Friday, April 3, 2009
The Dark Volume, by Gordon Dahlquist
(Lotophagi, by Natalie Shau)
The core idea explored in these books (The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and The Dark Volume) relates to what we accept passively as our life, what we strive for only because we've been told that we should. Pitted against such dangerous foolishness is willful identity-- the refusal, even when it makes one look/ feel/ act foolish or irritating, to be something or to strive for something simply because that something has been held up as the highest ideal. There are all kinds of characters striving in this book, and almost all of them almost always seem to be striving towards their very own demise, but there are three whose struggles hold the promise of something other (even as they appear doomed), something original to them, something true: Chang, Celeste, and Abelard.
The glass books present their viewers with a life already created for them, its emotions set, its ideals contained. And "experiencing" such a book does what one would expect it to do: it drains them of their own energy, their own will. The experience of absorbing a glass book is like immersing your head into a toilet filled with billboards, TV ads, and product-pushing movies-- and drowning. Their creators manage, however, to find many willing souls to follow them, by simply appealing to the basic social ambitions they all blindly follow and the desire for "power" they all want but have not stopped to define (therefore they just accept certain token symbols as the thing itself). But the book is not simply a criticism, and it is definitely not written as a whine. It is the introduction of characters who would not live that way, and who will always keep the door open for others to see that there is another way.
That, to me, has always been the mark of the best science fiction or fantasy: first, the writer creates a place in which even more hideous people than we actually have in office have a seemingly undefeatable scope of power, the rules are harsher than they are in our own lives, the world is more polluted, more painful, the characters' options so much more limited, and then he/she creates characters who manage anyway, and believably. They create doorways: not only could we do it now, but we could do it if things were indeed much worse. William Gibson's Neuromancer achieved this, and Idoru. And now the Glass Books series.
The second book takes a darker turn, as the title indicates, and explores both the bits of personal history of the heroes that have darker slants (which is how they end up in the adventure at all, and which are added to by the adventure itself), and also the powerful (and dark) sway of both the Seductive and the Violent in the world around them.
(Three Graces with Knife, Natalie Shau)
"La Danse Macabre", Joanna Chrobak, or, I would say: "Mrs. Marchmoor, Complete with Collar and Your Impending Doom." She is not here shining blue, but I suppose one can't have everything.
The setting being Victorian, the language and behaviors are fantastically suited for an adventure. The language is also very vivid, very visual. The pace is fast, it swept me along, and the characters are people I don't want to leave. The only complaint I have about the second book is that it ends as it does... I am quite unprepared to wait for the man to write the third book, I need it right now.
Below, I'm putting two excerpts where the above ideas are addressed. Note, however, that the book is largely action, and Dahlquist keeps to his habit of changing chapter/character viewpoint right when it drives you most crazy. Masterful suspense.
In this first bit, a character refers to a country he feels is barbaric and then compares it to his own:
"It is a crucible--destruction of men, of men's souls, on such a scale...an idiot can see what drives his enemies, only a rare man perceives what drives himself. But when men and women are bought and sold so openly...one is oneself devalued...yet made wise. In our civilized society we actually compete for the privilege of being owned by the very foulest of masters. As I am from a family of the foul, I know this to be true." (366)
and Miss Temple's thoughts:
"Did she expect to enjoy anything anymore? It was a puling thought, more suited to a helpless lady in a play than Miss Temple's sturdy character, and yet at the core of the complaint lay something very real. She might appreciate incidental niceties--scones, for example--but these seemed merely appetite, an animal's need. Did not pleasure depend on an architecture of perspective--on contrast and delay, withholding and loss? Did not true enjoyment rely on facing the future? Did a cat possess such understanding? Did Miss Temple--in truth, in her soul?
"It was a difficult prospect to swallow, walking alone in the dark. What of substance had she ever wanted--genuinely, not taken by rote from the expectations of others?..."
(Natalie Shau, Carmine)
To understand how the images relate, you'll just sort of have to read the books, but they do express the mood the novels suggest to me.