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  1. #1
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    December '04 BOTM: The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod

    Discuss!!!

  2. #2
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I really enjoyed this book quite a lot. It had an interesting alternate England and a relatively compelling mystery at its heart. I didn't have any particular attraction or distaste for Robert Borrows as a character, but that didn't seem to bother me at all.

    The central mystery, What happened on the Engine Floor that day twenty years ago, was interesting, and MacLeod parcelled the information out about it in just enough quantity to keep me interested throughout.

    The biggest issue this book seems to explore to me is the relation between the haves and the have nots. I couldn't really decide throughout the book whether it was really pro-socialist or whether just the characters were pro-socialist and the author was setting it up to have the book be anti-socialist. I guess it's hard to say because after the uprising England goes back to being pretty much what it is. Not sure if he's saying that the natural way for people to behave is to stratify into haves and have-nots rather than the ideal of socialism, no matter how much a group may believe that socialism is the way to go.

    I found it somewhat interesting that in the end rather than a change of governmental style, which seemed to be building up throughout the book, what really changed was the people's conception of individual rights, in particular with regard to the trolls, but also somewhat in relation to guildless people.

    There also seems to be some commentary there that the well-off are willing to sacrifice the working class to become more well-off. Mother Borrows' illness, at least to me, seemed to reflect upon the sorts of illnesses and dangers that industrial workers still face in the workplace, acceptable dangers within the profit margin, which even the government allows so as to not inconvenience large companies TOO much with safety and health issues.

    It reminds me of something I heard from a lung doctor not too long ago. When OSHA was created in the early 70s and they were working on regulating asbestos, it was known that asbestos could cause some pretty nasty cancer. So OSHA wanted a warning placed on anything that contained asbestos that there were cancer risks involved. Well, big business and lobbyists being what they are, they thought that would cost them too much money if something actually used the word "cancer." So they lobbied and gave money to the right people and such and OSHA changed its tune. They allowed that the warning not say "cancer" but just something along the lines of "may pose health risks."

    I guess the whole aether poisoning turning people into changelings reminded me a lot of that in many ways. There are certain risks to the common working man that are acceptable in the name of profits.

    MacLeod did a fine job of making everything relevant. It's the kind of book that things happen that may seem like they don't really have any meaning to the whole story, but by the end everything has its place. There are no scenes that I can think of now that didn't somehow fit into the greater puzzle of the work, something that I wish more fantasy would do. So much fantasy, especially in the epic mold, has filler that doesn't mean anything. I think The Light Ages does it right. Nothing is wasted. If something happens, it's there for a narrative reason, not just because it would be cool to have a fight or some sex or a conversation about electricity or a trip to the shore for a big party.

    Okay...not going to read back through this one, so if something doesn't make sense, sorry. Look forward to hearing other thoughts.

  3. #3
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I am still reading. In fact I just started

    It is ok, but slow. I may not be in the right mood for it.

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Ficus, I also found it to be slow--but a steady kind of slow rather than a boring kind of slow. I thought the pacing worked for what he was doing in the end. I hope you enjoy it.
    Last edited by Erfael; December 2nd, 2004 at 05:41 PM.

  5. #5
    Diamond Dog Luke_B's Avatar
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    Glad you enjoyed it Erfdawg. I read this one earlier in the year and loved it. Hmm, I guess that means most people here will hate it.

  6. #6
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael
    Ficus, I also found it to be slow--but a steady kind of slow rather than a boring kind of slow. I thought the pacing worked for what he was doing in the end. I hope you enjoy it.
    It is starting to become something more than slow. It is still slow but it is taking shape. I wasn't crazy about the prolog, but the actual chapters are good. Although it is an alternate England and Aether mining it reminds me very much of the coal mining stories and of the movie (so far) How Green Was My Valley. I am warming up to the book.

  7. #7
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Yeah, the prologue meant nothing at all to me until rather late in the book. I was wondering for a while if it was anything more than a mood-setting just to open things up with something to make you go "Whaa?" before getting into the pace of novel.

  8. #8
    unconditional roach love
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    This is a very slow moving book, with a very dreamy, melancholy mood, but amply worth it. My own take on the political aspect of the book, which Erf touched on, was that it was basically reactionary in one sense - that it ultimately says, as far as revolutions go, 'say hello to the new boss - same as the old boss'. It seems to say that change is incremental - the new order in MacLeod's alternate England may be marginally more humane than the old one - and an overnight transformation is simply not a realistic goal. I'm not saying whether I agree or not, but that's what the brunt of the story seems to be.

