Sunday, 15 April 2018

Reading the 80s - 1982

I only managed two books for this challenge this month - but the first wasn't something I'd usually read, so I'm quite pleased about that.

Stephen King - The Dark Tower I (The Gunslinger).

To be honest I was surprised how much I enjoyed this.

It starts, or seems to start, with the good guy chasing the bad guy across the desert. Predictably enough the good guy is the guy with the gun (or rather, two guns) and the bad guy is in black and does evil magics. We also learn that the world has moved on - for which read falling apart - and the gunslinger is on a quest which may have something to do with fixing it, or finding out what's going on.

All of which would normally make me balk a bit - I have a healthy dose of cynicism about quests and heroes that bludgeon their way through the world leaving destruction behind them because their mission and their honour and their pride is the all important thing; and the Gunslinger certainly fits into that mould.

But somehow King gets away with it. I think because he isn't actually romanticising what's happening. We hear about the qualities the Gunslinger lacks as much as those he possesses. The man in black is there to mock him, and from a certain point there is a companion, Jake, to be shocked by him and make him doubt himself.

King does a good job of world building, with the differences from our own world kept subtle at first, and monsters referred to in passing instead of lumbering across the page absurdly. That said readers who really can't bear fantasy worlds will probably struggle.

Did it want to make me read the other 7 books? (I think it's 7) To be honest no, but considering this isn't something I would normally have tried, that's not a reflection on the book itself. 

Life, the Universe and Everything - Douglas Adams

This is the third of the Hitchhikers Guide Trilogy of five and reading it I remembered that it was never really my favourite. I think I felt cheated because Trillian solves a puzzle on the basis that anything else would be a ludicrously improbable coincidence - and yet their whole lives up to this point have been one ludicrous coincidence after another. They own a ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive for goodness' sake, the ultimate plot device to explain away improbable coincidences.

Trillian annoys me quite as lot a character actually. At the beginning where she's trying to cheer Zaphod up by going to delightful planets and he's not interested - well why not go herself and leave him to it? Then when we see her next she is being chatted up by a thunder god but she just lets Arthur drag her off again. Then she addresses the elders of Krikkit. She seems to have a stunning lack of agency in her own life but be able to advocate just fine on behalf of the universe.

That almost certainly is something to do with it being written in 1982 - her storyline is after all that she's skipped the planet with Zaphod as a kind of adjunct, then seems to fall into a caretaker role, and although she starts to break out later I never feel she really coheres into one person. In fact in the last book she literally is two people, one of which went with Zaphod and one of which didn't, and both are wistfully wondering about that other person they might have been. Is it just me or is there something a bit Anita Brookner about this?

The next year up is 1983. Hopefully I'll manage a few more this time. I already know I want to read The Woman in Black. 

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