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Monkey Sonatas (1993)

de Orson Scott Card

Sèrie: Maps in a Mirror (3)

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2024102,999 (3.6)4
Forty-six fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories by this well-known writer.
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This book shares a number of the same stories as the Card collection: "Unaccompanied Sonata and other Stories." So I skipped a few of them that I remembered really well!
It was still worthwhile, though, for the ones I hadn't read (although I could have skipped "A Trip to Kill Richard Nixon" and my life would not have been seriously impacted). Overall, though, this collection of "fantasies and fables" was quite excellent! ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Monkey Sonatas is a collection of short fantasy stories by Orson Scott Card, with more than a couple being out and out fairy tales. Actually, the collection includes two (and possibly three) stories that are really science fiction, but since Card's science fiction is usually on the soft, almost fantasy side of that genre, they fit in with the rest of the stories pretty well. The book includes an end section in which Card talks about each story, how it was published, and a little bit about what he was thinking and trying to do with each one. If his comments are correct, I am now one of a handful of people who have actually read A Plague of Butterflies, and like most people who have read it, I didn't understand it at all.

The two science fiction stories are the first (Unaccompanied Sonata) and the last (The Monkeys Thought 'Twas All in Fun). Both stories go in directions the reader probably would not expect, and both have fairly sad endings. They both also seem to share some significant thematic elements despite the seeming dissimilarity of the stories. In Unaccompanied Sonata, a musical genius is sequestered from the rest of the world and all other music so he can be completely independently creative (never mind that music seems to be a social process that builds upon itself, making the sequestration probably counterproductive to generating good and original music) until he is introduced to Bach, which ruins his independence and forces him into exile. The society purports to place everyone in the job they are most suited for and where they will be happiest, and so the musical genius, for his own happiness (?) is given a job as a deliveryman, and forbidden to make music. Of course he does and is punished over and over until the end in which he is co-opted into the system. The supposedly benevolent society seemed to me to be frighteningly dystopian and I kept wanting someone to rebel against this horrible system, but the story just kept moving along on the downward spiral until the bittersweet ending. The Monkeys Thought 'Twas All in Fun is told from two perspectives: a human pilot determined to use the newly discovered habitat to give the poor of the Earth a new start, and the "Hectors", through most of the story unexplained alien beings who are being told parables of life by their parent Hector. The pilot story is straightforward, as she drives the colonization of the alien object, but the Hector story is not, as they are taught about virtue through a series of stories that reminded me of Unaccompanied Sonata, insofar as it dealt with a world in which everyone was assigned to a job, a spouse and a life that was supposed to make them happy, even if they wanted something different. Both stories intersect in the end in a way that turns out badly for humanity, although the connection isn't particularly well-drawn in the story itself. Both stories are good in their own sorrow filled ways.

Two other stories that seem thematically connected are Middle Woman and The Best Day, although one ends up a happy story and the other a sad one. Both stories are told in a very fairy tale like fashion, and revolve around wishes made by the protagonist, and both protagonists make bad choices to begin with. One of the two figures out her mistake and is able to rectify the situation while realizing the inherent danger in getting what you want while the other sadly gets trapped by her own wish. While she is happy, she doesn't realize what she is missing that might have made her happier, and her family is burdened with the consequences of her actions. The third "wish" story in the book is A Cross-Country Trip to Kill Richard Nixon, which is a modern fairy tale that also deals with the unintended consequences of a wish, as the protagonist tries to figure out a way to get the U.S. to move on from hating Nixon, and realizes that just about any alternative except the one he ends up taking will lead to a bigger problem than the one he is trying to solve. The story is fairly specific to Nixon which kind of limits the ability of the story to resonate the further we get from Watergate, although there is a larger message that is more general in nature.

The two fairy tales The Princess and the Bear and The Bully and the Beast take up fairly standard fairy tale situations (a princess and prince in love and a clumsy but earnest low-born knight smitten with a princess) but once again Card takes the stories in somewhat unexpected directions. Both are good stories, although I liked The Bully and the Beast a bit more as the story seemed more interesting (mostly because I couldn't figure out why the princess in The Princess and the Bear let things get as out of hand as they did before taking action). Both ended up being about the nature of love and friendship, and each main character discovered that the person they thought they loved was not actually the person they thought they were and those things they thought they had wanted were not actually what they truly needed. The Porcelain Salamander is also a fairy story about love and forgiveness with a sad but sweet ending.

Sandmagic is a fantasy revenge story, and a fairly standard one at that. The only true weakness of the story is that it tries to show how revenge is entirely fruitless despite giving the protagonist more than ample reason to seek revenge against his enemies. Where Card intended the reader to recoil from the protagonist's actions, I found myself rooting for him. I found the story ultimately unsatisfying because the protagonist didn't wipe out his enemies, whereas I believe Card wanted me to understand the futility and counterproductive nature of the protagonist's efforts. I think this is one of those areas where I simply philosophically disagree with Card.

