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No spoilers, but mostly written for those who’ve already read the books.
For some weeks around August/September my brain was working at half-steam. Nothing was processed, sentences we were read endless times. So I want to wholeheartedly thank Veronica Roth and audio narrator Emma Galvin for showing me that not all was lost and I could still appreciate a good story.
To be honest, I still don’t know if I’d have enjoyed Divergent as much as I did if it wasn’t in the worst stage of my first trimester and my dad hadn’t died recently, but the fact remains that, as Carol says in As Good as It Gets, “What I needed, he gave me great”.
It was fast paced, the world-building was intriguing, the heroine not too annoying, the hero had the right amount of caring and brooding, and there was enough tension to keep me completely submersed in the story. Lots of violence and gore, but the sex stops at the tension, which I guess it’s the YA norm, but can often leave the reader a bit frustrated.
Be ready for a certain amount of YA clichés, but also expect to be thoroughly entertained. It’s the perfect escapist book.
It’s been many years since I’ve immediately picked up the next in the series after finishing with the previous one. No matter how much I love a book or how teasing the cliffhanger, I’m all about literary pleasure postponed. But it happened with Insurgent.
Unfortunately, we didn’t connect as much as I was expecting. It was still enjoyable and fast-paced, but I often preferred watching yet another old episode of Project Runway.
So now I’m in doubt whether the second book wasn’t really as good as the first, or if I was just getting out of the static brain zone I found myself and that, ironically, Divergent helped with.
The action was still there, as well as the world-building and knowing more about the other fractions was a real highlight, but some of the elements that were just right before went a bit overboard. I’m mostly referring to the romance. Oh the angst! Oh the same fumbling and kissing ad nauseam! And this time it’s not only the readers that get frustrated. Clearly the characters are feeling the stress as well, as they become over-emotional and tense to a point where what made them so great before becomes secondary. As does their world crumbling around them.
I think a lot of readers appreciated this focus on their relationship (that seems on repeat in every.single.conversation.), but I just wanted them to get organized, develop a clever plan, and find out what’s beyond the wall.
Also, while in Divergent Roth seemed to predict my doubts about the way her world works, in this one I found myself thinking “riiiiight” (skeptical eye rolling) at several stages. Mostly around the evil plan of the Erudite, who still haven’t proven to me just how brilliant they are. I can think of an easier way or five to seize power, not to mention their unconvincing motives for wanting it.
I’m still invested enough in the series to look forward to the third, though. It’s the least I can do for Veronica Roth.
After jumping on this summer’s Buffy Watch bandwagon, and after four seasons, I think I can safely say that I’m a Firefly girl first. I know I still have three more Buffy seasons to go, but I have yet to see an episode that comes close to Out of Gas in drama, or that made me laugh half as much as Jaynestown.
To try to fill the emptiness of Firefly’s early cancellation as I can, including a very used “Browncoats” saved search on Twitter and buying the continuation comics, also written by Joss Whedon.
Those Left Behind (Serenity #1)
If you’ve followed the series and then saw the movie you may have noticed there were some things left unexplained, mainly the fact that Inara and Shepherd weren’t on Serenity. Those Left Behind was created as a transition story, to fill those gaps.
One of the best things about this volume (originally a 3-book comic) is the introduction by Nathan Fillion. It’s a touching account of how he’s loved comic books since he was a kid, how he always wanted to be a super hero and how the challenge to play Captain Malcolm Reynolds gave him the opportunity to fulfill that dream.
So, I guess the message I want to leave you with is this: What you hold in your hand is not just a comic. It is much more. It is a handbook. It is a guide. It is reference material for when you become a superhero. I found the secret, you see. To become a superhero, all you have to do is want it badly enough, and comics are the fuel to that fire.
The story revolves about a scavenger mission that turns out to be a trap orchestrated by old enemies. In between, fans are treated to great Whedon-style moments, like the growing doubts of Sheppard Book, stuck between his religious beliefs and the ship’s shenanigans, and a rare glimpse at scenes from the Unification War (it’s great not to be limited by budget restrictions!).
The story has glimpses of the brilliancy of the series but not exactly quite there, probably because it felt hurried and a bit crammed with information. Whedon managed to publish dozens of Buffy comic books, including a full 8th Season after the TV show ended, but I think he knew he wouldn’t have that chance with Firefly.
