Tag Archive | book review

Book Review: Dragonflight

dragonflight

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey is the first novel written in the series relating to the planet of Pern, written in 1968, but I did not realise that it is quite far along in the Pern chronology.

I chose to read it firstly because it was at the top of my fiction pile, secondly because I read a book by Anne McCaffrey years ago, Black Horses for the King, which I enjoyed, and finally because I am still in the mood for a little bit of fantasy-flavoured escapism.

It was quite different from Pawn of Prophecy which I read last – the writing is far more complex, the language somewhat archaic in places which adds weight to its medieval feel, and the topics more adult-oriented, and the world of Pern was somehow much more solid and easier to envisage, and of course, dragons (top feature – who could resist?).

Warning – contains Spoilers from this point on!

The time travel element was a complete surprise, dragons apparently having the ability to fly ‘between’ times as well as places, although ‘between’ is never quite explained. There is no ‘magic’ in the stories of Pern, so presumably it is either a feature of the planet, or of the breeding of the dragons.

Pern is a planet once colonised by the people of Earth, but hundreds and perhaps thousands of years later they appear to have lost their technology and descended into a medieval-style feudal system with dragons and their riders at the pinnacle of society, although even that tradition has been abandoned until it is realised, almost too late, that the oncoming Red Star threatens the planet with ‘Threads’ – living spore-like creatures of a thread-like appearance that rain down and which can devour and devastate the planet’s vegetation and burn and kill humans and animals alike – in short, their deadliest foe.

I was fascinated by the sexual politics in the book. At the beginning, the tyrant Fax has brutalised his women, his lady Gemma dyin€g in childbirth while he laughs at her predicament, apparently a blessed relief. The heroine – Lessa – is portrayed as a rebellious, foolish girl (although she has tremendous mental power) who must be tamed to submit to her master, F’lar, who shakes her like a child when she disobeys him.

‘Impressed’ (telepathically connected) as they are to their dragons, Lessa’s first sexual encounter – with F’lar – is a violent one, telepathically wrought, via his dragon’s mating with hers. She did not expect or consent to it, had never been informed as to the nature of their joining, and the author admits that, apart from the dragons, it was essentially a rape. That mating affects a marriage which, again, she does not consent to but must simply live with until she does eventually fall in love with him. Sex is barely mentioned though, leaving it up to the imagination to make up the rest (the raciest scene, towards the end of the book, is a single sentence:

“The cloth fell from her body to the floor as she responded to his kiss as ardently as if dragon-roused.”

…and that’s it, which frustration has apparently prompted fans to write erotic fan-fiction love scenes for the characters to fill in the blanks.

As Weyrwoman, connected to the land’s only remaining Dragon Queen, Lessa is the foremost woman in all of Pern, but has no political power, and must suffer the indignity of being ordered around and denied the autonomy of flying her dragon, something over which F’lar does eventually relent, inadvertently enabling her to attempt an audacious time flight into the distant past.

The only other women characters in most of the book are presented as repellent and disgusting in some way – Jora the former Weyrwoman was incompetent, lazy and fat, Kylara is incorrigibly promiscuous and egocentric, Fax’s other women ugly and smelly. I have to wonder whether Anne McCaffrey disliked women in general.

There is a turnaround though, as F’lar eventually has to concede – when Lessa brings forward a whole fighting wing of Queen Dragons and their riders who are ready to join in the battle against the Threads – that Weyrwomen in general and Lessa in particular cannot be tamed or controlled or curtailed by him or any man.

I did enjoy it, although I found it a little bit hard to follow and difficult to get into at first. I know that Anne McCaffrey was criticised over the dragon mating scenes – apparently such rape scenes occur across several of her books – which is obviously a little disturbing, but overall it was a good mixture of science fiction and fantasy and I will probably add some more stories of Pern to my wishlist.

Pawn of Prophecy

pawnofprophecy

The ME/cfs Book club challenged us to read a book we already read, so I just read this again after 20-ish years, and it’s still good! I love David Eddings’ style and the way he weaves all the strands together. But I’m surprised I didn’t go on to read the rest of the series, as it feels as though it ends with a lot of story yet to be told. So I’ll be hunting down the next one and the rest of the Belgariad series, and maybe all of the David Eddings collection.

Garion is the central character in this first book of the series, with no real idea of who or what he is, and his journey from quiet, inconsequential farm boy to consorting with kings and nobles is really a journey of coming-of-age.

The idea of being a ‘pawn of prophecy’, having a plan and purpose that you know nothing of, and having everything happen around you, with the powers that be moving him around the ‘board’ of life, but at the same time not wanting to believe that such things are true or possible, makes Garion easy to identify with, so I’m interested to know what will become of him (although there are plenty of clues, I won’t give it away – the reader knows really, but Garion still hasn’t quite figured it out).

