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Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2007 11:47 am
by rocketscientist
Sounds fascinating! Is it in print in the US?

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2007 12:20 pm
by Windwalker
rocketscientist wrote:Is it in print in the US?
As a matter of fact, I think a brand-new trade paperback edition just hit the bookstores. It is really an astonishing book. The final scene still makes me cry.

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2007 2:08 pm
by intrigued_scribe
rocketscientist wrote:
Sounds fascinating!
I second the sentiment; this does indeed sound like an amazing book! Aside from Bulgakov's thorough reimagining of widespread theological beliefs, the fact that he closely examines and emphasizes truths that some prefer to ignore and evade altogether seems to be one of the most successful elements of this novel. I'll definitely have to read this one!


Posted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 4:01 pm
by Windwalker
Another genre that hovers between fantasy fiction and non-fiction is historical fiction -- particularly when it deals with very early eras of humanity. Most people are aware of Auel's crowdpleasers, but two other authors wrote much, much better stories taking place in the paleolithic.

One is Björn Kurtén, who wrote Dance of the Tiger, showing interactions between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. This may be out of print.

Another is Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who grew up in Africa and has a first-hand knowledge of !Kung and lion tribal habits, wrote Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife. She planned a third novel, which has not yet appeared. But these two are tremendous. They take place in Siberia during an interglacial period, when mammoths and lions still roamed and lived in equal terms with humans.

Also, Poul Anderson visited that era in a couple of terrific fantasy/sf short stories, The Long Remembering and The Peat Bog, the latter about Tollund Man.

Posted: Sun Jul 08, 2007 11:42 pm
by intrigued_scribe
More excellent recs; thanks! :) I'm going to have quite a bit of catching up to do...


The Master and Margarita... and other unflinching visions

Posted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 4:41 pm
by Windwalker
Calvin did unearth the Russian DVDs of The Master and Margarita, and was kind enough to send them to me. I'm through part of the first, and so far it's skin-tight in its following of the book. The subtitles, clearly from someone whose English was shaky, are hilarious! As is customary with Russian productions, there is meticulous attention to period detail, whereas the acting tends to be "theatrical" (large gestures, relatively static scenes).

Which brings me to a book that I'm also partway through, Julie Phillips' absorbing biography of Alice Bradley Sheldon (aka James Tiptree Jr.). I had already read Tiptree's stories, which are bleak, lucid masterpieces. While re-reading them because of the biography, I discovered that most of them still pack the punch I remembered. She left a lasting legacy among SF authors, who established the Tiptree Award in her honor, for subversive stories that push boundaries.

As the biography shows, she was a complex, tortured person who led a life almost stranger than fiction, didn't fit in any mould and may have never achieved her full potential (but then again, who does?). It makes me ponder if people were better or worse off back then, when they couldn't spill their guts in blogs, though they did exchange letters and keep diaries. Did the restraint help or hinder the writing?

Either way, I highly recommend the biography -- but if you have time for only one book, get the recent collection of Tiptree's stories, the 2004 Tachyon publication titled Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

Posted: Sat Mar 08, 2008 6:52 pm
by caliban
When you're finished with Master and Margarita I'll be curious about your final verdict. I'll reserve mine until then.

It did seem almost word-for-word, except for the very end, where it seemed to add some extraneous material. Some of it I would have to check against the text.

I'll have to get the Tiptree bio someday -- although I am far behind on my reading. Another SF author with a strange double life was Paul Linebarger, a.k.a. Cordwainer Smith. I don't know if there are any book-length biographies of him, but he also sounds to have had a fascinating life, which no doubt led to his highly eccentric stories and novels.

Re: The Master and Margarita

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 11:57 pm
by Windwalker
I finished watching The Master and Margarita, and am quite ambivalent -- I wanted to like it, but felt it was very uneven.

I already commented on costumes and sets, and a bit on the acting. I think that by remaining slavishly faithful to the book, the director made a poor film -- static, with excessive speechifying, lacking humor and dramatic tension.

Of the three threads, the Master/Margarita love story was the weakest and least convincing: both actors mostly hit a single note (Margarita hysterical, the Master catatonic) and for a supposedly all-consuming bond they entirely lacked chemistry. Woland, his retinue and their Moscow victims were better, but the shifts between comedy and drama in that strand were often awkward. I found the Yeshua/Pilate story to be the best acted and most touching.

The overall portrayals of women, of course, are abysmal -- although certainly in line with the concept of the muse/anima as dreamed by Bulgakov (as well as Goethe and Dumas père, two obvious influences on the work). Nevertheless, despite all these shortcomings, I found it an interesting production.

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 10:43 pm
by intrigued_scribe
Going by the review, the Master/Margarita story does indeed seem interesting, in spite of the flaws, particularly where the period details are concerned.

Also, the biography sounds like an arresting work, and I'll be certain to add Tiptree's anthology to my list as well (though I'm also starting to fall behind in my reading). :)


Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 1:17 am
by caliban
I agree with Athena that the word-for-word adaptation of Master and Margarita made it a bit awkward. I've seen at least two stage productions, one of which was done very much on a shoestring, which were nonetheless faithful and clever and cut to the heart of the story.

I thought a lot of the characters were curiously underplayed, such as Azazello, and Woland also seemed almost as catatonic as the Master. In fact all the characters were either manic or depressive.

I agree that the Pilate/Yeshua thread had the best parts -- the actor who did Yeshua did an excellent job of portraying Bulgakov's conception. Pilate bordered on the catatonic. Matthew Levi seemed awfully old.

My wife asked me about political commentary in the production. Of course the original novel satirized Leninist USSR in the late 1920s/early 1930s, in particular the transformation from a materialist philosophy to a materialistic philosophy. But I think this production comments -- subtly -- on Putin's Russia as well. In the production, as in the novel, all sorts of supernatural events occur, which the authorities are desperate to explain away. Anything which the political establishment does not control, they literally cannot see and want to explain away, no matter how awkward and flimsy and transparent the lies are. I wonder if this is an eternal political truth about Russia, equally valid now under Putin and Medvedyed as it was under Lenin and Stalin.

Posted: Sat Aug 30, 2008 11:45 am
by Windwalker
I just finished reading a two-part fantasy novel by Gregory Frost: Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet.

The story unfolds on a world that is almost entirely ocean, in which people live in large "spans". There are subtle hints that the world was settled, but there are also interventions by beings powerful enough to be considered divine (but, pace Clarke, they could be simply extremely advanced aliens or manifestations of the original settlers).

The main character is a complex, prodigiously gifted shadow puppeteer. Her two sidekicks are equally intriguing and each carries an involving back story.

The story would really have been a single volume, and the second part is weaker than the first. However, the setting, characters and mythology are strong and unique.

On a side note, it just registered with me that I like universes based on water worlds (Le Guin's Earthsea cycle, Slonczenski's Door into Ocean, Thomson's Storyteller). One exception was the lamentable Waterworld film -- exciting premise, totally botched execution. Must be the influence of my seafaring ancestors! (*laughs*)