I know there was a big chance I’d be a bit disappointed with the book. The artists did tried to make the characters recognizable but fell a bit short, especially with Mal and Inara. I really like the colors a lot though – they seemed to reflect the spirit of the series even better than the TV series. Overall, the book felt more like a really cool storyboard for a lost episode of Firefly.
It’s still a great treat for fans, but it inevitably falls short of a full fledge episode.
Better Days and Other Stories (Serenity #2)
I liked Better Days And Other Stories a lot better than Those Left Behind. Instead of full a “episode”, this volume has four short-stories, my favorite of which was written by comedian Patton Oswalt and works as an homage to Wash.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I prefer this volume. I know that I laughed more, the action scenes felt more exciting and the artwork more realistic. Dialogues and the interaction between characters also rang true and there were some golden moments, like Simon treating Jayne for an STD, the bitter-sweet flashbacks of Wash’s adventures and the moment when River really joins the crew.
There’s a scene in the first story, Better Days, where we see each crew member fantasize about what they’d do if they became billionaire, and they were all spot on (oh Kylee, you’re still my favorite!).
Also loved the three drawings between the stories, which together make up a shiny triptych.
As of the moment I read The Maze Runner’s blurb I needed to know the ending. I still approached it with caution because in my experience, the biggest danger of dystopian novels with a mysterious premise is that nothing the author produces ever tops my expectations. I’m happy to report I got hooked from the first minute up to the very end, the solution was unexpectedly satisfying, and, extra brownie points, I wasn’t able to figure it out for myself.
A taste of the plot: when Thomas wakes up, he’s inside a lift and doesn’t remember anything except his name. The lift brings him to a glade in the middle of a huge maze, where about 50 boys live. Thomas is the colony’s most recent newbie and he needs to be taught the rules of the Glade and about the boys’ efforts to find out who they are, what’s the Maze and who built it. Think Lord of Flies meets Lost meets The Hunger Games.
But to both Thomas’ and the Gladers’ surprise (and suspicion), after his arrival strange things start to happen, the strangest of all is the appearance of another newbie – the Glade’s first girl.
The Maze Runner is a quick read, the pace expertly and tightly controlled by Dashner, with a good balance between fast action scenes and slower ones for character-development.
I didn’t have many qualms about the book, but unfortunately my biggest one was about the only female character. Teresa spends most of the book in a coma and even afterwards becomes one the only main characters not to have a distinguishable personality. Her physical description was also a bit cringe-worthy: she was (as expected but disappointingly) extremely beautiful, with flawless skin, fabulous hair, etc, etc. I was hoping she’d be a kick-ass heroine, that would go with Thomas on his maze runs, but alas, it was not to be (I suspect Katniss ruined all future YA dystopian female characters for me). I can only hope Teresa will come into her own during the next books in the series.
Still, The Maze Runner is really addictive and I’m not surprised the movie is already on the way, to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight. I can’t wait to see how the Maze will look like.
Other thoughts: Devourer of Books, Life in the Thumb, Books and Movies, My Friend Amy, The Cheap Reader, Presenting Lenore, Rhapsody in Books, Beth Fish Reads, That’s What She Read, Muggle-Born, Thrillers, Horror and Comics, Books with Bite, The Book Bind, The Geeky Beach Babe (yours?)
In a near-future, 17-year-old Jenna Fox wakes up one day without any memory of her past life. She’s told by her parents that she was in a coma after suffering a terrible accident, but from the start something doesn’t feel right.
Together with Jenna (our first-person narrator) we start discovering the truth behind her past and present.
It’s the type of book I’d love to read in class or with a book club. Jenna’s situation is the perfect base for an interesting debate into all sorts of ethical dilemmas better discussed in a group with mixed ages and backgrounds. I would be especially interested in the opinion of parents.
The best thing about The Adoration of Jenna Fox is that it’s written to get the reader to question him/herself. It adds layers of grey to areas that weren’t black or white in the first place. In the endless debate about scientists playing God (or even about things like the death penalty), I’m fascinated about how our strong convictions tend to blur when it gets personal. As humans we might be instinctively against certain scientific advances, but what if it happens to us, to our children/parents/best friend?
For a book dealing with such strong topics and emotions, The Adoration of Jenna Fox was strangely subdued and quiet (bordering on the flat). From the moment the Big Secret is out, the tension is released and never really picks up during the second half of the book, even when Higher Secrets are reveled. The ending also never delivered on the expected conflict and ties up too nicely, and I could have done without the luck-warm romance. I wasn’t in love with the book, BUT…
It was well worth the reading and I’ve had great dinner-table conversations because of it.
