Book: The Armageddon Rag - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: The Armageddon Rag
Sunday, 12 February 2006 at 08:57 pm
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Author: George RR Martin

Details: (c) 1983 George RR Martin; Pub New English Library 1984; ISBN 0-450-05766-6

Verdict: The Armageddon Rag is transcendentally wonderful.

Reasons for reading it / How it came into my hands: rysmiel gave it to me for my birthday, and rysmiel is very good at picking out books that I really get on with.

I'm finding it hard to express how wonderful The Armageddon Rag is. Firstly because a description of it wouldn't really do it justice, or explain why I like it. It's sort of a fairly noir detective story, and sort of a road trip story, and there's a lot of rock nostalgia, and a fair bit of weird millennialism. None of those are really elements I'm particularly interested in as a reader. And the bigger problem is that, well, the sort of hyperbole I want to use is mostly reserved for either mysticism or sex and neither of those is the point here.

The thing is, I read tAR in a sort of breathless ectasy. I can't even explain what I like about it; the writing is just so superlatively good. So reading it felt like encountering some really great art or music. I think it's much harder for a book to create that kind of emotional impact than for other art forms, because a book by its nature has to be read sequentially, one sentence at a time, so you don't get the same kind of immediate overall impression. But I did feel like that reading tAR, I think because everything seemed to fall into place so perfectly, as if the whole book was just building up from the first word and each sentence made it more wonderful.

And it's not as if the language is particularly beautiful; it's in the rather flat style appropriate to the genre that it starts out in. But every single word is exactly right. Generally when I love a book I read it very fast, but tAR I read rather slowly because I wanted to appreciate how each sentence made the whole more cool until it was finally complete. And I kept repeatedly coming on sentences which were in perfectly ordinary, everyday, almost journalistic language (appropriate as the viewpoint character is in fact a journalist), but which conveyed some new aspect of the story absolutely perfectly, so that no possible other configuration of words could have worked.

I should probably try to talk about normal book review type things, rather than just raving. I think I possibly liked the later part, when things get weird and freaky and apocalyptic, slightly less than the first half. But it's still very very very impressive, and part of what's amazing is the gradual transition from what appears to be yet another story of a midlife crisis played out over a road trip, and into the apocalyptic stuff. So the climax is absolutely inevitable with hindsight, with every single tiny detail of the earlier part of the story contributing to set up the ending.

In a way, the theme of Sandy visiting all his friends from college and finding what has become of them 15 years on is rather an obvious device. But it's done so well, and each person he meets is a totally plausible person as well as an archetype. I liked the way the book's version of musical and general history dovetails with reality, without making a big point about the alt-history angle.

The epilogue seemed a little bit too conveniently cosy, after such a magnificent book. I really want tAR's moral messages to be true: what really matters is the friends of your youth, an ordinary person can save the world by making the right choices, no cause is so right it's worth killing innocent people for. But it still seems a bit weird to go from such a powerful, mythic scene as the West Mesa concert, to what is effectively, and they all lived happily ever after.

I think my biggest quibble with a book that I absolutely adored is that Byrne is too crude a villain. When all the other characters are so real, despite also being figures from both Christian and Tolkienian myth, having someone who is that much the symbol of what the hippy movement rebelled against, and nothing more, is a weakness. Also, it seemed a shame to me that Sharon didn't get to share in Sandy's salvation; if he can redeem someone like Maggio or Lark, then why not her as well?

I'm not the ideal audience for the tAR, in that it rests on the assumption that music is of near-religious importance, and music just doesn't matter that much to me. I did enjoy the descriptions of people who are very much emotionally engaged with music, though. And I loved the idea of a heavy rock cover of Yeats, that's just adorable. It's also a little freaky to read the book now, knowing what was due to happen in musical history after its publication.

I'm trying to think of other books I've loved this much. Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed comes close, and I had something of a similar emotional reaction to William Goldman's The color of light. But the truth is, I'm really struggling for words here.


Moooood: impressedimpressed
Tuuuuune: Apoptygma Beserk: Burning heretics
Discussion: 5 contributions | Contribute something
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doseybat: default
From:doseybat
Date:February 12th, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, February 13th, 2006 01:35 am (doseybat's time)
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It was wonderful to see you, and I still feel that I badatmosphered you out which the least good hostess-like thing to do.. But presentation is past the critical resistance point and is submitting, so everything has deatmosphered, and is at peace.
Every time I have seen you recently I regretted forgotting to ask you for some book reccomendations-loans, must remeber to ask before next time I see you!
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:February 13th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 08:55 pm (livredor's time)

*hughug*

(Link)
No, listen, I had a really wonderful time, don't fret. I'm the opposite of compilerbitch; I'm almost totally insensitive to bad atmosphere. I think the only thing you did that even mildly annoyed me was breaking up one particular good vigourous discussion, but I think that was at least partly my fault. I used to think it was a bit of a joke, the way you worry so much about hospitality stuff, but now I know you're serious about it. I don't know how to reassure you, but really, you so shouldn't worry.

Yay for subduing the presentation and bringing peace; I'm so glad to hear that!

Books, well, you should definitely, for sure, read The Armageddon Rag. Not only because it's wonderful, but because I think you'll particularly appreciate it. I would be more than happy to lend it to you. What else, of stuff I've read recently... I can't remember, have you read The life of Pi? Keri Hulme's The Bone People, if you can cope with some quite disturbing and violent elements, but also some beautiful mythological stuff. If you like that, Arundhati Roy's The god of small things too.

