Thusly, I have read Engine Summer, roasted a turkey, & wish I had nothing else to do, but the Workplace of Perpetual Crisis has other ideas on the subject.
Read a newspaper article about how flight attendants' work has changed- for the worse, natch- in twenty years. The attendants quoted were all my age or, dear god, older, and I thought 'Still doing twelve hour shifts and overnight flights in your 50s? God help you.' I can't think hefting babies is less strenuous than hefting other people's carry-ons into luggage compartments, though one may do more baby-hefting in a day than gargantuan laptop case and suitbag in-defiance-of-the-regs hefting. Still, my coworkers, all younger than I, are suffering the inevitable physical fallout of doing something for twenty years that a normal person stops doing after ten or twelve, usually with breaks, and that most men don't do much of at all, not being built for it.
However I was really going to talk about Robert Holdstock's Lavondyss, the sequel to Mythago Wood and, to me, far more compelling than that. Two guys falling in love with the same not entirely real female is just been there done that: what else was The Iliad about? Young girls being shamans, and not fuzzy New Age one-with-the-earth shamanism either, is new. And the 'we both love the same man' plot has the wrinkle that the love on both sides is incestuous, literally or metaphorically, and what of it? I still have no idea how Holdstock's mythagoes work, or what they are, even though the characters grasp it at once. Embodiments of archetypes in the human subconscious, OK fine, but is the subconcious of yer average Brit kid geographically defined by the England, or at least the British Isles, she lives in? Doesn't the collective unconscious span cultures?
But rational objections aside, it's still viscerally convincing. The violence especially feels right, even if terrifying: Id content clothed in historic detail. The Invaders are always at the gates; the foreign warriors are always coming across the water to burn and massacre; it's always cold and snowing. The oddest thing is how I keep hearing echoes of Pratchett, that most civilized of men, in the chaotic chthonic Ice Age world Holdstock describes at one point. Turn the Uberwald a few degrees, or go a little below the surface, and Fifth Elephant lands right in Lavondyss territory.
It's raw and a little bleak but deeply envisaged and beautifully described. If I could find my book again there's a passage I want to quote. I can't even say what the passage was about without sounding twee, and twee is as far from Holdstock as you can get. But the fact is, I read Engine Summer because I couldn't bear to read anything but another high stylist after Holdstock. (And muttered through three-fourths of it, 'If this turns into The Waters of Babylon I'm going to be really pissed.) Kushner, McKinley, even Ford: a letdown; occasionally, with Kushner, a free fall into the abyss. She's not howlingly bad, not at all; but her characters are pedestrian and described in a pedestrian style and I'm not sure why people are so gaga about her. Setting, maybe?
And after Crowley, what? Maybe that Dineson I just got. Style is addictive.
ETA: the thought that flew into my head and out ('and is not long in the light') was that bravecows-afrai has asked for Puck of Pook's Hill fic for Yuletide, something pastiching the original, and I had a fleeting vision of Dan and Una and truly terrifying neolithic shamans who suck human bones to get at the memories contained therein. But such is not Kipling's ethos, which is probably a good thing.