Other thoughts: It’s all about me (time), Like People and Butterflies, Leeswammes, Rhapsody in Books, Teen Book Review, Book Addiction, Out of the Blue, YA Reads, bildungsroman, Dear Author, A Novel World, 5 Minutes for Books, I’m Booking It, 2 Kids and Tired Books, My Book, My Life, S. Krishna’s Books, Rywn, Semicolon, Maw Books Blog, Lady Business (yours?)
(Only for Dr. Who fans! Credits)
If I ever try my hand at writing, this is the kind of book I’d like to write: a rambling, fun story that would work as an homage to all my favorite things.
I’d set it in Victorian England, throw in some science fiction, and for good measure write a few scenes during the London Blitz. The whole thing would probably end up like a sci-fi story written as a Victorian comedy of manners, which, as strange as that may sound, is exactly the brilliant book that Willis wrote.
If I wasn’t already ready to love it because of the concept, there would be other treats to persuade me:
Countless references to one of funniest books I’ve ever read – Three Men in a Boat – and to beloved writers like Christie, Wodehouse, Conan Doyle and Sayers.
Well, it wasn’t exactly the ending of an Agatha Christie mystery, with Hercule Poirot gathering everyone together in the drawing room to reveal the murderer and impress everyone with his astonishing deductive powers. And it definitely wasn’t a Dorothy Sayers, with the detective hero saying to his heroine sidekick, “I say, we make a jolly good detectin’ team. How about makin’ the partnership permanent, eh, what?” and then proposing in Latin.
At some point, Ned (the main character) actually crossed Jerome K. Jerome & Co. as they were traveling on the Thames in opposite directions. It was a priceless scene.
I’ve always been fascinated by Oxford, mostly because of books like Brideshead Revisited, Jude the Obscure and the His Dark Materials series. To Say Nothing of the Dog will add to that list.
One of the characters is an Eccentric Professor (I love eccentric professors in literature – usually great fun), engaged in a life-long debate with another Professor about what shapes history: individuals or grand forces?
There’s a dog! With a personality! And it doesn’t talk! I’m very particular about talking animals in books and movies. Overall I prefer the silent ones that still manage to be funny, like the chameleon in Tangled. Montmorency in Three Men in a Boat is another great example, and clearly the inspiration for the bulldog Cyril in To Say Nothing of the Dog.
Cyril shoved and shoved again, until he had the entire bed and all the covers, and Princess Arjumand [a cat] draped herself across my neck with her full weight on my Adam’s apple. Cyril shoved some more.
(Couldn’t resist: bulldog in a boat! Credits)
The story was wacky and chaotic, but all the literary and historical references made it feel strangely cozy. I suspect Connie Willis and I would get along just fine.
She looked appalled. “You weren’t prepped? Victorian society’s highly mannered. Breaches of etiquette are taken very seriously.” She looked curiously at me. “How have you managed thus far?”
“For the past two days I’ve been on the river with an Oxford don who quotes Herodotus, a lovesick young man who quotes Tennyson, a bulldog, and a cat,” I said. “I played it by ear.”
It’s such a quotable book:
One of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober.
One has not lived until one has carried a sixty-pound dog down a sweeping flight of stairs at half-past V in the morning.
The reason Victorian society was so restricted and repressed was that it was impossible to move without knocking something over.
On the interest of transparency, I’d like to confess that despite all the above I didn’t give To Say Nothing of the Dog a perfect 5/5. However, the little things that didn’t feel quite right, didn’t ruin the overall delight of the book.
Ned is a likable everyman-type hero, but we never get to know much about him or his personal history before the beginning of the book. Also, although the plot was easy to follow, some twists felt a bit predictable (I knew early on who Mr. C was), and the science part – when Willis describes the problems with continuum, slippage, incongruities, etc. – went over my head. Finally, although part of the story is set in 2057, it never felt like 2057.
As you see, small stuff compared with the Reasons to Love It: delightful characters, funny dialogues, a good amount of geeky literary references, to say nothing of Cyril…
PS: I am the only one to go all dyslexic with the author’s name and call her Wilkie Collins in my mind?
Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Shelf Love, Book Lust, The Written World, Farm Lane Books, Becky Book Reviews, Books and Movies, Booklover Book Reviews, Killin’ Time Reading, A Good Stopping Point, A Little Reader, Beth Fish Reads, Bookgirl’s nightstand, Gripping Books, Opinions of a Wolf, Stella Matutina, Rat’s Reading, Dogear Diary, Everyday Reading, Dusk Before Dawn, Library Queue, Semicolon, Nose in a Book, Mervi’s Book Reviews, (yours?)
Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? Probably not, but almost for sure you’ve experienced it: it’s when you come upon a piece of (usually unfamiliar) information and very soon after you encounter that same information again, often more than once. Yes, there is a name for it! And you’ll soon might hear it again…
There are some theories about why this happens, but for the sake of my romantic streak, I assume that the Universe is trying to tell me something. Recently, it told me to read H.P. Lovecraft. The evidence:
- I’d vaguely heard of Lovecraft before, but knew only that he was (probably) a classic. In early November, three things happened in quick succession:
- Day 1 – For the first time ever I do one of those online quizzes to find out which famous author has a writing style similar to mine. H.P. Lovecraft is the answer.
- Day 2 AM – On gtalk and out of the blue my brother tells me “The works of H.P.Lovecraft are all available online for free. Never read anything by him but would like to try. I think it’s almost all horror, right? Do you know him?”
- Day 2 evening – A friend of mine is visiting and while we’re chatting she’s browsing my 1001 Novels You Must Read Before You Die. She distractedly turns the pages while I tell her about this H.P. Lovecraft coincidence. She stops for a moment while I finish my tale and when she looks again at the book, it’s open on the page of At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft…
*cue creepy violins*
So I obediently went over to audible.com and downloaded At the Mountains of Madness, apparently Lovecraft’s most famous horror novella.
It about an unfortunate group of explorers who travel to Antarctica for scientific purposes. They soon discover the dead remains of an earlier group, apparently attacked by some unknown creature.
The explorers begin traveling inland to discover the reasons behind the attack and eventually come to a city of ice, tens of millions of years old. This city looks abandoned and they reach the conclusion that the remains could only have originated in ancient things coming from out-of-space… but are they really all dead?
*cue creepy violins*
To this day I have no idea what the Universe was trying to tell me. Lovecraft is a master at creating a doom-and-gloom atmosphere (he completely freaked me out with his 6-foot blind albino penguin), but in general the book did little for me.
He clearly likes to tell his story slowly and dramatically, constantly talking about The Unspeakable Horror and reveling in minute details of… basically everything, but especially “the icy, mountainous, eerie, tunneled landscape” and all sorts of measurements. He really like those measurements, Lovecraft did, but they’re not the best thing for pushing a story forward.
I found his writing style very old-fashioned and Gothic (is it really like mine?!), and kept thinking of Frankenstein, and its similar “forbidden knowledge” themes. Although this book was written in 1931, I would have guessed Lovecraft was a Victorian. It’s almost unthinkable that he was writing at the same time as, for instance, Fitzgerald or Hemingway.
Thenceforward the ten of us — but the student Danforth and myself above all others — were to face a hideously amplified world of lurking horrors which nothing can erase from our emotions, and which we would refrain from sharing with mankind in general if we could.
All this to say, dear Universe, that you need to be a bit more specific about what you mean with this Lovecraft connection. I’ll be on the look out for further clues.
The Moon a Harsh Mistress (TMIAHM) is one of the few Heinlein I hadn’t read yet and it surprised me just how political it is. And how this grated on my nerves. The effect is similar to the one caused by The Chronicles of Narnia: I’m sure the religious metaphors would go over my head if I’d read them as a kid, but now they’re too obvious, there’s An Agenda behind it all.
This worries me. Although I’m assuming I wouldn’t notice the political and religious hints as a young reader, is that the same as not being influenced by them? Maybe this a non-question in the end. After all, books exist to mean something, to teach us about the world. Before I become a mother I have to figure how to deal with these issues…
TMIAHM is one of Heinlein’s most famous novels, the story of a revolution. Very much as the Heinlein I remembered, it’s not so much about battles and guns as it is about strategic decisions and planning. A sort of how-to guide.
In 2075 the moon is a mining colony of 3 million inhabitants called Luna. It’s tightly controlled by Earth through the Lunar Authority, that ensures the population remains poor, oppressed and under control. Most “Loonies” are criminals, exiles and their descendants. The colony has a horrible reputation on Earth, but because of the harsh conditions they live in, Loonies discovered they don’t really need a judicial system, or organized government for that matter. If you do harm, the community will shun you and more likely than not, you’ll be chucked in an air vent one night.
