Thursday, 13 December 2007

Travel: Los Angeles

Following a conference in Newport Beach, Elaine and I are taking the opportunity to visit her mother in Los Angeles prior to heading back east for the holidays. Thus far, we've visited a number of old haunts, including the refurbished Griffith Observatory, Chinatown, and a number of other spots. We still haven't visited Santa Monica or the L.A. County Museum of Art yet, those are to follow soon.

Prior to moving to Virginia, I lived here for six and a half years (during college and immediately afterward). Elaine lived in L.A. off and on for most of her life prior to moving east. As she pointed out, it feels on some level like home for her. Although it's more like "a home" rather than "home" outright for me, I see her point.

Weather, cultural events, bookstores and beaches notwithstanding, the sprawl, the traffic, the unwalkability of it all makes me look forward to being back in Stornoway at the end of the month.

Review: "Farnham's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein

I ran into a friend at a conference in California, he recommended "Farnham's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein, but pointed out that he had repeatedly failed to make it through the work (I now understand why, in addition to race issues, there is a conversation between father and daughter that most would read as "creepy").

The work deals (as much of the best Science Fiction does) with the end of the modern world and the beginning of something new. Heinlein in particular has used this device at least three times (in this work, in "The Doorway into Summer", and in "For Us the Living: A Comedy of Manners"). "Farnham's Freehold" reminded me most closely of "The Doorway into Summer". The main character in each travels back and forth through time, allowing a dual comparison in which the man of the present makes sense of the future and in which the man of the present, aware of the future, returns to make sense of the past.

The future in which Farnham finds himself inverts the historical race division of the United States such that whites are now slaves whose lives are controlled absolutely by "The Chosen" (who are the dark-skinned ruling class primarily of African descent). Whether you enjoy this book may boil down to the spirit in which you believe the work was written. If (as I do), you believe the work is a study in the tendency of power to corrupt, and the willing ignorance of the dominant culture of the abuses their power lends itself to, then the work is enjoyable. If instead you believe (as I have read elsewhere) that the work is an exercise in validating negative stereotypes, then at best you probably won't get much out of it, and at worst you may actively dislike the work and by extension the author.

If you want to find more discussion about the book, I'd suggest starting with the "Farnam's Freehold" entry in Wikipedia.

Review: "The Stornoway Way" by Kevin MacDonald

On the trip across the Atlantic, I picked up a copy of the "The Stornoway Way", written by a Stornowegian author about Stornoway and Lewis. Through the character of R. Stornoway, we are treated to a choice selection of hard-drinking, devilish characters, all tinged with recognizable bits of the town in which (and island on which) Elaine and I live.

Like the main character in "Filth" by Irvine Welsh, R. Stornoway is at times hard to take, cruel to those around him, self-destructive. However, R. Stornoway has his genuinely romantic moments, and is thus much easier to sympathise with. The work as a whole is less an exercise in masochism for the reader than "Filth", which is a bit of a relief.

All in all, I'd say someone with a dark enough sense of humor and sympathy for somewhat unlikeable characters will hopefully get something out of it.

Review: "The Mauritius Campaign" by Patrick O'Brien

I read a lot when I travel, so there will be a quick flurry of mini-reviews of recent conquests...

I just finished the next novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series. Satisfyingly, each novel manages to build on the last without taking much for granted. "Mauritius Campaign" is no exception. In it we find Jack Aubrey moving out of his long-awaited domestic "bliss" and into the rank of Commodore. Maturin also plies his skills on a somewhat larger stage, and it is interesting to finally see him interact with a skilled (if flawed) peer whose medical expertise is more in the field of psychology.

Suffice to say, an enjoyable read, I plan to continue with the series after taking a wide detour through a bunch of Science Fiction.