Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: "Ilium" by Dan Simmons; Ice Cream

Rage. Sing, O Muse, of the rage...

The intelligent opening to Dan Simmons' Ilium, an "elegant monster of an epic" (PW) that is literary sci-fi at its... almost best. You'll probably find nothing but praise for this work, and I agree, it's something that should be read, whether you like sci-fi, Greek mythology, adventure, Shakespeare, or just a very literate, intelligent read. But unlike some, I'll argue it's not perfect. More on that in a moment.

Three storylines. Earth, Jupiter, and Mars. Humans, meta-humans, sentient robots. All coming together as a mystery unravels, surging towards an epic battle. On earth, the remaining population of humans is much like the Eloi of Wells' creation: soft in body and mind. But some have begun to question the world around them. On Jupiter, four sentient robots prepare to undertake a journey to Mars; two of them do not know what their mission is about, but they are necessary components. On Mars, a race of meta-humans calling themselves "gods" is re-creating the Trojan War using actual ancient Greek humans (or are they...?). It's the massive terraforming and quantum power that has drawn the attention of the robots. And in the middle of this, a lone scholic from the 20th/21st century (he's not sure exactly when he used to exist) is about to change history -- literally.

Engaging, fast-paced, exciting twists, superbly creative -- what more could you want?


I could want more 3-D characters, for starters. The single character who stands out, head and shoulders above the rest, is Mahnmut, a moravec (sentient robot) who studies the sonnets of Shakespeare and who has spent most of his existence in his own submersible, far below the Europan seas. Mahmnut is diligent, loyal and thoughtful. It's his loyalty that won my heart, as he and his friend, Orphu of Io, are the only two remaining robots after the "gods" blast them out of the Mars atmosphere. He's courageous and intelligent, gently funny, and he's got a set of his own problems to overcome. He does with grace, and I could not have loved him anymore.

As for the actual humans, well, that's another story. Here we go again. Male sci-fi writer, female characters divided into three groups: whore, bitch, or child(like). It is permissible, of course, to combine these. Helen of Troy, for instance, slots neatly into whore/bitch. But beyond this, the female characters are little more than window dressing. Sure, they've got their parts to play. It's just too bad that they weren't endowed with any of the same endearing characteristics of the robot.

As for the human males, the most vacuous of them all, Daeman, is probably Simmons' triumph. He's the only one who made realistic, believable progress without veering into cliche (though he certainly starts out that way). No other character makes nearly as much progress, and I'd argue that this book is, indeed, Daeman's story. The Hero, unlikely as he is. He whines, he cries, he's petulant, spoiled and soft -- hell, he's pudgy! He never wants anything to change, he isn't curious... And yet, the Daeman at the end is a remarkable human being, unlike any other I've come across in a book yet, and I am rooting for him.

Great book, but the characters fell flat. I can't even begin to describe how paper-thin the Greeks are. I had hope for Zeus, but he seems like just a cariacture of a god. If, however, you're a sci-fi fan, get this. It's brilliant, it's literary, it's clever.


I also had high hopes for last night's ice cream: Lemon.

The recipe is simple: kefir (a sort of thin, drinkable yogurt, unsweetened, tangy), honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, a splash of Limoncello. Whisk, put it in your ice cream maker, and in 45 minutes, a snowy mound of very tart, very lemony ice cream.

It's perhaps too tart. As B said, you can't eat a big spoonful of this. Small bites, almost as if it was a palate cleanser. In the heat and humidity we've been experiencing, this is a gorgeously refreshing ice cream. Again, you just can't eat a lot of it, nor in big bites. :)

I'm going to try again with another lemon ice cream recipe. I want something a bit more subtle. I should mention that, at the link above, they do say that the recipe is so simple, you could easily substitute a variety of citrus. So, lime or grapefruit. Very intriguing!


Weird zombie fic progresses. I need 200 more words.

And I wrote three pieces for the chapbook.

The above mentioned writing may not be spectacular, but at least I'm getting back into it. My head's finally starting to clear. It does feel like that, as if I've been in a fog for a week. Hopefully, the uphill climb is beginning. I like the work.

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