Across the Green Grass Fields
I have loved every book of the Wayward Children series to date. Some more (Down Among the Sticks and Bones), some a bit less (In An Absent Dream), but all together they’re just… a marvellous addition to my literary world.
Across the Green Grass Fields continues this. It’s not what I expected: it’s a standalone story, certainly fitting into the overall idea of the series but not into the narrative structure – there are no familiar characters or settings, although I hope they will recur. So that was a surprise, but also I shouldn’t have been that surprised at McGuire doing something different. It also means that a reader who hasn’t come across the series before can read it with no hesitation.
As a girl, I was convinced that the girl-world was largely divided between the horse-girls and the dolphin-girls. Neither was necessarily better, but it felt like they were distinct groups. (I was a dolphin-girl. Ask me how bitter I was to discover that marine biologists spend most of their time looking at plankton, not swimming with cetaceans.) Regan Lewis is a horse-girl, through and through. She loves horses more than she likes most people. She’s happy when she’s with them. Which is good, because like many girls she has to deal with unhappiness when she’s around so-called friends.
Reading that part of the story was a bit uncomfortable. I didn’t experience the total drama and tragedy that Regan does, but aspects were definitely familiar from my childhood, and I’m not at all interested in going back there thankyouverymuch. Anyone who says your school days are the best days is a liar or has a very bad memory. Or possibly a very lucky boy.
This is a Wayward Children story. I knew Regan would eventually find herself confronted with a door, and she would go through that door, and there would be an astonishing world on the other side. Given Regan’s passions, it’s unsurprising that her world is the Hooflands. Every mythological creature you can think of with variations of hooves: they live there. And everyone in Hooflands knows what humans are for…
One of the things that always makes McGuire’s writing powerful is the way she writes about “diverse characters”, and look I feel stupid even pointing to this because it should just be obvious that people with a variety of genders/ physical appearances/ sexualities/ etc etc etc should be represented in fiction, and presented as humans, but of course that’s still not the case. So knowing that McGuire does do that, and treats all of her protagonists the same, is refreshing.
This was not quite what I was expecting – I hadn’t realised it would be so standalone. I might have been a little less eager had I known that, to be honest. But it’s still a Wayward Children story: it’s beautifully written, it’s an engaging narrative, and the characters are ones I want to keep coming back to.
Star Trek: Voyager
I am accustomed to not being completely up to date, but some might say this is ridiculous…
The only Star Trek I have watched in full is Star Trek: Discovery. (I’ve also seen all of the movies, though.) This isn’t for any specific reason; The Next Generation was on tv too late when it was first on, and I don’t even remember DS9 or Enterprise being on tv. The original series was also not accessible on tv, as far as I can recall, when I was a kid. I think Voyager must have been on tv but looking at the dates, I can see it was the end of high school and then uni for me – and most of that time I didn’t have access to a tv that I could watch whenever I liked.
Anyway. Here we are. I now have Netflix, and time when I want to knit and therefore watch something undemanding, so… Voyager it is. I’ve just finished season 2.
Janeway: I mean. Of course. I didn’t know she was a science officer! That’s so cool. I love that she likes going down to Engineering and still getting into the science. I love that she is complicated and sometimes makes decisions I don’t approve of. Her hairstyle is outrageous and must take ages to do every morning. I love that eye-roll every time the Kazon make disparaging remarks about women. And I love that no one on the ship ever questions that a woman can be captain. I remain unconvinced about her choice of sleepwear.
Chakotay: one of the aspects that is sometimes good, and sometimes cringeworthy, is the way Chakotay is treated. I love that he is of Native American heritage, that he embraces that heritage – and that he is shown to have had difficulty with it as a child – and that no one ever has an issue with it. I don’t love that his heritage is exoticised more than anyone else’s background is (no comments about being part human, part Klingon, for Torres); I am uncomfortable about some of the things that seem stereotypical to my eyes (but I’m Australian, so maybe I just don’t know enough?). I did love the moment that Chakotay thinks Tuvok is giving him a bow and arrow and is acerbic about his people never having used them (and then Tuvok shows that he’s Tuvok and says the bow is for himself…). ANYWAY: I love Chakotay. A lot. I love his calm, I love his humanity and generosity, pretty much everything.
Paris: urgh. Just like another Paris I could mention. Has had a few redeeming moments, I guess, but I do not love this character. I’m told this is a common attitude. And apparently he gets better? We’ll see.
