What I'm Reading

Michael Moorcock, Corum: The Coming of Chaos. Clarkston: White Wolf, 1997.

One of the nice things about the "Eternal Champion" novels is that they're formulaic without being repetitive. I love the unexpected bit at the end of the Corum cycle where Rhynn and Kwll, who have been sent off to slaughter the Dukes of Chaos, announce that they've also annihilated the Lords of Law for good measure.

Michael Moorcock, Gloriana, or the Unfulfill'd Queen. New York: Avon, 1978.

If Mervyn Peake wrote erotic fan-fiction about Queen Elizabeth, it would go a little something like this...

This novel is somewhat infamous for its, um, climax, where Gloriana is finally able to, ah, climax because she's raped. Now, it fits perfectly with the overall themes of the novel — Gloriana has been built up as a perfect goddess, the embodiment of her country and other ideals, and the stress of living up to that image has made it impossible for her to achieve personal fulfillment until everything she has is symbolically stripped from her. The rape itself is neither gratuitous or erotic, and doesn't bother me all that much. It's the implication that this act somehow also redeems her sociopathic rapist that bothers me. Their subsequent marriage is just icky icing on an icky, icky cake.

I hear that there's a revised edition where Gloriana resists the rape, and I'm kind of curious to see how that plays out with the themes embodied by the rest of the novel.

Gary Gygax, Sea of Death. Lake Geneva: New Infinities, 1988.
Gary Gygax, Come Endless Darkness. Lake Geneva: New Infinities, 1989.

I have a nostalgic affection for Gygax's "Gord the Rogue" novels, but they're awful. They're poorly paced, dependent on tortured and broken logic, filled with purple prose and wooden characters. The best I can say about them it's like hearing about someone else's awesome D&D game — you honestly don't want to hear them prattling on about it, but it sounds like it would have been awesome to be there while it was happening.

You have to love the ccover of Come Endless Darkness, though, in which the greatest evil in the universe is portrayed as a hunchbacked charcoal-colored ogre with the face of Buddy Hackett. One of the reasons I've never been able to take Tharizdun all that seriously.

And hey, you also get...

Leda snuggled closer to him. [...] Then she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Will you be here with me when I need you?"

"Of course I will," Gord told the half-elven girl. He kissed her back, tenderly at first, and then with a hint of growing passion. He pulled his face slightly away from hers and met her eyes with his own as he continued. "For whatever reasons fate has decreed, you and I are following the same path. We'll be side by side when we enter the City Out of Mind," he assured her with all sincerity. "You and I are comrades, and friends too."

"Then let's become lovers as well," Leda said, using her little hands to stroke the side of his face and his shoulders as she brought her lips to his again in a lingering kiss. Soon passion ruled both of them, and they made love to each other for a long and wonderful time.

...romance, Gygax-style!

Yogi Berra, The Yogi Book. New York: Workman, 1998.

Bathroom reading. Nothing more. And truthfully, not even enough bathroom reading to occupy you for more than one trip.

Bob Costas, Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball. New York: Broadway, 2000.

It's disenheartening to read a trenchant summary of everything that's wrong with baseball today, and then realize it was written almost a decade ago. You may disagree with some of Costas's proposed solutions — I certainly disagree with the thrust of some of his economic arguments — but they're light-years ahead of everything that's been tried in the last eight years.

Suetonius, The Twelve Cæsars. Translated by Robert Graves. London: Penguin, 1957.
Procopius, The Secret History. Translated by G.A. Williamson. London: Penguin, 1966.

Ah, the dirty side of history.

The Twelve Cæsars isn't actually a very good book. It's curiously organized — Suetonius gives you a list of good things the emperor did during his reign, a list of the bad things the emperor did, a bit of his personal history prior to becoming emperor, the circumstances of his death, and a list of his physical characteristics. It assumes that you're already familiar with the history of Rome — for instance, Suetonius repeatedly refers to the treachery of Sejanus without actually bothering to explain what it involved. And it's full of things that just aren't true — like the two gods who vaporize Julius Caesar's corpse in the forum, Tiberius's ability to poke his finger through an apple, or Nero's propensity for knifing people in the back allies of Rome. In general, Suetonius seems more interested in painting the rulers of Rome in as negative light as possible without providing much insight into their philosophies or personalities.

Procopius has similar interests — he's painting as negative a portrait of Justinian and Theodora as humanly possible — but he also manages to construct a coherent portrait of them that actually seems plausible. Plus, his book is a lot dirtier.

She used to tease her lovers by keeping them waiting, and by constantly playing about with novel methods of intercourse she could always bring the lascivious to her feet; so far from waiting to be invited by anyone she encountered, she herself by cracking dirty jokes and wiggling her hips suggestively would invite all who came her way, especially if they were still in their teens. Never was anyone so completely given up to unlimited self-indulgence. Often she would go to a bring-your-own-food dinner-party with ten young men or more, all at the peak of their physical powers and with fornication as their chief object in life, and would lie with all her fellow-diners in turn the whole night long; when she had reduced them all to a state of exhaustion she would go to their menials, as many as thirty on occasion, and copulate with every one of them; but not even so could satisfy her lust...

See, if they taught that in school, I bet kids would pay attention.

Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New Press, 2006.

Um, yeah, so I picked this up because it has a scrumptious picture of chocolate on the cover, and didn't notice the subtitle until later. Needless to say, this is a book about everything that's wrong with the chocolate industry, mostly its continued reliance on child and slave labor. It's a sad tale of, well, everyone's indifference, from the the farmers growing cocoa to the corporations purchasing cocoa to the consumers buying the final products.

I'd stop buying chocolate, but I don't know how effective that would be as a gesture — the huge web of multinational corporations that control our food supply are going to get my money one way or another. Anyone have a better suggestion?

Mary Roach, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.

This is a pretty funny and informative look into sex research, past, present, and future, from Kinsey through Masters and Johnson and beyond. It's full of scientists hiring prostitutes to measure the force of their ejaculation, inserting television cameras into sex toys, arranging anonymous hookups to see what role emotions play in sex, smearing dentists' waiting rooms with monkey pheromones, and even surgically reconfiguring themselves to ee if it can help improve their orgasms. It's a little disappointing that Roach doesn't seem to have any deep insights into the material, but it's a fun read nonetheless.

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