books

Libraries Revisited

I like reading books about libraries. The best of these is probably this one because it balances, but there are many, many wonderful pictures with a complete history of the content and the buildings that made up libraries all over the world, both ancient and modern. Interestingly, it is also entitled The Library (although the main difference with today’s subject is the fact that the earlier book also had a subtitle: A World History).

I also enjoy reading chattier, more personal, history of bibliophile things and in this sense, Nicholas Basbanes Patience and Fortitude is a good bet, and a nice thick book that will keep you entertained for some time. If your own library is in any way quirky or fun, you’ll like this one.

Today’s work is a much lighter read than either of these two, but that isn’t entirely a bad thing.

The Library – A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells is one of those cases in which a book is perfectly described by its subtitle. The “Catalogue of Wonders” part immediately brings to mind those cabinets of curiosities that wealthy private individuals used to have. These so-called cabinets (they were sometimes rooms) could contain anything the person found of interest, from stuffed birds to shrunken heads.

This book is kind of like that. It’s not a chronological history of the evolution of the library (although it does give a well-researched glimpse into that), but a collection of eclectically arranged chapters that tell of major things that befell or happened in libraries. So one chapter might give an evolution of medieval libraries while another might talk about imaginary libraries in literature (of course, Eco’s is in there, but so are the ones from LotR, and Kells shows himself to be a bit of a Tolkien scholar).

It’s actually a perfect book for those who either have already read the two mentioned previously or for those who don’t want to invest the time you’d need to do the others justice. At slightly under 300 pages, the Kells is the perfect length for the casual reader while having enough new anecdotes and stories to be a delight for those who’ve read the other volumes.

Heartily recommended to book lovers everywhere!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Love and Death is a single story made up of many stand-alone shorts. The characters deeply affect each others’ lives, often without ever knowing the others exist. You can check it out here.

A Crown Imperiled – Nearing the End of Another Great Series

It’s kind of sad if you think about it. All the great fantasy series I picked up in my early teens are coming to a close, and some of the authors have died (and now Terry Goodkind has died, too).

The Riftwar Cycle, likewise, came to a close in 2013 and, although I’ve yet to read the last book, I’ve just finished the one before that.

This installment was just another reminder of why this series has always been pretty much my favorite. Though, like most of its contemporaries, it’s composed of thick volumes of well-described and gorgeous places, it doesn’t overdo the description and every single volume is packed with more action that books twice the size by other authors.

That doesn’t mean that character development is neglected. Quite the opposite: Feist’s characters are memorable indeed, and truly make the books. While they aren’t in the same league psychologically as GRRM’s or Nabokov’s, they are more than real enough to carry a fantasy adventure series.

I have already ordered the final volume, and will be saddened when I finish reading it… knowing Feist, it’s going to a be a blood-drenched, explosive finale.

My reflection here is… what is replacing these series? I’ve seen a lot of very different kind of thing out there, but very few of the doorstop fantasies that worked so well to bring–and keep–readers in the genre. I’m sure there’s a big market for traditional fantasy based on medieval Europe with magic and evil orcs. Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but sometimes things are cliché precisely because people love them. I know Sanderson and Farland have series out there… but not sure what else worth notice is available. I need to get up to date on Terry Brooks, too.

Anyhow, if you haven’t heard of Feists Riftwar books, you’re in for a treat. Grab magician and read. You can thank me when you’re done.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book, Test Site Horror, is about Russian special forces troops attempting to survive the escape of genetically modified dinosaurs. You can have a look here.

Zombie Novellas x 2

Those following news of my writing adventures will recall that my latest book was Jungle Lab Terror (news to come on that front soon!). Well, the world isn’ t all about solo novels. And though I normally don’t talk about my shorter work here (there would be too many posts about my own writing, which is not the point of this particular blog), I make an exception for novella-length work (mainly because novellas take a long time to write, so I’d love for people to read them!).

For those unaware of what a novella is, it’s a narrative length that falls between a short story and a novel. It’s said that these are the ideal length for speculative fiction because they give the author space to build their world without using genre shorthand and assuming the reader is familiar with the tropes.

Anyhow, I’ve recently published a couple of these in three-novella works along with two other writers.

The first is Sha’Daa Zombie Park, in which my novella is the middle story, sandwiched between the work of two writers I admire a lot: Eric S. Brown and Jason Cordova.

For those of you unaware of the concept, the Sha’Daa series is a long-running shared world project that has had countless spectacular writers involved over the years… and it’s a huge honor to be a part of a “reduced” antho. The central concept here is that, once every 10,000 years, the gates of hell open up and evil sweeps the Earth. These three take place in Central Park, and there are zombies… lots of zombies.

My second novella also contains a zombie story, this one taking place in the same universe as my novel Ice Station: Death. Unlike the Sha’Daa series, these are unlinked, and Foul Womb of Night is the first volume in the Midnight Bites anthology.

