Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sick Bay: Day 2

I'm home alone all day, so I don't get much care for this raging flu thingy. Today, I got so wrapped in finishing a book that I forgot lunch. By 5pm, it was hard to tell why I was light-headed - was it the fever or the blood sugar? Only my pancreas can tell, and it's not talking. Still, I had an okay day, and it was a wee bit better than yesterday. I wanted to be able to get back to work so that I wouldn't lose two entire days, but it was not to be. I did finish a book and relax with the kitties. Actually, I've finished two books in the last three days. Not bad for Miss Piled-High-Nightstand. Not bad.

First up, The Kite Runner. Wow. I've had several friends recommend it to me, so I bought it with some walking around money. Months ago. I knew it was a tough book, so honestly, I was afraid to get into it. I wanted to make sure I was in a good place before I read it. It was as tough as they said, but I thought it was good. The characterization, the plot, the narrative style, the writing were all above-average to great. It was a fascinating read partially because I haven't read many stories from/about Middle Eastern writers, and thus a lot of the culture was new to me. Overall, I think it was well worth picking up, but you might want to read this somewhere where you can cry. I only cried at the end a bit, which surprised me, but I think some of the other points that I could have lost it, I wanted to move on to the next plot point and find out what happens rather than let it sink in. Still, tissues, people.

Second, The Diamond Age. Meh. See, I like Neal Stephenson. I've read a bunch of his books, and this is the last of his biggies that I've finished (aside from The System of the World which I am still, STILL reading GAH). It has some similar backgrounds to Snow Crash. The political climate (especially in structure), the technological themes (rational vs intuitive cognition, suprarational/collective mind), the culture of the world is somewhat similar, or at least you can tell he was giving his Snow Crash material a different story in which to be developed. However, the characters either bored or irked me most of the time. I bet it was a solid 200 pages before I was really reading intently. That, in a 500-pager, is a long time. Heck, that's a long time PERIOD. Still, I still like his style of writing, but it's just lost the edge I enjoyed so much with other books. Now maybe that's because I've now read several of them. Would I have liked it better had I read it first? I don't know. I did discover, however, one thing that's been sitting in the back of my mind for a while - his female characters are prominent but flat. See, they are strong, often smart, fairly capable heroines. But they're ALWAYS beautiful. It's like a woman's allowed to succeed but only by the Geek Fantasy Standard. She'll be savvy, but she'll still look good in her skivvies or she's out. Annoying. You don't need much skill to write that, and he doesn't demonstrate that he's got much of an understanding of what real women (be they pretty or plain) really are and experience. Lame. Maybe the rest of The System of the World will surprise with its better treatment of Eliza, but I'm not really holding my breath. It's still decent sci-fi, but I was hoping it would be better. Single tear.


RedHurt said...

Would you rather he purposefully make the heroines ugly? Or the heroes? He must have some sort of male audience too, and sci-fi geeks or not, men just can't get into books about ugly women. Maybe that's sad, but who wants to indulge in a fantasy where the world isn't more exciting and sexy than this one?

What was the third book you finished?

Sorry about your continuing flu!! I finished the last of your Dick novels yesterday, which sounds funny, and they were really good. I saved the short stories for last, thinking it would be the least interesting, and because that's what you told me to do, but I really thought it was the best. I think Dick's longer novels get slow as he belabors the nuances of normal life he weaves into the story, but the short stories do this while focusing on the action, which is what I like.

And "Do Androids Dream" would've been better if Rachel had been totally sexy instead of only sorta hot.

E.A.P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.A.P said...

*Blogger comment problems above. Sorry.*

Here's my bottom line: he's been called a fantastic writer by critics and he's been called "the voice of a nerd generation" and such, but I think this puts a hole in his shinny image - he doesn't really create good characterization. He orders up a beautiful girl perhaps because maybe he's like you and thinks "men just can't get into books about ugly women." (By the by, this comes dangerously close to making ugly women seem worthless, which concerns me. The hunchback of Notre Dame is fine fodder for books but ugly women aren't worthy subjects?) Then he gets stuck. He's so distracted by the shiny exterior he objectifies that he can't get past it to the heart/brain of the character. She's got technological knowhow, but she's still got to have every other stereotypical characteristic that the "male-only" readers want while ignoring the depth that you think only female readers want. I wouldn't mind if they were pretty, but someone better notice and make others note that he can't also make them real. But no one ever has, which is why it's taken me five books to finally realize it. Pardon me if I prefer that writers care about and find value in all types of women and especially writers for nerddom which is still stuck in some seriously unflattering views of women.

As to who wants to escape to a world where the girls aren't all 10s? Well, I think you fail to notice an important segment of the reading populace - the side that isn't just in it for the escapism. I really think novels have the capacity, as a few philospher's I've read have stated, to show us the world and help us pursue truth sometimes better than a treatise on a subject - particularly in ethics. So if I read to learn, not just leave my current reality, then I find his books flat and unhelpful. And I find him overrated.

Turning to Dick novels (ha-yo! His name is just too much, I agree), I like your insight into short stories. Once again, since I'm looking for more than just escape, I don't mind him fleshing out the world in his novels, but I can understand favoring concision. It is, after all, a mark of genius, so you're probably right about short stories being his better medium. Good call.