When Urania was young/ All thought her heavenly/ With age her eyes grow larger/ But her form unmaidenly

Monday, March 24, 2008

DBD Is Not ADD, I Swear

Beth persuaded me I had to do something other than work. I ordered some books but they won’t be here for weeks, so I picked up a couple to see if I could repeat last week’s rare success and actually read one. If I had the stomach for it, I’d be writing about whether romantic suspense novelists were as bad at suspense as cheap other-genre writers were at romance. But I couldn’t get past chapter three on either of the comparison books.

Okay, Atlantis by David Gibbins – a archeological/geopolitical thriller. In the prologue, Solon the Lawgiver gets mugged in Egypt (don’t ask) by Egyptians disappointed by getting screwed by Greeks in a trade deal. He not only loses the priest-dictated manuscript a fragment of which will provide the vital klew about Atlantis 2500 years later, but also his memory of that particular dictation session. When our brilliant twenty-first century archeologists encounter the fragment as part of the papyrus burial shroud for a mummy, they intuit not only that it (1) was written by Solon; (2) he was mugged; (3) he lost his memory; but even (4) that the Egyptians who did it (!) were pissed about a trade deal. Not that there’s anything about that in the fragment. They’re just real Sherlocks. Elementary, my dear semi-literates.

But it’s not the general idiocy that made me stop reading. It was this passage on that third page of chapter 3:

“Jack, I don’t believe you met [female character A.]”
Her penetrating green eyes were almost level with his own and she smiled as she shook his hand. “Please call me [first name.]” Her English was accented but, a result of 10 years’ study in America and England after she had been allowed to travel from the Soviet Union. Jack knew of [character A] by reputation, but had not expected such an immediate attraction. (Audible groan for both the sentiment and the prose, but that’s still not the point.) Normally Jack was able to focus completely on the excitement of a new discovery, but this was something else. He could not take his eyes off her. (Inaudible groan only because I was getting habituated and STILL not the point.)
Her long black hair swung as as she turned to introduce her colleague, “And this is my assistant [female character B] from the Moscow Institute of Paleography.”
In contrast to [character A]’s well-dressed elegance, [character B] was distinctly in the Russian peasant mold. She looked like one of the propaganda heroines of the Great Patriotic War, thought Jack, plain and fearless. She was struggling beneath a pile of books but looked him full in the eyes as he offered his hand.”

Okay, here’s a quiz.

Which character do you suppose Davey boy named: “Katya Svetlana?”

Which character did he name “Olga Ivanovna?”

Did that hurt you as much as it hurt me? But that’s still not why I stopped reading. I’d have done ANTHING (well, not anything – I wouldn’t have paid money for the book which I found on a giveaway shelf – but I would have finished it once I started) IF Olga had gotten to be the love interest, instead of purrfect Katya and her svelte Svetlanahood. If the peasant-looking woman turns out to be fascinating and witty, an utter revelation in bed, her passion and erotic skill rendering irrelevant her peasant features (Yes! It does happen! Even in fiction! Read Fifth Business!) eclipsing the paint-by-numbers love interest – I’d have fiished the whole book, despite the rackety-clackety plot and characters and the embarrassing writing. At least it would have been different. And maybe even sexy. But beats me what happens to Olga – Katya and Jack are thoroughly bonded by the end of the book, and the bad guys dead and flipping through the book I don’t see anything about “Olga” – maybe she gets bumped off early. Yeah, read parts of the last chapter, which is about all I could manage with And Justice for All by Linda Style -, what I thought was a mystery but is in fact a Harlequin Super Romance. In “Larger print”, which is good for people with eyes as bad as mine – my peers, the late middle-aged and the elderly. Jesus God, you’d think they’d have adult reading tastes by then.

The last line of the Style (I think the pseudonym is ironic and it was written by an unemployed semiotics PhD):Super Romance:

“And when his lips met hers, she knew her heart was his forever.”

I could have lived with thought rather than knew, although the sentence would still have squicked me. Thought would be an indictment of the character rather than the author and her readers. But knew? A kiss can give you a pretty good notion of what’s in store for the next 2 minutes to12 hours (although there’s many a slip twixt the lips and the clit) but oh never mind. This isn’t even worth arguing.

