This maritime fantasy offers the package (plot, pacing, character development, and ideas, set in an extremely creative well-developed world, written wThis maritime fantasy offers the package (plot, pacing, character development, and ideas, set in an extremely creative well-developed world, written with clear, exact, and intricate language). It's a good read for many reasons — and hearty fun!
For writers Miéville packs a lot of narrative exposition into a short space and makes it interesting. A memorable epic battle (airships, pirates, golems, vampires, and sea monsters!) begins, "Metal and metal meet, and black powder ignites, and oil combusts and flesh bursts and burns." He also makes some exacting word choices, at times resurrecting archaic words to describe his unusual, sprawling world with terse precision.
Pairs well withPerdido Street Station — the first in his trilogy set in the New Crubuzon world ( Iron Council is the final book). In Perdido Street Station, Miéville takes time to introduce the reader to a complicated world populated by fully-human beetles, cactae and amalgamations and does an excellent job of acclimating the reader (the opening scene — sex between a mad scientist-type and his new khepri girlfriend does the trick). Things just get weirder and more wondrous in The Scar, but start with Perdido Street Station to fully enjoy and appreciate the ride....more
By general awareness, one expects a bit of history and many battle scenes of this famously long 19th century classic by Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
WarBy general awareness, one expects a bit of history and many battle scenes of this famously long 19th century classic by Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
War and Peace (1869) delivers this as it relates the historical clash between Napoleon and Czar Alexander I, although the battle scenes don't come into full force until the second half of the book when Napolean invades Moscow. Much of the opening of the novel concerns itself with Russian society. There's dancing, drinking, and card games. It's romantic and sentimental in the fashion of novels of the era.
A novel of this length and breadth (it is subdivided into four books and two epilogues) requires a patient reader. In time, however, it becomes clear why War and Peace remains read and remembered. Tolstoy describes human emotions and attributes with marvelous precision. He depicts our most personal struggles and quests with tension and clarity. He makes them as arresting as a wolf hunt.
War and Peace addresses great universal themes. A third of the way into the novel, the protagonist, Pierre Bezukhovs, a naive, easily-manipulated youth, encounters the Freemasons and begins to address, on a spiritual level, the feelings of aimlessness and restlessness that plague him.
Through the character of Bezukhovs, Tolstoy asks, "What is the aim of life?" and provides an answer: Love.
In War and Peace, love emanates from battlefields and ballrooms, "Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly." Various characters at various points in the book express love of life.
Finally, after being taken a prisoner of war and suffering hardship, Bezukhovs arrives at the answer on his own, "Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source."
Once he arrives at this conclusion, Bezukhovs undergoes a transformation. Finding this answer changes his attitude towards people in his life and eases his relationships both personal and political. He begins to relate to people in a loving and non-judgmental way. He realizes, "...the impossibility of changing a man's conviction by words, and the recognition of the possibility of everyone thinking, feeling, and seeing things each from his own point of view." Now, instead of finding other people's behavior frustrating, Bezukhovs approaches adversaries with the sanguine nature of a Buddha. "The difference, and sometimes complete contradiction between men's opinions and their lives, and between one man and another, pleased him and drew from him an amused and gentle smile."
The second epilogue to War and Peace could be read on its own as an essay. It includes a discussion of free will vs. divine will ("Divine will," says Tolstoy) and a debate about history — Is the course of history shaped by the will of the masses or the will of great men? ("The masses," says Tolstoy).
Read this, if you are fated to do so, and for: lots of fun period vocabulary: carabineers, caissons, mazurka, salver, polonaise, sterlet, ecossaise, cambric, caleche, shako, sabretache, quitrent, linstocks, sutlers, snuggery
Pairs well with: George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby, which also concludes that love is life. The character Trilby embodies the phrase, "All will be forgiven her, for she loved much...," which is also a quote found in War and Peace.
Of note: • Tolstoy's writings influenced Gandhi and nonviolent resistance movements.
• Tolstoy, writing from a Christian perspective, wrote about vegetarianism in "The First Step," a preface to The Ethics of Diet (1883) by Howard Williams. Tolstoy praised the 19th century vegetarian movement, which "...should cause especial joy to those whose life lies in the effort to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, not because vegetarianism is in itself an important step towards that kingdom (all true steps are both important and unimportant), but because it is a sign that the aspiration of mankind toward moral perfection is serious and sincere, for it has taken the one unalterable order of succession natural to it, beginning with the first step."
