Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Godmakers - Frank Herbert


Lewis Orne is something of an outsider, born on the unimportant planet Chargon of Gemma and alienated from his family, he has always dreamt of becoming an insider, one of the favoured.  He begins by joining the Rediscovery and Re-education Service, bringing civilization back to plants knocked back to barbarism by the Rim Wars, then transfers to Investigation and Adjustment, dies whilst trying to adjust the bloodthirsty Gienahns, then, on recovery, is sent to the holy planet of Amel where the Abbod and his initiates have set about making a god.

This is my first Frank Herbert novel.  Obviously I know about Dune and have a copy ready to read, but thought I'd start with something much shorter.  You can tell Herbert's quality straight away - the way, for example, he uses fake epigraphs to get much dry exposition out of the way, then makes you read them because it soon becomes apparent that's where all the clues are to understanding what's going on.  The characters are interesting, the monsters horrible, and the way religion becomes political all too relevant.  I enjoyed it on all levels.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All - Allan Gurganus

 Phew! Took me four weeks to read but, overall, it was worth it.

For a first novel, with a rotten title and almost 900 pages, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All was a massive best seller in its day.  It spent 8 months in the US charts and was adapted into a TV mini series (of which this version was the tie-in) and ultimately a one-woman stage play.  It is the story of Lucy, 99 years old and living in a residential home, and her marriage to a veteran three times her age.  So far, so Little Big Man, and that, I admit, was what drew me.  In fact it is very different because Lucy tells tales, mainly the tales her old man told when he was elderly and a fixture on the speaking circuit.  There are also her tales, and those of her former slave friend Castalia, all told in the voices of the characters.  Lucy then tends to undercut these yarns with the truth, or at least the truth as she sees it.  And so about 150 years of Southern US history is covered.  The main event is Sherman's trail of burning mansions, including the one Lucy's husband should have inherited.  His mother burns in it too, but survives, horribly burnt, and hers is perhaps the most affective tale.  It all ends with a twist I did not see coming. I got frustrated with the reading time involved but I have to recommend it. These characters will linger in my mind a long time and my own work will inevitably be influenced.