I’m also hoping that, in the next book, Pol will soften a bit and let in some romance with the trusty Durnik who obviously dotes on her. I hope that’s not too spoily. πŸ™‚

Nice, gentle escapism with a wholly believable otherworld of gods, sorcery and deception, although I did find it hard to keep all the characters, gods and nations straight in my mind – who was who and which nation they came from (especially when they started introducing new names!), who was married to whom etc. But David Eddings’ skillful writing had me so immersed, that I felt I was in the places and journeying alongside the characters. One of those books that I’m really sad to finish!

Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction

searching

This doesn’t quite qualify as a book review as it is a book that I read nearly 20 years ago, but I lent it to a friend some years ago and despite my best efforts, did not receive it back, so I decided to treat myself to a new copy.

Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction, edited by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, is a collection of essays introducing the topic of feminist hermeneutics, published in 1993 in preparation for the centenary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s ‘The Woman’ Bible’ in 1995.

I bought it in 1996 as a curious non-feminist. I think I would still place myself in that category. Although I accept the basic idea of feminism – the need for equal and fair treatment for women, I am still not quite comfortable enough with the whole feminism entity (as I understand it) to declare myself a member. Beginning to read it a second time with so many years in between, however, I find that I am more ready and able to understand or at least begin to grapple with some of the arguments.

As a caveat, I must say that I have not read or even seen a copy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s original 1893 book.

When I re-opened the book it fell, appropriately, to Judith Plaskow’s chapter on ‘Anti-Judaism in Feminist Christian Interpretation’. Since this is a subject close to my heart, I thought I would share some of its insights.

Plaskow begins with explaining the significance of Cady Stanton’s book and how, on a basic level, it sought to acquit Christianity by laying its oppression of women at the door of Judaism.

“Anti-Judaism in feminist interpretation signifies both a failure to include all women within its vision and an often unconscious appropriation of anti-Jewish themes and strategies that are as old as the New Testament itself.”

Plaskow talks about the way in which, in order to do this, feminist interpretation unwittingly makes use of quite inappropriately (even patriarchal?) conservative principles of interpretation.

“The claim that ‘Jesus was a feminist’ – a claim first articulated by Leonard Swidler and then taken up by numerous feminist interpreters – can be argued persuasively only on the basis of a negative view of Judaism.”

She outlines some of the ways in which the view of 1st century Judaism as an oppressive patriarchal society is arrived at by picking and choosing sources that seem to agree with that view, whereas there seems to be a lot of evidence for two schools of thought (perhas allied to Hillel and Shammei?) within 1st century Judaism – one of which tended to be more oppressive and the other liberal.

Plaskow also goes on to outline the way in which St Paul’s very difficult, ambivalent attitude toward women is explained away by viewing Paul as being anti-feminist and oppressive in his Jewish identity, but liberal in his Christian identity, a dualism which necessarily ‘others’ Jewish women.

Plaskow says that, with a view to moving toward a more critical feminist hermeneutic, “The first step in eradicating anti-Judaism is becoming aware of its existence, and this means becoming educated about the dimensions of the problem.”

She mentions that “Feminist exploration of Jewish women’s history is a very new field…” – most of the references she gives are essays and articles in obscure periodicals rather than easily accessible books, so I would be interested to know what has happened since the book was published.

In conclusion, Plaskow says that one of the difficulties of dealing with anti-Judaism in Christian feminism is the isolationism, so again I would be interested to know what progress has been made by Jewish and Christian feminists working together since the 1990s.

Searching the Scriptures is a big, meaty volume, nearly 400 pages, so I doubt I will read it from cover to cover in one go – it will keep me occupied for some time, and I will probably dip in and out of it. But Plaskow’s essay has whet my appetite and I will look forward to seeing volume 2 in due course.

Apologies for publishing this blog-post prematurely, and I hope (I can’t see, since I am posting via my phone!) that, having edited, it will all come right in the wash πŸ™‚

I would be interested to hear from reluctant / converted Jewish or Christian feminists, or anybody who can recommend reading in this area.

Read 52: What week are we in?!

I am trying to catch up – I’m very naughty for tending to take on far too much and then finding that it is in fact too much which can lead to a complete crash and ending up achieving nothing!

In addition to my Read52 commitment, I started the Bible in 90 Days on February 1st and I officially started my OU course. I will try to post separately on each of these as time allows.

So two books this last week – The Dyslexia-friendly Teacher’s Toolkit (review on my homeschool blog):
http://lillbjorne.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/book-review-dyslexia-friendly-teachers-toolkit/

And Leadership Secrets of The Salvation Army by Robert A Watson and Ben Brown. I had promised to try and include some fiction, but this arrived in the post and it was un-put-down-able!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1618433156/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?qid=1392124705&sr=8-3&pi=SL75/

I have read a few books on management and leadership but I have to say, none so thrilling or inspiring.

The late, great Peter Drucker described The Salvation Army (in the US) as the most effective organisation, bar none – not even qualifying the statement by saying “the most effective charity or non-profit”, so this book was in response to that statement.

I won’t give away all the secrets, but I will say that they all boil down to having a Mission that is greater than the organisation itself – in the case of The Salvation Army of course, it is to “save the world” πŸ™‚

It’s available in paperback or kindle, so I say to you, go and get a copy right now! πŸ™‚