Review: Keepsakes by Mike Resnick · 20 May 2011
What would happen if the dominant inter-galactic culture found itself besieged by an alien race, not one bent on war, but one engaged the destruction of peoples' most cherished dreams and memories? Mike Resnick asks this question in his novella Keepsakes and provides a possible answer by exploring the relationship between Gabe Mola, a veteran agent in “the service” and Jebediah Burke, his new assistant.
They had many names, some of their own devising, some not. The one that stuck was the Star Gypsies.
It was my job to hunt them down. Of course, no one told me what to do when I caught them, because they usually hadn't broken any laws. Hearts, yes; dream, absolutely. But laws? Not often, if at all.
I found myself relating to both Gabe and Jebediah. I've been in placed into adversarial circumstances where I couldn't figure out the source of the enmity from the other party or the motivations for their actions and I've vacillated between similar thoughts. It's truly a frustrating experience when someone is being horrible to you and you just don't know why.
'Why would they bring such misery to a man who had trusted them and kept his bargain and hadn't done them any harm?'
Jebediah reacted with optimism that the situation with the Star Gypsies could be resolved as some kind of misunderstanding. He believed the fundamental problem was lack of information and by uncovering the root of the problem, he could solve it.
Gabe on the other hand, has decades of experience in witnessing the heartache and misery that the Star Gypsies leave behind. He's moved past believing the enemy may have benign intentions and well past believing there's a solution, but he keeps at his job of out a sense of duty.
'When you go to war, do you do it because someone has broken a law?' I said. 'No, you do it because a force of the enemy, however large or small, has committed actions that are detrimental to the people you are charged with protecting. This is pretty much the same thing'
It didn't sound all that convincing even to me, and he sure as hell didn't look convinced.
My favorite part of this story is the shifting alignment of the characters. You're never quite sure whether to be sympathetic to Gabe or to Jebediah, whether tolerance or intolerance is the moral high ground. As the story unfolds and the nature of the Star Gypsies is revealed, Resnick continues the balancing act, presenting an enemy who refuses to be called such. When Gabe and Jebediah finally diverge it's hard to judge either of them for the choices they've made.
By presenting a rich context of viewpoints, Keepsakes constantly asks the reader to examine their own biases. The questions raised by the characters could easily be asked by either side in a modern global political discussion. Resnick does us readers the service of assuming there's no easy answers and encouraging the debate.
However, Resnick doesn't just ask questions, he provides a commentary on loss. On the surface the story is about the loss of a keepsake but it's also about the loss of idealism, of innocence, and of hope. It shows us that while loss can ruin us, it can also temper our harsher instincts. Keepsakes cautions us that refusing to recognize and legitimize loss can dehumanize us and alienate us as surely as overtly acting to cause others loss.
Although there were a few discontinuities in the story, its ambition in undertaking complex themes in a way that challenges the reader makes it well worth the read.
I received a copy of this work for review from the publisher - 40kbooks.
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Review: The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel · 5 May 2011
In middle school, my favorite time of the year was when the “2000 Page Read” happened. For the period of the event, we were allowed to read whatever we wanted, during class, as long as we finished 2000 pages by the end.
Even at that age, I had always had a pile of books ready to be picked up at any moment, but when my teacher introduced The Clan of the Cave Bear as “a book that will teach you how to survive in the wilderness” and added “but you need your parent's written permission to read it,” it cemented my first selection for “The Read.”
It's been years since I first read The Clan of the Cave Bear, and quickly followed it up with The Valley of Horses and The Mammoth Hunters but I remember enjoying them thoroughly. Ayla's independent spirit and rebellion against custom appealed to the teen-age idealist in me as did her tempestuous romance with Jondalar.
While I felt The Plains of Passage (Earth's Children, Book Four) (or the Plains of Passion as it's become known to my circle of friends) lacked the excitement of the first three books, I wasn't yet ready to abandon Ayla's world. I had high hopes for The Shelters of Stone, which were dashed and I only read The Land of Painted Caves because it's the last in the series.
I wanted closure. I wanted to know if Auel was going to add more to the narrative of Ayla's glimpse of the future. I wanted to see growth and development of the characters and to say a final goodbye.
Instead, I was reminded of why I rarely enjoy long series and of all the reasons it's so challenging to write one. A great majority of the book indulged in reminiscence. I appreciate that some background is required for readers who aren't familiar with the series, but the backstory overwhelmed the plot.
The book is structured in three parts and in the first two parts, the plot (such as it is) stands as a thinly constructed frame on which to bring up all the major conflicts and achievements from the previous books in the series. When not indulging in nostalgia, Auel dedicates most of the time to describing the scenery and the paintings in the caves of the title. If you've read the previous books, I'd recommend skipping directly to part three, where the conflict is introduced.
