Scott O’Dell’s book The King’s Fifth is about Spanish conquistadors seeking gold in the New World. It bounces between the young map-making narrator languishing in jail for trying to defraud the king of his share of the gold and telling the story of how they found it. It’s a tale of casual brutality towards the native people, and abandoning your dreams for greed (but then redeeming yourself in the end once everyone has died).
It wasn’t bad, just predictable. The blurb on GoodReads seems to be from a time when casual genocide was still considered heroic. Hm. I didn’t realize until just now how old this story was since my copy was an ebook. I don’t think that makes much of a difference to my response.
I feel like I should read something non-science fiction soon because it seems I’ve been on a bit of a tear here. Too bad though, because In the Garden of Iden is a Kage Baker book about immortality, time travel and the idiot romanticism of being young.
So the protagonist of the story is Mendoza, a young girl who’s rescued from the hands of the Inquisition back in the 16th century and is turned into an immortal genius botanist working for an ominous megacorporation from the 24th century called Doctor Zeus (which I alternated between pronouncing like Seuss and Zaius; I don’t know which is correct) to preserve things that history records as having gone extinct but will be found in weird isolated niches all over the planet. That’s the setup.
Mendoza’s in 16th century England posing as the 19 year old daughter of a Spanish doctor (which is convenient because she is 19 – the workers for the company don’t travel through time any differently than the rest of us, at least not in this book), trying to preserve these extinct plants with awesome medicinal properties no one’s noticed yet and she falls in love and there are complications.
There’s a lot of neat tech and anachronism in the book but my favourite part is how appropriate the ending is.
So yes, very cool book. Timetravel, immortality, romance and religion. What more do you need?
At the PZ Myers thing last night, in response to a question of how to get “from molecules to morals” he mentioned how our morals are partially a result of our environmental niche as social cooperators. That’s why we have rules against raping everyone we see. It reminded me of this bit from Roberto Bolano’s book, 2666:
“The Spaniards, who were hot-blooded and didn’t think too far ahead, mixed with the Indian women, raped them, forced them to practice their religion, and thought that meant they were turning the country white. Those Spaniards believed in a mongrel whiteness. But they overestimated their semen and that was their mistake. You just can’t rape that many people. It’s mathematically impossible. It’s too hard on the body. You get tired. Plus, they were raping from the bottom up, when what would’ve made more sense would be raping from the top down. They might have gotten some results if they’d been capable of raping their own mongrel children and then their mongrel grandchildren and even their bastard great-grandchildren. But who’s going to go out raping people when you’re seventy and you can hardly stand on your own two feet?”
So, a possible alternate explanation.
Lee Siegel’s Love and the Incredibly Old Man is a book about Ponce de Leon, who rather than being a fool who accidentally discovered Florida while looking for the Fountain of Youth was a Jewish actor who cardarred a lot of women in his 540-some-odd years of life. Most of those women were of course after he found the Fountain. Now, the story is being told by Lee Siegel, who the incredibly old man hired to ghost write his story. That’s the jist of the book. It’s unapologetically counter-factual as Lee Siegel (the author and narrator) compares the old man in Florida’s version of things to what is recorded, and funny in parts. Ponce de Leon is a tyrant, but a well-paying one who demands a lot of productivity from his ghost writer, including the creation of many new metaphors and translations of untranslatable words.
The problem I had with the book is that it really was a litany of women and how much PdL loved each of them. It’s a problem which Siegel brings up in the story. Really it’s a story about growing Siegel growing old, not about love, and it’s unsatisfying in the final analysis. It reminded me of Garcia Marquez, but with less magical amazingness. The reflexive analysis of the story was clever but I felt like there needed to be more than just that as a hook. As the story went on I grew to dread the Ponce de Leon parts and wished there was more Siegel, just because tales of loving each woman more than any woman ever, get pretty tedious.