• In Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about Dr. Paul Farmer's work providing health care in Haiti, War and Peace is mentioned as an early influence (along with Lord of the Rings) on Farmer. Farmer is co-founder of Partners in Health, which provides health care in some of the world's poorest countries.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(2007) by Dominican-American author Junot Díaz crosses Dominican Republic and sf/fantasy gamer culture in a smoothThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(2007) by Dominican-American author Junot Díaz crosses Dominican Republic and sf/fantasy gamer culture in a smooth infusion of highbrow intellectual language and colloquial speech. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel will appeal to both literary geeks and geeks with a love of literature. It's a realist tale with a hint of the supernatural, peppered with references to Tolkien and gamer geekdom. For example, when Oscar Wao takes a beating from dictator Rafael Trujillo's lackeys, the severity of his wounds is described in terms of how many "hit points" he has left. With an unusual mix of adjectives, the author creates his own language to tell a family's story.
The title of this novel is misleading. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is really an epic story spanning generations. While Oscar Wao is a fantastic character, his own arc, how he changes over the course of the story, is a subtle one within the extreme events of the novel. It ends with a great premise for a more plot-driven work —a person's struggle to overcome "fukú," a family curse. But The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is not that book — instead it's a beautifully written tragedy about characters whose lives are consistently overcome by a family curse no matter how they attempt to control their own fates.
Writers, read this for voice. The structure of this novel presents a challenge. It delivers large chunks of each character's story, drawing the reader in to a tale, and then breaking connection to jump to a new character with no immediately apparent tie (they turn out to be relatives). However, the voice, the compelling language used to tell each story, pulls the reader across these gaps and makes each new tale engaging. The strong voice, a consistent third person narrator, gives this work its humor, edge, cross-cultural intricacy, and momentum.
Pairs well with:Drown, also by Junot Diaz, about Yunior de Las Casas, the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy ...more
In 1894, George Du Maurier, grandfather of writers Angela Du Maurier (Pilgrims by the Way, 1967) and Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca, 1938), wrote a book wIn 1894, George Du Maurier, grandfather of writers Angela Du Maurier (Pilgrims by the Way, 1967) and Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca, 1938), wrote a book with a villain so memorable his name, Svengali, is still used to describe, per Webster's, "one who attempts usu. with evil intentions to persuade or force another to do his bidding." Du Maurier's novel Trilby also inspired Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera (1910).
However, Svengali doesn't figure largely within the story, which dwells mostly on the life of a young artist and his cadre of friends in bohemian Paris — all highly romanticized.
Take this passage for example, "Oh, happy days and happy nights, sacred to art and friendship! Oh, happy times of careless impecuniosity, and youth and hope and health and strength and freedom — with all Paris for a playground, and its dear old unregenerate Latin Quarter for a workshop, and a home!"
Beneath this over-the-top romanticism lies intent and thematic consistency. At one point, the narrator says, "All this sounds very goody-goody, but it's true."
A euphoric state — a surge of love — permeates the novel, as it meditates on love of art, beauty and humanity, "...love of love, love of life, love of death, love of all that is and ever was and ever will be..." It's also about the characters' love of Trilby, an idealized woman. "One must have something perfect to look up to and be fond of — even if it's too good to be true!" Trilby says upon making peace with her death at the end of the novel.
The story forwards some ideas about equality (across lines of class and gender) that were probably ahead of its time and remain applicable today. At the same time, it contains some jolting racism.
For hospice workers: The novel ends with an idyllic description of the death of a beloved character. Trilby prepares for her death at home with all of her friends around her. They visit daily, read her stories, listen to her recollections, and help her dictate her will, realize she is dying, and make peace with her death. Near death, "...Trilby lay tranquil and happy, and with a sense that nothing remained for her but to enjoy the fleeting hour, and make the most of each moment as it went by."
