Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I've been visiting family for two weeks and I had a lot of time to read. I finished Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Well, all that were on my father's shelves -- he says he might have gotten High Five and Hot Six fron the library, but other than that he's got all from One for the Money to Twelve Sharp (and the Christmas special Visions of Sugar Plums). My dad recommended these after he saw me reading Carl Hiaasen's Skinny Dip, because the Plum books share some of the same wacky humor.

OK, these books aren't as wall-to-wall wacky as Hiaasen's work -- very few are. (Well, Tim Dorsey.) But the Plum series are interesting mysteries with fun characters. New Jersey native used to be a lingerie buyer, but she was laid off and needed a job. Since her cousin Vinnie runs a bail bond agency, Stephanie becomes a bond enforcement agent, also known as a bounty hunter, despite a lack of experience. Sometimes she's successful in tracking down people who didn't show up for their court dates, and other times she just gets violent criminals angry at her. And her mother makes the sign of the cross, her father buries his head in the newspaper, and her grandmother asks to come along (when her grandmother isn't trying to lift the lid at closed-casket funerals, that is). I couldn't put the books down, and as soon as I finished one I had to see what happened in the next volume, so I have to recommend these.

On the way home, I was reading a book I own, Norman Spinrad's 1969 science fiction novel Bug Jack Barron. As happens eventually to all all books set in the future, enough time has passed to make this into an alternate history. The book was apparently quite controversial when it came out, and still has its moments, but not all of them are the type of controversy Spinrad wanted to provoke. The political ramifications of belief that science can achieve immortality for people (and a way to involve the corpses of those who could afford to have themselves frozen) and the effect of the media on people's political opinions -- all are still quite fascinating. But then on page 143, the main female character, Sara, comes out with this inner monologue:

"Power's a man's bag, she realized. Any chick that digs power, really feels where it's at, almost always turns out to be some kind of dyke in the end. Power's somehow cock-connected; woman's hung-up on power, she's hung-up on not having a cock, understands power only if she's thinking like someone who does. Power's even got its own man-style time-sense; man can wait, scheme, plan years-ahead-guile-waiting games, accumulate power on the sly, then use it for good -- if the man's good deep inside like Jack -- like a good fuck good cat can bring a frigid chick along, cooling himself, holding back when he has to, until he's finally got her ready to come. Man kind of love, man kind of delayed-timing thinking, calculated quanta of emotion and only when the time's right, and not like woman needs to feel everything totally the moment it happens -- good, evil, love, hate, prick inside her."
If I had met Norman Spinrad right when I read this, I'd have thrown the book right in his face and wished it were a hardback copy. On the next page, when Jack is telling a friend that he and Sara have reunited, "The thrill of being owned by her fated man went through Sara as he goosed her off camera." What kind of fucking slave mentality is this? I want to smack Sara too. None of this is necessary to her character; she is an idealistic person who retained her belief in the Committee for Social Justice left-wing political party and other progressive causes as she grew into her 30s. She's just not believable as willing to put herself into a man's power, and it would be so easy to have made her more believable by not putting in these lapses into submissive, sexist claptrap. If only she were 'supportive' of Jack rather than "worshipful"!

The other problem this book for me is that I suspected the big denouement about the immortality treatment far before the characters did. Maybe I've just read too much other science fiction about life extension and immortality (particularly Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long stories) and this made me able to guess something that 1969 fans (and the characters) might not think about. But for someone who makes a living asking awkward questions, Jack Barron seemed to miss some really important ones. However, the novel was gripping -- I read it in a day not only because I was sitting in one airport or another most of that day, since I had other books with me, but because the story, the world it's set in, and the characters were truly interesting, despite the problems I note above.