Sunday, September 30, 2007

Jessica Recommends The Phoenix Guards

It’s time for another edition of

Jessica Recommends a Book!

You probably won't like Steven Brust's The Phoenix Guards. I say that with some confidence, not because I dislike it myself, but because, statistically speaking, 9 of 11 people I’ve lent it to have returned it unfinished. Nevertheless, it is one of my favorites. Consider the following note about the geography around the Imperial Palace:
“At any rate, the aforementioned Vallista reign saw, in addition to the construction of the Imperial Palace, the creation for the first time of forts and fortresses (the distinction, certain comments by the Lord of Snails notwithstanding, having nothing whatsoever to do with the presence of breastworks, nor the size of buttresses) along what was then the Eastern border. The construction of the Great Houses around the Imperial Palace did not begin until the Second Cycle, with the reign of Kieron the Younger, of the House of the Dragon. He ordered the building of the Great House of the Phoenix, opposite the Palace, as a tribute to Empress Zerika II, or possibly as a bribe to persuade her to relinquish the throne – history is unclear on this.”The Phoenix Guards, page 30.

If your eyes glazed over, believe me, you’re not alone. But if this lecture about the architectural history of a fictional palace complex made you smirk, well....

At its core, this is a deadpan parody of The Three Musketeers. Not just the absurdities of manners and customs exhibited in the book, but also the persistent quality of narrative voice in nineteenth century romances, where the narrator’s character is just as apparent as those he pontificates about. And the narrator does pontificate. He expounds endlessly and inventively about the history of places and people and regional cuisine our heroes encounter in their adventures, often spending more time discussing the history of the inn than the ambush our heroes actually thwart at the inn.

That is not to say the characters are in any way lacking. Our heroes are delightful re-imaginings of the classic four Musketeers, recognizable in archetype but with their own flavor. For example, one of the four appears as a woman. But rather than take the easy route, with the woman in the place of the foppish schemer Aramis, Tazendra takes the role of the brash warrior Porthos, always a step behind in the planning but taking the lead in battle. The other three, Khaavren, Aerich, and Pel, each have their own charms.

Oh, and did I mention the swashbuckling? Because they have rather a lot of that. There are epic duels, invading armies, love, rivalry, revenge… What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I attended the Fort Collins Sustainable Living Fair with my husband this past Saturday. All I can say is (to quote a customer who also attended) 'I'm ready to go live in a yurt and raise goats!'

The fair gave us the much-needed reassurance that we are not alone in our concern for the environment, and our search for alternative ways of living. And did they ever have choices for those other ways! We passed booths dealing with every conceivable aspect of the green/sustainable lifestyle - many of them issues that we had never thought of! From the solar oven (knew about that) to the necessity for all eight sugars in a balanced diet (??? never knew that) and everything in between. The best part was the relative lack of structure. We moved from a display on alternative building materials to a booth with free meat samples (we'd just had brunch, more's the pity, because that steak smelled good!) There was no feeling of 'now we're in the energy section, now we're in the clothing section, etc' but of a wonderful holistic jumble! Just like the reality of a sustainable lifestyle, the fair offerings looked at the integrated whole.

Of course, being the bibliophile that I am, my attention was grabbed by any booth with books on display. While I was a good girl and resisted the temptation (merely noted the titles for later purchasing) my husband, surprisingly enough, found one book that he had to have, Superbia! 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods by Dan Chiras ($19.95, New Society Publishers). I definitely got some leverage out of his succumbing to temptation while I stood firm! So I used my high ground to justify my ordering of the three books that I wanted - I know, three to one hardly seems reasonable, but I've never denied that I'm an addict! So, in a few days I should have Everything I Want to Do is Illegal by Joel Salatin ($23.95, Polyface) A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William Coperthwaite ($25, Chelsea Green Publishing Company) and Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter by Lloyd Kahn ($26.95, Shelter Publications). I can't wait!

While our time at the fair was unfortunately limited - only two and a half hours to see all that we could - we had enough time to realize that our Northern Colorado Community has a strong group dedicated to finding ways to live in harmony with nature. Even driving past the parasitical mall at Centerra afterwards couldn't entirely erase our sense of hope. Of course, now we have to decide how we will apply ourselves to meeting these challenges. My husband votes for the Green Party in Ireland and watches for any new research about organic farming, genetically modified foods, and oil alternatives. I, of course, tend to be a little more (over)enthusiastic. So, I'm ready to go handbuild a completely green shelter with all alternative energy, a complete water recycling system and a biofuel converter, grow organic foods for our own consumption, make all of our clothing, outlaw TV, and banish consumerism. Oh, and raise goats, of course.