Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Turn of a Friendly Card

Most people know Orson Scott Card as a science fiction writer. And now, I do as well. But my first experience reading Card came about in 1993. I was staying overnight with friends in Baltimore en route to that year's March On Washington for Gay & Lesbian Civil Rights and my friend Carla, who has since made a name for herself as a science fiction writer and comic artist and whom I've sadly lost touch with, told me about a book she had recently read and lent me her copy.

So it was that I sat awake on an overnight train from DC to Boston, giddy with the euphoria of having spent the day amid thousands and thousands of jubilant and proud queer folk, including some on-line friends from Texas I'd met face to face for the first time and began reading Lost Boys.

These days I tend to have a pretty live and let live attitude towards other people's beliefs and choices. But in my 20's I was pretty openly hostile towards organized religion. I believed (not unreasonably) that the religious were enemies of gay people and were in a real sense responsible for the discrimination and hate crimes many of us suffered.

Thus it was a real testament to Card's skillful story-telling that I soon found myself empathizing with and caring about a devout Mormon computer programmer, struggling to be a good husband to his wife, raise his children according to his beliefs and protect his family from dangers that seem to lurk everywhere. When I later read Card's science fiction, I would not be surprised that his agility as a novelist brought me to care about the feelings and lives of other species on distant planets; the Mormon family in Lost Boys were at least as foreign and strange to me as the Bugger Queen later would be, and incredibly Card made me understand and care about them. Highly Recommended as a psychological novel and as an introduction to Mormons.

Orson Scott Card is a prolific writer, and a detailed survey even of just his science fiction books would be more material than would comfortably fit in a dozen blog posts, so I will limit myself to discussing just two of his best and best known science fiction titles, Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker For The Dead.

Andrew Wiggin, better known by his nickname Ender is perhaps Card's most enduring contribution to the roster of great fictional characters. Introduced in Ender's Game as a six year old genius who has been selected for the elite orbiting Battle School, where the Earth is training its youngest and smartest citizens to fight an expected third attack from an insectoid race known simply as 'The Buggers' who have twice previously attacked the planet, readers watch Ender's career as a lonely and un-happy student who evolves into a brilliant leader and strategist and, after leading his fellow Battle School students to a decisive defeat of The Buggers, becomes a diplomat, statesmen and peace activist as an adult.

Much has been written of Card's concept of the zero-gravity "battle room" in which the Battle School students are trained to move, fight and most importantly think in three dimensional space, but for me this was merely an interesting footnote. As in Lost Boys, the appeal of Card's science fiction for me is his incredible gift for communicating the feelings and motivations of his characters whose psychological inner lives are the real driving force of each novel. That his ideas are often strikingly original and his understanding of scientific principles sound had made Card famous as a science fiction writer. But it his superlative talent as a psychological novelist that raises him from the ranks of mere science fiction writers to the more exalted plane of Great American Novelists. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

test of goldy unproofed

La Grande, Oregon is not a very exciting place. I don't remember just why my late partner, Joel, and I were in town that night, although we visited it many times in the course of exploring every corner of Oregon for pleasure and to research a guide book we never got around to writing. But I vividly remember La Grande as the place where I first encountered Diane Mott Davidson's series of mystery books about Goldy Schulz, a Tough Cookie who's a caterer married to a homicide detective in Aspen Meadow, a suburb of Denver, Colorado. I had wandered into the La Grande Safway late one evening to pick up a few things, including something to read since I'd finished everything I'd brought with me on the trip.

Sticks & Scones proved to be an excellent choice. A fairly standard genre mystery in a blend of the amateur detective and police procedural varieties, the story of Goldy and her Goldilock's Catering Company (Where Everything Is Just Right!!) catering a series of events at nearby Hyde Castle, an actual castle from Scotland that rich owners with more money than sense have had shipped to and re-assembled brick by brick in Aspen Meadow Colorado, is a tasty adventure.

In every volume of Goldy's adventures the menu for the important party or banquet where, inevitably, a murder sends party plans askew, is lovingly rendered on the first page of the book and recipes for these and other dishes are either included periodically throughout the text at a point when that particular dish is mentioned in the earlier volumes or in more recent volumes in an appendix after the novel.

And what recipes! Scaled for the home cook and with specific information about ingredients and sources for anything you can't find at your nearest supermarket, Goldy's recipes always make my mouth water. I won't say exactly that reading Davidson's books causes weight gain in and of itself, but if reading about Goldy's cooking doesn't make you hungry and send you straight to the kitchen to whip something up, I will say that you don't care much about cooking delicious food.

As Goldy and her son, Arch-- a troubled pre-teen suffering through his parents divorce in the early books who comes into his own young manhood as the series progresses, along with catering assistant Julian, best-friend and local gossip queen Marla serve up the most sumptuous vittles before inevitably stumbling upon a murder at a major party, it provides a framework that Davidson uses very well to spin her tales of murder investigations and creme brulees and lots and lots of cookies and cappucinos.

So it is with great pleasure that I announce here on The Thin Red Line that Davidson's latest Goldy titled Sweet Revenge is now available at a library near you. That the murder in this one takes place at the local library, where Goldy has been hired to cater an employee breakfast, makes this one especially dear to me. I've only just started to read but am as always quickly drawn into the world of fancy parties, Episcopal church women's gossip and fast-paced adventure Davidson is renowned for. So if you are a foodie or a mystery lover who appreciates good suspense novels, do yourself a favor and head to the mystery stacks and check out Diane Mott Davidson.