Pairs well with:The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms by Suzy McKee Charnas, particularly the story, "Beauty and the Opera". ...more
This is the intriguing story of a self-destructive English Ph.D. student, Ariel Manto, who reads a cursed book, The End of Mr. Y, and enters a virtualThis is the intriguing story of a self-destructive English Ph.D. student, Ariel Manto, who reads a cursed book, The End of Mr. Y, and enters a virtual reality (or is it?). The book references Samuel Butler's utopia, Erewhon, and was influenced by Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds, and Simon Singh's Big Bang (both nonfiction science). It contains some interesting discussions of quantum physics and the not uncommon accompanying contemplation of the intersection of science and religion. It raises questions about the nature of consciousness, time, matter, thought, God and reality. For the protagonist, philosophical musings become matters of life, death and love.
There's some animal rights interest: an incidental vegetarian protagonist and some less incidental scenes illustrating empathy with the plight of lab rats. Along with David Liss' The Ethical Assassin, this is an example of non-polemical fiction with embedded animal rights themes.
Author Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972 and teaches English Literature and Writing at the University of Kent. This is her fourth novel. The author was interviewed in a 2007 article by Colleen Mondor at BookSlut. ...more
**spoiler alert** In Calvino's The Baron in the Trees an eighteenth century Italian boy takes to the trees and refuses to come down. Neither love nor**spoiler alert** In Calvino's The Baron in the Trees an eighteenth century Italian boy takes to the trees and refuses to come down. Neither love nor war dissuade Cosimo from living out his life in his arboreal element. Even when attacked by pirates and carried out to sea he stays aloft in the ship's mast. His romances with Ursula and Viola fall way to his commitment to the trees — his truest love. "I hold dear the forest in which I live..," says Cosimo, the ultimate tree-hugger. The story is an homage to a past thick with trees when arboreal roofs sheltered humanity and "a monkey could have left Rome and skipped from tree to tree until it reached Spain, without ever touching earth." It regrets the lumbered future and the advent of the indiscriminate ax wielded by "careless generations, of improvident greed" when "no Cosimo will ever walk the trees again." With few plot points pushing the story forward, the novel becomes an extended fairy tale, 200 plus pages engaged in the creation of a mythical being. Cosimo's life becomes as legend within the novel. The "tree-climbing man of Ombrosa" is included in "the Chapter of Monsters, between the Hermaphrodite and the Siren." Cosimo, an extraordinary rebel, creates his own personal utopia, a life in trees. He writes "the Constitution of an Ideal State in the Trees, the imaginary Republic of Arborea" and his epitaph reads, "Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo - Lived in trees - Always loved the earth - Went into the sky." ...more
Journalist Tracy Kidder writes the biography of Harvard-trained medical anthropologist, Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, an organizationJournalist Tracy Kidder writes the biography of Harvard-trained medical anthropologist, Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, an organization which provides health care in some of the poorest nations. Farmer acts to value all life equally including valuing other children as much as his own. In a "This I Believe" essay for NPR, Farmer offers his view of utopia:
"That goal is nothing less than the refashioning of our world into one in which no one starves, drinks impure water, lives in fear of the powerful and violent, or dies ill and unattended. Of course such a world is a utopia, and most of us know that we live in a dystopia. But all of us carry somewhere within us the belief that moving away from dystopia moves us towards something better and more humane."
The description of Farmer's extraordinary devotion to a core belief and corresponding course of action brought to mind Nelson Mandela's autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom." It was also interesting to note that Farmer was inspired both by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and War and Peace....more
**spoiler alert** A classic utopia (i.e. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, Thomas More's Utopia), an emissary travels to an isolated society and com**spoiler alert** A classic utopia (i.e. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, Thomas More's Utopia), an emissary travels to an isolated society and comments on the conditions.
The ideas for a reshaped society in Ecotopia reminded me of an environmental science textbook I read in the 90s at Western Washington University. They aligned with my own philosophical and regional biases. It would be interesting to hear other perspectives. The overall atmosphere of Ecotopia as well as the society described felt reminiscent of Burning Man.
For writers: Ecotopia presents some point of view challenges. The protagonist, journalist William Weston, must be objective, critical and skeptical of the new ideas he encounters, but often the author's bias and familiarity shows through. This is not a heavily plotted novel, but it builds to the main character's meeting with the Ecotopian president, which creates some tension. The protagonist also undergoes a transformation making a clear arc from outsider to Ecotopian (he literally undergoes a blood transfusion). The character's emotional breakdown and subsequent "break through" builds to an intense, emotional scene. ...more