Libromancer's Apprentice

Libromancer's Apprentice

The reading habits of a bibliovore & Technology Services Librarian
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Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : II. Of Aulë and Yavanna
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien, Ted Nasmith,  Christopher Tolkien

Valanar to me seems almost a Garden of Eden, but Ilúvatar proves rather more benevolent than Yahweh.  Rather than a forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge we have the creation of life.  Which by Christian standards and morals strikes me like the larger transgression.  So Aulë so desired Children to pass on his knowledge to that he formed the Dwarves, and Ilúvatar shows compassion in the face of Aulë's demonstrated humility, awarding the Dwarves a place in the world.  Even if that place comes after a long hibernation so that the Elves can still be the First.  I guess the crime in Eden could be considered Pride, a sin Aulë debased himself against.

The Seven Father of the Dwarves are laid to rest, to reawaken once the children of Ilúvatar come forth.  Perhaps most interestingly is the Dwarven belief of the afterlife, where they go to their maker's halls, and to serve beside im in the remaking of the world after the Last Battle.  While clearly different, it brings to mind Valhallah and Norse concepts of the afterlife.

An odd, and perhaps uncomfortable tension exists between Aulë and Yavanna.  The husband and wife have different passions, his of the working of stone and metal, she of the growing things.  Both of the Earth, but with profoundly different relationships to it.  I can't tell from the wording if Yavanna deliberately withholds her blessing or if because they were birthed without her presence they will have no love for her works.  Regardless of the intent of her words... there's some marital strife.  I feel like Aulë is a little blase, but he has a point as well, whereas Yavanna holds to this idealistic but limited world view.  The world, and song, of Ilúvatar is not one of pure harmony, but one of distinct melodies growing, changing, and at times, conflicting with each other.  Aulë may have been tactless in his remark that his children will need wood, but he spoke only the truth... and not only for that of the Dwarves.

As almost an afterthought, we get mention of what become the Ents and the Eagles.  Yavanna is excited by these spirits, the kelvar and the olvar, that will serve as nature guardians.  But says "only the trees of Aulë will be tall enough."  That is, the Eagles will make their homes in the mountains while the Ents will serve as Tree Shepherds in the forests.  It possesses a fitting symmetry, and the origins of the Ents is one that I've been curious about for some time.

no spoons
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.

I'd be totally OK if this book felt less currently relevant.

Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : I. Of the Beginning of Days
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien, Ted Nasmith,  Christopher Tolkien

In the early days, while the world was still being formed, a powerful spirit came to the aid of the Valar against Melkor, driving him off with his "wrath and laughter."  And thus did Tulkas the Strong come to reside among he Valar and become one of their number.  It also earned him the life-long enmity of Melkor, but let's be honest if you can face down Melkor, earning his enmity isn't exactly a huge surprise or challenge.

Melkor's retreat to regroup and fortify gives everyone else some breathing room, and the Valar take it as an opportunity to tend to the world and bring life and beauty to it.  Two mightly lamps are built, blessed, and set to the North and South (Illuin and Ormal), spreading light across the land.

Illuin: Lamp of the Valar by Ted Nasmith

Then after their labors, they celebrated and rested.  Since no one bothered dealing with Melkor in this time, well, we know where this is going.  While the Valar shaped the world, Melkor was seeding spies among the ranks.  As his stronghold grew in size and fortification, the land around suffered from a blight signaling his presence.  He then attacked before the Valar could track him down and shattered the two lamps.

In the aftermath, the Valar retreat from Middle Earth for the Land of Aman on the westernmost borders of the world, where they raised the Pelori and established their own fortified domain.  There they accomplish works, tending the lands around the Pelori, and bringing into being the two Trees, Silver Telperion and golden Laurelin.  The trees brought light to the realm, waxing and waning in opposing cycles like the sun and the moon.  Blessed trees are a core part of Middle Earth, but none so much as these two, that after an attempt by Melkor to see them destoryed, become the Sun and the Moon.

That Middle Earth did not fall completely to the Shadow before Iluvatar brought forth the Elves and Men is largely thanks to Ulmo, who alone resided outside of their walled garden and ensured that life grew even in the dark places of Middle Earth.  Small measures were made on occasion, largely by Yavanna and Orome, but for the most part I cannot help but feel the Valar failed to fulfill their duty.

The Quendi (Elves) and Atani (Men) are brought forth, beings in a Song not understood by the Valar.  The Valar are not set above the Elves, being instead fellow children of Iluvatar.  Of the two races, the Elves have the closet relationship with the Valar, more of the Earth, destined to walk the world until it dies, and with their purpose after the World's end left secret.  The Men are given curiosity and short lives, destined to join in the Second Music of the Ainur, and remind the Valar of Melkor.

