Doyle, Debra, and James D. Macdonald: (06) The Stars Asunder

During the weekend, I got to experience all kinds of things—massively annoying air travel [1], Kentucky highways [2], the precise point at which enthusiasm overcomes coordination on the dance floor [3]—which meant that, during my Sunday flights home, I just didn’t have the energy to drag out the laptop. (I mean, you can’t really get anything worthwhile done in the half-hour they let you use the things on the puddle-jumper flights . . . ) So instead of doing any of the piles of schoolwork hanging over my head, I re-read Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald’s The Stars Asunder.

This is the sixth book published in the Mageworlds series, and the first chronologically. I reviewed the first three a few years ago; The Stars Asunder takes place some five hundred years before then, and deals with the early life of Arekhon Khreseio sus-Khalgaeth sus-Peledaen—also known as ‘Rehke, or Ser Halfey, or the Professor, or a bunch of other people . . . I find myself reluctant to say too much more about it, having just written and deleted six different sentences as possibly spoiling the first three books. It’s nothing you couldn’t get from the back cover copy, but it’s so much fun seeing Doyle & Macdonald continually peel away different layers of their universe, subverting conventions and expectations all around, that I hate to mess with that even a little. Indeed, the main thing I remembered about this book before I re-read it was a revelation in the Epilogue of just this kind (a family name).

I suppose I can say that the book has family and political intrigues and betrayals, highly ambitious magical projects, and blatant messing with the fabric of time and space. Hmm. Since Star Wars is much in the news these days, and the early Mageworlds books certainly seem to have Star Wars as an inspiration, I guess the comparison to the prequel movies is inevitable—The Stars Asunder does seem to be laying the groundwork for the First and Second Magewars, though it’s not really clear how much time this story arc is going to cover. The difference, of course, is that the Mageworlds books do not suck. [4] (But I’d still recommend reading them in publication order.) Indeed, I quite enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to reading A Working of Stars—and then, probably, re-reading the entire series.

Anyway, that’s one exam down, and a nice leisurely lunch and futzing around with writing this as a reward; now, back into the academic grind.

[1] Let’s see. In addition to the usual discomfort of having my head forced forward at a 45-degree angle by the “head rests” on airplane seats (when I win the lottery and custom-build a personal jet, the seat backs will be flat, with sliding lumbar and neck pillows so that everyone can be comfortable), the seat cushions on Continental’s puddle-jumpers are apparently made of rock, or lead, or something—I’ve sat in wooden chairs that were more comfortable. I came this close to reflexively smacking a flight attendant when she shook me out of a sound sleep, asking me to turn my tape player off for landing; I’m never happy when I’m woken abruptly, and it’s such a stupid rule. And I got my bag searched, which was annoying twice over—if you’re going to paw through my personal things in front of everyone, could you at least do a proper job of it? [back]

[2] Which I saw far too much of. Today’s lesson: never ever ever trust online maps, even for city-to-city directions. I-64 between Louisville and Lexington is quite pretty—very green, much greener than Connecticut, and pleasantly hilly—though rather boring. And the small rural highways are also quite pretty, and less boring as they twist and turn through farms (horses, of course, though I saw more cows than horses). They get markedly less boring when you realize that Yahoo! Maps’ directions have run out, and you’re quite obviously not in the middle of downtown Lexington yet (as the little picture in the directions promised), but are, instead, in the middle of nowhere. Zen navigating fails, since there are no “to downtown Lexington” highway signs and the car rental company’s map treats all of Lexington in a square half-inch (quite reasonably, as it was a Louisville map, just not helpfully). After some adventures in strip-mall hell to find a working pay phone, you stumble into the hotel (narrowly averting ripping out the desk clerk’s throat when he claims no room key is waiting for you, when you know damn well there is), take a fist-full of Advil for your near-blinding headache, and fall face-first onto the bed, determined never to move again.

(You also develop the inexplicable tendency to tell stories in the second person, which is a dubious move for anyone who isn’t Ted Chiang.)

On the plus side, I had a fun little car to drive, a Toyota Corolla that got terrific mileage: Louisville to Lexington and back on $8 of gas. Alas, no cruise control, which meant I was constantly paranoid about whether I’d absentmindedly crept up to my usual speeds; I got my Very First Ticket recently, a remarkably effective deterrent for someone as poor as I currently am. It also had a CD player, which was nice, though my ideal car will have both a CD player and a tape deck. (Albums that it is a crime that they didn’t sell a zillion copies: 1965, the Afghan Whigs; Some Other Sucker’s Parade, Del Amitri; Breach, the Wallflowers. Okay, Breach at least got some airplay, but apparently didn’t do as well as Bringing Down the Horse, which is even more of a crime since Breach is, by a conservative estimate, at least ten times better.) [back]

[3] When the Memphis Soul Revue (who I am firmly convinced could get a tombstone to dance) kicks into “Smooth” at the wedding reception, which song I adore passionately (yes, still). When you’re not a good dancer, it doesn’t take much to upset the proper balance of energy, looseness, and spatial awareness. (It’s just possible that the alcohol and the fatigue might have contributed, also, by that point in the evening.) Anyway, good dancing or bad, it was a hell of a party and worth the sore feet. [back]

[4] No, I haven’t seen Attack of the Clones yet, but I’m really not in any rush. Most of the reviews I’ve seen suggest it’s quite cringe-worthy, such as Ebert’s comment on the grand romance:

There is not a romantic word they exchange that has not long since been reduced to cliche.

No, wait: Anakin tells Padme at one point: “I don’t like the sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating–not like you. You’re soft and smooth.” I hadn’t heard that before.

*shudder* [back]


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  1. We’re getting pretty loose with the “booklog” concept, aren’t we?

    (If you can use the second person to describe the first person, I can surely use the first to describe the third.)

    Oh, and regarding speeding tickets: Equally effective is getting a massive amount of points on your license such that if you get a second speeding ticket like your first, you’ll lose your license. Has a way of focusing the mind, that.

  2. Pfui. Why I read what I read is fair game for the booklog, and it was all in footnotes so you could skip it if you wanted. These days I take what amusement I can find . . .

  3. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with breaking through the booklog strictures, if you’ve got a story to tell. And she did footnote ’em…

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