Archive for November, 2018

Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

Critics were nearly universal in their acclaim for The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven when it first appeared, and the book has held its reputation and has been republished several times. In my opinion, the critics nailed it.  Sherman Alexie’s perspective encompasses the universal experiences of society’s forgotten and the specific context of Native American Reservation life. He can sling poetic prose like few others.

The result is a series of potent shots of rotgut language that appall and enlighten with unbalancing power.  It’s the kind of book that one can go on a bender with or nurse over time.  One way or another, I encourage readers to try some.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Legends & Myths of Hawaii

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

People build their world from shared stories and I enjoy hearing others’ stories.  This narrative wanderlust led me over to the retelling of a set of Hawaiian myths by no lesser a source than King David Kalakaua.  He was the last male monarch of Hawaii, and seems to have a respect for the material tempered with a scholar’s instinct for context.  He is well versed in Hawaiian and Western traditions.

Hawaii has a shorter history than Europe or America.  The islands were unsettled before a few hundred years CE, and settlement seems to have been transient until circa 800 CE.  They can sustain humanity but they’re far enough from human settlement that bootstrapping their habitation was difficult.  One interesting aspect of that history is that the islanders claim a merged history and mythology that remains in the dim clouds of human memory.  Kalakaua imbues his discussion with both a realism for historical accuracy and a literary appreciation for the power of myth.

The legends are a combination of cheer leading for the various royal lines and tribal powers and general chauvinism for the emerging nation.  Kalakaua frames each with a political and social framing that helped me understand who has a stake in the power of the legend.  Then he dives in and tells the story as a story.  It’s enlightening in ways that many tellings of Western myths are not.


Review: The Fifth Season

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

N. K. Jemisin has won the Hugo award for Best Novel for the last three years in a row.  It’s the kind of thing that eventually catches my attention, and I’m happy that it did.  The Fifth Season is the first of these three and a well deserved honor.  Jemisin shows off so many of the things I love about SF: careful world building, believable characters, and beautiful writing.

She creates an world that is exotic and intriguing while remaining connected to ours.  As most great SF authors do, she twists the world in a few comprehensible ways while keeping closely enough in touch to mirror reality. There is meaty commentary here on both fiction and reality that lands with a light touch. That is to say that the world is immersive and the story crackles along snappily.  One can enjoy the ride without deep thought.  If you like deep thinking, the world ignites and supports it.

Key to making a believable world is looking out at it through the eyes of a real person and seeing other real people.  Nemisin’s people are clearly of her world while being comprehensible to those from ours.  While much is indubitably made of the racial and sexual inclusiveness of her players, I find them at least as diverse in their worldviews and social backgrounds.  They are all genuine and interesting and complex enough that none of them is completely admirable or static.

True characters in a wide world are the catalysts for a great story but Jemisin’s writing is the cherry on top.  Her writing is structurally powerful.  It reveals the world and characters in a Salome-like dance, simultaneously enticing, propulsive and deceptive.  Plot, character, and theme all appear and deepen with brilliant timing.  The specific writing is a delight as well.  Individual sentences sometimes twirl as they conclude, bringing insight, horror, or power to the narrative.

And that closer…

Strongly Recommended.