Neelix: as for Paris, although possibly more annoying. I’m prepared to put up with him since it means we get Kes.
Tuvok: I really like Tuvok. I assumed I would since I’ve liked basically every Vulcan I’ve come across (yes, even Sarek, in a stay-over-there, I’ll-just-watch kinda way). Tuvok’s complexities are a delight, and I always enjoy the calm manner in which he smacks all the emotionally crazed beings down. When I first saw the episode name ‘Tuvik’ I was dreading it, because I assumed that the combination of Neelix and Tuvok would be played as a farce… instead it turned out to be one of the most complex and thoughtful episodes to date. I choose to think that’s mostly because of Tuvok.
Kes: sometimes a bit too on the sappy end for me, but overall – what a delight. Calm, thoughtful, generous; I like when she gets a real storyline but I’m happy whenever she turns up, even simply as the Doctor’s adjunct.
The Doctor: his attitude still annoys me but as a stereotype of a physician, you have to admit that it’s accurate. I have been fascinated by the way his personality has been allowed to develop as he’s been compelled to interact with people far more than his programming ever intended.
B’Elana Torres: another of my favourites. Not least because her engineering talk with Janeway allows some episodes to pass the Bechdel test, which is always a pleasure. Another complex character who gets to be competent, honest, thoughtful… the episode where the human and Klingon aspects were divided was fascinating.
Harry: not my favourite character, but not for any specific reason. He’s had some great narratives, and I do enjoy his ingenuity. I also appreciate the diversity his presence brings to the bridge, and the humour. Sometimes he even manages to tone down Paris. Not often, though.
I found this book in a secondhand shop, in the travel writing section, when I was well in the mood for reading travel narratives. I figured a travel book that also discussed ancient history and mythology would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the shop and the blurb are both a bit misleading: while Slattery does include some travel as part of the book, this is much more about having adventures in reading and thinking about ‘the ancient world’ rather than the travel itself. So that was one disappointment.
Overall, I think I mostly enjoyed the book. As that statement suggests, I am ambivalent – was while reading, still am. On the one hand, the cover irks me. It’s so … unnecessary. I assume part of the point is to make the mythology and history seem more real, vibrant, and let’s face it alluring, than might otherwise be supposed. But the original sculptor was already all about the male gaze and sexualising the statue; adding the tan lines feels gratuitous. And then there’s the fact that half her face is chopped off! There’s also the fact that Slattery’s whole purpose is to extol the benefits of reading ‘the classics’ and that access to such things should be available to all (in opposition to the old English-style curriculum where only toffy boys got access to Latin and Ancient Greek). In theory I have no problem with teaching about Stoicism and so on. But the problem starts when you then move further along that line and suggest it’s the only history worth knowing. Slattery doesn’t do that, but it’s a not hard to take his arguments and get to that point. It is, of course, largely male-dominated… unless you’re talking about Aphrodite, or throw in a brief reference to Sappho or Penelope.
I did not, though, hate the book. There were some really interesting bits! I liked the discussion of Apollo and Delphi and Pythia and Dionysus – although I feel Slattery missed an opportunity in not discussing the possible origins of Apollo and Dionysus, given Apollo is thought to have originated as an Eastern god, and Dionysus as more solidly home-grown ‘Greek’ (for all the problems with that word in the ancient world). The chapter about Ithaca was probably my favourite because it conformed most to what I was expecting, and wanting at the time: Slattery on Ithaca itself, and musing on The Odyssey, and the archaeological evidence for Odysseus on Ithaca, and how modern inhabitants feel about it.
I feel that this book probably only works for someone with at least some basic knowledge of Greek myth – although maybe I’m wrong, and Slattery explains things well enough for the complete novice. My knowledge of Stoicism and Epicurean ideas has never been that thorough and he does explain those in a way that I could understand.
As well, the book’s only 15 years old but I’m just not sure that it would get published today – in fact I was surprised to see that it came out in 2005, because it felt… older. And I think the lack of women has a lot to do with that. Plus, Slattery makes a case that the ancient Greek world had many things we value today – religious tolerance, being cosmopolitan, what he calls “Homeric impartiality” (the fact Hektor is the greatest hero in The Iliad despite not being Greek, and I am completely unconvinced about this demonstrating impartiality). Therefore, “we” can learn from the classics. I am unconvinced, even after reading the book, that that’s true. Partly because of the completely different contexts, and partly for vaguer feelings that this logic just doesn’t quite follow.