Latest readings

The latest few books that I’ve read:

The Odyssey by Homer, in the Robert Fagles translation.  Somehow, I managed to get this far in life without ever reading the Odyssey, other than a kid’s version many moons ago.  The biggest surprise to me was how minor the most famous scenes are in the story.  Rather then primarily being a story about Odysseus’s voyage, most of the action surrounds the loutish suitors who are courting his wife in his absence.  They are eating her out of house and home and generally being a big nuisance.  But Odysseus comes home and, with the help of his son and a pair of loyal servants, brutally kills them all.

And all the famous stuff?  The Cyclops, Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, and so on?  Well, they’re all there.  But they’re covered briefly, taking up a chapter or two in total in a book that goes over 20 chapters.  And even then, they appear only in flashbacks, as Odysseus is telling the story of his wanderings at a place where he stops.  Which is too bad, because I found those parts more entertaining than all the descriptions of loutish suitors.

But the action scenes are pretty spectacular.  That Homer had a way with a good combat sequence.  The scenes were Odysseus kills the suitors are great stuff – they are in keeping with the Illiad (which I first read last year), with some of the best fight scenes that I’ve ever read.  Fairly gory – spears get thrown through skulls, teeth and blood go flying, livers are pierced and mighty men do mighty things.  Really a revelation to me, just how thrilling they could be.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach.  An entertaining romp through the story of scientific investigation into sex, including both the history of the research and coverage of what is going on today.  Roach has an amusing and breezy style, though sometimes she gets a little too irreverent for my tastes.  But the information is endlessly fascinating, and she certainly goes all out to get her story.  (She recounts two cases in which she volunteers as a subject for studies.  Not surprisingly, sex studies don’t allow outside observers, so volunteering is the only way that she can get first-hand knowledge with what goes on.  And so one fine day in London finds Roach and her husband having sex while a doctor monitors what’s happening inside using a sonagram.)  What did I get out of it?  Sex researchers face special hurdles in getting funding, and women are awfully complicated sexually.  Neither of which, come to think of it, comes as a big surprise.

The Sharing Knife, vol 3: The Passage, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I’m a big fan of Bujold’s work – she’s one of the few authors whose every new book I buy without second thought.  Such authors, for me, usually fall under the category of guilty pleasure – a nice quick read for when I’m in the mood for something fun.  Her Vorkosigan Books are high quality character-centric space opera – fine science fiction built around strong, quirky characters.

That said, I’m not quite so fond of her current series.  It’s a fantasy world in which a set of tribes known as Lakewalkers fight an ongoing war against a supernatural foe called Malices that occasionally pop up and cause trouble (think evil demon, or liche to you D&D’ers out there).  Meanwhile, an agricultural society at roughly late medieval tech level is growing, largely ignorant of the battle and hostile to the Lakewalkers (who have their own hostilities to the farmers).  The central characters are a Lakewalker and the farmer girl that he married in the first book.

Some interesting stuff, but not Bujold’s best.  And there’s an awful lot of romance-novel tropes in here – take one look at the covers and you can see it.  But still, overall a quick, fun read.

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