Last weekend, I went to the used bookstore; now, let's see what rewards I reaped. As always, I'm listing below all the books I'm currently reading, along with my thoughts so far and a recommendation based on my partial impressions.
...I'm sure there's something else I was going to say up here, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. Oh well, it's probably not important. Click past the break to see what I read when I'm not reading ponyfiction!
Huon of the Horn, adapted by Andre Norton
What it is: The complete subtitle of the story is, "A tale of that Duke of Bordeaux who came to sorrow at the hands of Charlemagne and yet won the favor of Oberon, the elf king, to his lasting fame and great glory." This is a retelling (rather than a strict translation) of the romance of Huon, a 13th-century French saga.
How I'm liking it so far: Although the French chivalric tales have always been less intrinsically fascinating to me than their English counterparts (ironically, the French tales' depictions of honor and knightly duty tend to translate better to the mores and expectations of the modern English-speaking world than the English ones do), this is pretty much the definition of a story which has withstood the test of time. Although the author carefully mimics the portentous and grandiose tone of the early epics, the language used is not archaic or stilted--Norton was an accomplished author in his own right, and it's frankly refreshing to find a readable retelling that doesn't completely abandon the stylings of the era.
Recommendation: A good basis for comparison might be Mallory's Le Mort d'Arthur. Readers who enjoyed those stories, or whose only impediment to enjoyment was the language used, will probably enjoy the tale of Huan (at least, in this form). Fans of sweeping adventure should likewise give this a look.
The Electronic Olympics, by Hal Higdon
What it is: A comic tale of the near future circa 1971; a future in which technology has taken over seemingly every facet of human existence--even that celebration of the human body, the Olympic Games.
How I'm liking it so far: This reads like an early Asimov or DeCamp story, if Asimov or DeCamp were having an off day. The emphasis on a problem-->solution mechanic as a means of story advancement, the shallow but vivid characters, the obvious love of predictive elements... the only thing that's missing (so far, at least--I've got about a quarter of this slim book left) is any obvious POV. Even at his most flippant, Asimov was able to challenge the way people viewed the world, and science fiction. His mix of faith in science and reason, and his humanistic bent, were both genre-defining breaks from the norm, and clearly realized. This story lacks any sort of obvious vision, beyond "look at this cool/funny/ridiculous stuff they'll have in the future!"
Recommendation: This seems to be a decent enough, but unexceptional, bit of dated but nevertheless entertaining sci-fi. Definitely worth the buck I paid for it, but not something I'd actively have sought out.
Smart Dragons, Foolish Elves, edited by Alan Dean Foster and Martin Harry Greenberg
What it is: A collection of short stories, based around the theme of "humorous fantasy."
How I'm liking it: I like to pick up short story collections to read before bed; it's nice to have one or two stand-alones to tuck into before I go to sleep. I've read (or at least, started) the first five so far, and as is the case with most anthologies, this collection is a real mixed bag. The biggest disappointment so far has been Harvey Jacobs' The Egg of the Glak, which I really wanted to enjoy when it opened with a half-crazed English professor drunkenly ranting about how the Normans ruined the language, but which was such a rambling, muddled mess that I eventually gave up on it altogether. Maybe I'll try to tackle it when I'm not dozing off--it might just not have been a good fit for my cognitive state. But a few others, particularly Mike Resnick's Beibermann's Soul (a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek tale of an author who loses his soul, which manages to deliver its moral in a manner just ham-handed enough to be endearing) I've enjoyed.
Recommendation: As with the story above, I feel like I'm getting my money's worth out of it (a buck fifty, in this case), and if someone asked me to suggest a book of humor/fantasy short stories it would top the list by virtue of being the only such example of which I'm aware, but past that it's probably not worth specifically looking for.
Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World, by Jan Goodwin
What it is: Despite the provocative title, this book deals mostly with cultural, not religious, oppression. It's a study of women's roles in various middle-eastern and African societies.
How I'm liking it: And last but not least, my only (for the moment) foray into the realm of non-fiction. When I picked this up, I thought I was in for a layman's history, but it turned out to be a significantly more academic work than the cover and dust jacket led me to believe. Despite that, I'm enjoying it so far: although it's sometimes dry, it's very readable, and the subject matter is fascinating. And despite the sometimes aloof tone, this is also the story of dozens of women's life experiences, and it makes for, at times, powerful reading.
Recommendation: Anyone interested in how vastly different understandings of honor and duty can be even among present-day civilized peoples, and how these differences influence the ways we see ourselves and each other, should give this book a look.