I have been wanting to read Byatt for a long time now and somehow have never got around to it. Shame on me. So when I saw this little book for sale for about $6 in a dinky little newsagent in a dinky little town – SNAP. MINE.
It’s part of the Canongate Myths series, which I had heard of and thought I had read a few… but if you click on that link (don’t do it, Tansy, it’s a rabbit hole!) you’ll see there’s HEAPS and most of them I hadn’t heard of! Although I was right, and it is the same series as The Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood, swooooon – I love that book so much; it’s Penelope’s side of The Odyssey… thus the Greek version of Ursula le Guin’s Lavinia, I guess) and Jeanette Winterson’s Weight (about Hercules and Atlas, and also excellent). Thing with these books – those I’ve read – is that they’re retellings of myths. So when I saw that this was Ragnarok, the Norse myth of The End of Days, and that it involved WW2 – well, I assumed that the two were going to be mashed in a glorious Armageddon. That is, however, not what happened.
There are two parallel stories in this volume. One is a rough outline of Norse mythology from creation to the end of times, mostly following the antics of Loki, which is fair enough since he may have been around from the start and was largely responsible for the end. It’s a pretty straight retelling, as far as I can tell; Byatt has added in motivation and dialogue and the sorts of things that modern readers expect, but there’s no wild deviation into really exploring Loki or giving Loki and Baldur a steamy romance that explains the mistletoe episode. So while I enjoyed that, because they’re good stories and there were some details (like Loki’s parenting of the monsters) that had never clicked in my head before, it wasn’t really what I was expecting.
The second story is that of the thin child – as she is always referenced – as she is evacuated to the countryside during WW2, and is given a book of Norse mythology. It’s the thin child’s experiences of life during wartime, and of discovering mythology and literature – there’s a strong suggestion I think that this is heavily autobiographical. There’s certainly a sense that it is the thin child telling the Norse stories to the reader. This aspect was also quite enjoyable, although frustrating because it felt to me like it lacked depth. I think mostly I was disappointed that the connections between the war and Ragnarok were not made explicit. Byatt goes to the point of saying that the thin child’s father, a pilot away at war, has “red-gold hair” and is “like a god”… but makes no further connection to the idea that he, or the airforce, could be connected to Thor or some other aspect of mythology.
It’s definitely a good read, and I am definitely going to just down more Byatt. If you know nothing about Norse mythology this is a very good, and entertaining, place to start. If you’re looking for a Norse equivalent of The Penelopiad, this is not it.
What can I say, I’m one of those people who thinks that Solo is really the star of the Star Wars movies; I was very annoyed that eps1-3 didn’t make a reference to him, even something as small as ‘here’s this kid I’m teaching to be a smuggler…’.
Anyway, a friend was cleaning out her house of books and I became the recipient of a Rather Large Bag of Star Wars novels… and I have finally dipped my toe in. I started here partly because SOLO, and partly because of this article about the author, AC Crispin, having recently died. And I had no idea that AC = Ann.
Look, this is not a novel that was ever going to win literary prizes. The prose is a bit clunky, some of the characters are a bit stock, and yes the overall plot is a bit hackneyed. BUT! But.
a) It’s SOLO. Who doesn’t want to know how the galaxy’s most loveable rogue got to where he is? Who doesn’t want to know why someone so rough on the outside actually has such a soft smooshy inside? (Much like a tauntaun…). Plus, how did he GET that tough exterior? How did he and Chewbacca find each other, and what about the Millennium Falcon? These are questions I really want an answer to. So, I’ll read the novels.
b) It expands the Star Wars universe. I think one reason why I really like the idea of the enormous number of tie-in novels is that they’re all set in the same universe, but they don’t concentrate on just one bit. The Zahn novels didn’t; this one novel takes the reader to a few different planets, and while most of them are (as far as I recall) referenced in the original movies, this book looks at them from a rather different perspective – and it still works. It’s a lot grubbier, mostly. Yes Solo is a smuggler in the movies, yes Tatooine is the planet-futherest-from-the-bright-centre-of-the-galaxy – but really you don’t see much of the seamier side of the planets, let alone of the empire as an Evil Empire. Contrariwise, Crispin sets a lot of her story in the criminal underground, or on a slave plantation. Some people are nice, some are downright rotters.
c) Gratuitous Star Wars references. Sure Solo’s miff-ed-ness at being called scruffy got a bit tired after a while, but still – funny.
d) It takes Star Wars stuff but it makes it different. There’s an elderly Wookee woman that Solo’s friends with, and there are clear parallels to Chewbacca (also with his non-human companion Muuurgh) – but it’s not identical. There’s a romantic interest and again, parallels to Leia but by no means identical, and indeed provides some rather thought-provoking points on why Solo reacts the way he does to Leia (abandonment issues). Links to the Hutts, being a pilot, etc – all of these essential elements are there, but Crispin does interesting enough things with them that it’s by no means ‘young Solo just imitates old Solo.’ And that’s cool.
Thus this novel was definitely light entertainment. It’s light because it doesn’t require an enormous investment of time or thought-process from the reader – although it does raise genuine issues and does not simply ignore them. It’s entertainment because there are pirates, and smugglers, and chases, and Han Solo.
Listen to us via iTunes or over at Galactic Suburbia!
In which we present The Subgenre Report. Is the concept of subgenres meaningful to readers and writers, or just a marketing trick?
