Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Alaska" & "Mr. Spaceman" - a literary comparison. Of sorts.

Life goes on.

During the past month I've finished reading two books:  Alaska by James A. Michener, and Mr. Spaceman by Robert Olen Butler.  I've been thinking about their similarities and differences.  

Alaska is a big book - literally.   It measures 9.5 X 6.5 X 2 inches, has 868 pages, and weighs 3 pounds, 1.9 ounces.   It has a dust jacket, with a large picture of James Michner on the back, looking very no-nonsense in his plaid shirt.

Mr. Spaceman is much smaller.  It measures 9.25 X 6.25 X .75 inches, has 223 pages, and weighs 1 pound, 1.3 ounces. Also, the printing is much larger, so it has much less than 1/4th the total words that "Alaska" has.  It too has a dust jacket, but with a small picture of Robert Olen Butler on the back inside flap, who looks for all the world like he got beat up a lot in school.  The back has quotes from various newspaper book reviews.

Alaska is an epic, starting with continental drift & the movement of continental plates.  It is told through literally 100 characters or more, not all of them human.   This is a historical novel, and covers the history of Alaska (fictionally of course), in pretty great detail, especially from the time of the Russians until statehood and beyond.  All of the characters, whether Athapascan, Chuckchis, Ttlingit, Eskimo, Siberian, Russian, British, Canadian, American, or even Mastadon or Salmon, are brave, strong, hard-driven, adventurous goal oriented people.  Not all the goals were admirable or good, but the characters (good and evil) knew what they wanted and they strove for it.   There is not a tremendous amount of introspection in this book.

Mr. Spaceman, on the other hand, is a book full of introspection.  It is approaching the year 2000, and the main character is an alien who has been orbiting earth undetected for many years.   The alien abducts people, then gets their stories while they're in sort of a trance. Afterwards he sends them on their merry way.   The book opens with the abduction of a bus load of tourists.  The alien's name is Desi, a name given to him by his wife, Edna.  Yep, the alien married one of his abductees.   Edna, who is from Alabama,  acts as sort of a social director on the spacecraft, making sure the abductees have some good southern home cooking.  The spaceman gathers their thoughts and stories in order to draw conclusions about the human race and prepare him for his mission, which is to make himself known to humanity.   This mission and the fact that he's pretty much alone in this fills him with all kinds of angst.   Anyway, he decides to complete his mission as the clock counts down to New Years day in 2000, at Jackson Square in New Orleans.   Thousands of people witness his appearance, then pretty much ignore him - they were too busy partying.  Not quite the response he was expecting.  So he sent his spacecraft away, told his species not to bother for another couple centuries or so, and became one with the street performers.  He continued putting people in trances and getting their stories.

These books are as different as can be.  

3 comments:

Patti Anne said...

I cannot decide which one to rush out and buy. I'll look them both up on Amazon and eBay and let you know the costs.

Michener books are a passion of mine. I especially enjoyed his autobiography, which I read during a down time in 2003. He is a very prolific writer (was, I should say) who ended up donating most of his money to charities.

I know nothing about the spaceman's author.

Patti Anne said...

On eBay, Spaceman is $4.99; Amazon it's $4 - both including shippping.

On eBay, Alaska is $4.05; Amazon is $7.90 - both including shipping.

Strange disparity, hmm?

A Valdese Blogger said...

PA: Thanks for the info.