Regarding Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, I'll quote from my post at the Asimov's forum:
Finished yesterday. I think it's a brilliant novel. Whether or not a particular reader enjoys it is a different issue; the thing is a great work, both entertaining and challenging, making me both feel and think. The resolution does tie together everything--and you see it coming, that Bulgakov is going to pull the past and present together somehow--and is a prompt for further discussion.
One has to discard traditional theological notions, given that Satan/Woland isn't evil and the Pilate/Jesus story is laden more with philosophical and humanistic concerns than religious ones (in fact, religion is avoided in the novel); however, I see a straight line between this narrative and Milton's. Just as Satan hopes to undo God's plan (and for reasons Milton helps us understand) in Paradise Lost, so Woland seeks to undo bureaucracies, systems that stifle the artist, selfishness and even rationalism. He inserts himself into the Soviet scheme and, with his wilder associates, damages whatever he can.
The novel is subtly structured, with its protagonists slowly revealed and its agenda unclear for much of its length. The writing, especially in the sections supposedly written by the Master, is at times beautiful but at all times skillful. The narrator, both in the book proper and in the Master's tale of Pilate, is very much a presence, sometimes apologizing for what he can't explain or perceive.
It did take me a long time to read the book. It's not a page-turner, but it's well done throughout and worth the time. Only one section, "Satan's Ball," felt like it needed a trim. What a strange, strange book.
I'll have something to say about my story "Clockworks" next week.
Tangentially, given that both "Clockworks" and "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" contain a character who is an homage to Doc Savage, I want to mention Warren Ellis's Planetary, a comic book series. I read the first volume a few days ago. Sadly, my library does not have all of the subsequent volumes. In any case, Planetary contains a character named "Doc Brass" who is clearly based on Doc Savage ("The Man of Bronze"). Visually, he's the spitting image of the James Bama version of Doc on the Bantam paperbacks. There's no mention of "thanks for the trademark steal" in the front of the book, but I suppose Wildstorm Comics, owned by DC, had permission to use it, given DC's flirtation with the character over the years.
I've been reading short stories by James Lasdun.
I mostly finished a draft of a new story, "Unimagined." It is not a "genre" piece. A few gaps in the narrative remain, though I know what goes where. As often happens, I'd started the story thinking it was about one thing, but once I figured out who the characters were, it became about something else and ended in a way I didn't see coming . . . which is partly the point of the title.