And I recommend AS Byatt's Babel tower to absolutely everybody, so if I haven't yet pushed that on you, then that, for sure. It's full of big chewy thinky things, but it's also a good story. I think you'd probably get on with William Horwood, either Skallagrigg or The Stonor Eagles, if I didn't already lend them to you ten years ago.

But hey, instead of me just throwing (metaphorically) books at you, why don't you tell me what sort of thing you're after?
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rysmiel: black spiky hair
From:rysmiel
Date:February 13th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 12:48 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
You may want to correct the spelling in the title of this entry.

The Armageddon Rag is transcendentally wonderful.

Oh good. I am very much of this opinion myself, and I was so hoping it would work for you.

Firstly because a description of it wouldn't really do it justice, or explain why I like it. It's sort of a fairly noir detective story, and sort of a road trip story, and there's a lot of rock nostalgia, and a fair bit of weird millennialism. None of those are really elements I'm particularly interested in as a reader.

It's also a book that has historically sold really poorly, because nobody quite seems to know how to pitch it to find its friends. The edition I sent you looks to me kind of horror-ish, which is not entirely inappropriate but something that could well put off people who would otherwise like it but don't read horror; the Canadian edition that's on my shelves here at the moment has a very grainy b/w photo of a guy who looks a bit like a middle-aged trucker/Stephen King sort, the semiotics of which say to me "memoir of some 70s star you've never heard of." There was supposed to be a reprint of it this summer, timed to coincide with the long-delayed release of the fourth in the bestselling epic fantasy series Martin is currently writing, but there's been no sign. Which is a pain, as I know half a dozen people I would happily send copies if I could find them.

And the bigger problem is that, well, the sort of hyperbole I want to use is mostly reserved for either mysticism or sex and neither of those is the point here.

*smile* not that the book is lacking in either.

I can't even explain what I like about it; the writing is just so superlatively good.

Martin is really at his absolute best in that. He is reliably very good but not often at quite that peak.

I think it's much harder for a book to create that kind of emotional impact than for other art forms, because a book by its nature has to be read sequentially, one sentence at a time, so you don't get the same kind of immediate overall impression.

Yes, but on the other hand you get to build up to an impact. I do not think I have ever read anything that paced its build-up so well, though The Color of Light is not a bad comparison at all.

And I kept repeatedly coming on sentences which were in perfectly ordinary, everyday, almost journalistic language (appropriate as the viewpoint character is in fact a journalist), but which conveyed some new aspect of the story absolutely perfectly, so that no possible other configuration of words could have worked.

It really evokes a particular setting, a feel and a whole world in which to exist, as well as anything I've ever read. [ Though mind you, I have never heard an opinion on how good that aspect is from someone actually familiar with the milieu in question. ]

I think I possibly liked the later part, when things get weird and freaky and apocalyptic, slightly less than the first half. But it's still very very very impressive, and part of what's amazing is the gradual transition from what appears to be yet another story of a midlife crisis played out over a road trip, and into the apocalyptic stuff.

I had slightly mixed feelings about that at first, too, but it has grown on me. The pace at which it is introduced is just perfect.

The epilogue seemed a little bit too conveniently cosy, after such a magnificent book. I really want tAR's moral messages to be true: what really matters is the friends of your youth, an ordinary person can save the world by making the right choices, no cause is so right it's worth killing innocent people for. But it still seems a bit weird to go from such a powerful, mythic scene as the West Mesa concert, to what is effectively, and they all lived happily ever after.

I thought one of the strengths of the ending was that it wasn't an unmitigated and unexamined happy ever after, but it did a very lovely value of hopeful. Particularly with regard to Slum, whose plight breaks me up every time - the way their expectations for what might be achievable for him is lit by the possibility of the vision Sandy has of an older Slum earlier on is beautiful.
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rysmiel: black spiky hair
From:rysmiel
Date:February 13th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 12:48 pm (rysmiel's time)

second part

(Link)

I think my biggest quibble with a book that I absolutely adored is that Byrne is too crude a villain. When all the other characters are so real, despite also being figures from both Christian and Tolkienian myth, having someone who is that much the symbol of what the hippy movement rebelled against, and nothing more, is a weakness.

Perhaps I've met, and probably read, more of the sort of people on whom Byrne is based than you have, then. Crude, yes, but not bay any means unreal IME.

Also, it seemed a shame to me that Sharon didn't get to share in Sandy's salvation; if he can redeem someone like Maggio or Lark, then why not her as well?

It is a shame, and... I am suddenly seized by the desire to consider Sharon as an echo of the Problem of Susan. Dang. [ No, I am not going to go home and reread The Armageddon Rag straight away. It is one of a number of books I have to ration myself not to read more often than once every year and a half or so or they will stop being fresh for me. ]

I'm not the ideal audience for the tAR, in that it rests on the assumption that music is of near-religious importance, and music just doesn't matter that much to me. I did enjoy the descriptions of people who are very much emotionally engaged with music, though. And I loved the idea of a heavy rock cover of Yeats, that's just adorable.

The more I read it, the more sure I become that Martin has a very clear idea in his head of what all the music sounds like. I would so love to hear it.
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rysmiel: furious angels
From:rysmiel
Date:February 13th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 12:53 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
Oh, and now that you've read the book this 2003 post of mine may be worth a look.
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