This brings us to the strangest story in the collection, and according to Card, the most incomprehensible story he has written: A Plague of Butterflies. This is also the perhaps science fiction story. I say perhaps, because so much of the story just isn't explained at all. The main character is on a journey that doesn't seem to connect with the story of the queen of a hidden city, although I think it is supposed to because they end up in the same place before she dies, and he ends up imprisoned for reasons that don't seem to make sense. The only thing that does make sense is the alien life form, although why it needs the main character isn't really clear. I enjoyed reading it, but I don't know why, and I certainly don't understand the story.

Monkey Sonatas is a very readable set of fantasies and fairy tales that anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre will certainly find engaging and interesting, even if some of the stories are a little less polished than is usual for Card's work. Although some of the stories seem to have similar structures and themes, each deals with the topic in a way that is different enough that you never feel like you are reading a rehash of a previous tale. Overall, it is good, but not great and no individual story seems to stand out as particularly noteworthy one way or the other. ( )
  StormRaven | Oct 1, 2009 |
Any fan of [Enchantment] will love these stories. OSC weaves the tales beautifully, giving some fresh life to some timeless themes. Pursuits of happiness (in both emotional and mental loves), understanding what true happiness is, and learning that pain is a part of all life are themes that are touched upon in each story.

Perhaps my favorite story is "The Princess and the Bear" a story of a life long love that doesn't play out as such until the deathbed of one of the lovers. Not all of the stories are perfection, though, as I don't believe this is possible in any collection. ("A Cross-Country Trip to Kill Richard Nixon" for example, was less than stellar when paired with the rest of the book.) ( )
  HippieLunatic | Mar 12, 2009 |
In the introduction, Card states that humans engage in storytelling in order to define themselves, their behaviors, and the behaviors of others. While these stories may take place in 'worlds' that are completely unlike our own, the core meaning of the tale carries truth that can be related to the reader's own life. If I read the introduction correctly, that is the point of each of the stories in this book.
With that in mind, the first story, "Unaccompanied Sonata" best fulfills that purpose of any other story in the collection. The premise is that each person is given a career that best suits them (as determined by testing at a very young age) and everyone is happy. The few laws are just enough to keep that system running. The narrator embarks on a career in music, and breaks one of the laws. He is then told he can never make music again. What, then, happens if he just can't help making music no matter what the cost? I always enjoy tales of utopian societies and how there is always some inevitable downfall that keeps the system from being completely perfect.
I loved the story of "The Princess and the Bear." It was almost a Disney fairy tale, but included some real pain and suffering as well as some incredibly real emotions. To put a description of an abusive marriage in the context of a medieval-type kingdom, with a shape-shifting bear as the hero of the piece was quite brilliant, I thought.
"A Plague of Butterflies" is just about the oddest, most incomprehensible work of fiction I have ever read. I did not understand the point and all, and can't even give a brief synopsis, since each portion of it made no sense when taken in conjunction with the other portions. (By portion, I guess I mean mini-chapter...whatever one would call the individual sections of a short story or novella). The end of the story did not explain anything, and was quite dissatisfying.
I thought I understood "The Monkeys Thought 'Twas Fun" and I had a pretty good idea of how the thing would end, and I even thought the solution for overpopulation it contained was pretty innovative. However, it didn't end that way, and to say anything more about it, even to tell you what it was about, would absolutely spoil every part of it.
These are the three longest pieces in the collection. Of the other, shorter, works, I enjoyed "The Porcelain Salamander," "Middle Woman," and "The Bully and the Beast." I did not enjoy "A Cross-Country Trip to Kill Richard Nixon," and "Sandmagic."
"The Best Day" was a good fable, but I was already kind of depressed after reading "Sandmagic" that I was not really in the mood for more suffering. I think had this story been placed between "Unaccompanied Sonata" and "The Porcelain Salamander," I would have liked it better.
I think that the placement of stories in a collection, especially one as ambitious as this one, should be well-thought-out, so that there aren't too many bleak ones all in a row.
It was nice that an afterword was included with a few paragraphs about the author's state of mind and intentions in regards to each of the pieces, however, the information in the afterword revealed more about the publishing history and less explanation of each story than would be really helpful.
I kept feeling like I'd read this book before, but then deciding that I hadn't following each of these yarns. In fact, I had read several of these before, but a few I had not. I guess I would really only recommend this to people who are huge fans of Orson Scott Card and are looking to read everything he's written. The best of the stories contained in this collection can be found elsewhere. ( )
6 vota EmScape | Jan 28, 2009 |
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Forty-six fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories by this well-known writer.

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