The Magic Christian – 3/5 Stars
I don’t know almost anything about Terry Southern except he has a great name and he wrote for the movies in addition to fiction. If you’ve seen Dr Strangelove, you’ve seen some of his writing at work, and he was a favorite of Peter Sellers. In addition, he was more or less loosely associated (at the very least in style and tone) to those post-war waywards like Charles Portis and Ken Kesey. This novel begins with Guy Grand, an eccentric billionaire, with nothing to do walking down the street and offering up huge sums of money for strange and confusing requests like eating a train ticket. He also gladly buys himself out of minor legal trouble by offering bribes and the like. The novel combines both the disgusting excess of the rich that America is plenty familiar with ala the mansions along the Newport RI coast or the giant estate, with the post-war listlessness and despair from the horrors of WWII. It’s hard to feel a keen and direct sense of noblesse oblige (perhaps) when you’ve also dealt with Auschwitz and Stalingrad.
The novel culminates in the refitting of a luxury liner, the SS Magic Christian where he finally turns his pranks onto the other rich, who deserve it of course. The novel is strange, and ultimately not all that good I feel, but it’s irreverent and mischievous in good ways.
The Song of Roland
You can’t really rate an 11th century French epic poem about Charlemagne in a singular battle. The main reason would be, how in the world could you? The second being that the story itself is perfectly fine and very familiar. There’s a battle, the army is fatigued, and the king wishes to broker for peace. He asks Roland, his nephew, to set that up. Roland chooses a messenger, a knight names Ganelon, who worries that as messenger, he might be killed to send a message, so he accuses Roland of betrayal, and it all goes from there. The form also presents a significant challenge. When you read the Odyssey, the story itself, and the sheer length of the poem offer up a lot to work with. But in almost all translations, the Greek poetic structure, which was written to fit a specific meter is lost of course, and just try to read one of those verse/meter translations. Here the same thing is occurring, where the form of the poem–metered and specifically rhymed–has to give way to the translation, so the form implies the existence of a poetic meter that the translation just can’t support. So the remaining values and motifs of the poem are there, but feel overly simplistic because of the loss of the musicality. In the same way that singing song lyrics often feels pretty empty in comparison to hearing a song, the song element of this epic carries a lot of weight. So the returns are limited in any translation and especially translations not sung.
But. Perhaps you’d like to hear parts of it sung?
Project Kawayan – 3/5 Stars
This is an audible original primarily read by Manny Jacinto and is in the form of a false Choose Your Own Adventure. The way this works is that the story hits little pauses and a choice is presented and a fictional listener makes choices for us, and the storytelling follows those choices. It’s built into the plot and structure of the story itself, which is about YOU, a being who has lost their memory awakening from a state of cryostasis. You have the formal knowledge of being alive and how to do things, but not the memories of whatever life that was lived before or what has happened to earth. This story proceeds in this way as the story unfolds and the world from the past becomes clearer and clearer. I won’t say anything more about it because even by comparison, and something does immediately jump to mind, it might offer spoilers.
The audio performances makes this a much more interesting story than the story itself mostly does, so if you like the idea of Manny Jacinto reading you a story (and it’s always shocking to me when he isn’t Jason Mendoza), well, here you go.