Sunday, November 28, 2010

hornet's nest

So I finished! I just finished up reading the The Millennium Trilogy, by the late Stieg Larsson. As everyone probably knows by now, the last in the series is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and I'll add my two bits to the endless number of folks who have already written about this series. Lazy, four-day holiday weekends are sweet.

Larsson brings the female hero--heroine, if you prefer, or anti-hero as I've said in my reviews of the first two books--to the fore of the narrative by opening parts of this book with stories and myths about the Amazons. Larsson's Salander represents this legendary female warrior, who struck fear into the hearts of men, and accentuates the prevalent contrast between power and femininity by making Salander a tiny, sprite of a woman. He revels in the satisfaction of watching men laugh her off when they see her, to their unfailing dismay, when they realize, much too late, that they have not only met their match in the 90 pound woman, but their better.

This book, while it does address issues raised in the first novel, seems more like the second part of The Girl Who Played With Fire. The first is a stand alone, and if you didn't read anymore, you'd probably be satisfied. The second leaves you hanging, and wanting to come back and read the third. Intentional? Maybe, but it probably means that neither of these last two would be a very satisfying read on their own.

The scope of this novel also broadens, and begins to tangle with a series of real political scandals in Sweden in the recent past, and there is a note in the backmatter explaining these scandals--as they are sometimes referred to in an explanatory way in the text--so us foreign readers can follow along.

Satisfied? Yes. Have that creeping feeling that there is more to the story, and wishing that it could go on and on? No.

That being said, there are reports that Larsson had a fourth novel under way, and ideas for a total of perhaps ten novels in this series. How much time before someone decides its a good idea to finish the fourth, or perhaps even take a shot at some of the others? I guess we can't stop the marketing machine, but we can ignore it when it tries to foist crap on us. I would be more interested in an unfinished novel, but maybe its too much to ask for. They'll probably figure more saps will buy the slapped together version, than would be interested in the writing process of a modern writer of fiction.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Lustrum is a novelized version of Tiro's biography of his master, Cicero, which, along with much of Tiro's writing, is now lost. Robert Harris built his novel around what is know of Cicero's time in the Roman senate around 60 BCE, just before Caesar came to power.

As far as historic novels go, Lustrum was a pleasure to read, and I ended up feeling like I knew more about the great orator, his slave, scribe and friend Tiro, and the politics and maneuverings that led to Gaius Julius Caesar's rise to rule the Roman empire.

Lots of other characters play parts in this tale, which spans a lustrum--a five year period--from 63 to 58 BCE. Harris deals with this large cast of characters, and their legalese, by providing a descriptive cast of characters and a glossary at the back of the book. A map of ancient Rome is also provided to help orient the reader, although it would be more useful had it contained more information.

I especially enjoyed reading about these characters after our trip to Rome last year, which included a visit to the new museum Museo dell'Ara Pacis, which houses the reconstructed l'Ara Pacis (Alter of Peace) from 9 BCE, 50 years or so after this story takes place. The alter is the center piece of the museum, but exhibits also include busts of Caesar, Clodia and other characters from the story, a family tree of the leaders of Rome, and diorama map of Rome from that era (which corresponds very closely to the map in the book). These memories of Rome took on another aspect in light of what I read in Lustrum. I actually bought this book in Italy, but didn't get to it while I was there. I wish I had.

Ara Pacis Bookmarker, note busts at far left, temple beyond

This is one of those books that I found myself spending extra time with to find out what happens next. Harris did a great job weaving the senatorial intrigue into an exciting novel. This is the second in a series of three apparently. As I mentioned, I bought this paperback in Italy, but I don't know if its available in the US yet. I think the first one is tho.

[EDIT: Lustrum is available is the US under a different title: Conspirata.]

What the hell, lets just all go to Italy!


Check it. According to the collections page of the Wagenhein Room, at the San Diego Public Library: "Books printed from 1456 up to and including 1500 are called incunabula, the Latin word meaning cradle because they were printed during the infancy of printing."

That's cool right. I hadn't heard that before, and I love word origins baby. I'm a etymology geek from way back. So I checked my favorite etymology site, the Online Etymology Dictionary, and I find this:

incunabula - “swaddling clothes,” also, figuratively, “childhood;” 1824, from L. incunabula (neut. pl.), ultimately from cunae “cradle.”

incunabulum - 1861, singular of incunabula; taken up (originally in German) as a word for any book printed late 15c., in the “infancy” of the printer’s art.

Nice. According to, the origin is as follows: "1815–25; < L: straps holding a baby in a cradle, earliest home, birthplace, prob. equiv. to *incūnā ( re ) to place in a cradle ( in- + *-cūnāre, v. deriv. of cūnae cradle) + -bula, pl. of -bulum suffix of instrument; def. 1 as trans. of G Wiegendrucke I don't know who G Wiegendrucke is, but I assume its a person, of the German persuasion, who did the translation.

I stole the pic by the way. [What? It goes with the quote.] This particular incunabulum is an Augsburg edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle (or Liber Chronicarum) from 1497, and goes on to note that the printers used 645 different wood blocks to produce the 1,809 illustrations.

But... according to University of Maryland Library's Rare Books Collection, the Augsburg edition was a later, less expensive and unauthorized copy of the original due to its popularity. (Click on this link, yo. Some nice pics and info on this book.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Runemarks by Joanne Harris was fun! This book was written for her daughter or at least dedicated to her but it's seems as tho she and her daughter have been discussing this story for a while now. It's a great story to dedicate to your daughter. I wish my daughter still wanted me to read to her, but she reads too fast now to be entertained by reading aloud.

Runemarks is inspired by Norse mythology, but only loosely. Harris takes the well worn Norse gods and invents an alternative storyline that reminds me of the comic book technique that became popular a few years ago: alternate universes. The same characters and storylines are reinvented in a new world, similar to this one, but one in which details and even histories or futures aren't necessarily the same. Harris, like DC Comics and the Star Trek franchise, has learned that this can lead to some very fertile ground.

Maddy Smith, the fourteen year old heroine, is quickly learning that the reasons for her childhood troubles are much more complicated than she could have imagined. And when the local parson is way less than helpful, and her father seems a little clueless, who could blame her for turning to a kindly, one eyed old wanderer for understanding.

It was hard to set Runemarks aside. I found myself thinking about Maddy's mysteries and what would happen next. I gave this one to my daughter as soon as I finished it. And there's one more in line to read it already.

Get it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

brave new world


The ideas expressed in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are indeed both brave and new--some of them still are, no question--but this story is just dry. Huxley wrote lots of essays and other scholarly works. [Yeah, no kidding!] In fact, my copy of Brave New World also includes Brave New World Revisited as well as 16 pages of other stuff including: a letter to George Orwell, an interview with Huxley, and some other crap I didn't read. Not yet anyway. I needed a break.

Important? Yes, I think it is. Fun to read, or even well written as fiction, not so much.