Tuesday, 30 October 2001

Ulysses continues and Phlebas considered

Listening to:

Bach, violin sonata in A, BWV 1015.

Still reading:

James Joyce, Ulysses. I read another three sections this weekend: The Wandering Rocks (lots of little vignettes of life in and around Dublin), The Sirens (Bloom in a bar, listening to music and admiring the barmaids) and The Cyclops (Polyphemus) (Bloom in a different bar, awkwardly chatting with some vaguely racist and one-eyed (geddit?) acquaintances).

I have six more sections to go, and it’s clear that writing a final summary of the whole novel for a “Just read:” review will be pretty difficult.

Holiday reading:

Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas.

I read this while away in France in September, and thought it pretty good. It was the first science fiction that I’d read in ages, and I enjoyed it. It’s quite space-opera-ish in terms of its basic construction, but there are also lots of neat ideas in it. The Culture is a particularly powerful one (an extended article about bits of it by Banks), and I was also impressed by the Changer species. I didn’t see so much of the deep meaning in it that Philip Banks discerns, but I haven’t read it twenty times either.

The only real thing I’d hold against the novel is the frequency of the fight scenes. These aren’t particularly gory so I don't object to the blood and guts on offer. Rather I think that the fights come up sufficiently often that you begin to think that physical combat between small numbers of individuals is the only way that things ever get resolved in this futuristic universe. (I much prefer the ship-vs-ship level of the “fights” in the O’Brian books.)

It also seems a bit of a cop-out that the vast majority of the alien species are conveniently humanoid. Perhaps some future novel in the series (there are quite a few) will explain how this comes to be. It’s not because humans from Earth colonised the universe, and subsequent variation emerged by evolution; an epilogue makes it clear that the events described occurred at about 1200 AD “our time”.

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