This week’s Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish is about places that books have made you want to visit, but I’m being a Debbie Downer today so here is:
Ten Places That I Wouldn’t Touch With A Bargepole (Books Edition)
1. Space (The Gap Cycle – Stephen R. Donaldson): It’s like living through a replay of the East India Company vs pirates but with spaceships and aliens and everyone being amazingly appalling to one another (it’s like Battlestar Galactica but everyone is even more lacking in humanity). I slogged through four out of the five books and had to stop before it put me off reading science fiction forever.
2. Panem (The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins): So obvious, it comes with its own meme.
3. Gormenghast (Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake): It’s cold, it’s damp, it’s so completely cut off from the world around it that no one ever leaves. Everyone who lives there is so wrapped up in their own thoughts and bowed down under centuries old tradition that nothing ever changes until suddenly it does change, and a lot of people die when they can’t adapt.
4. Middle Earth (The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien): I think this one might be fairly popular as a place to visit, but I take the opposite view. I have only a tenuous grasp on the very long and very detailed history that comes with it, but from what I understand, a lot of unpleasantness was happening in Middle Earth before The Lord of the Rings even got going. There are orcs and goblins and dragons (until the last one was murdered anyway), and the dwarves, elves and wizards seem to just stay out of it and let the humans cop the worst of it. There are apparently no women. Obviously every character had a mother once, but you wouldn’t know that from the books, and it’s a pretty sad state of affairs that Peter Jackson had to drop Arwen into the action in order for there to be more than one female character until Eowyn shows up. Hobbiton might be nice for an afternoon but that’s about it.
5. Area X/Veniss/Ambergris (The Southern Reach Trilogy/Veniss Underground/Ambergris Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer): Basically, if Vandermeer writes about it, you don’t want to be there. From being turned into an entirely new kind of creature (while still potentially being conscious of who you used to be), to being forced to live miles underground and harvested for body parts, to being disappeared by the Grey Caps or casually slaughtered during the Festival of the Freshwater Squid, no thanks.
6. New Crobuzon (Bas-Lag – China Miéville): Similarly to Jeff Vandermeer, if China Miéville writes about it, stay well away. New Crobuzon is particularly horrendous for the physical punishments meted out for criminal activity (which can be whatever the ruling body decides is a crime). What’s the punishment? Being ReMade in a manner that in some warped way befits your “crime”. Along the lines of this:
7. Victorian London (Dickens mainly, but also Arthur Conan Doyle and others): There is coal dust EVERYWHERE, inside or outside is totally irrelevant, you’re grimy and have developed a lung condition. You can’t see through the smog and so fall into the Thames and drown. Or get hit by a cart or carriage that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming and couldn’t hear because London is incredibly noisy. There are people starving in the slums, little kids up chimneys or losing limbs working in factories and the workhouses. It takes interested parties quite some years to work out that dirty water is causing the numerous cholera outbreaks that tear through the city on a semi regular basis, and you still have to contend with typhoid, smallpox, scarlet fever, consumption (tuberculosis) and the pox.
8. The Island of Dr. Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells): Again, fairly self evident why this is not a preferred holiday spot. I thought I had a fairly high tolerance for creepy and gross (see 5. and 6. above) but this book really unnerved me.
9. Versailles (Marie Antoinette – Antonia Fraser, just for starters, see also this post): Oh, the rules! So many, many rules and traditions and etiquette and expectations! From what you wear, to who you can talk to, to when you can eat and who with, it’s all laid out, day after day after day. Oh and there’s dog poop everywhere.
10. Earth (Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner): Earth in a not too distant future, where overpopulation and increasingly scarce resources have driven humanity to a world ruled by a few corporations, strict population control and endless conflict.