Luna is a hard place, where the “survival of the fittest” rules. Many newcomers don’t make it, either because they’re physically weak or because they don’t adjust to Luna’s unspoken rules, like women’s place at the top of the food chain (more on that later). Humans live in families or clans, that ensure the social protection a government would provide.
In TMIAHM, organized government is an evil only surpassed by (gasp!) taxes. Actually, the overall message of the book is: the freedom of the individual to direct his or her own life, no matter what. The lines below are spoken by the Professor, the “Rational Anarchist” of the small group who leads the revolution:
Mankind has not done well when saddling itself with governments.
I believe in capital punishment under some circumstances … with this difference. I would not ask a court; I would try, condemn, execute sentence myself, and accept full responsibility.
In terms of morals, there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.
I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do” “You would not abide by a law that the majority felt was necessary?” “Tell me what law, dear lady, and I will tell you whether I will obey it.”
Comrades, I beg of you — do not resort to compulsory taxation. There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.
Well, you get the point. Luna’s society works perfectly on its own, without a pesky central government. Everyone sticks by the rules because that’s how you survive, not because they’re written somewhere. If someone does wrong, it’s not society in general that gives out punishment, but the family and friends of the victim. Swiftly, with no trial. What happens to a victim that’s friendless? No idea.
So, to preserve this way of life, Lunar Authority must go. Loonies had been talkin’ ’bout a revolution for a while, but it’s the meeting of three contrasting figures that really gets things going. Mannie, a computer technician, Wyoh, an enthusiastic-yet-naïve young female agitator, and the Professor, an elderly academic, become the leaders of the rebel movement. To support them there’s Mike, the supercomputer owned by Earth who controls all activities on Luna. Without Earth’s knowledge, Mike begins to gain a personality and become “alive”. The only person to realize this is Mannie, who recruits Mike to help the revolution.
The revolution is “libertarian” and “democratic” and Heinlein makes everything it sound so easy, so simple, almost like a mental puzzle. There’s almost no blood-shed and there’s no deviation from the plan. There’s no need for coercion, concerns over funding, snitches and other nastiness. Mike, the supercomputer is there to help and become the plot device that avoids the inconsistencies in the authors’ ideas. Mike is able to finance the revolution through digital accountancy, he spies on Authority and any traitors of the revolution. He sets up a Luna-wide communications system that’s impossible to breach. He cannot be corrupted, bribed, threatened or tortured for information. He organizes a bombardment of Earth with accuracy to ensure that few human lives are lost. Revolution is fun! Democracy is easy!
The rebels win, although with Mike’s help that victory sounded lame. So what do the libertarians do right after they’re independent? They rig the first elections (with the use of Mike) and set up a “parliament” where they dump all those bothersome Loonies that question the power of the top cadres of the revolution.
So yes, I had a few problems with the political side of the book. Googling about Heinlein and remembering the stories I read as a kid, I realize he can be very heavy-handed when defending his “freedom of the individual” mantra, even more so in his later books.
Another of Heinlein’s favorite visions seems to be the benefits of polygamy over monogamy and how it makes adults happier and children safer. In Luna, the men to women ration is 2:1, which leads to polyandrous and polygamous marriage arrangements among the clans. From this Heinlein defends that in such a society, women are more valued.
Here we are, two million males, less than one million females. A physical fact, basic as rock or vacuum. Then add idea of tanstaafl [there is no such thing as a free lunch]. When thing is scarce, price goes up. Women are scarce; aren’t enough to go around – that makes them most valuable thing in Luna, more precious than ice or air, as men without women don’t care whether they stay alive or not. Except a Cyborg, if you regard him as a man, which I don’t.
His argument is that women are better treated in this scenario because they have the upper hand and the “right” to choose who to take home. It’s a miracle that under such circumstance, women don’t become sex slaves and breeding machines. Instead, men play fair and defer to women about their choices. To Heinlein, women are more valuable than ice or air, and for that they should be celebrated and protected – hurrah *confetti*.
Valued they may be, but in Luna women don’t should any power outside the home. Actually, in the only fight scene of the book, we know how bad things are because “even women” join the fight. In another scene someone asks our hero “Do you cook?” and he answers seriously “No, I’m married”. Wyoh, the one woman who’s part of the revolutionary leadership, although clearly smart and confident, is constantly being flirtatious and shown the naïvety of her believes.
