This Week, I Read… (#45)

114-115-space-trilogy

#114 + #115 – Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

  • Read: 10/23/16 – 10/28/16; 10/28/16 – 10/29/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: Mount TBR Challenge 2016 (4/12 and 5/12)
  • Rating: 1 star to both

Looking over my oldest unread books, I realized I’d read the first book of the trilogy in 2015 and never gone back for the others. Mount TBR seemed like as good a time as any to complete an unfinished series, so I dove in, remembering the strange-but-pleasant time I had with Out of the Silent Planet. (Classic sci-fi has a vibe I love, back when the rules weren’t so well-established and crazy things happen, narratively speaking.)

First, Perelandra. It began with a chapter with a new character as first-person narrator, which was jarring, but soon enough I saw why–he was to act as Ransom’s trip coordinator, basically, setting up an expectation of narrative framework. He saw Ransom off on his trip to space and would be there when he returned at the end of the book. Disappointment #1: Said expectation was not met. Ransom’s return was chronicled long before the end of the book, and the last thing that actually happened was him climbing into his “ship” and leaving the planet–no glorious homecoming to wrap things up.

Okay, irritating, but on to the much bigger issue, and it’s a whopper.

Halfway through the book, it stops being science fiction and becomes heavy-handed Bible allegory. Now, wait, I hear you say. C.S. Lewis hated allegory, in fact he decried it. Yes, he did, so much so that Perelandra has a big line of text at the beginning stating that it isn’t allegory. Too bad it really looks like it!

But then, I guess it’s not allegory, not really, not if it can’t even bother to disguise the original story as something else. We the reader had to figure out Aslan was a Jesus-analogue in The Chronicles of Narnia; Lewis doesn’t trust the reader that much in Perelandra, starting with a character who we suspect is an Eve-analogue in “Paradise”…then smacking us in the face with it by having Ransom philosophize extensively on every single parallel between his situation and the book of Genesis.

Most of the latter half of the book is tedious and seemingly endless religious discussion between the Venus!Eve, Ransom, and Devil!Weston. It’s terrible. Especially when Devil!Weston spends several pages trying to coax Venus!Eve into replicating The Fall with arguments that look, to me here in the 21st century, a lot like modern feminism. Putting progressive ideals about women’s equality in the mouth of the Devil? You’re not winning many points with me for that, Lewis. I’m not impressed.

Anyway, despite hating it pretty thoroughly as soon as Devil!Weston showed up to spoil literally everything, I did finish it, because I hoped That Hideous Strength would be better.

(sigh)

It wasn’t. It was worse.

Due diligence, I plunged on to page 100 before giving up. But the opening of this book was even more jarring than Perelandra. We’re back on Earth being introduced (third-person) to a college don and his wife. Neither of them are very interesting at first, and I have no idea how they’re related to the ongoing Ransom-narrative of the first two books, so I’m bored already. Then in the middle of the first chapter, suddenly there’s a scene with an “I” narrator, and I have no clue who it’s meant to be–is it Lewis himself? Is it the same narrator character from Perelandra who related Ransom’s adventures to us secondhand? Is it some character I would have met later if I could have stomached reading more? I will likely never know, as he disappeared, never to resurface again (before page 100.)

The college don and his wife continue to be uninteresting, and there’s an awful lot of cigar-smoking college-don back-room politicking that was probably easy and natural for Lewis to write, given his time period and occupation, but pretty far removed from the experiences of my life, so I could have used more explanation of what was going on.

Oh, and then the college has a little plot of woods THAT JUST HAPPENS TO BE WHERE MERLIN IS SUPPOSEDLY BURIED.

Wait, Merlin? We’re going Arthurian mythos? What the hell does that have to with Super Religion Space War from Perelandra?

From reading reviews on Goodreads after the fact, I have discovered that Ransom eventually shows up, tying this book to its predecessors and Super Religion Space War, but damn me if I had the patience to wait for him. It was just so dull. Life’s too short for dull books.