    I was deeply impressed by the book as a piece of character-centred fiction. I also found the parallels between Robert Borrows' story and that of Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations interesting - anyone have any theories on this aspect?

  9. #9
    Felix Apathy's Avatar
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    It did not live up to my expectations. There is almost no action in it, and it got boring. Nothing in the book impressed me. It seemed slightly above mediocre. I kept expecting something that would move the book faster, but it just never happened. I really could not get into the characters either.
    But to say in its defense is that it had a steady pace, there were no random sidequests, it was not particularily badly written, but still the overwhelming feeling I had at the end was of bitterness. I will not be reading any more of his books if they are similar to this.

  10. #10
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Well I am still slogging along. I am only about 130 pages in and find it very slow going. The main character has just gone to London. I don't really care all that much about the character, and the story is so slow and anemic that it also has not hooked me. I find excuses to put it down, and avoid picking it up. In that respect, and the literary way it has been written the book reminds me of Little, Big . It also has the same problems with not much story and poor characters.

    In terms of the theme in the book, I keep seeing aether as a substitute for coal. How it shaped and controlled the lives of those who mined it and those who used it. How those who owned the mines must have used their money and influence to also control and shape society and also technology to favor them and their product.

    Because this is Spec Fic I then wonder if the author has written the book because he sees the same events today. I can only see the situation in terms of gas (oil) - which we have and depend on, even though it is bad for the environment and will eventually run out. Because the powerful business interests are committed to it, our technology is geared to it, and perhaps it also blocks development of other options. In the US especially the price is highly subsidized so we don't pay the full cost and end up as a class (consumers) demanding something better and cheaper.

  11. #11
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    I've got about a quarter of the book to go, but thought I'd brave the thread.

    Here's some reactionary comments based on what's been said so far. More when I've finished:

    I couldn't really decide throughout the book whether it was really pro-socialist or whether just the characters were pro-socialist and the author was setting it up to have the book be anti-socialist
    I've found myself thinking the same thing. When reading someone like Mieville, who we know is an active socialist, it's easy to spot the socialist undercurrents to his works. Here however, it's the characters themselves that are conveying the socialist message (as opposed to the themes of the novel) which makes things a little harder to discern. I'd be interest in seeing an interview with Macleod re socialism in this novel (can't you snag one Fitz?).

    I also found it to be slow--but a steady kind of slow rather than a boring kind of slow
    I found it slow until Robbie visited London, and now I'm tearing through it. I think there's a period of acclimatising to the writing style before being able to get really stuck in (I also found this recently with reading Janny Wurts, who's also known for her "flowery prose")

    I also found the parallels between Robert Borrows' story and that of Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations interesting - anyone have any theories on this aspect
    This is where I once again kick myself for not having read enough of the classics.

    It did not live up to my expectations. There is almost no action in it, and it got boring. Nothing in the book impressed me. It seemed slightly above mediocre. I kept expecting something that would move the book faster, but it just never happened. I really could not get into the characters either.
    But to say in its defense is that it had a steady pace, there were no random sidequests, it was not particularily badly written, but still the overwhelming feeling I had at the end was of bitterness. I will not be reading any more of his books if they are similar to this.
    I'm guessing you're looking for fantasy more in the heroic mould...

    In terms of the theme in the book, I keep seeing aether as a substitute for coal.
    That's a great insight. I hadn't thought of it before, and now it seems so obvious I'm kicking myself. I'd have to say though that it strikes me more as anti-coal. Both are mined resources, but aether represents glamour and an upper class, where as coal is more associated with filthiness and the lower classes (at least in my mind). Imagine a filthy chimney sweep in a black fog during our industrial London and then juxtapose this with a party full of people with aether-laced clothes imbibing wishfish. Now if I had some more time I could probably come up with a theory as to why he did this. Any takers?


    OK, some brief comments of my own now:
    I find Robbies relationship with Sadie quite strange at this point. He's an active socialist, yet associates with the upper class and has a relationship of sorts with Sadie. To me this seems to be a mechnism of getting closer to Anna, and even using Sadie as a replacement for Anna - when they first have sex Sadie has used the wishfish to appear more like Anna - if she hadn't done this would Robbie have slept with her? He'd not shown a lot of attraction to her before that.

