January 30th, 2008


January Books 10) Doon

10) National Lampoon's Doon, by Ellis Weiner

This is the story of Pall Agamemnides, the Kumkwat Haagendazs, known to his followers as Mauve'Bib, and how he used the Freedmenmen of the planet Arruckus to take over the galactic empire by controlling the planet's vital export: beer.

Anyone familiar with both Bored of the Rings and Dune will be pretty unsurprised by this book, which takes deadly aim at the pretensions of Herbert's epic masterpiece. No need to go into details, but here's one lovely piss-take of the inspirational quotations that start each of the chapters in the original:
What sort of man was Duke Lotto Agamemnides? We may say he was a brave man, yet a man who knew the value of caution. We may say he was possessed of a highly refined sense of honour - yet, like all leaders, was he no less capable of acts duplicitous and sleazy. We may say this, we may say that - indeed, we may say anything we want. We may say, for example, that he was not a man at all, but a highly evolved bicycle. See? We may say just about anything.
- from "House Agamemnides: Historical Perspectives and Worthless Digressions", by the Princess Serutan.
Not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as Bored of the Rings but a damn good effort.

January Books 11) An Instance of the Fingerpost

11) An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears

I've been laid low today by a bug I've been battling since the weekend, and have resorted to the usual therapy of naps, reading and paracetamol. Finished this excellent book, recommended to me by pgmcc and purplepooka and a Christmas present from wwhyte. It's a great story of events swirling around a murder in Oxford in 1663, told by four different narrators, each unreliable in their own way. This is of course the era of Pepys (who makes an obvious but unnamed appearance in the last chapter), and not far off Neal Stephenson either. I wondered to what extent Pears was taking liberties with the historical facts, especially since two of his narrators are actual historical figures; but he has been fairly transparent, with an appendix clarifying which characters are fictional and what real accounts their story is based on.

I don't think he always gets the 17th-century mind-set right, and his portrayals of historical characters don't always ring completely true, but comparisons with Eco and his portrayal of the 14th century in The Name of the Rose are fair: it's a canvas on which the story is painted, not a historical textbook. Having the same events described in four different voices is a brilliantly absorbing device; the story sets the basic human plot - murder, unjust accusal, trial - in the context of the ferment of scientific ideas around the time of the foundation of the Royal Society, the religious hangover from the Revolution, and the immediate post-Restoration political uncertainty. In fact, the novel moves rather impressively from the scientific to the mystical as we shift narrative voices. I guess the one flaw structurally is that we have to accept the fourth and in some ways most fantastic version of the story as being more or less "accurate", having been previously set up with three less reliable accounts (two of which self-consciously display their own unreliability).

Anyway, a good 'un.

Early Hugo thoughts

Not yet finalised my Hugo nominations, but here are a couple of items I'm likely to include on my list which I haven't yet seen mentioned by others:

Novel: The Children of Húrin, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Indubitably eligible; while some of the material has been published before, it was first published in this form in 2007. So what if the author died a third of a century earlier?

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Along with the obvious Doctor Who episodes (Blink and Human Nature/Family of Blood) I will be nominating Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane, from the Sarah Jane Adventures.

Still haven't read Brasyl, of course.

I hear ya

OK, by popular demand I will do a post about the Lisbon Treaty. Probably at the weekend. In the meantime, feel free to ask me any questions about it in comments here.