That little word “gratitude”

I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but that seemingly innocuous word ‘gratitude’ makes me cringe.

Often it is used to state that we should be grateful for our general circumstances, implying we have nothing whatsoever to do with them being what they are.

It doesn’t matter that we have a system were we pay taxes aimed at upholding a health care system, or schools, or libraries, or public transport, or housing. We are ‘lucky’ to live under such circumstances and should be ‘grateful’ for being given those things – political decisions or lobbying or public movements had nothing to do with it; it’s all down to luck.

Eh?

Or when we should be ‘grateful’ for being able to do things that in reality is the result of endless hours of practise.

Sorry, I just can’t stand it. It implies we cannot change our lives; we’re subject to fate, a roll of dice, and whatever effort we put into it doesn’t matter, in the end – someone or something else provided us with ‘fortune’, for which we should be ‘grateful’, possibly based on having (or not) led a pious life.

The very anti-thesis to the concept of free will, without which we could just lie down and die, in my opinion.

So. No thank you. I will not every be grateful, and I will continue to cringe when I hear otherwise intelligent people use the word.

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Reread: A Song for Arbonne, by Guy G. Kay

This is my third read of A Song for Arbonne, and this third time, despite knowing what will happen, it hits me just as hard as it did the first time – maybe even more. Despite this I didn’t have it in queue for a reread – there are so many other books to read, out there – hadn’t it been for it being chosen as the next group read at the Green Dragon, the Librarything pub.

As usual with Kay a number intertwined themes are present throughout the book – most prominently themes of loyalty and trust, and of the destructive powers of a monocultural society. The backdrop is a early medieval type of world, with feudal nations or nation states, each small enough to be travelled on horse in a couple of days, and in a precarious balance of powers. We follow Blaise, who first seems to be a mercenary just like any other – the younger son of some noble family, not in line of inheritance and thus not particularly needed – as he after long travels ends up in legendary Arbonne. Coming from the patriarchal Gorhaut he is prejudiced against “women-ruled” Arbonne but as he comes to know both the men and women ruling the river valley he slowly beings to understand and appreciate, if not love, a culture that could not had thrived elsewhere. Had it not been for his background, slowly revealed throughout the tale, this could had been enough. But he soon finds himself embroiled in the kind of politics that define both nations, cultures, and their vessels – the people ruling.

Kay paints an elaborate and believable world were people’s powers and strengths have their limits, in a feudal society were the produce of the land is what ultimately sustains the economy, were even the powerful has draughty windows and cold stone floor, and were death is as omnipresent as life.

Personally I don’t much like the ending. It is a sad one, in more ways than one, even if the characters themselves seems to accept it as a good one. Still, a very good read, and a rewarding one.

Review: Winning Colors, By Elizabeth Moon

When Winning Colors starts Lady Cecelia is slightly miffed to find Heris as the legal owner of her yacht; this as a end result of her family trying to protect her interests while she was in a coma. Cecelia solves this by chartering the yacht, and off they go to pursue Cecelia’s interest in horses – first at the Wherrin Trials and then when she sets out to buy bloodstock for her breeding farm. During the latter they visit a border system that begs for assistance against raiders, and now Heris’ return to Fleet starts, step by step…

Spoiler warning
I actually got a bit disappointed when Moon neatly solves the problem with Heris’ romance with Kinvinnard Petris with “OK, we love each other but being in space/Fleet is more important”. Romance is seldom one of the important driving forces for me, by which I mean that romance isn’t an important component when judging if a book is good or not BUT this romance was introduced in Hunting Party as a reason important enough for the characters not to return to Fleet, so this feels kind of weak.
End spoiler

The parallel thread here is about counterfeit rejuvenation drugs, and about the political implications of the rich staying young and on top forever while their progeny and the working class is held (virtually) in stasis and subjugation resprectively.

Despite this it’s an entertaining and sometimes funny adventure – those who want to skip the politics can just ignore it, while we who want that kind of padding gets our share.

And – finally everything comes together, something that is emphasised by THE END being the very last words of the final paragraph – not what I’d imagined when I started reading Hunting Party about ten days ago, but ultimately very rewarding.

Review: Sporting Chance, by Elizabeth Moon

In this book the adventures that started off in Hunting Party continues. After having talked with the king about the mental condition of his sole surviving son Lady Cecelia suddenly has a stroke, resulting in alleged brain damage, and coma. The family places Heris on the suspect list, after it turns out Lady Cecelia had added her to her will, giving her the yacht. Alienated she accepts a mission to take the prince to the Guerni Republic for a medical assessment. To do this she has to ‘steal’ Lady Cecelia’s yacht… and also to let others try to handle Cecelia’s situation.

So, what do I think? It’s a good adventure story, and we also get to know a little about the space that surrounds the Familias Regnant. The young folks gets more time on stage, too, and when that happens this story definitely retains that air of Famous Five also present in Hunting Party. Those bits are not my favourite, and personally I would had liked Heris’ character getting some more flesh, so to speak. But it’s a well wrought piece of entertainment and right now that matches my mood and energies quite well.

Sometimes that’s all you wish for :D

Review: Hunting party, by Elizabeth Moon

What can I say? Some time ago I decided I should try something by Elizabeth Moon. Most of her books are available in omnibuses, but as I had no idea if I’d like her writings or not I only bought the first of the Serrano books, as a try-out.

Heris Serrano is born to a family consisting of Admiral upon Admiral, and when she gets expelled from the Fleet it’s a major hurt for her. To support herself she takes hire as a space-yacht captain to the eccentric Lady Cecelia de Marktos. She expects a dull life to follow but if such had been the case there had been no story to tell. Instead there are smugglers, staged fox hunts and a nasty ‘accident’ or two, and in the end Heris reconciles with the fact that from now on she’s a civilian.

Did I like it? Yes. I read the last of Hunting Party at 01:30 AM yesterday, and today I skipped by the Science Fiction Bookshop (I try to support brick’n’mortar bookshops) to get parts two and three. So I guess that means I liked it ;-)

Do I hope it will get better? Yes. Because part one – Hunting Party – feels more like a setting up of the stage than anything else; promises for things to come, but not altogether delivering as a standalone novel.
As a matter of fact it made me think of Enid Blyton‘s “Famous Five” series. Not very deep or layered; we get to follow a group of characters rather than one or two individuals; straightforward plot without any surprises, yet entertaining and reasonably well written.
Not that I’ve read the Famous Five since I was a kid, but this one was entertaining without demanding anything special of the reader in just the same way I remember from my childhood and a summer spent in the hammock, reading.

I do recommend it to everyone who enjoys light yet well-crafted books in the military/space opera sub-genre of science fiction. There are more complex stories out there (might dare I mention Cherryh?!) but this is nonetheless worth it’s time.