Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Do Authors Bother Trying to Make Me Think?

On Sunday, my wonderful mother went on a cleaning spree in the cl house.  Among  the items that fell under her swift sword were a number of books she designated as junk, and among  these books was Sharon Shinn's The Alleluiah Files.  The reason this book was in the house was that when I read the first two books in the Archangel series, I wanted to read this third one, but I couldn't find it anywhere, so I bought it at the borders in viewmont mall.  Anyway, as it sits there in cl, I end up rereading it every few years, and I naturally rescued it from the destruction that awaited it at the hands of my zealously clean and clutter-free mommy :) And having rescued it, I promptly sat down and read it (well I sat down and started to read it, and finished it two days later).

I can't argue that this book is junk in a certain sense.  I mean it's not junk like some of the chic lit I read.  It's written fairly well and it has some substance.  But the truth is, it's more than somewhat melodramatic and it has that certain trashy quality that hard core sci-fi/fantasy sometimes does - kind of comes with creating a world that is meant to be taken seriously, but of course is really only a completely arbitrary variation on our own G-d created one.  I guess that's a little unclear, but what I mean is, science fiction and fantasy writers take pride in their "world-building", but to me there isn't really much point or much skill involved in crafting an imaginary place where absolutely anything goes, no logical explanation needed.  

And this world is particularly offensive, as it draws heavily on Biblical themes, but recasts them to fit the author's more egalitarian and modern views.  So there are some disturbing echoes of places and people I consider sacred (e.g. the Jews wandering in the desert waiting for the promised land) but mixed with a very physical and morally ambiguous crew ("angels" and Edori with rather modern views of marriage, among other things).   All this is true of the first two books (well I barely remember the second book, as I've only read it once, but it's true of the first book as well), and in order to enjoy Archangel, I need to ignore all this.  But of course, I never find ignoring stuff in books too difficult, so I always thoroughly enjoy Archangel and its perfectly wonderful love story between a resilient and talented slave girl and a gorgeous and powerful angel ruler (I feel compulsion to again quote that angel, as of course I mean angel only in the Sharon Shinn sense here, but you know what I'm saying).  

Most of this applies just as well to the Alleluiah Files, but there is an additional element of to the disturbing themes in this book.  Actually I can think of three reasons why this book is not nearly as good as Archangel, but I'll get to the other two later.  About the religious overtones first - this book describes the fight of the rebel Jacobites to bring the rest of Samaria (the world) to the knowledge that what they see as their god is in fact a very advanced spaceship, that responds to their prayers with set replies to provide their needs.  This is obviously disturbing, and the Jacobites are seen as heretics, but in the end - the Jacobites are right! So here we have a small group of people insisting that science can explain away the god they know, that the religion they have followed for hundreds of years is simply wrong… sound familiar? So apparently, just as the Jacobites are proved right in the end, we are supposed to conclude that evolution and its associated ideas can explain away the need for any divine creation of our world.  Well, naturally, I know that's wrong, but I can't enjoy reading a book that basically makes a plot out of it.  The only redeeming element to the religious debate is that in the end, the characters conclude that even though their spaceship may not be a god, there is still in fact some overarching, intangible divine being that watches over the universe - and they're certainly right about that :) And their conclusion that the original settlers knew this, but that over the years the people forgot about the real G-d and began worshiping the intermediating machine, parallels the history of idol worship in the real world perfectly.  So I guess the end message isn't one I strictly disagree with.

But none of that matters very much, because I am of course not reading this book as a religious treatise and as far as I'm concerned, the less philosophy the better.  The other two objections to this book are much more typical complaints of mine.  First off - the angels in Archangel are like these superhumans (actually they are superhumans) whom everyone basically worships, and the Archangel is the coolest and most powerful of them all.  Of course, that makes for one great romance, just like the most fun romances are about noblemen, not to say about dukes.  But in The A. Files, the angels are taken down a notch or two from their status and basically re-outfitted as men with wings.  Wings and great voices that allow them to communicate with a machine, but nothing to be worshipped or allocating any extra degree of respect.  It's as if democracy did away with the nobility - and where's the fun in that?! :) But even with all that, Jared (main angel guy) is pretty darn cool - nice, gorgeous, smart, powerful, with it… so I guess I can't complain too much.

Objection number #3 is even more simple - there are two romances going on here - Tamar and Jared, which is great, and Lucinda and Reuben, which I find completely uninteresting.  In fact, that one doesn't even meet my definition of romance, because they like each other right away and there aren't really every any obstacles keeping them apart.  So where's the fun in that? :) In fact, I don't think theirs is even meant to be a fun romance - it's more a part of the plot and maybe more of Sharon Shinn's desire to make a statement about iconoclastic relationships (angel and Edori again).  So of course, we're basically talking about half the book where I was basically like, kay, let's get back to the other half here.  

The truth is though, there's so much more going on here than the romance, that even the other half wasn't wholly, or even mostly romantic.  And with all that, the book wasn't half hard to read.  Went by pretty fast, though I can't say I couldn't put it down (I think every time I put it down was probably at a Lucinda and Reuben part though :)) That all goes back to what I said at the beginning, Sharon Shinn is not a bad writer, not at all.  Of course, part of this can be attributed to the fact that I am very used to her writing style, having read almost (maybe all? all of her adult one anyway) of her books, and some of the multiple times (Summers at Castle Auburn is great, though not as great as I used to think it was by the way - I should really do a review of that one too…)  but anyway, I'm sure my familiarity with the writing somewhat biases me.  And I'm the first to admit she's melodramatic with a capital cantaloupe (like that expression? made it up just now :)) but still… the descriptions are good, the characters are mostly very likable, plot moves quickly, the tension is more than I'd like, but not crazy over the top… and what can I say, she's a good world builder :) So overall, I'm glad I rescued this book from the garbage can (literally - I took it out of the garbage can :)) 
Verdict: 3.5/5
Food: Something with the capacity to make me nauseous… but something that I go back to time and time again anyway… I think I've used sugar free pudding here already, but I think just the Hunt's kind, not the Jello kind.  So I'm going to use the Jello kind here - I eat them all the time, or at least all the time when I'm not on a real diet.  They do have sugar alcohols in them which means 1) they give me *major* stomach issues when I eat too many (tmi? sorry :)) and 2) I feel guilty eating them b/c they're not actually carb free. But yet every once in a while, the urge overcomes me and I buy a pack of cinnamon roll… or chocolate vanilla… or boston creme… and eat every last one :)
But on second thought, I have a much more original food - Morningside Farms vegetarian bacon strips.  They are not particularly good, and I feel kind of weird eating them, being that they're imitation bacon, but in the end of the day, I'll eat them anyway because they're not too bad… and they are kosher, don't worry :)

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