Sunday, January 11, 2009

The light reading miscellany

Three novels, three samples...

James Blish, A Case of Conscience, which I liked very much indeed; Marie Corelli, Thelma, which I checked out of the library because its first section is set "in the land of the midnight sun" (a surprisingly good read, but I am slightly amazed to see that there is actually a 2008 reissue - there is also a Kindle edition, but the full text is available for free at Project Gutenberg - I have it from the Columbia library in the 1895 New York edition, which I see you can purchase for $4.95 via Alibris - a bargain!); Jennifer Egan's The Keep (stimulating and enjoyable, but perhaps only partly successful as a novel - I was reminded in certain respects of several books by Iain Banks, particularly A Song of Stone and The Bridge, which I think manage to do more with the castle/gaming aspect of things - but it is a quite haunting modern gothic in its way, and the feeling the novel provokes of incompleteness and dissatisfaction seems to me to be a valid literary effect in itself - I really liked it...).
The timid genius of mechanism, who threw cats well but Popes badly, had never met a true automaton, and so never saw that what the animal lacks is not a soul, but a mind. A computer which can fill the parameters of the Haertel equations for all possible values and deliver them in two and a half seconds is an intellectual genius but, compared even to a cat, it is an emotional moron.
My children are there today: Tucson, Gainesville, and Atlanta. They're more American than you are. My sons wear shorts in summertime. You would never see a European man in shorts - never! A man's legs out in the open like that, it's . . . it's miserably low-class.
Drifting away on those delicate imperceptible lines that lie between reality and dreamland, the watcher of the midnight sun gave himself up to the half painful, half delicious sense of being drawn in, absorbed, and lost in infinite imaginings, when the intense stillness around him was broken by the sound of a voice singing, a full, rich contralto, that rang through the air with the clearness of a golden bell. The sweet liquid notes were those of an old Norwegian mountain melody, one of those wildly pathetic _folk-songs_ that seem to hold all the sorrow, wonder, wistfulness, and indescribable yearning of a heart too full for other speech than music. He started to his feet and looked around him for the singer. There was no one visible. The amber streaks in the sky were leaping into crimson flame; the Fjord glowed like the burning lake of Dante's vision; one solitary sea-gull winged its graceful, noiseless flight far above, its white pinions shimmering like jewels as it crossed the radiance of the heavens. Other sign of animal life there was none. Still the hidden voice rippled on in a stream of melody, and the listener stood amazed and enchanted at the roundness and distinctness of every note that fell from the lips of the unseen vocalist.

"A woman's voice," he thought; "but where is the woman?"
Bonus link: George Bernard Shaw's review of Thelma!

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