The other authors, likewise, are new, which means that, when I get the time to read the book, will be an extra treat.

Best of all, there are zombies galore in this one, too, and the Antarctic setting pits the heroes against both the undead and the elements. Only the reader will have a good time in this one.

Anyway, if you do buy one of these (and I really think you’ll like them), let me know what you think!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. He owns no cats, which is officially frowned upon by the Guild of Real Writers, but he promises to hold the line for all other non-cat-people.

A Different Look at Early Feminism: The Bostonians

Back when I did my review of A Room of One’s Own, I commented that political discussion seemed to be much more intelligent back then and, in consequence, less annoying than our present day state in which people on the other side of the argument need to be unfriended, because politics.

Apparently, I spoke too soon.

Henry James is probably best known for A Portrait of a Lady, but in The Bostonians, he ridicules the political obsessives of his own day, which in this case was the late 1870s. That he choses the female emancipation movement is probably not representative of James’ own political leanings, but more that he needed a political movement that made itself utterly obnoxious for an extended period of time. Feminism appears to have been that movement on that day.

Despite Virginia Woolf’s well thought out and beautifully delivered speech that formed the basis for A Room of One’s Own, we were naive in stating that this was an era of intelligent political discussion. Woolf did not represent her movement’s rank-and-file, or even the day-to-day organizers. She was a superstar in a different field brought to impart wisdom… and she succeeded.

But that daily membership was just as subject to ridicule as your friend who wears the MAGA hat and drinks bleach to kill microbes or your communist buddy who insists that the Soviet Union wasn’t “real socialism” and that all historical evidence of the failure of socialism is caused by either aliens or corporate conspiracies.

Here, the victim of Henry James’ satire is a young fanatic feminist who may (or may not) be a lesbian. She lives and breathes for the movement to such an extent that she ends up hating all men… which is no less adolescent in 1870 than it is today.

Making things even more delightfully ironic, her antagonist is a southerner, a man who recently fought on the losing side of the Civil War… and whose views are decidedly conservative–and who James also satirized and turns into a caricature.

The stakes are the heart of a woman who is the most original and persuasive feminist speaker the movement has yet discovered and, unlike others, is young and beautiful to boot. The Southerner wishes to win her hand, while the feminist wants to keep her in the movement (which she will abandon if she becomes the Southerner’s wife).

I won’t spoil this one by telling you who wins, except that no one comes out smelling like a rose… and that it paints a portrait of the politics of the time which allows us to see that even the suffragist movement, which managed enormous good was, at its core, populated by the same sad fanatics we see today.

Interesting stuff, and a good way to immerse oneself in the day and age.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans the range from literary fiction to historical fantasy. His most mainstream novel is a thriller entitled Timeless which combines a fast-paced international-crime-driven plot with the inherent sexuality of a young globe-trotting journalist to create something unique and absorbing. You can check it out here.

Why Space Opera is so Much Better than Dystopian SF

We live in a world that seems to love its dystopias. From television shows about zombies to near-future resource-constrained novels to the sudden rediscovery of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a crappy book that resonates with certain forms of gloom-and-doomism, it’s in vogue to consume media that tells us how awful everything will be.

The world, critically acclaimed media tells us, will be awful, and humanity will be trapped on Earth, never to leave again.

Of course, it isn’t actually obligatory to consume dystopian SF. While it’s difficult to escape it, there are good things on the shelves at your local bookstore and even, if you make the effort to look for it, on TV.

And while I can’t explain the popularity of depressing SF that takes place on Earth, I can tell you the name of its fun, inspiring antidote: Space Opera.

Now space opera doesn’t have to be Stars Wars cheesy. It can be technologically awesome, like Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space cycle, political, like Iain M. Banks Culture novels, or idea-driven in the tradition of Asimov or Heinlein. Hell, there’s even Eco-space-opera in the form of Dune.

It’s superior to the dystopian stuff for several reasons. The first, of course, is that it’s much more fun to read. Not only is the imagination liberated, but these tend to show humanity at its best, encountering and overcoming challenges on a galactic scale, as opposed to small-mindedly obsessing over the problems of one planet. It takes a very small mind indeed to feel threatened by the possibility of humanity spreading its wings; most people will be uplifted by this subgenre in ways that seldom happens in pessimistic portrayals of an earth-only future.

If you want proof of this concept, just walk down to your local bookstore. You’ll find Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Herbert, Niven, etc. well represented despite the fact that they created their best work forty years ago in the best of cases, seventy in the case of Foundation… The problem is that those books still attract the kind of reader that was attracted to science fiction in the first place, while the recent crop of dull, politicized dystopia is only good for as a sleeping aid for insomniacs. (recent space opera is much more likely to be on shelves in 50 years than the tripe winning most awards…).

