“You read The Lathe of Heaven?” To his credit, the Spokesbear manages to say this without making it sound like an accusation. Of course, he immediately proceeds to sniff the cover like one of the drug dogs you see at the airport, which kind of undoes his momentary attack of self-control. “You don’t like Le Guin and you’ve had that book sitting on your shelf for six years without reading it. What gives, dumb-arse?””
“I don’t like Earthsea. That’s not a condemnation of her work in its entirety.”
The Spokesbear made a nervous coughing noise in the back of his throat. “People will kick your arse for not liking Earthsea. You know that, right?”
“I’ve locked the door and taken the phone of the hook. I can drag the shotgun out of the in-case-of-zombie-apocalypse kit if we need it.”
I fidgeted as I made coffee, uncomfortable under his stare. “Fine,” I said. “It’s short. I need short books. I promised myself I’d read 104 books by the end of July, most of them written by women, and I’m falling behind.”
The Spokesbear doesn’t look convinced. “That theory doesn’t work so well when you don’t like the book, kid. You have to *want* to read things.”
“I liked Lathe of Heaven.”
He sniffed the cover again, pulled a face like he’d discovered a stash of rotten eggs instead of literary cocaine. “This? It’s had a bookmark living at the end of the first chapter since your first attempt to read it back in 2006.”
“Well, I liked some of it.”
“Some of it?”
“The last half.”
He gave me a flinty look. I’m not sure how he managed that, given his eyes are plastic beads and designed to give the impression of cuteness. Call it a quirk of his character, the stern thread of iron beneath his floppy exterior.
“Look,” I said. “It’s a slow starter. It got better, when I gave it a chance.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Better how?”
“Rule of three,” I said. “Conflict between two characters, no matter how intense and meaningful, becomes far more interesting when a third character is introduced to take sides and provide contrast. Plus Heather gives a personal stake to the philosophical conundrum at the core fo the book. And the second half of the book has dream-diving alien turtles. You can do no wrong with dream-diving alien turtles.”
“Turtles trump the considerable metaphorical depth of the first half? Really?”
I sipped my coffee. “Really. Turtles are fun.”
“You really wouldn’t be an SF fan if Star Wars hadn’t come along, would you. Style and fun trump substance in your head.”
“Not entirely. I mean, if that were true, I would have liked the remake of Star Trek.”
“They’re going to take away your geek badge,” the spokesbear said.
I didn’t have anything to say to that. I finished my coffee, pondering the book and the conversation.
“For what it’s worth,” I said, “I think the dislike of Earthsea has more to do with the person who recommended it to me than the book itself.”
I gave him a name. He listened, shaking his head.
“If that were really true, you’d dislike Angela Carter.” The Spokesbear looked smug. “Is that checkmate, dumb-arse? Can we stop talking about the book and go back to work now?”
It was. We could. I did.