Dr Mitch's 2020 reads

edited January 23 in Book Reviews
I should do this again...

1. The Case for God (Karen Armstrong)
A work on theology/philosophy, looking at the history of (mainly) monotheistic religion and what is meant by belief, and the purpose of mythology. I found it fascinating.

2. Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman)
Narrative retellings of stories from Norse mythology. Fun and well done, but nothing fundamentally different to other things I've read on this theme, though a couple of individual tales were new to me.

3 - 5. The Bull and the Spear, The Oak and the Ram, The Sword and the Stallion (Michael Moorcock). The last (for me; it contradicts any chronological order) of the main Eternal Champion novels which for me was a sort of coda to it all. Whereas the earlier Corum trilogy had some Celtic flavour, this was heavily shaped by Celtic myth.

6. The Golden Globe (John Varley)
A sprawling science fiction tale in a far future solar system involving a trickster/actor protagonist and revelations about his past. It took a long time to really grip me, but once it did I loved it.

7. Gone to Sea in a Bucket (David Black)
I'll save my chat for the book club discussion. Not my usual sort of book at all, and that's a good thing.


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    By coincidence, I caught an interview with Karen Armstrong this month. Never heard of her before that.

    The Corum books were always my favourite Eternal Champion books.

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    Karen Armstrong is extremely good on thinking what myth is for, and it applies whether we're talking (say) Greek Mythology or the Garden of Eden myth - saying something through metaphor about the world and about human nature (and doesn't think Eden is about sin but rather the tension between innocence and knowledge). Not a literal explanation for anything, but an insight. I find it really compelling.

    As for Corum, for me, the first Corum trilogy is in the running for best and distils down some of the themes without the (admittedly fun) over the top angst of Elric. What was cool for me was the crossover sequences. The Quest for Tanelorn was early for Elric, but after Corum's death - but Corum and Elric crossed paths much earlier in Corum's narrative and later in Elric's.

    Though I still say Stormbringer is Moorcock's best book. But some of the earlier Elric books are needed to give it weight and some of those are dross really, partially because they were written very early in Moorcock's career.
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    8 - 11. The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, Robots of the Dawn (Isaac Asimov).

    The anniversary made it time for a reread of a series I loved about 30 years ago. The first two are quick reads, incredibly solid, and showcase Asimov's style of stories as being intellectual puzzles. Being SF murder mysteries, there's also some good world building and they're better for characters with personalities than some of Asimov's work.

    The last two are weaker stories, but more good world building and in a view of people living centuries in the last, with some touching notes.

    It's not all good. I was taken aback by the sexism. In the first (from 1958) it shouldn't have come as a surprise, but I really didn't like the way the protagonist's wife was so patronised by him, to the extent of being infantalised. But the third from 1985 was no better, suggesting a woman might be flattered by what amounted to harassment, and at the start a physical description featuring the phrase "prominent breasts" which made me guffaw out loud incredulously.

    And far future New York, despite being a sealed off dome, still felt to me like 1950s New York. Still, I got enough out of them to read four in a row, but I'll need a few other books before rereading more Asimov.
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