Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another set of excerpts from BzzAgent and Penguin. The only one I liked enough to talk about is Charlaine Harris's Grave Surprise, the second in a series starring Harper Connelly as a woman who can supernaturally find bodies, or if their location is known tell how the person died. I haven't read the first book, but I have enjoyed Harris's Southern Vampire series starring Sookie Stackhouse as a Louisiana waitress who has a lot of vampires and similarly supernatural creatures in her life. This series seems to be set in a more normal setting, meaning that Connelly is surrounded by people who may not believe in the supernatural (rather than the supernatural being accepted as it is in the other series) and closer to a sort of detective story, though most detectives can't actually sense when they have found a buried body. The excerpt I got (the first four chapters, 68 pages) definitely made me want to read the rest of the book and find out what happens, or what happened, since the book opens with the discovery of a modern body in a centuries-old cemetery where Connelly is giving a demonstration of her ability for a college class.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I've been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold since I read her book Barrayar serialized in Analog magazine in, I think, 1992. That was science fiction, of course (or it would not have been likely to be in that magazine) -- the story of Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony dealing with her new husband Aral Vorkosigan's backward home planet of Barrayar and the harsh politics of the aristocracy she's married to.

Bujold's newest, Beguilement (The Sharing Knife, Volume 1) is a fantasy novel, but it has a lot of similarities to Barrayar. It is, essentially, the story of a man from one culture and a woman from another figuring one another and developing a relationship. Here, though, it is magic rather than technology that forms part of the difference between Dag, a patroller from the Lakewalkers, and Fawn, a girl from an ordinary farm in a medieval or Renaissance-equivalent world. The other difference is that the Lakewalkers are a mobile force that protects people against soul-sucking monsters, and the rumors about Lakewalkers among the rest of the population suggest that they're nearly as bad as the creatures they fight.

The comparison that actually came to my mind after finishing this novel was to Jean Auel's historical (or more accurately pre-historical) Earth Children's books, the series that started with Clan of the Cave Bear and continued with The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, and The Shelters of Stone (with one more eventually due). While Bujold is only supposed to make two volumes out of The Sharing Knife (and boy, is it obvious that the end of this first volume is far from the end of the story), the coming together of two people who originate in different cultures with deep distrust or even fear of each other is common to both authors' series. I found the views inside the main characters' heads to be very interesting as they figure out how to interact with each other and those who are close to their new friend, and Bujold's settings to be very well-thought-out and believable (so is Auel's, except for her tendency for Ayla and Jondalar to be the center of every new invention or advance in the entire prehistoric world, but then Auel has archeology to rely on while Bujold has to create everything). I will definitely read the sequel to Beguilement as soon as it is available.

A completely different kind of story is found in Julia Fox Garrison's memoir Don't Leave Me This Way: or When I Get Back on My Feet You'll Be Sorry, the story of the stroke she had at the age of 37 and the process of trying to get as much of a normal life back afterwards as possible. There are a lot of autobiographical books about recovering from physical problems, but this one has a black humor that isn't often seen in such "inspirational" stories. Nicknaming the professionals she deals with "Dr. Jerk" and "Nurse Doom," cursing at the aide who reprimands her for trying to get a drink of water during a transfer out of bed, and generally refusing to be treated like a child or an idiot, Ms. Garrison is much more how I would expect a normal human to act under the difficult circumstances of suddenly being half-paralyzed, and that makes her more interesting to read about than a saint who accepts every difficulty quietly. She makes jokes with family, friends, and hospital/rehab center staff and only cries in private, and so the doctors (and even one friend) feel she's in denial, rather than just trying to salvage a bit of dignity. This is difficult in a place where the start of menstruation makes the nurse get a diaper rather than a tampon. But Garrison is persistent and refuses to accept blanket predictions as to her future, and indeed is able to fight those of her doctors who want to push her into treatments for conditions she hasn't been shown to have. (And she and the one doctor who treats her like an adult turn out to be right, too.)

Coming home to her husband and preschooler son is not the end of difficulty, either. Her problems include dealing with a wheelchair, needing help in the bathroom in public places, not having her driver's license automatically revoked, and her husband having to be her caretaker ("The insurance company is unwilling to offer home nursing unless there is no other avenue for household needs. In other words, if you have relatives, you don't need a nurse.") Just making a bed is a major triumph. Getting more physical therapy than the doctors and insurance companies want to offer is a long battle. But she walks again, cooks again, and does nearly all the things that she was originally told she would never do again. Not everything -- eventually she accepts that she and her husband will not have any more children, for example. But her achievements make her an impressive example, and her advice at the end of the book on how to deal with medical professionals (and her open letter to doctors asking for patients to have an equal voice in the treatment of their own bodies) is a truly nice touch.