I get it, it was the 60s. Heinlein is actually considered a feminist because, unlike other female sci-fi characters of the time, his women are part of events and influence them, they’re not technologically-challenged or afraid of a good fight. I just wished he had gone a little further and, for instance, made the Professor a woman.
I can appreciate what he did with Mannie. After all, it was the 60s and his hero was a disabled (one arm missing), mixed-race man who spoke like a Russian, with an unconventional marriage and with the power to bomb the US.
Just to end with a more positive note, here’s three things I did like (a lot!) about TMIAHM: 1) Mannie (for the reason above), 2) the discussions about the theory of compartmentalization and how to improve the traditional cell system in a revolution. How to make it as efficient and underground as possible, while still maintaining reliable communications. 3) every once in a while, Heinlein makes the reader stop and consider almost direct questions:
“Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
Uh… that’s a trick question.
It is the key question, dear Wyoming. A radical question that strikes to the root of the whole dilemma of government. Anyone who answers honestly and abides by all consequences knows where he stands – and what he will die for.”
It’s not like I didn’t know how terrible slavery was (is?). I’ve read fiction and non-fiction, saw movies and documentaries. It was a hot topic in the Brazilian soap-operas I watched while growing up. But Kindred felt more real than most other stories about that period, and for that I blame the way it blurs the borders between right and wrong and focuses on that darn human complexity.
People survive, people adapt and it’s not always easy to see slave owners and anything but evil and slaves as anything but victims.
With Kindred, Octavia Butler created the perfect setting to illustrate these nuances: Dana is a young black woman in 1976 who has both slave and white ancestry. She just bought a house with her (white) husband. For reasons never explained, she shares a special connection with her white, slave-owning ancestor, Rufus. This tie forces her to travel back in time to help him when his life is endangered.
She doesn’t know when (or if) she’ll come back, so she makes the best to fit in and survive.
With her modern moral superiority, Dana begins by acting her part, but after trying to escape, being beaten and wiped for it, almost raped and betrayed by another slave, she starts to realize how easily she’s becoming a part to this world. She’s a house slave and there are certain comforts in that, comforts she’s coming to appreciate and even enjoy. The plantation house is slowly becoming more of a home than her own back in the 20th century – “Slavery is a long slow process of dulling.”
More shades of grey: when she’s beaten up, Dana doesn’t blame the slaves who do not interfere (would I in their place?). Rufus is raised by a tyrant father who has an unbreakable code of honor that eventually works in Dana’s favor. Rufus has been raised and cared for by slaves, whom he cares for as well, until he begins to see them as property and violently demanding their love. After all, Rufus would not be judged by his peers for sleeping with slaves, but loving them is another matter. Rufus’ mother abuses young female slaves, but she often sees them pregnant by her husband (what would I do in her situation?).
So Dana, in her decreasingly detached clarity, starts to realize that there’s more to slavery, and people’s attitudes towards it, than what’s in the history books. And I’m sure we can apply this to lots of other things: prostitution, terrorism, genocide.
An author’s capacity to make a reader acknowledge humanity’s true complexity, even at the cost of comfort, is a real gift.
If nothing else, Generation A introduced me to the wonderful world of Earth Sandwiches. Unfortunately, for me to make one I’d have to find someone in a boat south-east of New Zealand… does it count if it’s an Earth-Sea Sandwich? You have to admit that any author who knows what an Earth Sandwich is must have his finger on the pulse of the internet generation.
Generation A is a seriously smart book. A smart idea, smartly executed and you can’t help but feel smart for getting the ending. It’s also a love song to the written word, to story-telling and the people who enjoy them, so it was rewarding on that level as well. Actually, because of it I’ve decided to add that “I pledge to read the written word” button to this blog. According to Coupland that commitment might also make my flesh tastier to any human-eating ETs.
In a near future bees are extinct and with them many of the flowers and fruit they help reproduce. Eating an apple, for instance, is a luxury because they have to be hand-pollinated. (Some parts of the world today already have to resort to these methods, the book A World Without Bees mentions the case of pears in China that are manually pollinated because of excessive use of pesticides in the 80s). Some years after the last bees were spotted, five people in different parts of the world are stung within a few days of each other. The hyper-connected world makes them instant celebrities, even before scientists whisk them off and study them in isolated sensory-deprivation rooms for weeks.
