[Book Review] In Libres

In Libres / Elizabeth Bear (Uncanny Magazine)

A delightful bit of short fiction, a fantastical take on academia and the pursuit of higher degrees.  One where a "bull-headed classmate" is literal not figurative, and visiting the library is a truly feared event.  Don't ask me why, but I get way too much enjoyment out of dangerous arcane libraries and librarians.
The Library was not a single building, but rather a complex of buildings on the edge of campus, with only one way in. It was said to have one copy of every book ever written. This was probably an exaggeration, despite the fact that it seemed to have a functionally infinite interior. The Library was bigger on the inside, and it iterated. 
It certainly had a great mad pile of things shelved within it. Finding them was another matter: there was no card catalogue, and several attempts to establish one had met with madness, failure, and disappearances. 
There were, however, Librarians. Librarians, with their overdeveloped hippocampi, their furled cloaks, their swords and wands sheathed swaggeringly across their backs. The university bureaucracy was nightmarish, Byzantine, and largely ornamental. But those caveats did not apply to the Librarians, an elite informational force second to none. They were lean, organized, and they knew when to turn left and when to turn right.
The writing is witty, with tributes to and twists on familiar mythologies and the traps of academia.  The exploring the labyrinthine library takes days, with a ball of twine recommended for finding one's way back out.  Feed the books at your own peril, after all, everyone wants something.

I absolutely love the description of Conrad and Hemingway as "poets of anguished masculinity," and again and again I found myself delighted by some small (or large) detail.  Definitely worth the read.


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