The missus and I are on vacation. (We should have left a note for you before now, explaining the dearth of posts.) Showing off the kids to the folks in the old country, Ameriky.
They've got real selection in films on the plane now. I watched "Caddyshack". It holds up well, but I think comedy technology has, in objective, absolute terms, improved since then. What do you think? Are humans getting better at being funny, just like they are figuring out how to make smaller phones?
I read Iain M. Banks, The Algebraist. Cracking good space opera.
Jetlag pretty bad.
But went to see "Batman Begins". Very satisfactory.
One of the things I love to do whenever returning home - HOME-home: where I grew up, Eugene, OR - is go to Smith Family Bookstore and buy old paperbacks for the camp covers. We collect. It's hard to do this in Singapore. The supply was never large, and - no kidding - the jungle reclaims. Climate very hard on paperbacks. Anyway, there were still samples from our last expedition, couple years back, in a box in the hallway of my parents' home. Vardis Fisher on top. The Passion Within; original title. "Peace like a river", from the "Testament of Man" series. Can't find a scan of the exact cover, but this and this should give some not erroneous notion. Normally it wouldn't cross my mind to actually read these things. But, why not? Vardis Fisher + google = hey, he's, like, the Napoleon Dynamite of mid-20th Century Idaho letters. Go ahead, poke around. Here, for example.
The Harper Prize for Children gave Fisher the first financial cushion he had ever known. He resigned from the Writers' Project, married his third wife, Opal Laurel Holmes, built a house and modest ranch on a choice piece of Idaho land near Hagerman, and turned his attention to the project that he thought would be his most enduring contribution to American literature. He was convinced that in the tetralogy he had not fully understood Vridar's (nor his own) problems. To tell his story aright, he would need to explore the breadth of all human history, especially the evolution of the religious instinct. He envisioned a series of novels based on rigorous research in anthropology, psychology and history that would begin with prehistoric man and proceed to modern times. Children of God and his work on the Writers' Project had affirmed his dedication as a researcher. He knew that religious themes would invite scrutiny from many quarters, not just from the Mormon world. Expecting more modest sales from books in the series, he planned to alternate them with novels about the early American West. The Americana, he felt sure, would enable him to carry the series to completion and repay the publisher for standing with him.
In time he named the 12-volume series The Testament of Man. Eleven novels prepared the way for the final instalment, a retelling of Vridar's story as Orphans in Gethsemane (1960). The modest attention that Orphans received revealed how much Fisher's fame had declined since the 1930s and how much he had miscalculated in his plan to assure Testament success with Western novels. Darkness and the Deep (1943) and The Golden Rooms (1944) opened the series ably enough; non-verbal humans took readers to unfamiliar ground and invited a good deal of sympathy for the characters. But as the series progressed Fisher increasingly let the weight of facts overpower the imaginative dimension – a tendency that he had been warned against as the tetralogy neared its conclusion. ( No Villain Need Be had especially been faulted for didactic emphasis). Continuing the pattern in the Testament, Fisher tended to tell rather than to show. Few readers who purse all twelve volumes of The Testament leave it concluding that its chief merit lies in its creation of characters. Increasingly, the novels recount versions of a protagonist who talks with a companion about religious errors that pervade his society. The novels become novels of ideas more than novels of character or action. Fisher desires, it is clear, that his readers will decide that his protagonists (always ahead of their time) see to the heart of the matter.
After the publication of the fifth volume of the series, the publisher bailed out. Another small house published six and seven, but when Fisher moved to the Christian era, no publisher could be enticed to take on the series. Four years later, Alan Swallow of Denver signed on to take the series to the end, ending the deep despair that had overtaken Fisher.
Yeah, it's not very good, turns out. But it's mediocre in a way no book would be today, probably. Chapter 1 opens with Hareb, unhappy father, trying to track two of his children - Piamon and Peta - having incestuous sex in a dank cave. (They're gnostics, or something, and Peta is a sophisticated fop with a theory that you have to mortify the flesh with vice, or something.) Wife Takuda is all misery, since Hareb does nothing but remind her that she is evil for having taken his godhead, his virginity. Hareb's son, David, needs to save beatiful Helene from the Antioch brothel into which she has been sold. (He gets no sympathy from Hareb.) David saves Helene, despite his distracted worrying about whether Helene has been forced to provide 'boyish' favors, and if so, which, and to how many. He is caught. To the mines with David, probably. Daughter Soulai is trying to trick her large-jawed jailor, Markos, into giving her poisoned wine so she won't have to be burned alive as a Christian. Her trick works. Hareb is resolved to flee into the desert alone and pull off his own genitals, or something. That takes us up to p. 17. Like Homer says: "So far as anyone knows, we're a nice, normal family." But even Homer nods. And so, I fear, does Fisher. The book is actually quite boring, being mostly too much philosophy and theology. It reminds me of pre-revolutionary French pornography, minus the pornography. And no jokes. And with a rather incongruously impressive patina of genuine historical and scholarly erudition over the whole. I don't think I'll keep reading.