The second reason Space Opera is better is that it is actually more likely to come to pass. While no one should be a climate Pollyanna, the truth is that humanity, through thick and thin, has always advanced technologically. Some of the forthcoming challenges will be tough, but they will be overcome. Moreover, humanity is finally pushing towards colonization of space and that is the kind of barrier that, once broken, crumbles like a piece of stale bread. We will be out there in numbers, very likely within our own lifetimes. So any climate apocalypse tale that doesn’t have a significant human space presence is just silly. I’d shelve it under fantasy and not SF.

Finally, the attitude of the writers is a turn-off in many dystopian books. These volumes are often a reflection of the fears that capitalism and individualism are destroying the planet. While one may agree or disagree with that sentiment, the kind of obsession with it that drives someone to actually pen a novel to show how badly it will end don’t necessarily make for someone in whose head you want to spend a few hundred pages.

They are, in fact, obsessed enough to ignore the fact that living standards have been steadily rising worldwide for the longest time. I recommend The Better Angels of Our Nature for the science and numbers that pretty much conclusively prove it. But not for our poor, angry content creators – they need the world to be going down the tubes, because if not, they’re wrong about everything.

But the technical considerations and political annoyances are secondary. The bottom line is that Space Opera is just more fun, and we read and watch science fiction to be entertained, not to be preached at.

So go forth and buy something fun for a change. It probably won’t have won a Hugo but if you’ve been following the Hugos lately, you know that that no longer matters (caveat, if I ever win a Hugo, you can take it as a given that I was drunk while writing this and that the Hugo represents the very pinnacle of literature of any kind. But until that enormously unlikely event happens, I stand by the above).

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who writes a certain amount of Space Opera both in short and long form. His well-received novel Siege is a far-future space opera in a very dark galaxy. You can check it out here.

The Allure of Beautiful Libraries

Those of you following along at home are probably aware by now that I have a thing for libraries, particularly beautiful ones. My home bookshelves are an eclectic mix of fine editions and ancient destroyed paperbacks, with most of the better books being “keepers” of which I bought a decent copy to replace a paperback that was falling to pieces.

Besides my own book buying tendencies, I also love reading about libraries, especially when it’s a lavishly illustrated book about them.

So it should come as no surprise that one of my dreams in life is to own a truly spectacular walk-in library with hundreds of meters of shelving. Those familiar with the Abbey Library at Saint Gall will understand the concept, but I never did like the aesthetics of these cold–albeit imposing–abbey libraries.

For myself, I much prefer the coziness of an English country house style library and study. It just seems a better kind of surrounding for a modern polymath. All right, it might be a bit of an antiquated concept, and the gentleman scholar a bit of a cliché, but I find that it fits my self-image better than most everything else. I’ve been accused of being a little elitist, but I maintain that I’m a gentle example of the breed.

CMC 39

So if I ever get one of these, you’re all invited to discuss literature, art and pretty much anything else that comes to mind in the feast of reason.

You’ll certainly find me happy.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose novel Ice Station Death is a look at what could happen if prehistoric creatures resurfaced in Antarctica and encountered an expedition. It’s a fast-paced romp where enemies take many forms: monsters, weather and, perhaps worst of all, other people. You can check it out here.

Book Collecting for Non-Collectors

Summer 2018 Fine Books & Collections

I’m not a book collector.

Well, I am in the sense that I have hundreds of books on my shelf, and that I love to possess books that are important to me in beautiful editions.  But I’m certainly not the kind of person who cares whether a book is a first edition, first state copy with the missing semicolon on page 59.  I prefer to have a nice copy I can read than a million dollar edition from 1814 (if you’re going to give me a gift, however, please send the million dollar edition… I’ll buy my own nice copy and keep the change after the auction).

So, perhaps I am not the target consumer for a magazine entitled Fine Books & Collections.  And yet, I look forward to its arrival every quarter more than anything else I subscribe to.

Why?  I suppose it’s because the magazine is much more than just about collectible books.  It’s about books in general, especially old ones, the history of the book, artwork, maps, covers, typesetting and pretty much anything else that might have the most remote connection to books.  It’s the most culturally interesting publication I’ve seen that doesn’t fall over the edge into specialist reading that requires either thirty years of accumulated knowledge to enjoy.  Anyone can pick it up and fall in love.

A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes

So perhaps there’s a reason I enjoy this one, but why did I love the book A Gentle Madness, written by the magazine’s editor, Nick Basbanes, so much?  On the surface, it seems like something for the true collectors: a detailed look at some of history’s major bibliophiles and the story of how their collections came to be.  If someone pitched that at me in an elevator, I’d say… So, a book about a bunch of boring rich old guys?