A colleague with a great deal more insight than I have in relationships said in counseling the most damaged and damaging women he’s met are the forty year olds who still doodle “Ronnie and me 4-Ever” when a new man comes into their life, but fortunately for them – fortunately in the short term - many Ronnies are not all that discerning, or have damage of their own. Really, though, how do adult women read lines like that above and and get that romantical feeling? It’s like responding erotically to pornographic tentacle anime. And if some guys do that, please PLEASE don’t tell me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

DBD - Happily Ever Abattoir

So my kind in-laws sent me a care package with a book (and 5 filmed Shaw plays) and I sat in my bare CHU (Containerized Housing Unit, aka the middle third of a trailer) and read it in an afternoon. Bernard Cornwall's Lords of the North, one of The Saxon Tales, an historical series set in the Year of Our (though not the pagan protagonist's) Lord 878. And so I wanted to talk about what happens when you have strong men and lovely women whom they like as more than just friends, all in a period piece, yet not a Romance. Why not?

Well, the quotation from Entertainment Weekly on the back says it is, "Soaked yet again in nasty political intrigue [and] rip-snorting battle...Glorious." As an aside, the whole idea of rip-snorting seems to me more than faintly appalling. The front cover has a quote from the Washington Post: "Superior entertainment that is both engaging and enlightening." Now that may be a pat on the cheek with a back-hand sting, but how many historical romances get a Post blurb, regardless of the author's tireless research and wealth of details placed first on 3X5 cards, then inserted edgewise into the story at regular intervals? At least I assume some authors do that.

So, what makes the manly Lords of North "superior?" It's not any more serious about the gulf between our friends of the ninth century and us - as entertainment, the last thing it should give us is a hermeneutic head-pounding double vision when we're looking through the eyes of a character about to engage in love or war. Uhtred - the Saxon raised by Vikings - does kill helpless former enemies, but manly readers know that's a necessity, this being many centuries before the indefinite incarceration of combatants. Unlike The Bad Guys, our man doesn't rape peasant women or kill innocent civilians, his Word is His Bond, and generally responds the way we would hope our own golden-scarved boy scouts would rise to the occasion if thrown up against berserkers in pointy hats. It's remarkable how he anticipates 21st century morality so presciently.

There's a love interest, Gisela, although he does have an once-and-future nun Hild around as a paramour until the book brings him together with the G-girl. So what makes this a nonromance, other than the focus on Uhtred rather than the heroine?

Well, no sex for one. He and Gisela do have a night, discreetly mentioned and never described, partly as a way to invalidate an unconsummated marriage-by-proxy. Even the rapes are always offstage and the brief allusion to newly enslaved women's tunics being pulled down so their breasts could be examined was brief and dry enough that not even an 11 year old boy would get much of it. I'm grateful I could read Kate's handy guide to sex in Romance before I wrote this, because there's none of that stuff. We like Gisela, because she's also a sardonic pagan and looks good in chainmail. But the book is narrated by a very old Uhtred, who is apparently on a third wife or so - a Christian he doesn't like nearly as much as he liked Gisela. He's also pretty rundown by that point - no happily ever after, but only the simple delights of being really, really old and infirm in the Dark Ages. At least he's still a lord, but I suppose if he weren't he'd have been dead, feeble peasants being a good not in great demand.

So, as best as I can make out this is superior entertainment because there's no boring repetitive sex. God knows the literary variety bores me. There is, of course, much bloody combat. The fight scenes are the chocolate chips in the ice cream and the longsword "Serpent-Breath" is the object of much more loving description and consequent reader-lust than the worthy Gisela and Hild put together. The chapter from the next book in the series thoughtfully placed at the end of the present volume out of sheer generosity, well "Kill them all," I shouted, "Kill every last one" should indicate which bodily fluid is of interest to Cornwell's readers, an abundance of which would convince them to plunk down another $13.95 for the trade paperback. But the climactic fight is just a tad over 2 pages, and one moves around so much more on a horse waving a sword (or two - our man also has Waspsting) than during the most strenuous session on the divan.

Yay boys! Boo girls!