Mike’s Prattle


Jack Vance – The Languages of Pao, Rikki Ducornet – Entering Fire, Joe R. Lansdale – Captains Outrageous, Fulcanelli – Le Mystere des Cathedrales, Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas

Posted by Mike on April 4, 2008

OK so maybe I am voracious. 🙂

Or at least I’m feeling like it in that I’ve wrapped up a few library books and managed to finish a couple things I started a long time ago.

Vance’s The Languages of Pao temporarily ends my Vance fixation at least for a few weeks. It’s a book that finally starts to show an evolution of Vance from the pulps to his later and greater work. In particular, the character dialogue is now showing his deft touches with unbelievably brilliant and manipulative people who, with a slight and dry wit, stick to practicality. In Pao‘s case this is mostly incarnated in the form of an off planet genius who, due to a political conflict, begins to manipulate the culture by changing the language of the young people and by doing so the culture itself. His plans, however, are foiled by the son and stilted ruler of the culture who is taken and educated off world, but still has desires to see the Pao of old. The book is generally considered one of, if not the first science fiction book to where linguistics play a major part of the plot and there are parts of this book that seem quite advanced in thought, even if overall this isn’t a perfect story.

Ducornet’s Entering Fire is the second in her Elements tetralogy and deals with the descendants of Cyrano de Bergerac, one a free thinking botanist, the other his racist son. The book is divided between their two narratives, and while The Stain doesn’t deal with it’s Earth element quite so directly, Entering Fire deals directly with the fire element and its incarnation among two paths, the botanist whose fire of creativity leads him to a happy and passionate life, and the racist whose fire seeks to burn down everything in sight in his quest for purity as he becomes part of the Nazi regime in France during WWII. It takes a while for the two narratives to dovetail, but when they do you’re left with an incredible and profound conclusion about the nature of inspiration and the fire element that drives us. It’s as if the two characters become the pillars of severity and mercy. Ducornet is quickly making me into quite an admirer of her work and I still don’t feel I’ve gotten to the best of it yet.

Joe R. Lansdale’s Captains Outrageous is the last in his Hap and Leonard series to date and like the last book, it’s not quite as solid as the middle books in the series, while always being a quick read and a hell of a lot of fun. Hap saves the life of a rapist victim whose father happens to own the company he works for and he’s given a large chunk of money, part of which he decides to take a vacation with, Leonard coming along. Casually ignoring the street wisdom to stick to tourist areas in Mexico, the duo are assaulted by corrupt police and saved by a local fisherman, drawing the two into a complicated web involving a nudist gangster and, naturally, his gigantic thug sidekick (they only get bigger and bigger in these books). The best part of the book is that the plot very naturally changes Hap from his stances in all the previous books and in many ways it makes the best conclusion of the whole series. On the other hand, it’s no surprise Lansdale has not returned to this series in years as it seems the dynamic is mostly played out. But until he writes another, I’ll certainly miss the back and forth between this unlikely friendship, some of the flat out funniest dialogue you’ll ever read.

Moving to the esoteric, I finally finished up Fulcanelli’s dense and very obscure treatise on the symbolism of many European cathedrals and their relationship to the cabala and particularly alchemy. I could have almost counted 40-50 times where Fulcanelli interrupts his narrative to discuss the secrecy of the subject, only to consistently make you wonder why he wrote the book in the first place, except that if you’re aware of this sort of thought and have worked any of the related systems this is likely to make more sense to you. However, it does bring up the idea again for me that so much of this area does indeed communicate in symbols and that there is a great deal of older wisdom encoded in them. At the same time you do wonder if some of it is stretched too far, particularly when comparing the narrative with the photographic insets. I was often thinking that I wasn’t seeing the part of the symbol the author was.

Finally, I finished Banks’ Consider Phlebas a book I started many moons ago (previously I’ve only read his Feersum Endjinn standalone). It’s the first book in his critically acclaimed Culture series and not a bad start, even if the structure of the book seemed episodic. While all of the episodes were great fun, the one in particular where he crashes on a planet (early on) only to be taken prisoner by a grotesque tribe of cannibals, didn’t seem to be particularly germane to the overall plot, making this a rather weighty and thick tome. At the same time it made it possible to put the book down without losing the feel of the narrative as there are distinct lulls in the action. The climax here is brutal, with an almost movie-like sense of visuals and a high casualty rate. A good, if somewhat jumpy book, I do look forward to subsequent installments.


6 Responses to “Jack Vance – The Languages of Pao, Rikki Ducornet – Entering Fire, Joe R. Lansdale – Captains Outrageous, Fulcanelli – Le Mystere des Cathedrales, Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas”

  1. Steve said

    Wish I could participate with your literary entries here, Mike! I feel selfish by mining what I need regarding incense and leaving little in return – but I read Maigret mysteries by Simenon and Agatha Christie novels and thought I was doing well considering neither have illustrations 🙂 You seem like a real renaissance kind of guy.


  2. Mike said

    Hey, I’m just glad they’re being read, although part of why I do the books is just to log them in for my own use – I don’t consider them reviews as much as thoughts. I definitely enjoy mysteries myself, in fact a lot of my recent Jack Vance reads have all been mysteries, likely in the same vein as the folk you mentioned.

    Also, being passionate about my interests, I get a lot back just in discussing them with like minded people, so definitely don’t feel at all like you’re not giving back. From the looks of it the incense world is a very positive, vibrant group of people, which often isn’t the case in some musical fan circles. If incense were prog, there’d be long multi-page digressions on whether Japanese or Indian incense is “the best” or how Japanese incense could truly be Japanese when it uses Vietnamese and Indonesian aloeswood. The very absence of these sorts of discussions brings me great joy. lol

  3. Steve said

    That’s so funny – a few days ago I was going to comment that if incense were shred guitar, you’d be our Yngwie Malmsteen. Then I thought about the tiresome “he sweep picks that crap – sloppy” “dude, he’s got no feeling. Vai has him beat.” “he can only hit 18 notes a second – Batio hits like a million!” diatribe. Being a guitar player, I have never even considered participating in those competitive and negative forums – how depressing and unmotivating! Thank goodness incense folk seem like a sharing and open community! Have yet to hear anyone say I suck because I like a particular nag 🙂


  4. Ross said

    Hey Mike

    Good to see you found Ian Banks’s Culture series.
    I think its some of the most entertaining SF going. Just finished the newest one Matter.
    You might check out “Player of Games” which has now been republished, to get more backround before diving into the stuff written in the last 3-4 years.
    Also “Against a Dak Backround” to me was really good. Not part of any of his series, very facinating. In fact, when I finished it I remeber thinking that” God, here is this whole universe that has been set up, hope theres more.
    Have fun


  5. Mike said

    Hi Ross, Thanks for the tips. I think I have most of these on the shelves. I try to read series chronologically as written, and I understood the next in that order, before Player of Games, was the two stories in the State of the Art collection. Hopefully it won’t be too long, before I get to those. Reading Kirby McCauley’s Frights, a 70s anthology of horror stories, at the moment….

  6. Ross said

    I think you are right about the order. Although in the Culture to a big dregree, each book seems to be pretty contained.

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