I've read my share of Russian literature, but nothing quite like the stories of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. She writes of the harsh everyday existence meI've read my share of Russian literature, but nothing quite like the stories of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. She writes of the harsh everyday existence melded with just enough absurdity to make it palatable. These are stories of neglected young girls, wives, mothers, and widows looking for love in humble and inhospitable circumstances. The love they uncover is not redemptive, but it is enough to sustain them. They are making the best of a bad situation, but this isn't an instance of taking lemons and making lemonade. This is trying to make Dandelion Root Tea from the Russian Dandelion, which is better suited for the production of rubber....more
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr. concerns Ron Currie, Jr., author of a book that sounds a lot like Everything Matters! by Ron Currie,Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr. concerns Ron Currie, Jr., author of a book that sounds a lot like Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. His new book tells the Truth about the individuals who inspired the characters from his first book, including the author himself. While the two books essentially (and existentially) share the same starting point, they diverge drastically on the spectrum of speculative fiction. In Everything Matters! the imminent demise of life on earth underscores the importance of all that life entails, whereas in Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles the probability of the Singularity has the potential to prolong life indefinitely in another form.
Currie wrote it in another form, forgoing the standard chapter format for a series of interconnected vignettes strung together. His writing is innovative in subject, structure, and style. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is a wonderful interpolation of identity, which makes the unattributed reference to U2′s “The Fly” all the more apropos!
I read Everything Matters! prior to reading Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, and, while it informed my reading, it isn’t necessary. In fact, it might be more interesting to read them in reverse order. It doesn’t matter which one you read first, as long as you read both books!...more
This is Seeking a Friend for the End of the World done right. [Sorry, I just saw the film a few weeks back, so the comparison is inevitable.] Rather tThis is Seeking a Friend for the End of the World done right. [Sorry, I just saw the film a few weeks back, so the comparison is inevitable.] Rather than learning the world will end in three weeks, Junior Thibodeaux learns of mankind's demise in utero. An omniscient voice speaks to Junior (and is recorded throughout the book) informing him of the exact time the comet will strike the earth, wiping out life as he has yet to know it. The question is what to do with this information delivered in formation? Like young Siggy Martin in What About Bob?, you get the sense of a kid dressed in black who doesn't want to learn to swim because we're all going to die, so what does it matter?
I'm nearing the age Junior will be when he will be obliterated (36), and the nagging suspicion that nothing I do makes a difference has been cropping up, so this was a timely read for me (particularly with Currie's new book, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, just around the corner). Everything Matters! has all of the off-kilter humor and none of the Keira Knightley. There is a romantic interest, but it's one you can believe and want to succeed. This isn't just seeking a friend for the end of the world; the voice instructs Junior to "Seek the meaning in sorrow and don't ever ever turn away, not once, from here until the end."
Ron Currie, Jr. is from Maine, as are the characters in this book. I spent a semester at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, but my experience there didn't really resemble Junior's. My greatest delight in reading this stirring book came when the love interest dropped a flatlanders (their term for anyone not from Maine) reference on returning home! ...more
Sanderson strikes again in Steelheart, released today! It’s his second YA book this year, and like The Rithmatist it features a non-powered protagonisSanderson strikes again in Steelheart, released today! It’s his second YA book this year, and like The Rithmatist it features a non-powered protagonist who gets ahead by meticulous attention to detail. David also lost his father, but, unlike Joel, he witnessed his father’s death. He watched as Steelheart brutally murdered an ordinary man who thought Steelheart was the hero they needed. They need a hero because every Epic who gained superpowers at the advent of Calamity became a villain. There are no heroes save for the Reckoners, a shadow ops group of humans that take down the Epics within their reach. They choose their battles carefully, picking the Epics who appear unbeatable yet possess hidden weaknesses. Not even the Reckoners will stand up to Steelheart, however. His rule of Chicago is uncontested until David alters the already altered landscape. He saw Steelheart bleed the day his father died, and will stop at nothing to strike again.
That is the premise of Reckoners #1, but it’s not what makes Steelheart so gripping. Sanderson’s take on the superhero genre is full of great characters who don’t need to wear spandex suits to be colorful. That’s how he succeeds in taking something familiar and reinventing it – by creating characters with motivations and secrets in addition to special abilities. I should point out that I’m describing the Reckoners and not the Epics. It’s their series, and they make it work. The Epics may have impressive powers – Nightwielder is the Epic version of the Darkling – but the Reckoners have impressive personalities. It’s David’s heart, not Steelheart’s immunity, that makes the difference!
It’s worth noting that both Sanderson and Wells – friends who share a writing group – use alternate versions of Chicago. In Steelheart much of Newcago has been turned to steel (including part of the lake), and in Fragments the lake has flooded the low-lying part of the city (including Soldier Field, site of an important scene in Steelheart)....more
Triangles within circles within squares – it’s an indecipherable puzzle. But these aren’t crop circles; they’re chalk circles. The magic system in TheTriangles within circles within squares – it’s an indecipherable puzzle. But these aren’t crop circles; they’re chalk circles. The magic system in The Rithmatist is based on geometric lines written in chalk. It comes as no surprise that Brandon Sanderson is a whiz at inventing magic systems, but it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who’s a whiz at that system without any magical ability. Joel is a 16-year-old student at Armedius Academy, a school that instructs both traditional and magical students. Joel is neither a Rithmatist nor a traditional prep school student; as the son of a humble chalkmaker and a cleaning woman, he’s an aberration at a place like Armedius. He doesn’t fit in with either group, although he longs to be a Rithmatist. He’s memorized all the complicated variations of the defensive chalk circles they use in duels, as well as the history of the duelists who used them successfully. He’s a student of the game without the specialized skill set needed to participate. But when a mysterious attacker begins abducting the most skilled Rithmatists at Armedius, it’s up to Joel’s understanding of the magic, not his innate ability to use it, that unravels the secret plot.
I’m an unabashed fan of Sanderson, and there is a lot to love about this book. It’s a fantastic reworking of the magic school concept, with academics applying the magic to their advantage. Joel is an outsider who finds his way into the inner circle. The alternate history is great, with the United Isles of America bearing new names. Armedius is one of eight academies that teach Rithmatics, and it’s located in Jamestown on the Isle of New Britannia. Europe was conquered by the JoSeun Empire, and the exiled monarch of England is the one who discovered Rithmatics. That ties magic to the Monarchical Church, building another layer to the clockwork culture that developed in America. Joel is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, and his interactions with them are perfect. The illustrations of the chalkings – chalk creatures drawn to assist in the duels – are delightful, and the diagrams of the different defenses are highly detailed. The Rithmatist is also Sanderson’s most personal book to date, with a main character who shares a name with the book’s dedicatee, and a dark menace located in Nebrask, the state based on Sanderson’s home state of Nebraska. The Rithmatist is a sheer delight for Sanderson fans like me, and would serve as an excellent introduction to a younger generation of new fans....more