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June 26th, 2005


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02:02 pm - A bumpersticker and a book review
I was driving home in slow traffic and noticed this bumperstick in the window of a car ahead of me:

If you're not completely appalled,
you haven't been paying attention.


This, of course, made me curious and I looked for any other indication of what this particular driver might consider appalling about our current society/politics/culture. Nada. Not even a cross, or rainbow, or peace sign dangling from the rearview mirror.

I thought, Huh.

Then I thought, they may be right. There is much in this world that is completely appalling, unless you have no moral conscience or artistic sense whatsoever. But they're not completely right.

I need a bumpersticker that reads:

If you're not completely amazed,
you haven't been paying attention.


This world may be desolate in many ways, but it is also unutterably beautiful.

And yes, this does connect to the book review, of Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion.

I'm aware that most of my friendslist has read this book (or I assume so), but I just finished it for the second time and am even more impressed than I was the first time.



I'm not going to bother commenting on the excellent writing, the tight, compelling plot, or the sheer complexity of the world-and-characterbuilding, because with Bujold I find that those are a given. They certainly don't flag here.

But the center of the book, what was spun out into the breaking of the curse, and into the character of broken-down, ready to be used Castillar dy Cazaril, is something incredibly rare even in fantasy novels.

The gods are real, in Chalion and its world. Many authors have created gods, godesses, rituals and religion for their imagined worlds. Much of it is quite creative and fascinating. The Quintarian faith is no less so...but it rises above the rest by the fact that it is not treated as a side note to the story, nor as something purely created by the society in the story.

The five holy ones do affect the world of matter, taking up souls at death, answering prayers in life, and working through the willing and open human soul to effect miracles of protection, of justice, of restoration.

As a Christian, it is startling to be reading along, enjoying the created world, and to run smack into some pretty orthodox--or at least, very familiar experiential--theology. Cazaril, trying to come to grips with being chosen to host a miracle, says: "If I must ask of every action not only if it is wise or good, but also if it's the one I'm supposed to choose, I shall go mad. Madder. I'll end up curled in a corner, not doing anything at all, except maybe mumbling and weeping." His advisor Umegat has this answer, "You cannot outguess the gods. Hold to virtue--if you can identify it--and trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. And that the talents given to you are the talents you should place in the gods' service. Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent to you. Not even your life."

Or this: "In choosing to share one's will with the gods, was it enough to choose once, like signing up to a military company with an oath? Or did one have to choose and choose and choose again, every day? Or was it both?"

Or this: "This wasn't prayer anyway, it was just argument with the gods. Prayer, he suspected as he hoisted himself up and turned for the door, was putting one foot in front of the other. Moving all the same."

And as complicated and painful as it is for Cazaril to complete his quest, to open himself and surrender his will fully so that the Lady of Spring can lift the curse itself, it does not destroy him. It changes him, certainly; how could one see the face of God and not be altered? "'I have not the words for what I saw'," Cazaril tells his friend. "'Talking about it is like trying to weave a box of shadows in which to carry water.' And our souls are parched."

All of us are parched so, desiring to see what lies beyond us, above us--desiring, in whatever way we feel it, to see the face of God.

Then along comes a book like this one, to give us a few fragmented words and rich metaphors to use in weaving our own boxes of shadow. This is the kind of book I would someday want to write--my dream being to make something, anything that can carry these drops of water to another soul, can remind him or her that we are not the roots of our own being.

And that therefore there is hope.

Current Mood: awakeawake

(15 lit candles | Light a candle)

Comments:


From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 26th, 2005 10:51 pm (UTC)
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My bumpersticker should contain something suggesting "weirded out", but I suppose "amazed" pretty much covers it. :-)

-JD
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 27th, 2005 01:42 am (UTC)
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Oh yes.

Have you read "Paladin of Souls" yet?
I think my favourite bit of that was "what matter does best is endure" -- which was of course mentioned in "Curse of Chalion" but it brought on extra significance in "Paladin of Souls".
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 27th, 2005 04:51 am (UTC)
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I actually re-read Chalion in preparation for reading Paladin of Souls. So, yes, I just finished the latter. I find that I liked it slightly less than the first--but I think that's mostly because I identified so closely with Cazaril, who is simply willing but broken, and Ista is much more deeply darkened and shadowed. Also, I had a slightly harder time with the god who was the focus--I rather like the Bastard (with his role of taking up all those who are not claimed), but he does, as Ista said, have a vile sense of humor. :)

That said, both books made me cry for joy, so....

"what matter does best is endure"

Oh yes. Oh absolutely yes. My favorite part was, indeed, that part. I don't want to spoil the climax of the story for those who haven't read it, but I'm terribly curious about Bujold's own religious beliefs after reading these books, particularly that moment.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 27th, 2005 05:08 am (UTC)
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I find that I liked it slightly less than the first--but I think that's mostly because I identified so closely with Cazaril, who is simply willing but broken, and Ista is much more deeply darkened and shadowed.

I liked Cazaril more too, probably because of his adamant integrity and honour, even in the midst of being broken -- a sacrificial honour, as distinct from the face-saving honour which is called by the same word, but is something completely different. (Interesting that I'm now re-reading the Honor Harrington books at the moment, and Harrington has the same kind of sacrificial honour. As do a lot of my favourite characters, now that I think about it...)

Also, I had a slightly harder time with the god who was the focus--I rather like the Bastard (with his role of taking up all those who are not claimed), but he does, as Ista said, have a vile sense of humor. :)

He does, indeed. But I liked the point that Ista made, that if she cursed the Bastard, he just smiled at her inventiveness. That's a good aspect of his "sense of humour".

I'm terribly curious about Bujold's own religious beliefs after reading these books, particularly that moment.

