Monday, April 27, 2015

Read It, April 2015, Progress Report 4

Well, it's been an exhausting couple of weeks and I'm disappointed to report that I haven't made it through the rest of The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes. I do intend to finish it, and I am still making progress through it, but it is quite a dense work, even though it is not particularly long. It is filled with philosophical and historical digressions that don't lend themselves to reading quickly. I've been sleep deprived recently and so haven't been able to focus on it properly. I was reading a bit of it in the cafeteria at work the other day, trying to unpack one of the parts where a character's thoughts unfold into the book's theme:

The primitive truth about selfhood we battle against at our peril. For the absolute solopsist -- the self contained wholly within the ring-fence of his own innermost "I" and for whom "we" and "my" are words quite without meaning -- the asylum doors gape. it is the we-they and meum-alienum divisions which draw the sane man's true ultimate boundary on either side of which lie quantities of opposite sign, regions of opposite emotional charge: an electric fence [as it were] of enormous potential. Yet emergent Reason had attempted to deny absolutely the validity of any such line at all!

The author returns to this sort of musing later in the story. In the second part, we are in a pretty grim post-World War I Germany, where the characters hoard foreign currencies because of the hyperinflation of the mark:

The old older had shattered; even money was rapidly ebbing away from between men, leaving them desperately incommunicado like men rendered voiceless by an intervening vacuum: millions, still heaped on top of each other in human cities yet forced to live separate, each like some solitary predatory beast.

It seems quite insane as described in the novel but apparently hyper-inflation really was that bad. One of the great things about this novel is the way that Hughes makes the story personal to his characters. So:

At the Bayrisher-Hof, too, some at least of Lothar's meals were provided. But no one could expect so good a job all to himself, and Lothar shared his turn-about with a fellow student. On his off-days he lived chiefly on memories of his hotel meals, dining in retrospect. One night when he was supperless like this he dreamed he had been sacked, and woke screaming: other times he dreamed of his brother Wolff -- the wild one who had vanished -- and woke in tears.

Meanwhile, I picked a much lighter book off my shelf to read at in the mornings. Last year I read Harry Harrison's novel Bill, the Galactic Hero, a pastiche of military science fiction written in 1965. Harrison continued the adventures of Bill in a series of later books published starting in 1989. I read the first of these this week, Planet of Robot Slaves. It's entertaining in a completely silly way, and contains mini-parodies of other writers, including William Gibson and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ultimately it's not as good as the first one, though, and the humor is less Swift and more Sandler (Adam, that is). I don't think I'll read any more of these, although I am planning to read some more Harrison -- I want to read the first Stainless Steel Rat book. I think that series fared better over time than this one did.

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