histories written by men they struggled against wrote nor the great believers in the democratization of humankind that Woodard sometimes implies.
However, if reading books like this can inspire stories and tack a little closer to truth bringing a truer feel to the characters we write about, then I hope more writers will read these kinds of books.
Woodard writes in a clear and journalistic style, his work contains many dry recountings of pirate plunder and daily struggles, yet his action sequences are compelling and wonderfully rendered, if not numerous enough to satisfy the adolescent dreams of sailing the Spanish Main.