Well, many of them were both rich and old, but this book was anything but boring.  The passion (obsession?) driving the creation of some of the world’s foremost collections, and the… let’s say eccentricity… of the principals makes this one an absolutely riveting read.  I couldn’t put it down, something that doesn’t often happen to me with nonfiction titles.  There’s everything in here from magnates to thieves, and it should appeal to basically anyone who’s ever coveted a book.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy knowing that there’s at least one hobby that turns normal people into madmen that you haven’t fallen victim to.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He is currently writing a book that takes place in the same universe as his novel Outside.

 

Beyond a Few Statues

Statue of Lenin Dropped

If you were alive in 1989, then you remember the end of socialism.  Millions of people decided that individual freedoms were more important than collective security and, defying humorless men with guns, brought down nearly every government in Eastern Europe.

One of the lasting images burned into the retinas of those of us glued to CNN was that of statues of socialist leaders being pulled down all across the region.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  The destruction of a few statues was not enough to destroy the idea of socialism, and, twenty years later, the world is awash with left-leaning ideas that cover the spectrum from slight sacrifices in personal freedom in the name of more equality for vulnerable populations to full-blown communism.  Socialism clearly isn’t dead.

Why?  Well, because the statues weren’t socialism, and neither was the Berlin Wall.  Socialism is a collection of ideas about how society should be structured in order to achieve a certain number of goals.  These ideas range from making capitalism a little more “fair” to doing away with the capitalist system altogether.

And these ideas don’t live in statues.  Statues are about power, but ideas live in books.  That’s why socialism didn’t die when everyone thought it had: those books stayed on the shelves and eventually a new generation of activists and scholars rediscovered them.

The above seemed a timely reminiscence, as today’s review is about Gone with the Wind.  The book, not the movie.

Why timely?  Because, as I write, there has been a very recent series of high-profile removals of Confederate statues from public spaces in the US, mainly of General Lee.  These removals took place in a highly polarized climate, but were undeniably driven by a large number of people (although they were probably also opposed by an equal number… as one can imagine, reliable numbers in today’s media climate are hard to come by).  Protesters and counter-protesters clashed, with violent and even tragic results.

Perhaps the problem is that both sides seem to have forgotten the lessons of 1989.  No one cared about the statues until they became front page news; they were just part of the urban landscape, and I’d have been willing to bet that most could not have told you who the guy on the horse was until everything hit the fan.

But the ideas?  They exist.  In the case of the Confederacy there is a structured case for why it existed: broadsides, pamphlets, letters and even the constitution are in university archives.  But these documents are not the ones that keep the idea of the Old South alive for its proponents.  Popular media does that job.

Perhaps the most virulent example of propaganda in that respect is a film: Birth of a Nation.  It tells the story from the Southern side, and no matter where your sympathies lie, you end up feeling strongly for the characters.  Yes, time has passed it by and the premise of the “Ride of the Klan” is cartoonish and grotesque, but the film is very well done all the same.  In fact, it is considered one of the true greats of early film.

More subtle is Judge Priest, where folksy Will Rogers shows us how it’s done without beating anyone over the head with it.

Gone with the Wind Paperback

There are countless other examples, mainly from the twenties and thirties when mass media was working up some serious steam, but the biggest seller of the idea of the Old South was clearly Gone with the Wind.

The film… was just a Hollywood blockbuster, and not really a propaganda piece (despite never questioning the nobility of the Confederate cause), but I’d argue that the book is the Old South’s Communist Manifesto.  It’s impossible to read this brick and not feel truly moved by the plight of every single Southern character (except Scarlett–she’s unbearable), and feel a deep sense of loss for a way of life that ended in blood and fire.

I don’t read books with an eye to the politics, which meant that I approached this simply as a book (and a romance at that), which meant that, until I sat down to write this review, was only concerned with the story itself and the plight of the characters.  The fact that it also contains a good blow-by-blow account of what was happening in the war made it doubly interesting for anyone who enjoys history (and if you’ve read our manifesto, you know we do).

By the end of the book, I felt truly sorry for what the characters had to live through… and also pined for the society that existed at the beginning of the book.  Granted, it only takes a little bit of analysis to recall that the gentrified lifestyle existed on the back of a slave economy but I postulate that most casual readers will not do the exercise of analyzing this and will walk away with a deep sense of loss.

I’ll go one step further: I will categorically bet that no one who picks up this book purely for pleasure will do this analysis.  The people who are sensitive to the issues it raises will either avoid it or read it for study purposes, not for fun.

Perfect propaganda.

So what to do with it?  It’s still selling very well, so it’s not going to go out of print anytime soon (and the Kindle is bringing it to a completely new audience).

So, ban it?  Burn it?  Try to pressure the publisher into canceling the next huge print run?

Or perhaps just accept that ideas can’t–and shouldn’t–be killed?

Whatever happens, it should be an interesting battle to watch.