This book is actually unratable. I gave it four stars, but it actually exists in two superimposed states: it is simultaneously a one-star and a five-sThis book is actually unratable. I gave it four stars, but it actually exists in two superimposed states: it is simultaneously a one-star and a five-star book. This is fairly appropriate, given the nature of the book.
So, what this is, it's about Mordred, half-son of Arthur Pendragon (kiiiiiind of), who is a software engineer in modern-day Toronto, and in love with a computer program/Alan Turing. Kind of. And that's the simple, sensible part of the book.
But, no, what this book really is -- the author (and WOW do I assume that is a pseudonym) took every single thing he likes and packed it into one book. So it is both fun and a mess. Like, I think this could have been a fucking brilliant book if he'd just -- focused some. Instead of doing that, he elected to add a hidden puzzle to his book and throw in some easter eggs. That should tell you what you're getting into here.
So there's a lot I loved. I loved this weird worldbuilding that he did, I loved a lot of the characters, I loved his depiction of working at startups, I loved his endless references to other things I love (I caught a lot of them, but I am sure I missed many more). I loved the romance between an immortal necromancer/mythological figure and a computer program/computer programmer, mostly carried out via IM. I loved the humor and most of the feelings. I loved the math.
I did not love the author's attempt to capture recursion in narrative form. I did not love his many unraveling plot ends. (view spoiler)[I did not love the extremely many deaths, especially certain ones, and I very much did not love the random sudden zombie plague that shows up 80% of the way through the book or the many eye-gouging sequences. I did not love the resolution of the romance, since I am, at heart, a believer in happy endings. (hide spoiler)] I did not love the author's inability to find a tone and commit to it.
I read this book quickly and was engrossed through the whole thing. I even stayed with it through the unexpected arrival of one of my phobias AND one of my ironclad nos, which means it was incredibly engaging. But having finished it, I'm frustrated, not satisfied; the ending was a spiralling, out-of-control wreck that slammed into a brick wall and died there.
I did enjoy this, and I'm not sorry I read it. And if he writes another one, I'll definitely read it. I just kind of hope he workshops it with people who live in only three dimensions and are capable of thinking in straight lines. He could use their help.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So I think the primary lesson of this book is that the main problem with getting old is not, you know, the physical decline, but rather that you rememSo I think the primary lesson of this book is that the main problem with getting old is not, you know, the physical decline, but rather that you remember so many cool things. You're so busy wishing the world was somehow an amalagam of every perfect time and place you remember that you become a giant pain in the ass to everyone around you. Or, at least, that's the problem with Bill Bryson getting old.
What I'm saying is, this book is essentially the monologues of your grandfather who travels a lot and is remarkably cranky.
The funniest part is definitely the first bit, when Bryson is talking about applying for UK citizenship; once he starts traveling, it all becomes a bit samey. Bryson goes to a place! He sees a remarkably pretty thing and talks about how it should all be like this! He goes to another place! He complains about how everything is getting worse and people are so stupid and frankly he cannot even stand it! He goes to a third place, which should be better than it is! Repeat ad nauseam.
And then there's the -- well, I think the ablism is already quite obvious, but let me just slap on a big ol' warning for transphobia, here; he makes one of those deeply unfunny Caitlyn Jenner comments we've all grown so very tired of.
Reading note: ended up reading this one almost solely on my iPad. Very recommended way of doing it; you can google all the stuff he's talking about and see pictures! This enhanced my enjoyment immeasurably.
This is not one of Bryson's best books. Skip unless you're a serious Bryson completist....more
Okay, so, full disclosure: this book hits so many of my most-loathed plot elements and character aspects that it was a disaster for me. It would probaOkay, so, full disclosure: this book hits so many of my most-loathed plot elements and character aspects that it was a disaster for me. It would probably work better for -- well, almost anyone else. But I can only review based on my own experience, and wow did I have a lot of problems with it.
I should have known this book was Not For Me at the outset; it starts out with some verbiage that appears to exist solely to demonstrate the authors' mastery of adjectives (note: they have this DOWN) and then cuts to a self-centered, whiny jerk losing everything. Interesting fact about me: I don't like whiny, self-centered jerks, AND YET I also do not like watching them lose everything.
But before he can lose everything (and that is totally not a spoiler, by the way; it's in the book description), first we have to learn about his world, where everyone is Perfect, so of course they're homophobic as hell. Like, I get why the authors thought "Oh hey! Let's make the bad society homophobic, to demonstrate how bad they are, and also to give us Bonus Angst!" I just -- don't like it. It makes no sense for the actual society, given their obsession with only the RIGHT people breeding, and even then doing it in a very manipulated, assisted reproduction type way, and -- I seriously wish authors would consider what message they're sending when they write a whole different world, a far-future world, and make it homophobic. Like, this is not a thing you should do because you want Bonus Angst.
Anyway. Shortly thereafter, we meet the other half of the main pairing, who is an arrogant, easily-angered jerk. Here's the thing: Jerks in Love is not a trope that works for me at all, and Jerks Just Fucking is even less interesting to me. This book gave me both of them, and lots of them. But I wanted to read about basically anyone else, which was my bad luck, because we get to know about 15 people, total, in the entire book, and that's on both sides.
