Thoughts on Hobb, The Bestiary, and Gorgonoids
Posted February 6, 2016on:
So, here’s the first of my “reading diary” blog posts.
I’m nearly half way through Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb. If you’ve never read her, she’s awesome. This trilogy is probably a good starting point for someone new to her work, as it’s sort of a stand alone series. A number of years ago I remember maybe Hobb talking about her own work, or someone else talking about her work, and they said she imagines the worse possible thing that could happen to her main character, and then she does it. and then does it over and over to that person. And yep, that’s about what usually happens in Hobb books. She’s a damn genius writer, so she gets you all emotionally invested in this character (even if you don’t like the character, you will still be invested. Because Robin Hobb), and then all those horrible things that happen to the character? because of your emotional investment, it feels like it’s happening to you. or, erm, maybe that’s just me.
So, in Ship of Magic, Althea is cheated out of her inheritance. Her douchebag brother-in-law, Kyle, persuades the rest of the family that only he can look after the family’s legacy. He’s such a jackass whiny twat that I want to call him Kylo. see all the horrible words I’ve already used to describe him? Althea isn’t an angel either, she’s kinda whiny too . . .
Oh, but what could this inheritance possibly be that they are fighting over? A liveship. Like, the ship is made of a special kind of wood, and after a while, the ship wakes up. It’s alive, and liveships are a totally normal thing in this area. And the ships talk. And they are awesome. There is one liveship that supposedly went mad, and it’s been beached. Althea talks to it sometimes. I bet it would be super therapeutic if that beached ship could swim again. I totally want to pet that poor ship and bring it cookies. and Kyle needs to die in a fire. But, this is a Hobb, so he won’t.
If you’ve read Ship of Magic, or the entire Liveship trilogy, no spoilers! But, if you’ve read this trilogy and anything else from Hobb, would you recommend Ship of Magic as a good place for people to start with her fiction? For what it’s worth, I started with Assassin’s Apprentice triology, and then stalled out around Shaman’s Crossing.
I’ve been super slowly reading my way through The Bestiary, an anthology edited by Ann Vandermeer that comes out in March of 2016. According to Dictionary.com, a Bestiary is an A to Z
“descriptive or anecdotal treatise on various real or mythical kinds of animals, especially a medieval work with a moralizing tone.”
Ann Vandermeer’s The Bestiary is of course way more awesome than that. These are imaginary and imagined creatures, and some of them aren’t even creatures, they are, well, you’ll see. And, the TOC is in alphabetical order, and there is a short story that starts with each letter of the alphabet. It’s like a ABC book of fantastically weird stuff, and you can tell the authors had a hella good time. YAY! anyways, of the five or six stories that I’ve sampled so far, two have really stood out:
“The Daydreamer Proxy”, by Dexter Palmer – the story is an informational pamphlet for company employees who are getting a permanent Daydreamer Proxy installed. On their spinal cord. Permanently. No one should ever, ever do this. It is seriously unsafe. But the pamphlet is full of corporate lingo and business buzzwords and it’s hilarious! I’ve read this story like 3 times because it was so funny. One time I read it, I was sitting at a McDonalds (my car was at the Oil Change place next door), and I’m reading this story about over the top ridiculous corporate policies, while overhearing a bunch of new McD’s recruits doing their orientation a few tables away . . . it was a very surreal morning. “The Daydreamer Proxy” is the kind of story that makes me want to find everything Dexter Palmer has ever written, and read it.
“Guest” by Brian Conn – A house-guest isn’t a fantastical creature, is it? or could it be? This story talks about how a guest will write you a letter that they are visiting. And their visit will be amazing. you’ll go to museums, and corners of the city you haven’t been to in years, it will be invigorating! you’ll wake up and your guest will have made you breakfast! and then things take a weird, dark turn. the guest leaves, but they don’t. they overstay their welcome, but you are too polite to tell them to leave. and suddenly your house guest has become a creature, of sorts. Really effective, highly enjoyable story.
Last year, I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Lena Krohn’s Collected Works. I read it as fast as I could, and retained just about nothing because i was reading way too fast. Because that’s how I roll! So now I’m leisurely making my way through it. And I keep coming back to this one story, called “Gorgonoids”. At first, I thought the protagonist was describing a creature that is a little like a toroid fractal shape. Like something coiled around itself over and over, and then turned into a egg or donut shape. The narrator is describing this thing – leather-ish skin, something that looks like fingers, etc. it’s a nice description. and then suddenly, the narrator says “no, that’s not this at all. it’s not leather, it doesn’t look like fingers”, because this Gorgonoid is not a physical creature, it is immaterial. So of course it can’t be leather, it can’t be bone, or fingers, because there is literally no “there” there, this thing is immaterial. And then we get this really cool discussion of the act of describing things. If something isn’t leather, should you describe it by saying “it’s leather skin”? Or do we have to preamble everything with “It only appears to be leather”? Which then leads to a short discussion of if images on our computer screens and in our dreams are immaterial, with what language constructs should we describe them?
When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with fractals. I lied to myself that I understood the math (I didn’t until I was in my mid-20s), and I loved the images. I loved that math could be beautiful. So, I guess “Gorgonoids” is more about the structure of language, and how language allows us to create something that’s not really there, rather than about a fractal shaped creature. (which is actually totally cool, if you think about it, because it’s that exactly what storytelling is? using language to create something that’s not really there?) But, in my mind, I’m still always going to connect this story with fractals that allow immaterial math to be beautiful.
what have you been reading lately? been dipping your toes into any short story collections?