Book: Heathern - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Heathern
Sunday, 18 September 2005 at 07:19 pm
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Author: Jack Womack

Details: (c) 1990 Jack Womack; Pub Tor 1991; ISBN 0-812-50872-6

Verdict: Heathern is frightening and thought-provoking.

Reasons for reading it / how it came into my hands: Present from rysmiel

Heathern is not the sort of book I normally read: a near-future urban dystopia with a tank on the front cover and lots of violence. So I don't really have much to compare it to, but I didn't find it pointless and stupid, at least. A lot of the ways in which it is clever are really subtle, though; it's a book I found fairly hard going, because it's both intellectually difficult and emotionally off-putting.

I think I would like to put it aside for a while and then reread it, which is a fairly rare reaction for me to have to books, particularly books I don't like. When I say I don't like Heathern, I don't mean "I think it's a bad book", quite the opposite, just that I don't have much of a positive emotional reaction to it. Mind you, I think it would be quite hard to like the book, it's not a happy book even on the level of, yay, lots of explosions and blood and weapons and cool villains.

It's sort of a book about good and evil, which is an unexpected subject for this kind of cool urban SF. It's even weirder to find odd snippets of Jewish mysticism in such a setting. For most of the way through I thought it wasn't going to context the Jewish allusions at all, but eventually there are hints at least that that's what's going on. Very subtle hints, mind you, which makes me suspect there's other stuff that I've completely missed. Also I really wonder how this book would read for someone who didn't get that sense of familiarity but just read that stuff as part of the SF setting's internal wacky theology.

Joanna makes a very interesting viewpoint character, as a fairly ordinary person caught up in the minor bureaucracy of evil. Not the sort of person who is often any kind of protagonist in fiction, but obviously people like Joanna are what makes the nastier bits of history possible. It's very possible to sympathize with her and her emotional torment at the awfulness of what she has become, but Heathern doesn't take the easy route of suggesting that it's all ok because she feels guilty. Thatcher Dryden is a chillingly believable villain; he is extremely evil, but also a real human being, not a Bond villain whose only motivation is evil for its own sake.

Partly because the characters are so plausible the dystopian setting seems plausible too. I'm more scared that Heathern might be prophetic than I have been by almost anything else I've read. I also really don't know what to make of the ending.


Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: Beth Orton: Live as you dream
Discussion: 6 contributions | Contribute something
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rysmiel: currying favour
From:rysmiel
Date:September 20th, 2005 02:10 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 10:10 am (rysmiel's time)
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I thought you would get the subtle bits in it. Come to think of it, you are p[robably getting subtle bits in it that are passing over my head at the Jewish mysticism level.

Thank you for showing enough trust in me to read a violent urban dystopia with a tank on the front cover. As with all of Womack, particularly Random Acts... , it's not a book that is packaged to reach an audience to appreciate the subtler bits of what it's doing, not that I have a clue how I would go about doing that; absent said packaging, it is the kind of thing I would be recommending to non-genre readers who have read 1984 to say look, here is a thing in genre with really solid charcterisation and interesting thematic things done subtly and suchlike literary virtues.
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:September 21st, 2005 10:43 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 10:43 am (livredor's time)
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I thought you would get the subtle bits in it.
I'm not entirely sure I did, actually. I can see that the subtleties are there, but I'm not at all convinced I've understood them.

Come to think of it, you are p[robably getting subtle bits in it that are passing over my head at the Jewish mysticism level.
It's not so much that I understand those bits particularly well, it was just rather a disconnect to be immersed in the story and suddenly come across a little story I liked as a child. And having that context meant I could partly see some of the later bits of the book coming, I suppose.

Thank you for showing enough trust in me to read a violent urban dystopia with a tank on the front cover.
Of course I trust your book recommendations! *hug* A lot of the point of getting friends to recommend me stuff is precisely so that I do get to read things that I wouldn't pick up spontaneously. Thank you.

the kind of thing I would be recommending to non-genre readers who have read 1984
I was thinking that it's somewhat along the same lines as 1984, but more successful along precisely those lines. (Some people classify 1984 as SF, mind you, given that it is after all set in an imaginary future.)
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:September 21st, 2005 02:54 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 10:54 am (rysmiel's time)
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I can see that the subtleties are there, but I'm not at all convinced I've understood them.

Well, I'm not claiming I've got every little detail of it either - Jack Womack is a remarkably erudite man in some very odd directions.

Come to think of it, you are probably getting subtle bits in it that are passing over my head at the Jewish mysticism level.
It's not so much that I understand those bits particularly well, it was just rather a disconnect to be immersed in the story and suddenly come across a little story I liked as a child. And having that context meant I could partly see some of the later bits of the book coming, I suppose.


Did you think the execution lived up to what it was doing with those ?

Thank you for showing enough trust in me to read a violent urban dystopia with a tank on the front cover.
Of course I trust your book recommendations! *hug* A lot of the point of getting friends to recommend me stuff is precisely so that I do get to read things that I wouldn't pick up spontaneously. Thank you.


I really enjoy it when that works. *smile*hug* This is one with a higher than normal activation energy, I think, to get people past the packaging.

I was thinking that it's somewhat along the same lines as 1984, but more successful along precisely those lines. (Some people classify 1984 as SF, mind you, given that it is after all set in an imaginary future.)

It's unarguably SF within most meanings of the term, but it's not sold as genre SF, it's marketed as literature and seems to be accepted as such. And there still seem to be many people out there who think of it that way and see SF as Star Wars and the like who would probably really enjoy Heathern - well, appreciate, "enjoy" is not the word I am looking for - but who are never likely to come across it. [ I get like this about a lot of authors, but Jack Womack is one of the ones who prompts this reaction most strongly from me. ]
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livredor: Amelie
From:livredor
Date:September 21st, 2005 10:45 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 10:45 am (livredor's time)
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Oh, and I like the appropriate icon even though I hate Rocky Horror.
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rysmiel: sigh
From:rysmiel
Date:September 21st, 2005 02:13 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 10:13 am (rysmiel's time)
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You do ? Umm, why ?
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:September 21st, 2005 02:31 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 02:31 pm (livredor's time)

why I hate Rocky Horror

(Link)
I saw it when I was 12 or so and was absolutely traumatized. I think this is to do with the fact that I was just old enough to find it scary and not old enough to see the humour. It's probably taking it way too seriously, but there's a load of stuff in it that really doesn't feel consensual to me. And I find the humour rather cruel, and the scene at the end where they were zapping people with the rays that made them into drag queens gave me nightmares for months. So I don't have a good reason not to like it, it just has a lot of bad emotional resonance for me.

Which is a pity, on the whole, cos I rather like the androgynous goth aesthetic, and I like the kind of subculture that tends to be rather into Rocky Horror. Maybe I should watch it again and see if I get it more now that I'm less easily scared, I don't know.
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