Monthly Archives: January 2011
Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy
Prothero’s basic argument is that Americans, although they profess to be extremely religious, actually know very little about religions — their own or anyone else’s — and that this is an extraordinarily dangerous way to walk around in the world and pretend you know something about what’s going on. I certainly wouldn’t argue with him on any of those points, but the book annoyed me a little anyway. He opens with a history of how Americans stopped learning about religion, and in doing so he presents the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a kind of golden age of religious literacy, mentioning only once that the religious literacy in question was a specifically Protestant literacy involving no knowledge at all of even Judaism or Islam, and a pretty warped knowledge of Catholicism. (And when he does offer this caveat, he gives it only a clause — not even a full sentence, never mind a paragraph.) I was a little bit filled with rage when he mentioned that “even blacks and Native Americans” were learning their Bible, with nary a mention of the fact that both African slaves and Native Americans had their own damn religions before they were forced to learn the Bible instead.
I’m not sure about his proposed solutions, either — that all high school students should have a mandatory religious literacy course and an elective Bible studies course, and that all college students should fulfil a religious studies requirement before graduation. At the college level, that’s fine, but I don’t have any faith that high school religious studies classes would be worth the time spent in them, or that Bible studies classes would be at all nonsectarian. (I do not speak wholly in a vaccum; I grew up in a pretty religious area, and when I took a religious studies class in high school, we spent two class periods dealing with students who didn’t believe in the Council of Nicea.) I wholly applaud his basic principle — we need to stop pretending that all religions are somehow the same, and learn about what makes them different — but I’m not sure American culture is ready for that at the high school level. But there will be more on that subject when I finish his other book, God is Not One, which I have from the library right now.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles, Microbes and Mayhem
Including Falling Free and Diplomatic Immunity. Well, and Labyrinth, but that’s been in two anthologies already, I just ignored it. I’ve been reading these books in chronological order for the most part, but Falling Free is an exception, set a full hundred years or more before the beginning of the main series. It details the origin of the quaddies, genetically engineered humans with four arms instead of the usual two arms/two legs arrangement, designed to live and work in zero-gee environments, who have suddenly been made obsolete by the development of artificial gravity. The corporation that developed them — that owns them — wants to just get rid of them somehow, but Leo Graff, an engineer hired to teach the quaddies the trade, and a handful of the quaddies band together in a truly epic escape attempt which eventually (this is not a spoiler if you’ve read any Vorkosiverse books at all) results in the founding of Quaddiespace, a network of zero-gee space stations inhabited almost entirely by quaddies. Diplomatic Immunity takes place in Quaddiespace, hence the logic of putting the two books together, and features Miles’s old friend Bel Thorne, a former Dendarii Mercenary; the politically incorrect shenanigans of the Barryaran military; a quaddie ballet based on the romance of Leo Graf and Silver; and the kind of elaborate genetic treason that could only be committed by a Cetagandan. It’s surprisingly reminiscent of the early Naismith books, considering that it’s also the book where Miles’s first children are born. Maybe it’s a last hurrah for the little admiral? (Or Miles is just terminally immature. Also possible.)
Lois McMaster Bujold, Cryoburn
And now I am caught up! Huzzah. This was a fairly lightweight book, as the Vorkosigan series goes — more on the level of Cetaganda than Memory, but delightful for all that. (Except for the last three words. Oh god, the last three words.) In addition to Miles’s point of view, we get the POV of Jin, a street kid on Kibou-daini, where Miles has been sent to poke at the local economy and figure out what kind of game they’re trying to pull. You see, on Kibou-daini, when people are close to death, rather than just dying they’re cryo-frozen for a length of time, until someone comes up with a cure for whatever they have or their contract runs out, whichever comes first, and White Chrysalis, one of the major cryocorps on Kibou-daini, wants to expand into the Barryaran Empire. There’s a lot of poking around, and political protestors, and shady corporate dealings, but Miles doesn’t really have a lot at stake for most of the book. Until those last three words. Oh my god, those last three words. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried.
