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What clouds our memories

My friend mindyklasky likes to blog about what she's been reading throughout the year. Her latest From the bookshelf post mentions rereading books she loved when she was young, and sometimes being disappointed.

I know the feeling. I got into spec fic because I read Andre Norton when I was a child, and while some of her books hold up pretty well over time, re-reading them doesn't transport me the way it used to do.

But sometimes it isn't so much that the reader is older, it's that the times themselves have changed, leaving the story, behind, in whole or in part. Case in point—The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.

Bester was a pioneer of spec fic and yet somehow I never read his stuff, even though I was reading spec fic as early as (gulp) 1962. So, when I began to write seriously and I heard this work lauded as groundbreaking, I thought I should read it. So several years ago, I did. I hated it.

I don't think the problem was that I was older, I think the problem was it wasn't 1956 anymore. William Gibson says all books are about their own time, and I think that's true in this case. When the protagonist of this book gets angry at the universe because he has been brutalized, he decides to take revenge, and this revenge includes raping a woman who never hurt him. The reader gets to hear his thought process as he consciously decides to do this. It totally and completely turned me against the protagonist and even against the story.

This was not just Bester being a pig. If you read mystery and spy novels from the 50's and 60's, rape was treated very differently than it is today—almost casually, in fact. There were plenty of romance novels where the woman protagonist fell in love with a man who raped her!

But I can't go back, so for me, reading the story for the first time at the cusp between the 21st and 22nd centuries, the stars were definitely not my destination.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the nod :-)

It's interesting that you bring up the rape example - I just finished reading THIS PERFECT DAY, an Ira Levin book that someone (do you remember who? Was it you?) gave Mark and me at our engagement shower (gulp - I think it was the longest-on-the-to-be-read-shelf book that I had!)

In any case - a good guy rapes a woman essentially without cause (he's tired and hungry), and she sulks for a page or two before realizing she loves him. I *know* this dynamic from other books, but it really made this one tough going for me....

(Same reaction to the Thomas Covenant books, and they had another 15 years or so to have their consciousness raised...)
Jul. 25th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)
I'll bet that was from Risa. She loves Ira Levin. I'm not sure what book I gave you bu it might have been The Far Arena about a Roman gladiator discovered frozen in a glacier and revived (they have a semi-plausible reason for being able to revive him). It's pretty old, too, but it holds up better. The gladiator is a product of his time—at one point he demands slaves—but very sympathetic in spite of it.
Jul. 25th, 2008 06:37 pm (UTC)
Aha! I *knew* you'd given us THE FAR ARENA - I actually read that within a couple of months of when we had the shower (and enjoyed it.)

Yep - it makes perfect sense for DAY to be a Risa book! I'm embarrassed that it slipped to the back of the shelf for so long... (Aside from the rape bit, I enjoyed the book - it reminded me a lot of the classic SF that set me off down this writing road :-) )
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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