    I've recently read Newton's Cannon by Greg Keyes. It was interesting to see two novels set in a similar period, with a similar discovery of an alternative to modern science. So far I think The Light Ages does the job a lot better - Macleod's non-use of historical characters works a lot better for me.

    A final question:
    When does everyone think this novel took place on our calendar?

  12. #12
    unconditional roach love
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    I assume that it happened at the close of the 19th century. I can't afford support for this, but that seemed about right to me.

    I wouldn't call the characterisation poor at all - in fact, I thought part of the wieghtiness of the book was just because people are described in such rich inner detail, as the narrator sees them.

  13. #13
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eventine
    That's a great insight. I hadn't thought of it before, and now it seems so obvious I'm kicking myself. I'd have to say though that it strikes me more as anti-coal. Both are mined resources, but aether represents glamour and an upper class, where as coal is more associated with filthiness and the lower classes (at least in my mind). Imagine a filthy chimney sweep in a black fog during our industrial London and then juxtapose this with a party full of people with aether-laced clothes imbibing wishfish. Now if I had some more time I could probably come up with a theory as to why he did this. Any takers?
    You are only thinking of the negative aspects of coal, which I agree are a lot. But it had to have changed things for the upper and what middle-class they had at the time. It had to have changed their world and their technology, and they would have been removed from the dirtyness and the problems of extraction.

    Didn't coal allow trains to travel where before you had to have a horse and carriage or walk ? It would have allowed a lot of the engines in factories and such to make goods and it created the industrial revolution which moved life from the country to the city. It had a huge impact that moved society forward, even if there was a cost. I know most of that is linked to steam engines, but didn't they burn coal to make the steam ?

    So I think coal had both positive and negative sides and so it is similar to the aether and how it could hold up a building or turn you into a troll.

    Haven't read far enough to comment on your views about Robbie and the women. It is still a bit of a boring slog to me, and I have been avoiding it. So far the only mildly interesting thing is what happened on the floor with the other engine and the aether 'head' - which is still just trickling out in small bits at around page 130.

  14. #14
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    Disclaimer: My knowledge of history is sparse and learnt from television, hearsay and half remembered lessons at school where I was probably goofing off anyway...

    You are only thinking of the negative aspects of coal, which I agree are a lot. But it had to have changed things for the upper and what middle-class they had at the time. It had to have changed their world and their technology, and they would have been removed from the dirtyness and the problems of extraction.
    This is where urbanisation comes in as a theme for the novel. One difference between the coal of our world and the aether here is that the negative effects (environmentaly at least) are mainly limited to the rural areas where the aether is mined - aether crystals growing throughout an area as the supplies run low. Salinisation anyone?
    However, coal use would have had a greater impact on urban areas - coal burning resulted in some nasty smogs and the like. I remember reading in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere how many of London's churches and the like had to be cleaned after coal burning stopped to remove the black stains.

    Coal and aether aren't mutually exclusive though, which pretty much makes my point redundant. There's mentions of steam engines and coal fires throughout the book. And I agree with your comments regarding coal use, mainly what I was getting around to was trying to illustrate the glamour of aethe

  15. #15
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eventine
    Coal and aether aren't mutually exclusive though, which pretty much makes my point redundant. There's mentions of steam engines and coal fires throughout the book. And I agree with your comments regarding coal use, mainly what I was getting around to was trying to illustrate the glamour of aethe
    I am not all that up on the history of this period either. I just think there was probably from the POV of the upper and middle classes a view of coal as glamerous for what it provided for them in terms of ease, novelties, and luxuries. I am trying to see the world through their eyes and without our knoweldge and prejudices.

    I agree it is hard for us to accept. But not too long ago cigarette smoking was seen as glamerous and now in most civilized places it is seen as disgusting, and suicidal.

    I think you are right about the black soot and smog, but most 'ladys' went around all veiled up when they went out at all, and the upper classes had their country houses to spend time in when the environment in the city go too nasty.

    Perhaps the aether is more like radium? Its a mineral I think that might have also been mined, and it glowed and was seen as glamerous and beautiful and mysterious, but it was also radioactive and eventually killed you.

    I am at page 170 now and I agree with the person who said it reminds them of Great Expectations. The first part in London also reminded me of The Dress Lodger which is about a poor prostitute who paints plates with radium, and uses a fancy dress to sell her body in. But she has to hire the dress because she is too poor to buy it. The story is set in a factory town and maybe in the 1700s and not the as late as this. It also reminds me of The Crimson Petal and the White which is also about a young prostitute, but in Victorian London.

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