I've been curious about Bujold's own religious beliefs since "Shards of Honor", where it was implied that Cordelia was a Theist of some sort. 8-)
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 27th, 2005 02:33 pm (UTC)
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I liked Cazaril more too, probably because of his adamant integrity and honour, even in the midst of being broken -- a sacrificial honour, as distinct from the face-saving honour which is called by the same word, but is something completely different.

Ah, thank you. I wasn't quite sure what to call that quality, but you're right--and the counter examples would be the dy Jironal brothers (and to a lesser extent, Arvol dy Lutez).

BTW, I tried one of the Honor Harrington books and found interesting characters mired in a sea of military exposition. Unlike the Barrayar books, I just couldn't get through more than a couple of chapters. Is there one particular book that I should start with, if I were to give them a second chance?

But I liked the point that Ista made, that if she cursed the Bastard, he just smiled at her inventiveness. That's a good aspect of his "sense of humour".

Indeed it is.

I've been curious about Bujold's own religious beliefs since "Shards of Honor", where it was implied that Cordelia was a Theist of some sort. 8-)

Well, yes, so have I, but in a kind of "hmmm" way. After reading "Chalion", my curiousity is rabid. :-) [I feel the same way about Stephen King, actually. And Diane Duane.]
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 27th, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC)
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BTW, I tried one of the Honor Harrington books and found interesting characters mired in a sea of military exposition. Unlike the Barrayar books, I just couldn't get through more than a couple of chapters. Is there one particular book that I should start with, if I were to give them a second chance?

It's true that the Honor Harrington books are more explicitly "military" than the Vorkosigan ones, though I didn't find them to have too much "military exposition" myself, possibly because I'd read other military-SF novels which were much more boring in the military exposition stakes, whereas I actually liked the battles in the Honor Harrington novels because they were more focused on the human-reaction part of the battles. But it may be that I have a higher threshold for that sort of thing than me.

That being said, the best book to start with must be the first one, "On Basilisk Station", followed by "The Honor of the Queen", which is the one I'm re-reading at the moment. The earliest books in the series are the best ones, in my opinion, because the later books, as Honor gains in rank, gets away from bravery and fighting and gets much more tangled in politics, at which point I lost interest. It's much more exciting to see Honor stubbornly resolving to do her duty even in the face of threats by self-interested bombasts who threaten to use friends in high places to ruin her career if she doesn't do as they tell her -- which happened both in the first book and the second, interestingly enough...
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 27th, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
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that I have a higher threshold for that sort of thing than me
I meant "I have a higher threshold for that sort of thing than you" of course!
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 28th, 2005 01:50 am (UTC)
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I think the one I tried was, indeed, "On Basilisk Station." Hmm. Perhaps I should give it another go--many of my friends are quite fond of the series.

And no, my tolerance level for military exposition is rather low. :-) It has to be well-leavened with character reaction for me to actually engage with it--I do not have a mind for tactics, though I can appreciate them in an academic sort of way (honestly, I'm in awe of Bujold's grasp of the stuff, and anything more is kind of beyond me...maybe I just need to quit trying to *understand it all* and just read).
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 28th, 2005 02:30 am (UTC)
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maybe I just need to quit trying to *understand it all* and just read

Oh, definitely. Give yourself permission to skim over the mind-numbing bits, just enough to have an idea of who's alive and who is dead and/or wounded, and concentrate on the juicy bits. 8-)
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From:vertigozooropa
Date:June 27th, 2005 02:32 am (UTC)

I haven't read that, but...

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I love your bumper sticker idea. It very much supports my philosophy of life.

I spent my entire weekend preaching from John Eldredge's Waking The Dead, trying to convince my Christian friends that Jeremiah 17:9 doesn't apply to them anymore, because they have new, not-so-desperately-wicked hearts.

I'm finding that the call of my heart is not helping people escape from darkness, but to help them acclimatize to living in the light, and show them how high they can fly. I really want this. I really want to see people shine SHINE make 'em wonder what you got, make 'em wish that they were not on the outside, looking bored...
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 27th, 2005 04:57 am (UTC)

Re: I haven't read that, but...

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If that's the call of your heart, then mine is about helping people escape from darkness, yes, but specifically those who have seen the light but not yet been able to reach it.

I'd love to be one who goes into the night with a lantern, but I'm not sure I'm there yet.

And Dan? You would LOVE that book. You must read it. Especially right now, I think you'd love it. Though you might like Paladin of Souls better, I'm not sure (Kim will like Paladin better).
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From:scionofgrace
Date:June 27th, 2005 03:14 am (UTC)
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If you make that bumper sticker, I'll buy one.

The book sounds wonderful. I shall have to find it. I like that bit of how can anyone see the face of God and not be changed? Lewis asked that, I think, and he's absolutely right.

Awesome quotes.
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 27th, 2005 04:59 am (UTC)
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If you make that bumper sticker, I'll buy one.

Yeah? :-) I may just have to look into that.

The book sounds wonderful. I shall have to find it. I like that bit of how can anyone see the face of God and not be changed? Lewis asked that, I think, and he's absolutely right.

Yes! I do have to wonder if Bujold has read Lewis, and who else she may be drawing on for some of this stuff. And I would highly recommend these books to you.

Awesome quotes.

Oh yeah. Best way to hook someone is to read a bit of the book to them. *devious grin*
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 27th, 2005 05:12 am (UTC)
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I may just have to look into that.

Cafe Press do bumper stickers -- I just checked.
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From:mistraltoes
Date:June 27th, 2005 11:25 am (UTC)
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Hm. This was on my 'read sometime' list, but I think it's just moved considerably nearer the top. Thanks for reviewing it.

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