And then we learn about the other society. The good society that is the foil of the Perfect (bad) society. Annnnnnd -- I liked it right up until I realized that, sure, the Perfect society has no place at all for the disabled, but neither does the good one, really. (There's a ritual you have to complete, called the Naming; if you can't pass it, you're exiled. It's not ever made entirely clear what the ceremony is about, but it is made clear that lots of disabled people would be unable to complete it.) So, again, I wish the authors had thought slightly more about the unfortunate things their worldbuilding revealed about them, rather than just plunging into it.
And then -- oh, so many other things, major and minor. The genetics stuff, which sort of holds up until it turns into Babble Consisting of Sciency Words. The fact that I could not care about the main characters as much as the book expected me to. The gratuitous animal sacrifices. The child soldiers. The way a lot of the key scenes weren't earned. I wanted to like this book, I truly did, but it just kept on being stuff I hate.
There were good things. A trans character who I thought (though I am not an expert) was well-handled! Markers of diversity! Gay main characters! Lesbians who are at least named! A plot in addition to the romance! Just -- oh man, these good things did not come close to making up for the bad stuff. For me. For you, they very well might.
(Also, formatting note: I read this on both my kindle and iPad. Do not read this on an iPad. The formatting is messed up, so none of the line breaks that indicate a shift in scene come through. This is super disconcerting, and the authors switch scenes a lot.)
Basically: reading this book was a slog, a slow trudge through an inhospitable land. If you choose to read it, I hope it's more hospitable to you. For my part, I am bummed that I paid five bucks for this, when I've read so many better science fictiony gay romances that were free....more
This book gets five stars not because it's perfect, but because it made me yell in all caps on Twitter. I cared that much about the characters, caredThis book gets five stars not because it's perfect, but because it made me yell in all caps on Twitter. I cared that much about the characters, cared that much that the book would end correctly, and any book that is that compelling and good deserves five stars.
And it really is compelling; it starts out interesting and then gathers steam and gathers steam until the last quarter of the book becomes basically a race to the end, to find out if everything is all right, if the future of these characters is arranged as it should be. (Which, given what the book's about -- notice I am carefully avoiding major spoilers here -- is kind of amusing.)
Anyway. I read it as fast as I could and I'm sorry I'm done with it. This is a lovely, intricate, genre-bending book, and while I could write something pretentious about how it's a reflection on the choices we make and the nature of probability and blah blah blah, to me it's basically a fantastical queer love story with a mechanical octopus. I could ask for nothing more suited to me or more fun to read.
(view spoiler)[Though, speaking of octopuses: I was exceedingly sad about what happened to Katsu. That was one part I really didn't like. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Apparently my reading theme for 2016 is "Disliking Books That Everyone I Know Loved." I wish it were something else. (Like, say, "Surprise Robots." ThApparently my reading theme for 2016 is "Disliking Books That Everyone I Know Loved." I wish it were something else. (Like, say, "Surprise Robots." That's what I'd've picked if I'd gotten a choice.) I wish I'd liked this book more than I did. But reading it felt like watching someone reinvent the wheel in real time: dull and frustrating, because it's so easy to see how it could be better, but you're stuck watching someone experiment with rotating squares.
Part of the problem, for me, was the characters. I just...didn't like them. It's always a bad sign when you get to the first sex scene and honestly could not care less whether the characters bang or not, and with this book, I wasn't just in the not caring place for the first sex scene; I skimmed all of them, because I didn't give a shit about whether Harry and Julius banged, broke up, or left for the Continent and started up a traveling circus. The only characters in this book that interested me were Silas and Cyprian, and I suspect they are going to have main character roles in books 2 and 3. (Which gives me hope that those books will be more interesting, although I'm worried that book 2 will just be a rehash of what we already saw play out in this book.)
And then there was the plot. You know that plot twist we're all sick of, where person A learns something that he knows will upset person B, so he doesn't tell them, and you know instantly that B is going to find out from someone else and is going to feel betrayed and they're going to have a huge fight and you've read this trope 300,000 times so I don't even need to spell out how it all goes? Yeah, that's one of the big crises in this book. That was the point where I took a break from it and went off to reread Sineala's Chosen Man. My brain needed to spend some time with characters I cared about and a plot that worked.
But probably the most fundamental problem here was that this book talked a lot about the Peterloo Massacre and then expected me to care about whether or not two specific people fucked each other and wore pretty waistcoats. I can care about sex and waistcoats! I love sex and waistcoats! But not against a backdrop of actual tragic, unjust deaths that happened to actual humans.
So, yeah, this book didn't work for me at all. I soldiered through it because I've heard great things about the second one. I'm hoping that one isn't in keeping with this year's theme at all. (Maybe it will have surprise robots!)...more
Okay, so partly my disconnect with this book was my own fault. I'm used to Vowell's other books, so I didn't bother to read the summary, just read theOkay, so partly my disconnect with this book was my own fault. I'm used to Vowell's other books, so I didn't bother to read the summary, just read the sample and clicked "buy." So I didn't realize until after I bought it that, aside from the first chapter, it was a collection of reviews and essays that are, at this point, a decade and a half old.
Here's the thing: you can (and I do) read Dorothy Parker's reviews, which are almost a century old, and enjoy the hell out of them. Never heard of the play? Never heard of the author? Doesn't matter. You'll laugh your ass off anyway. Sarah Vowell is...not Dorothy Parker (well, I mean, who is?), and her reviews do not stay interesting long after the subjects have ceased to be. Same with her essays. Her writing just isn't worth reading for its own sake.
So, yeah, this bored me. At the end, I felt like I knew Vowell a little better, but honestly I would've had way more fun reading random essays in Vox. That's -- not good. And neither is this book....more