2.5 Stars
[Book Review] The Blind Assassin
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood, Margaret Atwood

I really wanted to do some Atwood, and while much of what she writes is regular literary fiction, some of it does fit within SF/F, or general Speculative Fiction.  I made a deliberate choice not to do The Handmaid's Tale (instead choosing The Core of the Sun), and I didn't really feel like re-reading Oryx and Crake, or using the second book in the series as a book club pick.  So, I stumbled across The Blind Assassin which teased of a historical fiction with a science fiction story intertwined.  So there we go, a June read.

Yeah, I'm writing the review in August.  It took me a bit to get through this one.

I've come to discover that with most of Atwood's novels the first half tends to slog for me, then somewhere around halfway through they pick up and suddenly become significantly more interesting.  That definitely proved true here, at least for my experience.  The "science fiction story" was less than I was hoping for as well, but an interesting vehicle for part of the narrative.

The Blind Assassin starts with the account of the narrator's sister driving off a bridge, and from there wends its way through the Iris' life growing up, a young woman, and as an old woman telling her story before her days run out.  That story includes the illicit meeting of two lovers, one of whom spins fantastical tales of aliens and future civilizations.

I personally felt it was trying to hard to play to one assumption while very clearly being something else all along, and would have liked to have been a little more surprised.  I have to say, while I admire Atwood's literary skill, and am a big fan of some of her work, for the most part I find that Sheri S. Tepper better provides what I'm looking for.

Discussion Fodder:

  • What assumptions/predictions did you make as you read the story?  How did the align with the results?  
  • In what ways does the narrative, and the narrator, attempt to deceive the reader?
  • Does the science fiction story reflect on the lover's lives?  In what ways?
  • How does the story talk about the assumptions and world views we apply to others?
  • Various crimes and accusations are laid at the feet of different characters.  Which are true, how many are convenient targets?
Studying past cultures
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.

One of the things I always find most interesting in far future (or at least far removed from current society and memory) stories is how they interpret fragments of the past.  The lens through which individuals look at artifacts is always colored by their current, something we do ourselves when looking at the past.

A Slavic god goes to a Cuddle Dungeon
Besieged - Kevin Hearne

I'm dying.  This story is amazing.

Save me from Oberon
Besieged - Kevin Hearne

I know he's going to be slightly less obnoxious in text not audio, but this dog is so bloody annoying.

hold in, time to read!
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.

see how this goes, i'm curious

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood, Margaret Atwood

So I feel like there's just too much of an attempt to be clever about the "big secret" of the story.  And the narration and the "ah-ha" moment at points are pretty contrary, yet many of the surprises aren't

Silmarillion Blues : Valaquenta
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien, Ted Nasmith,  Christopher Tolkien

In which the Elves (Eldar) tell us about the Valar and Maiar.

Remember last week when I paraphrased a Bible verse?  Well, we get some Book of Genesis here.

In the beginning... Iluvatar created the Ainur, who made his Music and set forth to fulfill the visions of Earth and Iluvatar's beings within.  Which, we've already covered, so let's keep going into the nitty gritty of pantheons and numerology.  Or at least lightly brush up against them.

Of the Valar, the "angels" and the Ainur on Earth we go from less exciting "beings without sex but their own gender determination" to two nicely matched sets of seven Lords and seven Queens (plus Melkor of whom they don't like to speak).  The Ainur are often viewed as gods, and are at the very least, the intermediaries that are most likely to have any impact on one's life.  They preside over different areas of the Earth, in a manner familiar to Greek mythology, including Manwe and Varda residing in halls in the tallest tower on the highest mountain in all of Earth.

We've already met Varda, or at least her stories and her blessing, under the name of Elbereth.  Elbereth of the starlight and who's essence burns the evil creatures of shadow that are encountered in the Quest of the Ring.

The Valar will come up again, and for the most part I'll have to check their names against an index when they do.

Meanwhile, let's touch in on the Maiar.  I've called the Valar/Ainur angels... which does generally apply, especially if we're looking at a monotheistic world religion.  In that set up the Maiar would be a lesser chorus of angels.  But with Iluvatar existing largely outside of the sphere of Middle Earth interactions, the Valar are half promoted into the deities of a polytheistic world religion with the Maiar as demigods (we'll get to the Istari later).  The Maiar took a more direct hand in the mortal world, dwelling on land, sea, and forest.  We'll be reading more of them going forward.

Lastly, we come to Melkor.  I said this last week, and I'll say it again, he is serious business.  He's not just greatest of the Ainur, but he is enough to stand against the collective Valar, through his own might and through the Maiar that flocked to his banner.  Of those that were drawn to Melkor, one name stands out, that of Sauron, also known as Gorthaur the Cruel.  If Melkor stands as a Lucifer analog, then Sauron is his chief lieutenant roaming the world.

a generally good audio book
Besieged - Kevin Hearne

But dear lord, every time the narrator does the dog's voice I want to smash the speakers.


