No patience for fantasy

As a rule I have small patience for works in the fantasy genre. I have not stopped to analyse why; I just tend not to choose to read a work of fantasy, except if it has gotten raving good reviews by people who I trust.

Reading Eco‘s The Search for the Perfect Language has inadvertently provided me with some tools for analysing, though. While telling the story of the search for the perfect language the book also works as a rough catalogue listing different beliefs and concepts ruling the statesmen, intellectuals and the church of Europe, starting with the late Greeks and proceeding through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and into our own time.

This exposé of the evolution of ideas is extraordinary (and quite fun, Eco has a wry sense of humour and I do not agree with those deeming this a “dry” book). He connects the need for different ideological constructs with the economic history of Europe, the development of the nation states, etcetera, all the while telling the reader about one bizarre idea after another – ideas genuinely held as true, at least by the originator, some hundreds of years ago.

And as I said – it also helped me analyse my aversion against a lot of fantasy. Because there, in the clear open, lies a smorgasbord of ‘magical’ concepts commonly used in fantasy novels. Everyone of them justified, historically, by a lack of knowledge and a wealth of imagination, and a basketful of faith, in one god or another (but mainly one in number, lol, whatever the creed of the originator).

Today superstition can’t be justified, at all – it’s just ignorance, or wishful thinking. Of course, most fantasy isn’t about today, or about ‘here’. This means that if the concept is well executed and the characters are nicely done the book can be a highly enjoyable experience. If not it just becomes a hotchpotch with deus ex machina on deus ex machina – it’s just poor writing, nothing more. However famous the author.

Urban fantasy is even worse. It’s supposed to be here and now, with werewolves and demons and whathaveyou (zombies, now, are the worst – don’t get me started…). It’s just so unbelievable and… downright INANE.
I get very sad when authors I otherwise think highly of do this kind of book. Like Guy G Kay did with Ysabel

Most of these books are written as pure ‘entertainment’, many of them utilising the horror trope. I have no problems with that. Entertainment is good, I read a lot of books for entertainment, not to mention watching TV or films. Now, to me, of course, entertainment is not having to wince inwardly twice on every page, like I do when I read a Harry Dresden book. So it’s poor entertainment.

I accept that some people like these things. Everyone to his or her own. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s NOT my cup of tea. At all. And now I know why.
Thank you, Umberto Eco, for that.

Swedish schools breaks the law, and no one cares

Today I got really REALLY upset. Earlier this week my son came home from preschool (which is a kind of preparatory school – every kid has the option to start school one year early, the year they turn 6) singing on a religious song about the birth of Jesus. It certainly didn’t feel good. I’m an atheist, to me religion are important to know but then I mean ALL religions, and schools should not teach what is arbitrary belief.

But. It’s Yule, and Sweden has a strong tradition regarding the singing of carols and such at this time of year – I too did that when I was a kid, and I survived.

Despite this I called the National Agency for Education, to check what the law said regarding this. I had a clear memory of the schools having to be non-confessional, but couldn’t find any information on the subject.
The call confirmed my memory – it’s both in the Education Act and in the Curriculum for the Compulsory School System, which all public schools has to follow.

I decided to talk to the teachers about it, to see how they reacted. My guess was they just hadn’t thought this through. We live in a relatively segregated area, consisting mainly of middle- to high income families, so maybe parents thought this OK.

Then, today, my son came home and told me they had been reading about Jesus, from the Bible, during these past days.

That was when I got upset for real. Did they mention Eid al-Fitr back in September? Chanukha, just recently? No, of course not. They teach the Bible not as a literary reference – I’m not convinced 6 year old kids understand the distinction, anyway – but as a belief system that we all adheres to.

Well – here’s news for you; I’m not!

And – if you’re Christian and reading this. How would you react if your kids came home and told you Mohammed is the true prophet? Or that Jesus is a false messiah?

I’m a great believer in knowledge. I think kids should know that there’s a lot of different ways to look at the world, out there. Without that knowledge they’ll not be able to analyse and understand what’s going on around us.

Forcing a belief – a faith! – on small kids, against the will of their parents, is NOT a widening of knowledge; it’s brain washing. And. In Sweden, it’s against the law.

The school is going to hear from me, believe me.

Snow, at last!

Some of us are dreaming of a white Yule, and perhaps we’ll get one, this one year :-)

Public transport on Lidingö works

This photo was snapped when I walked to the local centre to get something for lunch – I made a wise choice and worked from home today… even if I didn’t know it would end up like this when I made my decision!

Review: Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Some books are well nigh impossible to review. Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is one of them. My reason for this feeling is this is so very obviously the first of the three books in the Mars Trilogy – the stage setting, the laying of the foundation for more to come…

As such it is a good one, I think.

In many ways this is Big Ideas fiction, and I’m an avid fan of every book that makes me think. The grandness of the scale is impressive, a multi-decade storyline involving a lot of people, both as individuals and as pieces in a jigsaw too big for them to fathom. The main characters are mostly scientists, with little idea of how they and their side taking affects the world or how they and their ideas will come back at them, with a political twist.

The way the story plays out is plausible, if depressing, but I am eager to get to know how this social, economic and political experiment will develop.

On the down side this is very clearly about people and systems of people – normally known as “societies” and their close kin “political systems” and “economic system” – and not about individuals. Sure, we follow certain characters, but in a distanced third person, and only for a short while – the story is told from multiple perspectives, and these perspectives shifts every now and then. These characters are there to illustrate different viewpoints and different ideas about who to tackle a situation, and sometimes this is too obvious.

Sometimes the text feels like an embellished piece of non fiction, veritable info dumps that gets no less info dumpish by being real science.

Finally, the text is somewhat dated. It plays out in a reality where the US and Russia were still THE dominant actors. This, honestly, doesn’t bother me much. Politics is politics, just like economics is economics – the name tags are not as important as the actual system, and the basic premise that he stipulates is not that far fetched.

All in all it works quite well and at the moment I’m staring at the door waiting for the next instalment – Green Mars – to be delivered; the SF bookshop was out of stock, so I had to order it from another source. (I do favour brick’n’mortar bookshops, I want them to stay in business, so I try to use those I particularly fancy. No luck this time, though.)

I should say that this is not a book to read as distraction. It needs a focussed mind to work, as evidenced by the fact that I had to put it down for a while – since my previous post here I’ve had planned tonsillectomy, followed by high levels of pain and its mitigator (codeine based painkillers, yuk /but that’s another story/) and what felt like a fried brain. During that time – almost two weeks – I either didn’t read at all, or did feel-good rereads.

I’m very glad that I picked Red Mars up again, as it ultimately was a rewarding read.