10 June 2011

Dystopia. Kittycats. Yeah, this is my blog all right.

I prefer to think of it as "consistent" rather than "predictable."

Wastelands, edited by John Joseph Adams: a terrific anthology from Night Shade Books, a sci-fi/fantasy publisher I really should seek out more often. Of course, any collection has high points; in this one, there's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," Cory Doctorow's exploration of the post-apocalyptic Internet, held together by a global nerd network; Octavia E. Butler's "Speech Sounds," which follows a harrowing event that wipes out most of humanity's ability to speak and understand language; and "The End of the World As We Know It," Dale Bailey's loving upending of the best after-the-catastrophe clich├ęs. My only disatisfactions came with stories that weren't long enough to really sock me in the gut--the provenance of the Armageddon narrative. Except when they're hilarious. The editor has also prepared a lovely list of further reading which I am going to scan and consult the next time I'm in the mood for some good eschatology. (P.S. It is really hard to come up with synonyms for "post-apocalyptic.")

Daughters of the North, Sarah Hall: Luckily this one's dystopian. And honestly, not very good at all. I read the whole thing only because it was short, and I thought maybe the climax might be interesting, but quite the opposite. The story, such as it is, is that of Sister, who flees her repressive town in a totalitarian future Britain to find Carhullan, a legendary farm populated only by women, in hopes that they can offer her a better life. She finds them, they have hard-workin' utopian lesbianism-dabblin' good times, and then they attack the town. The weirdest thing about the narrative is how little time Hall spends on, first, the actual urban dystopia, and the women's army's battle to take and hold it. The latter, in fact, is entirely elided, by the conceit that the whole book is made up of Sister's after-the-fact testimony to the authorities, and that the "data" is corrupted. We are told that they "took the town and held it for fifty-three days," but the account of how it was done--the blood--is left out. It's a choice that stymies me. The only other caesura in the novel also contains a fistfight, where one woman is left bleeding. Does Hall think she's making a point about violence? Or can she just not write it very well? So what is in the book? Lots and lots of subsistence farming. Entirely undeveloped stock characters: grumpy nurse with a heart of gold, hard-as-nails leader. The rugged scenery of Cumbria, which is mildly interesting if only because I don't know much about that part of England. But really: eminently skippable.

From there, KITTYCAT BOOK!!! And a great one, The Fur Person, by May Sarton. (Once again, I am indebted to the boy who picks up kittycat books off the street for me.) It's third-person cat-niscient, the charming tale of a Cat About Town who decides he wishes for a housekeeper and finds two in Sarton and her partner (Brusque Voice and Gentle Voice), who name him Tom Jones and (thankfully for my nagging conscience) have him altered, at which point he ceases being a Gentleman Cat and becomes a Cat of Peace. Though it's intended as a children's book, it's a children's book from 1957, so the vocab is above most modern eight-year-olds: but just right for a feline-lovin' lady like me. Best book about cats from an author who doesn't usually write about them since Doris Lessing's amazing On Cats, which I reviewed back in ancient times before this blog existed.


  1. LOVE The Fur Person. I have an old beat-up hardcover of it that sits on my bedside table, for when I need a quick fix of Sarton's wonderfully quirky cat worldview.

  2. I'm so happy Chris happened upon it! I love reading kitty exploits from the hands of an accomplished writer--puts what all we cat people experience so precisely and beautifully.


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