Which subgenres are OMG so hot right now, and which genre is doing subgenres better than spec fic?
In other news, Alisa hurls herself into crowdfunding with the baby clock ticking down to midnight…
Alisa: Continuum S1, crimeScene convention, plug for Kaleidoscope, Coode St Podcast ep 162 with Rachel Swirsky; Report from Planet Midnight, Nalo Hopkinson
Tansy: BBC Radio Neverwhere; Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, The Almighty Johnsons
Alex: Agents of SHIELD; Star Wars: The Paradise Snare, AC Crispin; Ragnarok, AS Byatt
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
1. Twelfth Planet Press is running a Pozible campaign to get a new anthology off the ground. Edited by Alisa Krasnostein (one of the voices of Galactic Suburbia; the other one, Tansy, is already writing her story…) and Julia Rios, this is a really awesome anthology: the idea is that (to quote them):
The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.
Please consider contributing if you can – and either way, spread the word! I’m tardy in posting this, so there’s just 12 days to go (closes 31 October), and they’re not quite halfway yet. Halfway to what? $12000 will allow them to pay pro-rates AND publish the book AND do all the other rewards stuff. That’s not a lot for a whole lot of brilliant. If you need more convincing, they’ve already got three names to the anthology: Ken Liu (!!!), Sofia Samatar, and Jim C Hines. Magnificent.
2. A Kickstarter that I backed ages ago is now live! Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond (that link takes you to Fishpond) is an anthology that does just what it says; wrenches the future from overly white, American hands and puts it into more ethnically diverse ones. My copy came with a mixtape, and when George Clinton’s dulcet tones announced “ah-good evening” as the first track… well, I admit that I squealed a little with joy. Watch this space for a review!
Once upon a time, I was 16. One 16-year-old Saturday afternoon, I switched on the television to discover a black-and-white Dirk Bogarde being sentenced to death by He-Who-Would-Be Rumpole (Leo McKern). I was horrified and mesmerised. And then when Bogarde declaimed “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” … well, there was definitely Something In My Eye. Such that my mother had to ask what the problem was, and when I told her Dr Simon Sparrow was on a tumbrel, headingfor the guillotine… she just shook her head.
I am of an age to remember when Friday nights were a Great Night for movies. My dad stayed up super-late with me once, to watch Breaker Morant, and had to almost physically prevent me from ranting and raving about the injustice of it all, because who does high-horse morality better than a 15 year old? Anyway, the ABC went through a period of classic British films, whence my introduction to Carry On. And after Carry On came the Doctor films. And Dr Simon Sparrow just stole my heart. (Seriously! Look at those eyes!)
All of this is the long-way-around way of saying that a few years after all this, my mother bought me a biography of Bogarde. That was quite a long time ago now. I have an unfortunate habit of appreciating the books she buys me but not reading them for ages. In my defence this is a BIG book – like 700 pages big – and somehow 700 pages of biography is different from 700 pages of space opera. Because I finally, finally read it. Hooray! And it took me quite a long time (like over a week).
I vaguely remember Mum breaking it to me that he was gay; I had no idea that he went on to have such a successful career as an author, nor that his film career was quite as… fraught.
The bio had some excellent bits in it. I was fascinated by the discussion of film-making in Britain in the 50s and 60s (and a bit horrified); the idea of Judy Garland and other such bright lights going over to Bogarde’s place for Sunday lunch kinda blew my mind. But there are some problems here as well. Firstly, and most annoyingly, Coldstream makes quite a deal of the fact that in his memoirs, Tony Forwood often appears as entirely marginal, sometimes only as a manager vaguely hanging around. The reality is that they lived together for something like 50 years. Coldstream makes this part of Bogarde’s fear of being outed as gay (totally reasonable in the 50s when Britain still had its laws making homosexuality illegal), but also part of his rewriting of his personal history. My main beef with this, though, is that Coldstream doesn’t actually interrogate Bogarde and Forwood’s relationship himself. I don’t mean that I wanted to read an expose of their sex life; I mean that I was left wondering whether they actually were lovers, or had an entirely platonic relationship or… what. Coldstream fell into the same problem – not entirely ignoring Forwood, but not properly considering his significance – that he accused Bogarde of. Which means there’s this huge part of Bogarde’s life – was he gay? Was he asexual? – that is ignored. And if you’re writing a bio, that should (I feel) be either part of the discussion, or completely left out, and if the latter then that needs to be spelled out for the reader. Especially in Bogarde’s case where his drop-dead-beauty was part of his appeal as a film star, and where his sexuality has been cause for discussion for a very long time.
My other gripe with this book concerns two really weird bits. One: Coldstream sent off samples of Bogarde’s handwriting to a graphologist. That’s someone who analyses handwriting and tells you about your personality. Um, weird. Two: the biography ends with a totally bizarre story of the people who bought Bogarde and Forwood’s estate in France being superstitious about a possession of Bogarde’s bringing them bad luck. Also, um, weird.
If you’re interested in film history, this is awesome. I’ve left it with my mum and I think she’ll get more out of it because she’ll know more about the people being mentioned. If you’re interested in biography generally this actually is quite a good one – it’s perfectly readable and Bogarde really did have a fascinating life, serving in WW2 then acting in theatre and films – and oh the drama (heh) around that – then going on to writing and public appearances.