A Collection of Bedtime Trivia

If I were a more consistent person, I would have finished writing my journals of The Grand Europe Trip by now, including witticisms on my Enforced Weeklong Vacation, but I never claimed to be consistent.

Instead, I have a joke that begins, “A girl walks into a bookshop…”

After a protracted period of gulping down X-Files episodes (please note I had started watching them before the Reunion was announced), I ultimately and maybe inevitably hit a point where I couldn’t give less of a rodent’s behind about Mulder’s alien mid-life crisis. Around that point I had started reading S, which then sent me into a fantastic spiral, the sort of which is only seen when I’m in chocolate mode:

  • S, a novel, by JJ Abrams and someone else whose name escapes me. A mind-bender of a book, multi layered in the plot that takes place in its margins, as well as in the novel itself. I still haven’t decided if the thing is amateurish or excellent, though I did re-read parts of it immediately when I finished reading. If nothing, a great puzzle book.
  • Wolf Hall, intensely absorbing first book in a series by Hilary Mantel, about the life and times of Henry VIII and his wives, told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the king’s everything-man. Surprisingly humanizing and at times, poetic.
  • Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters — a wonderfully evocative book about a thief, and her plot, and the heiress, and her plot, and the ultimate plot that everyone is drawn into. Victorian England with a side order of madhouse and romance.
  • The Ruby in the Smoke, by Phillip Pullman (yes, that guy) the first book in a series about a girl-adventuress called Sally Lockhart. It reads a bit like a mature young-adults novel, blithe but with enough historical detail about the opium trade to make you uneasy.
  • And currently, The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood, which I’m re-reading, possibly for the second time. It’s not clear until the end what the book is about, because it seems to be at once a lurid, cynical sci-fi story wrapped up in a book about a society woman with her possibly-callous lover, wrapped again inside a broader narrative of a very old woman.

I’m pleased to note as I type this that with the exception of S, all these books are by or about women. Not that I planned it that way, but I love to remember that the ranks of people I read are not all “dead white men”. Well. They’re mostly white, I suppose. Next on my list is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. Stay tuned.

Reading Margaret Atwood made me wonder if this was how she got herself into science fiction — because Oryx and Crake, though a difficult read, is most definitely sci-fi. It also made me wonder if people were more willing to read “speculative fiction” when it was written by someone clearly used to the literary genre — and if that was the only way you’d get spaceships and so on. It’s still a sore point for me, by the way, that Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go didn’t win the Booker whereas Remains of the Day did. Or maybe they were just published at different times with different competition.

But then I look to my left at my “reading before bedtime” table and realize I still have Stranger in a Strange Land bookmarked.

Look. I know historical influence on a work dates things like sci-fi, but this is a second book by Robert Heinlein that I just haven’t been able to get through. It’s not even that women aren’t considered in his story — it’s that they seem to be actively disdained. I don’t know what better analogy you can find of this besides his explanation of Martian gender/sex divisions. “Martian nymphs were female, all the adults were male… The adults… were physically passive, mentally active. The nymphs were fat, furry spheres, full of bounce and mindless energy.”

If I had nothing else to do, I might wade through Stranger a bit more, but goddamn it, I hate the way Heinlein makes me feel — like being tempted into a frat house with the promise of gene sequencing.

So if this is the kind of crap people were given to expect when they heard about science fiction, I can see why they’re only being drawn back into things when written by someone with a more balanced perspective on life (e.g. Margaret Atwood).

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