Ayla looking over The Valley of Horses
Sadly, even the new plot feels recycled (jealousy, misunderstanding, and alienation sound familiar?) and Ayla's moment of enlightenment is just a rehash of thoughts and visions she's experienced before. What could have been an interesting exploration of the effects of Ayla's revelation seems breezed over in comparison to the glacial (pun intended) pace of the first two segments and comes off as a bit of a lecture on the hazards of anti-environmentalism and some ominous foreshadowing of the patriarchal shift to society we all know is coming.
The plot is further overwhelmed by the constantly shifting cast of characters surrounding Ayla and Jondalar. There are probably more than fifty characters mentioned, but few of them are given enough attention to form any impression on the reader. Most characters warranting more than a formal introduction are provided solely as ways for Ayla to show off her healing, hunting or animal domestication skills.
I started to wonder if Auel was trying to convey the wealth of the Zeladonii by bringing up their wealth in numbers, but most modern readers are commonly surrounded by people we've never met and not impressed by introductions to strangers. In contrast, many of us turn to reading because hordes of humans are so commonplace and tidbits of information are the norm of communication. Fiction provides us the slower pace and rare treat of getting to know someone intimately, even if they exist only within the pages of the story.
In fact, this was one of the reasons I enjoyed the first books in the series, the feeling of walking inside Ayla's head and experiencing her internal and cultural conflicts, a feeling which was missing from this latest and last Earth's Children book.
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My maternal grandmother, now ninety, has kept house spotlessly and tirelessly since before I can remember. She disdains microwave ovens, is suspicious of anything digital, and uses elbow grease as her most effective weapon. She has forty year old sheets that are crisper than my new ones and sixty year old pans that still gleam.
I, on the other hand, never learned the housewifely arts. I grew up expecting to have a career outside the home and to be honest, except for cooking, chores are something I have neither inclination nor talent for. Occasionally, when something breaks around the house or someone (me) spills coffee on the couch, I bemoan my lack of skill. In short, I'm everything Ms. Child would, and did, despair of in her book.
I originally picked up The American Frugal Housewife thinking that it might be an interesting reference and provide useful housekeeping tricks and kept reading, in part because of the opening sentence.
The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time, as well as materials.
One of the timeless challenges is time. It's as true today as it was in 1832 that there is a limited amount for each of us, and no amount of money will grant us more time than we're allotted. However, Child quickly clarified her intended audience as that of the poor, and so many of the tips are advised for those that are time rich but penny poor. In this sense, the work didn't speak to my needs, but it provided entertainment nonetheless.
The writer has no apology to offer for this cheap little book of economical hints, except her deep conviction that such a book is needed . . . The information conveyed is of a common kind; but it is such as the majority of young housekeepers do not possess, and such as they cannot obtain from cookery books. Books of this kind have usually been written for the wealthy: I have written for the poor.
Lydia Maria Francis Child
Some of the advice is quite horrific,
"Eggs will keep almost any length of time in lime-water properly prepared . . . The yolk becomes slightly red; but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years," some is outdated,
"Those who are fond of soda powders will do well to inquire at the apothecaries for the suitable acid and alkali", but a good quantity is as true now as they are when they were written
"Woolens should be washed in very hot suds . . . silk, or anything that has silk in it, should be washed in water almost cold."
I think this would be a great reference for authors interested in writing about the period. Child includes not only tips for economical living but opinions on everything from the proper employment of children to the newfangled fad of traveling. She makes no attempt to couch these opinions in the guide of editorial neutrality, but provides an immediate and self-assured voice for a proclaimed expert of the time. One of the things that struck me was the sense that Americans have been struggling with the same issues for hundreds of years. For example, I expected the chapter on the education of women to be entirely outmoded, and instead I found myself agreeing with some of the author's sentiments. In deploring that women are unprepared for the likely realities of their life (in this case domestic habits), Child states:
Until sixteen, they go to school; sometimes these years are judiciously spent, and sometimes they are half-wasted; too often they are spent in acquiring the elements of a thousand sciences, without being thoroughly acquainted with any; or in a variety of accomplishments of very doubtful value . . .
This argument could just as easily pertain to the public school debate today, in which the value of rote memorization and the ability of a shallow, breadth-based, education to prepare children for the responsibilities of adulthood is still being questioned.
Finally, The American Frugal Housewife is a wealth of period recipes. About half the book is dedicated to food preparation, and provides insight into daily American eating, from our evolving definition of cupcake to answering exactly what constitutes gruel. This book will remain in my reference library as a comprehensive source for recreating period American fare.
The Michigan State library reports that there are at least thirty-five printings of the book. The Kindle version I reviewed is the twelfth edition, published in 1832. The book is also available on Project Gutenberg.
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