Hilaire Belloc and Sunny (was it worth reading the books? is it worth reading this posting?)

Several weeks ago, I came across a copy of Da Chen’s Colors of the Mountain, which he had boldly inscribed in Chinese characters.  I bought it and put it on a shelf.

Last week, I bought for 50 cents a softcover copy of a book called Mona Lisa Awakening, signed by the author, who goes by the single name Sunny.  “On the dark side of the moon lies passion, hunger — and danger”, said the cover.  Well, I bought it because it was only 50 cents, and signed, and in decent shape, and looked like it might be intriguing.

Sunny, I thought, who can that be?  Well, it turns out that Sunny is Da Chen’s wife, and a physician who lives with her family in New York, and who has written several books now, which must form sort of a series (I am not going to read the others).

And the book itself?  I think it is written for women, not men.  I could see women who feel themselves too old for “Cosmopolitan” reading Mona Lisa.  It is science fiction, with emigres from the moon masquerading as humans, having strange powers (powers of healing, powers of shape-changing and so on) and in fact living in their own closed society, with strange rivalries and power centers, and even stranger social mores.  It is fantasy, of course.  It is romance (the lead character, a half-“monere”, is a very romantic young woman).  It is epic.  It is eroticism.  It is quick reading.  It is certainly adventure.  It is a battle of the sexes.  It is a cat fight between powerful women, queens of the monere, who battle more to keep the loyalty of their male servants than for any other reason.  And their male servants serve them in many different ways.

So, reading it was an experience. Reading my next book, But Soft, We are Observed, by Hilaire Belloc, was much less of an experience.  I have heard of Belloc, of course, but I don’t think I could have told you anything about him.  I certainly could not have told you that he was one of the most prolific and widely read of English authors (French father, English mother) of the first part of the last century.

I have the Penguin edition of this book, which was written in the 1920s but set in the 1970s.  Not really science fiction, just set 50 years ahead.  Its genre could best be described, I think, as political humor.  And I guess the setting, if not the characters or the nature of society, show a great deal of prescience.

There is a little country called West Irania, which has a certain metal which is needed to build certain machines that are essential to the maintenance of global society, and there is great competition to get a “concession” for these resources from the West Iranian government, competition between both governments and private interests.  A certain individual has the authority to grant/sell the concession, but does not want to be bombarded by would be suitors, so he deftly throws the suitors of the trail by putting them on the trail of a young Cuban/American who is escaping notariety and a bad love affair.  The book is the story of these various interests trying to get the young man (who is completely clueless) to give them the rights to the West Iranian treasure.  At the end, the mystery is solved, the young man paid to keep quiet (and not embarrass the British government and its female prime minister), and the British get the concession from the rightful emissary of West Irania.

On a higher note, I read a review this morning in line of several books about 17th century English diarist Samuel Pepys.  The review was on the website of the Dublin Review of Books (www.dbr.ie), and I commend it to you.  One of the things I learned is that the diary was kept in a kind of shorthand/code to keep its contents secret and it was willed to the British Museum along with the rest of Pepys’ large library, where it sat for almost 200 years without anyone knowing of its existence.

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