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Coffee make everything better???

I still have a cold.  Much blank staring into space, aching, etc etc.  However, I have just worked out that I have had no coffee since Friday afternoon, which is probably a bit of a strain on the system.  Under normal circumstances I operate on a basis of always being a couple of mugs of coffee up, even when asleep.  I sometimes think that in a world without coffee I would probably only be awake for about 6 hours a day... 

It's so annoying: weather has been absolutely perfect this weekend: I was going to do SO MUCH gardening!  And instead, I have basically been asleep for 2 days and nights.

I awoke briefly to read Barbara Hambly's  'Sisters of the Raven'.  It was a readable and entertaining 'I have got a cold' book.   The setting is a group of vaguely-Arabic seeming cities set beside a lake - very well described, all dyes and spices and markets and camels.  Full of atmosphere: 10/10 on that front. 


The premise is that magic used to be FOR MEN ONLY, but for some reason that nobody understands, all the MEN ONLY magic has suddenly been turned off, and instead there is this new brand of WOMEN ONLY magic appearing instead.  Oh yes, and the yearly rains failed to turn up, so there's a water crisis, and all the wizards are looking for drugs and other creepy mechanisms to get their mojo back.  

There was a fat king with a peacock-feather fan, I liked him, and I quite liked his awesome concubine, the 'Summer Concubine' although her character is basically being good at everything.  And clever.  And nice... There was also a very sympathetically written old mad lady with an imaginary pig.  She was great.  But I was less keen on the slightly irritating standard-issue female-apprentice-in-a-world-of-men, whose characterisation struck me as a bit erratic. 

Trying to pin down why the switch from MEN ONLY to WOMEN ONLY magic seemed a little contrived, I worked out that I'm a bit weirded out by the idea that an external world-influencing force would be so binary.  I mean, yes, a lot of cultures have very wide divides between the sexes in terms of role and expectation. But here was a system where an ability is *exclusively* male and then *exclusively* female.  Apparently magic checks what is in your pants?  Or does some sort of chromasome test?  In which case I can't help feeling that the contents of some chromasomes (and indeed pants) might confuse no end.   

Contrast the Earthsea magic system, where magic is sort of accessible to magic users of both sexes, but it's only men that have developed a system for concentrating it, and that system is screened and protected by cultural preference and training, not by pure biology.  That makes more sense to me.  Though mind you comparing Hambly to Le Guin is probably a bit unfair. 

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Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
kargicq
16th Jan, 2012 19:22 (UTC)
It must be the midichlorians!
bunn
16th Jan, 2012 22:16 (UTC)
I just want a believable mechanism for my magic! :-DDD
tovaglia
16th Jan, 2012 20:19 (UTC)
I had to laugh at your review, although I hadn't read the book.
It reminds me of the time when the Spice Girls happened and suddenly we had something called Girl Power, which was a new sort of WOMEN ONLY magic that would out-magic any boring old MEN ONLY magic. But Girl Power turned out to be just a rather young and sparkly version of Empowerment, which is not to be confused with actual power.
pellegrina
16th Jan, 2012 21:31 (UTC)
My feeling was she was using the binary magic setup to explore the social implications, basically "what if the menz suddenly just lost whatever it is that gave them power" than working out a scientific rationale for how magic works. The sequel takes it a little step further.
bunn
16th Jan, 2012 22:15 (UTC)
Yes, I agree that's where she was going with it, but it didn't quite work for me because the internal logic seemed a bit forced and left me wondering about mechanisms.

In any case, magic didn't map to power very well. The wizards mostly seemed to be hired assistants supporting the really powerful men, whose power seemed to be primarily cultural rather than based on a single ability.

I'll probably read the sequel at some point though, if only for the setting which was gorgeous.
huinare
16th Jan, 2012 21:47 (UTC)
Never read the book so I'm not really one to comment, but my first thought was that magic in this world is related to hormonal balance...but then that made me wonder whether people who have higher/lower levels of testosterone or estrogen than their assigned gender can use any magic at all, or maybe both kinds of magic? And then I decided I was overthinking it. =D
bunn
16th Jan, 2012 22:06 (UTC)
Ah! now I think that would have made a lot of sense - it would give an interesting reason for the correlation. But no, it was fairly clear it wasn't that, and it seemed a weak spot in the internal logic somehow.
demon_rum
16th Jan, 2012 22:28 (UTC)
I used to get jittery after a single cup, and could only drink half-caf. Oh, back in the days! Now I can have apparently as much as I want, whenever I want it, and if I DON'T have a couple of cups the brain lets me know by shutting down forcefully. Very odd.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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