Sunday, May 13, 2012

Grading week, 4/13/2012

I'm grading papers this week. They seem better than usual.

I'm still picking at the Leiber collection. I did finish two books this week, though.

Eric Chaline - Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History

This book - well, I found it somewhat uninspiring. It's the sort of book a distant aunt might send you, "because you like animals, dear," never mind that that was ten years ago, and the animals in question were the prize winning ferrets you were raising for 4H club.

There are fifty animals. Number fifty is "human". Some of the more "important" animals have three or four pages of information on them. Each entry has some nice pictures, and a little flavor quote from some notable, and some, actually, fairly interesting stuff - just not very much. I found some of Chaline's choices to be dubious - Spanish Fly? Really? There was no animal which had a greater effect on history than Spanish Fly? The choices seemed a little Euro-centric although there were several references to Asia and Africa, and non-European North Americans. Chaline's writing felt a little flippant at times, too - as if he were trying to reward people for reading the whole work, perhaps. Anyway, the book is the sort of thing that, if someone really like's animals, they have something better already, and if they don't already like animals, this isn't really going to give them enough to prompt a deep love of animals. A pity, because the idea is an interesting one. Maybe fifty animals is too ambitious?

C.J. Cherryh - Chanur's Venture

This is the second Chanur book, and the first of the middle trilogy. Pyanfur has just been granted access to Meetpoint Station again, after the events of The Pride of Chanur. Meetpoint is the station in the middle of the galaxy, where all of the various trading species can come and trade. The stsh'to control the station, and dislike disruptions. Pyanfur seems to revel in disrupting folks.

Anyway, in the first chapter, Pyanfur meets an old friend at Meetpoint, who brings her Tully, the human from the first book, which catapults the whole crew (which now includes Pyanfur's husband) into a deep political mess, which is only really just hinted at in this book.

I really really like the continued use of the hani point of view, especially in regards to Tully - it's a refreshing twist on an old aliens and humans type story. I also really liked the gender relations - as with lions, the hani males do very little but sit around and fight other males, while the females go off and earn money (ok, lions rarely earn money, but the correlation is there). Pyanfur brings her husband on board at the end of the first book, since he's lost a fairly major fight, and thus his home. This creates an interesting situation - males are considered inherently unstable, and thus ill suited to anything but lounging and fighting. This results in an interesting, but subtle, feminist critique of traditional gender roles in human society - very enjoyable.

All of that, plus space ships flying at faster than the speed of light, things exploding, alien races, politics, and bar fights - it's good stuff!