Rumor has it that the next one is an Ivan book. (More than rumor, really, since there are a couple of scenes that Bujold has been doing readings of floating around the interwebs.) I cannot wait.
Carole G. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples
This was one of those delightful coincidences — just as I was thinking about starting to work again on that faerie novel I had begun a couple of years ago, someone recommended this book in a blog I read. It’s a history of Victorian attitudes toward and uses of fairies in literature, folklore, and analysis, and it was enthralling. Fairies were a big part of what was basically Victorian pop culture, and Silver cites examples in everything from folklorists’ writings (which were also pretty big at the time) to Dickens to Blake. Plus there were a lot of references to the works of the Romantics which the Victorians were riffing off of, which will be wonderful for my novel.
Borders of Infinity, Miles Errant, Memory, No Plot? No Problem!, The Leper of Saint Giles, Miles in Love
At last, the final list of books from 2010. And a happy new year to you all! May 2011 be an improvement in all ways.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Borders of Infinity
Three novellas in the Vorkosiverse, “Labyrinth,” “The Mountains of Mourning,” (both of which I read in their earlier omnibus volumes) and the titular “Borders of Infinity,” in which Miles really does start out with not so much as the clothes on his back and end up performing the most dramatic prison break in history. All with the frame story I always love, the “you’re running drastically over budget, what the hell” complaint. What, someone has to foot the bill for all these shenanigans.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles Errant
MARK! Er, I may be very fond of the new character introduced in this set, Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance (with “Borders of Infinity” again). Basically, a crazy Komarran terrorist made a clone of Miles to use to assassinate his father. But remember, Miles is somewhat physically deformed due to a prenatal assassination attempt, so in order to make them interchangeable, Mark had to undergo a whole lot of fairly unnecessary surgery. While being lectured on all of Miles’s amazing achievements. Talk about sibling rivalry. Mirror Dance is basically the book in which Mark becomes a human being, and I love it deeply, as strange and traumatizing as it is. I may have read most of it at work simply because I couldn’t bear to leave it alone for eight hours at a time. *shifty eyes*
Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory
Now this is a work of staggering genius. I didn’t find the mystery all that mysterious — or maybe I’m just more paranoid than Miles — but I adored the character development in this book. It’s Simon Illyan’s book, really; he’s been lurking in the background since the beginning of the series, but here he becomes a person. A fragile, failing person in a lot of pain. The general consensus online is that the most tragic line in the book is, “Ivan, you idiot, what are you doing here?” And I might have to agree.
Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!
And then in the middle of all this I read the NaNoWriMo book. Yes, in December. It was checked out of the library all through November. I actually came out of this liking the whole concept of NaNoWriMo much more than I did by the end of November, when I’d barely scratched 35,000 words and had completely lost the thread of my novel. The book is very big on finishing something by the end of the month, where I had just set my goal as having the word count. I think next time I’ll shoot for actually finishing the story in a month, even if that means having to write whole chapters in two-sentence paragraphs. (After all, the original point of NaNo is to become a Novelist, so you can go to swanky parties and impress people by talking about your manuscript.)
Ellis Peters, The Leper of Saint Giles
It took me forever to get through this Cadfael, what with all the Miles books I also had to get through. This is one of the ones, too, where I’d seen the adaptation, which was very true to the book, so there were no real surprises. I enjoyed it, even though it was a little boring what with knowing everything that was going to happen. More Cadfael on request from the library as we speak.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles in Love
Komarr and A Civil Campaign. I actually liked Komarr much better, possibly because I really like Ekaterin and enjoyed spending all that time in her PoV. One of the things that actually got me to read this series was the commenters at Making Light talking about how awful and awkward the dinner party scene in A Civil Campaign is to read, so I was expecting it to be horrible, but I found I actually enjoyed it. I usually don’t like embarrassment comedy, but I apparently have an exception for when the person being embarrassed really, really deserves it. And hey, at least Miles learns from his mistakes. Eventually.