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#116 – Asking For It, by Lilah Pace

  • Read: 10/29/16 – 10/30/16
  • Provenance: Library (paperback)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Let’s get this out of the way: this romance is about two people exploring their mutual rape fantasies. Pretty dark stuff compared to most of my romantic reads, but I added this to my TBR on the strength of a recommendation from Jenny Trout, who wrote (under the pseudonym Abigail Barnette) one of my earliest-read and most favorite erotic romance series, The Boss.

Yes, the fantasies are dark, and not for everyone, but Pace treats both the characters and the sensitive nature of the subject with grace and respect. I was impressed by a lot in this book–the pacing, Vivienne’s distinctive voice as narrator, the gradual deepening of her relationship with Jonah despite best efforts on both their parts to keep things compartmentalized.

I don’t even have a quibble with the cliffhanger, and those are generally turn-offs for me; either they feel like slapdash attempts to get me to spend more money, or they’re just poorly written, like clickbait article titles writ large. But this one feels right. It feels like the only way the story could end, for now. And I do, in fact, want to read the next book and find out what happens.

(I also wish I could find out who “Lilah Pace” is a pseudonym for, because I want to read the author’s less-dark stuff too. The writing style was incredibly smooth–whoever it is, she’s clearly an accomplished storyteller.)

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#117 – Succubus Dreams, by Richelle Mead

  • Read: 10/30/16 – 10/31/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: Mount TBR Challenge 2016 (6/12)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I rarely (never?) jump into series in the middle, but secondhand-book shopping doesn’t always turn up first titles. I got this more to try out Mead’s general style than because I wanted more paranormal romance–she’s plastered all over Booklr because of her popular YA titles, and I even had Soundless in my TBR already when I found this. I was curious.

So, with the fact in mind that I missed two books’ worth of plot, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. As a series progresses, especially one with a setting requiring a lot of explanation, it’s get bogged down in the repetition of worldbuilding details. I was seeing this stuff for the first time, but I was impressed with how seamlessly the tidbits blended into the narrative, serving more as gentle reminders of how things work than “Hey, hey, hey, I don’t trust my readers to remember this so I have to say it all the time.”

I had a little trouble connecting with the side characters (again, I did miss two books) but no trouble at all diving into the narrator’s brain. Georgina’s sassy sarcasm and genuine emotional/existential angst were plenty compelling, and the references to past events in her life served to make me curious about the books I skipped, rather than annoyed that I didn’t understand the backstory.

Subtlety is a powerful tool, and one I wish more authors bothered to use.

So I’m definitely on board the Read More Mead train, though vampire fiction hasn’t been my thing so far, so that nixes a fair bit of her back catalog. I’ll try to get my hands on the rest of this series (my local library system isn’t entirely forthcoming, I might have to dig into the state-wide interlibrary loan), but I actually think book #4 might be in the book sale room at my local branch, I hadn’t nabbed it already because I hadn’t read this one yet…cross your fingers for me that it’s still there when I go back next!

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#118 – Beyond Denial, by Kit Rocha

  • Read: 10/31/16
  • Provenance: Free online
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Short and HOT, as opposed to short and sweet, Beyond Denial is a deleted scene from Beyond Control. While it really is just the one scene, I’m glad Goodreads informed me of its existence, because it was absolutely worth the ten minutes, and it gave me extra insight into two characters I’ve been curious about, and whom I happen to know from browsing blurbs both have their own books later in the series. I love authors who have little shorts like these for their series!

118-the-raw-and-the-cooked

#119 – The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand, by Jim Harrison

  • Read: 10/31/16 – 11/2/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Rating: 3 stars

A collection of Harrison’s articles on food, drinking, hunting, travel, and nature–sounds right up my alley, right? (Except for the hunting part.)

I began this book absolutely enthralled by Harrison’s wry tone and remarkable ability to turn a phrase, but about halfway through, I realized that, as good as the quality of the writing was, there wasn’t much difference between one article and the next–they began to blend together.

That being said, I still enjoyed it as a sort of ersatz food memoir (my fifth of the year? sixth? I’ve lost count.)

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