Coupland tells this story using the POV of these five people, one chapter each, always with the same order. It was great fun to see him handle distinctive voices so well, when they’re the Achilles Heels of so many other novels. It kept things interesting and fluid.
Once the five are released, they instinctively look for the only other people in the world that know what they’re feeling, so, prompted by one of the scientists, they eventually meet in an isolated island. There they begin telling stories to each other, and eventually uncover the mystery behind the bees’ disappearance and why they were stung.
Among all the funny bits and cultural references (Kmail!), there’s a lot of depth to this book. It would probably make a good bookclub choice, although I think I’d have a hard time convincing mine to choose it. In that sense Douglas Coupland is very much like Chuck Palahniuk: they both use irreverent characters, bad language and seemingly psychotic plots (gimmick fiction?) to make serious social commentary. And sometimes it’s really just fun, as illustrated by a hilarious conversation about Tweety Bird’s sexual preferences.
Both Generation X and Generation A follow the same type of narrative and debate about technology, the internet and the creation of a “hive” feeling that threatens our individuality – I know what I Google, I do what I Facebook (I read what I blog? ). Among this information overload, reading a book is still very much a silent action, between you and the voice in your head, which can help keep your creativity and personality. Or at least that’s the theory in Generation A.
Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 4: Bees/Honey
At the cost of using a cliché: I love it when a sci-fi book really becomes a window into the future. Isn’t that why we read sci-fi at all, to know What Will Happen? Good writers of science-fiction are like prophets.
It’s been a while since a book about the future scared me with its sense of possibility (probability?). Winning both the Nebula and Hugo Awards was well deserved.
I wonder how much my reaction to the book relates to the fact that I work in the renewable energy sector. Energy is even more central in Bacigalupi’s world than it is now. He created a “calorie economy”, where every energy unit is accounted for and everything is evaluated according to how much it consumes.
The story is set in a future Thailand, one of the last countries remaining above water (literally and metaphorically) after several plagues have killed most plants and rising sea levels cover much of the planet’s surface. The Thais has managed to endure by stubbornly using dams and pumps to hold back the rising waters, and maintaining a hidden seed bank which provides new genetic material for food engineering.
As you can imagine, the all-powerful biotech companies are not happy about this last point. They’ve been able to monopolized most of the world’s food supply by engineering plant species that can’t reproduce and ensuring that countries hard-hit by plagues are now completely dependent on them. Plagues, by the way, caused by the biotechs themselves – build a vegetable to resist a bug and the bug adapts, build a super-vegetable and you’ll get a super-bug.
It’s a harsh world and Blade Runner came to mind several times, as well as classic noire movies. It was such a well created atmosphere of impending environmental doom that in the couple of times where a fossil-fuel car makes an appearance I was as shocked by the waste of energy as all characters.
But although the biggest asset of the book is its world-building (can we use this for sci-fi as well as fantasy?) the four characters it follows are well-developed and their personalities have compelling shares of grey. Actually, in a book full of over-arching topics, Bacigalupi gets brownie points for making the individuals, fueled by very personal motivations, start macro-level changes. The unexpected maverick is a plot device I usually love.
Anderson Lake was the one that really caught my eye. He’s a “calorie man”, an agent of one of the powerful agricultural companies based in Des Moines. He is working undercover to locate the Thai secret seed bank in order to diversify the his company’s contaminated gene tool. His life gets more complicated when he meets “windup” Emiko, a genetically manufactured person designed to serve rich Japanese men, geisha-style.
Whenever I read dystopian stories I’m always afraid of the ending. The ones where everything changes don’t usually sound believable and the ones where there’s no hope (1984) leave me… hopeless. So even more brownie points to Bacigalupi for the creative resolution of this story.
It was the perfect book to read while in Bangkok. Here’s a great description of the future city:
The sun peers over the rim of the earth, casting its blaze across Bangkok. It rushes molten over the wrecked tower bones of the old Expansion and the gold-sheathed chedi of the city’s temples, engulfing them in light and heat. It ignites the sharp high roofs of the Grand Palace where the Child Queen lives cloistered with her attendants, and flames from the filigreed ornamentation of the City Pillar Shrine where monks chant 24-7 on behalf of the city’s seawalls and dikes. The blood warm ocean flickers with blue mirror waves as the sun moves on, burning.