I'll have to pick up and read the books at some point.

It kind of makes his work even more amazing when you think about it... you don't read Hamlet and think "this man could not avoid stepping in shit every day of his life."
Besieged - Kevin Hearne

Besieged / Kevin Hearne

Reading progress update: I've read 250 out of 521 pages.
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood, Margaret Atwood

I finally came to a bit that really hooked me, been seriously plodding along with only little sparks.


As much as I love Handmaiden's Tale and her shorter works, this difficulty getting through most of Atwood's writing seems to be a pretty regular issue.  :/


For reference, I started reading this in June as a book club pick.  I have since read and reviewed the July pick without finishing this one.

4 Stars
[Book Review] Old Man's War
Old Man's War - John Scalzi

Old Man's War / John Scalzi

July has proven to be a horrible month for me, so I went for a light read as the Virtual Speculation pick.  Old Man's War is a light military SF read, written in a similar tradition of Starship Troopers, but it also manages to act as both a tribute and satire.

Title page of Old Man's War by John Scalzi.  Autographed and snscribed with "Tegan, thanks for the brownies!  You rock!"In general I enjoy Scalzi's work.  Fun, light reads, and he's proven to be a pretty good person as well.  This is the second Scalzi read I've done, the first being Lock-In (which I've still failed to post an actual review of).  I've also met Scalzi several times, the last time being several months ago where, as the inscription on my copy of Old Man's War indicates, I brought brownies to the author event.  In case you were wondering, it was a giant star brownie.  Sadly, I was trying a new recipe for making them from scratch, and it was not my best baking result.  (Sorry, John).

I ended up sitting down and reading the book in three days.  It would have been fewer, but I read another book in the middle of that.  As I indicated, it's not a heavy read.  Almost all aspects of the book is kept relatively light, and you know what, that's exactly what I wanted.

Discussion Fodder:

  • In what ways does Old Man's War compare or contrast to similar military SF (Starship Troopers, The Forever War, others)?
  • What do you think of the logic behind CDF recruitment, and the choice of the recruits?
  • Let's talk about colonialism!  The CDF espouses a pretty strong expansionist policy, one that relies heavily on use of military force against alien races.  How do their arguments stand or fall in the face of more technology advanced aliens?
  • The Ghost Brigades are made up of recruits who die before they receive their new bodies.  How does this change their personal development?  What are all the ethical complications of their existence?
  • What makes something military SF?

It gets really frustrating how hard it is, even when I can request from any library IN MY STATE to find books I want to check out on audio (vs books I'll settle for just to have something to listen to).  What makes it worse is I know I can at least get books from the middle of a new series I'm curious as audio through my library system's OverDrive... but I'm trying to START the series.


*grumble grumble*

Silmarillion Blues : Ainulindalë
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien, Ted Nasmith,  Christopher Tolkien

In the beginning was the Song, and the Song was with Ilúvatar, and the Song was Illúvatar.

Please forgive me the paraphrasing, and regardless of my atheist status, no disrespect is intended.

waves on an empty sea, mountain rising in the distance

The thing is, I cannot read Ainulindalë without thinking of the Bible.  This is going to sound super weird, but I used to read the Bible in church because I was bored out of my mind during the sermon.  Plus one of my college English classes did some readings so I have an Oxford Study Bible living on my shelves with all my folklore, religion, and mythology texts.  I find study of religion, myths, and folklore fascinating, and I don't separate out popular modern religion from those of days past.

Instead, the above paraphrasing is a deliberate invoking of a well known Bible verse to draw attention to mythology parallels within Middle Earth.  And we see many parallels, from the angelic chorus, to the creation of a world for peoples with Free Will, and to the dissension and fall of the greatest of the angels.

The main players are Ilúvatar (the Creator), the Ainur/Valar (angel analogs), and Melkor (the dissident).  Also of note is Melkor's brother, Manwë, who serves as a counter balance of sorts.  That being said, as a counter balance he's not very impressive.  He has almost the entire host of the Valar behind him and barely keeps Melkor in check.  To me the interesting part is Ilúvatar's handling of Melkor, taking his dissonance and making it part of the song.  It doesn't solve the problem, but it shows a balance of sorts.  Even without Melkor there would be strife in the world he created for the Elves and Men, but by having Melkor interfering there becomes greater opportunities for heroism to offset the villainy.

It should be to no one's surprise the role of music in the creation of Middle Earth.  Music is an anchor of all Tolkien's stories and the races within.  So it makes sense that the world itself is literally a musical composition.

One last thing before I wrap this up.  This is probably just me, but this little bit really reads like gender determination as separate from sex characteristics. 

 "But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from the their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby."

I am certain that Tolkien was not thinking about even the concept of transgenderism or gender determination as distinct from sex.  But I find it interesting when these concept appear in older, non-related, literature.