October 2009 Archives



Interstellar Pig by William Sleator

I read this book in third grade and it made a big impression; re-reading it today, I found it held up well. Interstellar Pig tells the story of a teenager on summer vacation who gets caught up in an intergalactic board game that proves to have dire consequences IT IS INTERESTING (don't even want to pause for a period in case I've already lost you) because the author spends the book playing around with subtle (and delicious) language mishaps on behalf of the alien characters. Also, the female alien is way hot, which even as a seven year old interested me strangely. If this is not enough, the imagery is tops: "A fat orange sun was sinking behind the island trees, and restless scribbles of gold danced over the dark water." But the best part is the way the teenager gets absorbed into the game while he plays it, not literally but mentally. We've all been there. (If it wasn't Doom, it was Super Mario 3 or D&D. Don't deny.)

I know the cover is queasy-making, but this is a good book to give to the kid in your life, or to your inner kid.



I'm reading Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. It is delightful, but what I would like to draw your attention towards is her inadvertently hilarious use of baby-talk. She's trying to replicate the accents of a British toddler who is discussing (with his uncle) the prospect of having a toy boat in his bath. Observe.

"Listen, would you like a speed-boat?"
"What's peed-boat?"
"A boat that will run in the water [...]."
"Will it float in my barf?"
"Yes, of course. [...]"
"Could I have it in my barf wiv' me?"
"Certainly, if Mummy says so."
"I'd like a boat in my barf."
"You shall have one, old man."

The OED tells me that "barf" did not come into use until 1966, and this book was written in 1933, so this was merely a fortuitous accident.

I am loving this book, for that and many other reasons. I will probably have it in my barf with me tonight.

The Magician's Book

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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller


If you like the Chronicles of Narnia, read this book. Miller, one of the co-founders of Salon.com, writes about Narnia with the love and exasperated tone that we all have, we who loved these books as children and worked out their subtext later on.

The first two-thirds of The Magician's Book are simply splendid. It gives you the pleasure of talking over all your favorite -- and least favorite -- passages from the book, with the added bonus of learning bits and pieces about C.S. Lewis' life which may have directly led to those passages. (A fascinating life, too: for the first long while, she makes him out to be a kindly, bright old bachelor, not unlike Mr. Tumnus, but after that she starts referencing all sorts of things outside this characterization: frequent bawdy, beery evenings; a writing group called the Inklings which included Tolkien; a touch of the English disease, and so on.)

The last third of the book disintegrates into a rather passionate defense of Lewis' work versus Tolkien's. (Tolkien did not approve of Narnia.) This is all very well, but I don't especially care about Tolkien's life or opinions, especially when Lewis was such an interesting figure on his own. And there was plenty of Narnia left unexplored: I want to know what in Lewis' life inspired Puzzle, Puddleglum, Shift, and so on.

However, she does a marvelous job of identifying just why I loved these books so much growing up. For one thing, the children in the books are nearly always treated as adults while in Narnia. The decisions they make are important, life-or-death choices, and when confronted with conflict, they are expected to behave every bit as morally and bravely as adults. This is part of why The Last Battle always felt like such a disappointment. At the very end, you see the Pevensie parents waving to their children far off in the distance. And of course, you recognize that this is necessary: Heaven isn't Heaven if you're separated from your family forever. But at the same time it means a final and definite end to any real adult adventures for the children. Peter cannot possibly be High King over his father.

The other thing The Last Battle robs us of is the limitless horizon of new stories. Miller talked to other authors and readers about their experiences with Narnia, and Neil Gaiman - who is quoted extensively, and has some rather wonderful things to say -- points out that Narnia is a landscape in which one senses all sorts of stories happening just out of sight. From the day when Lucy first arrives in Narnia and Mr. Tumnus spends hours telling her all about the exciting things that happened in Narnia's past, the reader senses a whole world of adventures waiting to be had. But once the characters all go to Heaven, there can be no more conflict, no more wrestling with good and evil, no more story. The new, vibrant, bigger version of Narnia is curiously flat.

Reading this book was very much like having a long, cozy chat with a fellow fan, and Miller's prose is clear, funny, moving and thoughtful. Check it out, but only if you're prepared to re-read the Chronicles afterward with newly appreciative eyes.

Five Red Herrings

Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers


AUGH. I love Lord Peter Wimsey, but this plot was much too complicated, plus about half the book was written in Sayers' poor attempt at Scottish dialect, plus for some reason I could not keep any of the six suspects straight in my mind, plus it was BORING. Every time it started to pick up a little, she'd immediately throw four policemen in a room and make them have a ponderous discussion about train schedules. The real mystery is how this book ever got published.

"Aye," said Macpherson, excitedly, "but dinna ye see it explains naething at a'? It disna fit the description o'the man in the grey suit that tuk the bicycle tae Ayr. Nor it disna explain Betty's tale to Bunter, nor the muffled-up man escapin' fra Gowan's hoose at deid o'nicht, nor the rabbity-faced fellow in the train fra Castle-Douglas tae Euston. An' hoo aboot yon man that came knockin' on Campbell's door o'Monday midnicht?"

It's my own fault for finishing the damn thing, I suppose.