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July 14, 2006

Feeling chatty, is all. Sorry, I know this isn't why you stop by, but it's my blog and I'll meander if I want to.

Last night I accomplished...exactly nothing. I carried out some trash. The rest of the evening was spent in front of the computer, something I haven't done in a while. Spent three hours to try and get caught up on my internet reading and didn't quite manage it but I'm not quite as far behind as I was.

Tonight I'm having dinner out with a couple of friends and then we're tentatively penciled in for brunch on Sunday as well, so not much time for lolling around this weekend.

Back when I scheduled tonight's dinner I didn't know that today would be the season premier of Stargate Atlantis. Aarrgghh. I waited months for this and now I'm not seeing it tonight?

Yes, there's a little bitterness, but not much. I can tape it. And we're going for sushi! It's less than a year since I learned to love sushi and I'm still at the point where every opportunity to eat it is a treat.

I have to do one (or maybe two) more loads of laundry this weekend and I have to clean that bathroom before the germs form an alliance, and maybe a band, and set out to take over the world.

Also, the question of books for the cruise remains open. I have four new books but that's hardly enough. I have, tentatively, settled on PGWodehouse for the rest of my selection. I'm in the mood for really well-written stuff, of the kind produced by someone who loves language. That pretty much says Wodehouse. (Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad is still on the short-list.)

Now I have to decide which ones. Jeeves & Wooster? Blandings? Psmith? The school stories? It's so hard to choose....

I find myself regretting, as always, that the millions of words written every year aren't all good ones. Or even mostly.

Although I love a new book, it's frequently a relief to turn to my own bookshelves and know that no matter what I pick up, it will be good. Twain, Trollope, Dickens, Austen, Sayers, Tey, Wodehouse, and Tolkein. (Not to mention a number of more contemporary authors, of course, but those aren't the first names I think of when I think of good writing. It's a personal preference.)

I love Golden Age science fiction with its air of unshakable optimism and the belief that no challenge was beyond us. I sometimes wonder if one might consider that period the dawn of the "technological" age. While it was long before PCs and iPods, the concept of technology was starting to make its way into common understanding. The promise of infinite improvement was there...on the horizon where anyone who cared to look could see it.

I've read a lot of SF&F in my lifetime. I haven't read as much contemporary SF since it went all post-apocalyptic (although I still love really good fantasy. Terry Pratchett's stuff never fails to please.) but I can almost always return to the Golden Age authors for a little spiritual refreshment. The lines between good and evil might have looked clearer without really being so back then, but in that deceptive simplicity I can sometimes find the seeds of understanding for today's more complicated tangles.

I love Golden Age detective stories for that air of naiveté that's just starting to give way to the idea that the good guys might not always win. For that dawning awareness that sometimes good people do bad things, or evil might triumph with the unwitting assistance of innocence. For the desperate desire to reassure us that someone of conscience can make a difference...can hold back the tide of human darkness. And that no human effort toward righting a wrong is ever wasted.

Yes, there's a certain racist and misogynistic* streak through much of both of those genres, but I don't fault any author for being the product of the times in which they lived. And in those streaks, you can also trace many of the roots of the problems we still face in this world. The whole "White Man's Burden" thing which we still have not managed to shake to this day. The fascination with technology, dangerous and otherwise, that might lead us to mass destruction. The fear...the distrust of the "other" whether it's aliens, criminal, people with dark skin, or homosexuals.

In some ways, I guess I should be relieved that the problems in front of us aren't entirely new. We've survived them before, we haven't solved any of them but we've alleviated a few and we're still working on the problems.

In other ways, I'm discouraged that we're not doing as much as we might.

But still. For the cruise, I think I'll retreat to the idyllic banter of Wodehouse's worlds. Where the biggest thing anyone has to fear is an Aunt with an attitude.

Try not to blow anything up while I'm out of town, okay?


* Although, you know, not entirely. Superficially many of those authors seem to be misogynistic, but if you read carefully, you get a different impression.

I sometimes suspect that many of these authors didn't so much assume that women were inferior as they feared that women, given power and opportunity, might prove to be vastly superior. We do not yet, live in a world that can wholly prove or disprove such an idea but I have to say that so far, I'm both discouraged and encouraged to discover that women, given a voice, can be just as stupid, ignorant, bigoted, and short-sighted as men. Without achieving equality by any means, women have at least won the right to their individual personalities and not all of those have been revealed to be admirable.

In other words, just as I always suspected, both men and women are simply human beings.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:56 AM


I just started a Terry Pratchett ... binge, I guess you'd have to call it. My wife finally got Discworld as an audiobook, so I had to go back and reread it, then I went to the library.... it's so much fun, but the library collection's pretty spotty.

And I just reread Gaiman's Neverwhere, reconfirming my belief that it's his best novel, in a career of generally fantastic writing. (I don't remember where you fall on Gaiman, but if you haven't formed an opinion yet....)

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at July 14, 2006 05:22 PM

When I started reading the "big three" sf authors (Bradbury, Heinlein and Asimov), to me it wasn't a feeling that they hated women so much as a feeling that they never considered women that much as characters; they were there to supplement the main male characters but that was about it. This did start to gradually change thanks to second-wave feminism. By college all I was reading was fantasy written by women, so I didn't have that problem any more.

Glad to hear you're another recent sushi convert. I can't get enough of the stuff.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at July 16, 2006 08:22 AM

Jonathan - I picked up one Gaiman book a couple of months ago (embarrassing...the title temporarily escapes me) and enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite the upbeat reading material I'm looking for at the moment. I'll undoubtedly buy more at some point, though.

I resisted Pratchett for years and now I'm asking myself why....

Posted by: Anne at July 20, 2006 03:33 PM

Elayne - A lot of the "Golden Age" authors I enjoy were writing before or concurrent with the "Big 3", but I cut my teeth on the Big 3 as a youngster. :)

With Bradbury and Asimov, I always get the feeling that they're not actually misogynistic, it's just that gender isn't relevant to what they're writing. (If that makes sense.) They wrote primarily male characters, but they weren't writing about gender issues, so it didn't really matter. Bradbury wrote about what it meant to be human and while there isn't a more intimate subject available, it's not necessarily a "gender" topic. Asimov wrote about the same thing in his Robot stories, so ditto.

I could make an argument about how Asimov's Future History is the epitomy of male domination of society, leaving women unseen and largely unnecessary in the background, but I could make just as good of an argument that what he was addressing in those stories went beyond the story of the individual and that any attempt to introduce gender issues that weren't even a gleam in USofA culture's eye at the time would have distorted the story he was actually wanting to tell, but I could argue a lot of things and this sentence has already been going for a long time.)

With Heinlein...there are days (and not a few of them) when I really prefer his boys' books to his later fiction because he bends over so far backwards trying to write "empowered" women that his female characters are painful to read.

I could write a whole essay on what I think about my Top 5 favorite Golden Age authors, but I'm supposed to be leaving town in 12 hours. :)

Posted by: Anne at July 20, 2006 03:44 PM