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09 June 2010 @ 10:49 am
Books  
"The Gate of Worlds" by Robert Silverberg (book 10) came in at the library last week - I'd got it reserved because of graphxgrrl mentioning it in the context of alt-history where an Islamic empire conquered Europe. This wasn't quite the branching point I'd been wondering about (with the Caliphate taking over more of Western Europe than just Spain), instead the split was at the point of the Black Death circa 1348. In the world of the book the mortality rate was 75%, and thus European civilisation is knocked back a long way which gives the Turks a chance to conquer it all & form an Islamic European empire. A post-crusades post-Caliphate empire, which gives it a more fundamentalist flavour than if it had happened pre-crusades (if you see what I mean). This empire doesn't attempt to expand across to the Americas until a hundred or so years after the Europeans got there in our world, and the Aztecs and Incas they meet are more established & not conquered. The book is set in 1985, when the Turkish empire has already collapsed/been driven back, and the superpowers are the Aztecs and I think the Russians & the Turks still to some degree. Turkish is the "common" language of Europe, and most people in Europe are Muslim, Nahuatl (the Aztec language) is the "common" language of the Americas. Our hero is a disaffected youth from England going to seek his fortune in Mexico.

So what did I actually think of the book? It was odd - the world building was great, although I'm not sure I agree with some of it (the people of North America are still proposed to have been conquered but by Russians and Aztecs this time, there was an air of "but of course they just aren't the sort of people to have formed a nation/many nations of their own" which sat wrong with me). But the story went nowhere really. The boy who is telling the story is 18, his family were always secret Christians even under the Turks and he's got a fanatical zealousness about not being Turkish - which makes it easier to tell the story to us as he refuses to use the Muslim dates, and gives a reason why he seeks his fortune over the sea rather than joining the Turkish army like his more pragmatic older brother did. And he comes across well as a rather fanatical teenager - full of idealism and "for the glory of ..." even when it would likely be better to be more realistic. And his travels through Mexico & the Hesperides (the name for the Americas in this world) are well drawn & kept me entertained. But then the story just stops - is there maybe another book afterwards to tell the tale of his adventures in Africa? And the character hasn't grown, or changed, or really had any arc - I mean, he met a girl, but then carried on doing the sort of daft idealistic things he'd been doing all along despite her disapproval and she didn't stick about. It's like the people are just there to show off the world, which was well drawn so kept me reading, just the plot & characters didn't seem to get anywhere.

Yesterday I also read that freebie book, "The Shop on Blossom Street" by Debbie Macomber (book 11). I'd thought I'd just dip my toes in, see what it was like & ended up finishing the whole thing. Which is a plus point for it, I guess - I mean, it kept me entertained enough that I read it rather than going and doing anything else. But it really wasn't my normal sort of thing and I don't think it was a particularly good version of the sort of thing it was. So, what was it? It's the story of four women in Seattle from different backgrounds at different points in their lives, who meet at a knitting class and become friends. I don't know quite what genre to put this in, not reading much outside of SF myself, romance possibly because there's a romantic element to most of the plots? Chicklit doesn't feel quite right either, but what do I know about the sub-genres of non-spec-fic? ;) So our four - Lydia is a cancer survivor (twice), and has opened the knitting shop with her inheritance from her Dad. She has never had a relationship (at 30) having spent most of her life in & out of hospital so far, she thinks her sister hates her and the UPS delivery man for the shop is cute. Jacqueline is an upper class bitch of a woman who thinks her husband doesn't like her and is driving away her son coz she can't stand her daughter-in-law. Carol wants a baby, IVF is failing, her marriage is happy but the no-baby thing is putting it under strain. Alix is a product of an abusive childhood, trapped in poverty, sentenced to community service for possession of drugs (but they weren't hers, obviously, she being a "heroine" of the story *rolls eyes*), she dresses & looks like a punk omg.

They get introduced, the "conflict" for each one gets introduced. They move towards happiness, they have the predictable set backs (ie cancer scare for Lydia, IVF fail for Carol), they find true happiness and fulfilment forever. And that's the plot, it does it straight by the numbers. Lydia & the UPS guy get together, her sister doesn't hate her, she fails to die of cancer again. Jacqueline's husband wasn't having an affair & still loves her, her daughter-in-law is fantastic really. Carol's IVF fails again, but she & her husband adopt Alix's room-mate's unwanted baby. Alix finds love with the boy she fancied in sixth grade & gets to go & train as a chef as she'd always wanted. Entertaining enough, coz I kept reading, but that's the most I think I can say. The characters felt like stock types to me, and those without points-of-view (ie everyone except our four ladies) felt like plot coupons. Particularly Jacqueline's family - the husband isn't having an affair (except briefly), but he was pretending to for 10 years .. but I'm not sure why, just the plot wouldn't've worked without it. The daughter-in-law is a bloody saint and perfection incarnate and only Jacqueline doesn't like her, everyone else falls in love with her charm and her simple wisdom and and and. And I just wanted to roll my eyes every time Tammie Lee trotted out another charming little anecdote about her family that had a simple wisdom and compassion at its heart *rolls eyes*.

I suspect it was supposed to be a heart-warming tale of people growing and finding a happy life through friendship, even with unlikely people. And I just felt it was shallow and a bit too fairytale perfect and it wasn't my fairytale either. It probably classes as a good "beach read" for people who like such things. And who knows, what I'm seeing as shallow & by-the-numbers may well be me projecting expectations from reading different genres by preference (not convinced tho ;) ).
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contents under pressure / handle with care: reading - sail awaygraphxgrrl on June 9th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Gate of Worlds is definitely a product of when it was written in terms of being terribly Western-centric and not showing possible issues with that. I remember liking the implication that a Muslim empire wouldn't show any interest in colonizing beyond Europe certainly.

There's a later book titled "Beyond the Gate of Worlds" that features short stories by other authors set in the same universe.
Margaretpling on June 9th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, definitely came across as of its time - in choice of protagonist, as well as the casual assumptions about cultural "character" that reads oddly today. Still a fairly good read though, just needed a bit of recognition that it was from a different era :)

A little bit of poking around online lead me to the info that originally it was planned as a trilogy but he never wrote any more of them, so maybe that's why the abrupt (in my eyes) ending.
jimreevejimreeve on June 10th, 2010 11:12 am (UTC)
I love Robert Silverberg's 'middle period' books - after the pulp sci-fi and before the fantasy. Try 'Tower of Glass' or 'To Live Again', that's my advice ;-)