23 July 2016

Beauty: A Review of Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

The heat has trespassed the air space over southern Ontario claiming this land it's demon own. Green branches bow to it's intense gaze, while fluffy, waterless clouds mock animals and humans inability to find sufficient shade. The pure weight of summer's golden epoch has Toronto flailing in its attempt to be cool. Amidst the temperature induced slothfulness I read, all the while half-intently listening to the child discuss his current little boy passions. 

How many words can one 6 year old proclaim over the span of 24 hrs; all of the words, all of them, much to a parent's great alarm, chagrin and wonder. With a proclivity to dinosaurs since a mere babe, the son continues on his quest to study every creature that has lived on this blue orb. Current fashion has snakes, with the subspecies of pythons and boas the highlight of July. Hot, sweaty trips to the local library occur bi-weekly to fuel his overwhelming curiosity, with me, the Momma happily acting as local librarian, Sherpa and translator.  The sheer volume of knowledge I personally have gained regarding anacondas would surely warrant me a fellowship. As these days melt into each other, I marvel at my ability and his wiliness for me to weave into his world. Summer actualizes my joy of motherhood. 

Thus, as we all make summer into a substantive, memory-inspired season, I recommend the highly acclaimed dystopian masterwork Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Yet again, my timing is greatly off, as the world's enthusiasm for this SF book is a year behind. I read what I read, unfortunately not always on par with the rolling tides of popularity, nor in agreement with the very awards that may have risen a novel to the heights it has achieved. This time, however, the pure beauty bound within the covers of Station Eleven awoke the reader in me. You know the reader, the one who slumbers deep within, hungry for a Tolstoy, a Herbert or an Atwood, yearning for a novel to swim within as the images created line by line, slip you further into a world more real than reality. Not many a book wakes the reader, but when she stirs, my creativity detonates as my soul sings. A good book is drank with your eyes, lives forever in your heart, and it is this that Emily St. John Mandel has written: a cherished moment of reading beauty.

A flu epidemic ravishes Earth, killing 90% of humanity. The world stops, regroups, internet, jet planes, electricity is a distance memory even a myth for many of the post-epidemic generation. Station Eleven juxtaposes those last days in Toronto before the outbreak with the meanderings of a group of musicians/actors who travel the lower Great Lakes as the Symphony. In an apocalypse, the fabrics that a cultured society wore have been tattered, even razed. And yet as I walked with the Symphony as they subsisted off the land, creating music, offering Shakespeare to the small communities that weathered the nightmarish fall of humanities golden age, I experienced wonder, a pure sense of joy. Peppered by images from Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, and Jose Saramago's haunting triumph Blindness, I am seasoned to the dystopian world-view. Yet with Station Eleven, the images of death, destruction and cruelty are less the story. This is a novel of fortitude, a willingness not only to survive but create beauty along the way.

Station Eleven is your book of the summer, as it is now mine. 

1 July 2016

The Rabbit Hole: A Review of Honor Harrington Series, David Weber

It is Canada Day, a much needed, rainy Canada Day in the heart of downtown Toronto. As I sit within the anticipated green, cloudy, gloom ineffectively resolving my current infatuation with David Weber's Honor Harrington series, I listen to the child reenact wrestling moves. School is out, a calm glee has permeated through the bones of the house, and we have engaged summer.  My little boy's kindergarten days are behind him and while grade one is still a tender age, his baby years are vanishing as his independence blooms. Either my mother-heart is seasoning into a tougher version or as my son grows, his transformation pulls me along a better path of motherhood. 

With the hot weeks of humid laziness stretching before me, my reading pilgrimage to SF heaven looms. Contrary to years past my summer reading marathon launched in spring with May, all Miles  and June, Honor.  Honor Harrington, the female archetype of SF military valour has become my everything. This alarming obsession to find, buy and read all the things has blocked my sense of SF-self. Discovering Daniel O'Malley's sophomore book was not only released but worse, being read by people I know, stopped me in my SF tracks. A saga is a cursed gift to the gluttonous reader; we clap with glee in discovering a dense canon to immerse in, eventually rising from it's world barely able to suss out the good from the bad. The very fact that I am not at this minute buying Stiletto is proof David Weber's Honorverse has sucked out my reading soul.

As Captain in her majesty's Royal Manticoran Navy, Honor Harrington wears the white beret with great respect. She has worked her way up through the years to become a leading force in the Navy, with troops willfully follow her orders to their demise. Honor is one of few humans adopted by a treecat, an arboreal, sentient creature with telepathic abilities, native to her home planet of Sphynx. With Nimitz by her side, Captain Harrington through intellect and sheer iron will defends her Queen's territory battle after gruesome battle. Not everyone is keen to see Captain Harrington rise up through the Navy; the very past she spent decades burying, rises to meet her, promising to take all that she worked so hard to achieve away. 

David Weber books have been in my peripheral for years. The father-in-law, a staunch military SF advocate lurves him as much as I lurve The Expanse. It finally took the monotony of finishing my Bujold obsession to pick up the dusty, neglected hard cover version of The Honor of the Queen. Once I had neatly tucked into it's space goodness, surprising myself by not skipping past the military descriptors, I deduced my earlier reluctance; the cover, these ridiculous, parade of bad covers that degrade the series into a farce of what the world believes SF to be. "Oh, hey, what you reading, omg, I just tried to talk books with a nerd, back away, BACK AWAY."' so says all the people as I read in the park, whispering about my sad geeky existence.

While it may indeed come down to covers, the odd realization is, the Honor Harrington universe is not exactly great nor is it exactly bad. Weber's world-building is key to the success of the series, without the political intrigue within and beyond the Manticoran space borders, the flatness of his characters would have killed the series by the fourth installment. Yet, as I tuck into book 6, happily content in the idealized utopia that is Honor Harrington, I know she will be alright and am completely okay with that. Perfection is obviously an adjective we strive for, how else to explain Honor Harrington's appeal?