in this post-apocalyptic tale, sand is like water; maverick sand divers use their amazing sand suits to uncover buried pre-apocalypse tools and materiin this post-apocalyptic tale, sand is like water; maverick sand divers use their amazing sand suits to uncover buried pre-apocalypse tools and materials. otherwise life is pretty miserable, and sandy. there's an actual glossary of sand terms!
happily the book is so much more than that admittedly original concept. all the different voices of a disparate family give this future society flavor and nuance. the characters themselves are warmly developed. the depressing atmosphere was nicely alleviated by characters who are always striving, always trying to move forward. there was one particularly impressive scene where a young woman channels all the pain and trauma and sadness and anger she's experienced in her life to give herself the strength needed to perform an impossible feat. that was an astonishing bit of writing, poetic and visceral and intense. moving. overall Sand is a well-written novel. no clichés in sight and many surprises throughout the narrative.
perhaps the biggest surprise for me was how I was so successfully manipulated into supporting something I'm morally against. now I'm a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, against war and state-sponsored violence et cetera. so I did not expect to eventually come to a place where I was cheering on the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people and the destruction of a city. when I realized I was feeling such things, the bottom sorta dropped out from under me.
but sometimes people are so crushed under the foot of their oppressors that they are driven to do things, and sometimes those things are savagely violent and vindictive. I wonder: did Howey realize that his novel functions as an argument in favor of terrorism and the utter annihilation of one's enemies? well, he certainly constructed a convincing argument.
one thing truly aggravated me: the unnecessary identification of a minor character as black. even a description of him as being black as charcoal. now this would not bother me in the least if other characters were racially identified. but that was not the case. essentially, Howey's decision to identify only this character's race implies that the default is white. what the fuck.
I AM SO FUCKING TIRED OF GENRE AUTHORS ASSUMING THAT THEIR POST-APOCALYPTIC WASTELANDS OR THEIR ZOMBIE-RIDDEN SUBURBIAS OR THEIR FOOFY LITTLE FAIRYLANDS ARE ALL WHITE, WHITE, WHITE SO ANYONE WHO IS NON-WHITE WILL DEFINITELY GET THEIR SKIN COLOR MENTIONED, BUT EVERYONE ELSE... WELL THE READER SHOULD JUST ASSUME THAT THEY ARE WHITE WHITE WHITE ALL FUCKING WHITE ALL THE FUCKING TIME. JUST FUCK OFF WITH THAT ALREADY AND JOIN THE MODERN WORLD! THIS IS NOT THE FUCKING 1950s!
kids have to beware of a lot of things, sometimes their own families most of all. that seems to be an underlying theme to several of the books in Diankids have to beware of a lot of things, sometimes their own families most of all. that seems to be an underlying theme to several of the books in Diana Wynne Jones' splendid series of standalone fantasy novels for children. families are dangerous. they will let you down, they will break your heart, they will take advantage of you if it furthers their greedy ambitions, they will neglect you if you don't fit into their schemes. such a harsh and heavy theme for books whose main appeal to me is the lightness of Jones' touch and her resolve in placing adventures within worlds that may be magical but are also mundane, sometimes grindingly so. an offbeat series, and a wonderful one.
so what is Conrad's fate? it may be that he was born with bad karma and his fate is to balance the decks so that he can get on with his life. at least that's what the adults tell him. but who can trust an adult in a Chrestomanci novel? Conrad may be better off carving out his own fate.
this is my favorite of the Chrestomanci novels so far. Christopher Chant returns in his second adventure, but he plays second fiddle to Conrad. the two are newly hired servants-in-training with two different secret agendas. the place is a strange but bustling, lively manor chock full of all sorts of people. the manor itself is having problems: it phases in and out of various realities without warning. there was so much to enjoy in this book! the whole Upstairs Downstairs Downton Abbey-ness of it all, with a lot of fun minutiae detailed in what it may be like to be a servant in such a place. the slowly growing friendship between Conrad and Christopher, and the great little moments where we see how everyone else views the charming yet often unbearably smug Christopher Chant - destined to someday be sorcerer supreme of all dimensions. the cavalcade of assumed identities revealed at the end, the slowly simmering machinations, the dry and vaguely threatening deus ex machine appearance of Chrestomanci, the ghost, the part-time actors slumming it as servants, the girl lost in another world, various adults with their own secret agendas, cruel witches, and especially the frequent and often disorientingly bizarre shifts into alternate worlds. the author describes all of this craziness in the same way a person would describe a trip to the supermarket to pick up some milk and eggs.
such a fun book, but that sad, dark theme at the heart of it all makes Conrad's Fate resonate in surprisingly profound ways....more
grim, dry, melancholy, frustrating, riveting, endearing, and tragic are all good words to describe this moving anti-epic. well it looks like there aregrim, dry, melancholy, frustrating, riveting, endearing, and tragic are all good words to describe this moving anti-epic. well it looks like there are two more words to add to this list, moving and anti-epic. now how about another: bromantic.
grim: this trilogy is about a human and two members of an alien race known as the Mri, their long flight back to their homeworld and what they find there. this is not an "adventure". it is a stark, dark tale about how easily betrayal can be rationalized and, more importantly, how hard it can be to survive that betrayal if your version of survival equals never giving an inch to your betrayers - or your allies.
dry: this trilogy is austere and introspective, and Cherryh evinces little humor and lightness in the telling. yet the dryness works perfectly and never comes across as pretentious. she approaches her subjects in a careful, detached manner and that style is a perfect fit for her story.
melancholy: one character gives up everything. two characters lose everything. they do not spend much time in reflection on the things they lost, but that loss pervades the atmosphere and their characterization from beginning to end.
frustrating: it is not the novels that frustrate, it is the characters within. the Mri are a frustratingly pure race. they do not negotiate. they do not take prisoners. they view all non-Mri as un-people; the definition of "Mri" is "the People" while all others are "tsi-Mri", or "not the People". they do not bend, they do not yield. they are a hard people and the fact that so many others are set against them makes their single-mindedness even more frustrating. why in the world would a human want to become one of them? Cherryh makes that decision understandable and the harsh Mri strangely noble, without turning them into that infernal cliché, the "noble savage".
riveting: there is much that quickens the pulse. an attempt at genocide. dangerous journeys through wastelands. political intrigue. challenges and duels and games with throwing blades. how tough it is to travel in the dark of space. spaceships bringing fire and destruction upon abandoned cities. men learning to find true connection despite an automatic inequality between them. a woman becoming a strong and fearless leader.
endearing: the dusei are empathic bear-like sidekicks to the Mri. they are scary and adorable and a fully conceived alien species. Cherryh really outdid herself in creating these fascinating, wonderful creatures. she made me dream about them.
tragic: there are two horrific slaughters in this trilogy and they cast a long shadow on all subsequent actions in the narrative. the entire journey is suffused with such a deep sadness; the tragedies made this trilogy genuinely depressing but not in a way that made me want to stop reading - in a way that made me consider all such slaughters. I admired Cherryh's ability to make these tragedies so terrible and yet so resonant. these tragedies are what happen to people like the Mri, in science fiction and in our own real world.
moving: and yet ultimately this is not a depressing work. there is much that saddens and despair is woven throughout the story. but this isn't about the end of a people; this is about how a people can perhaps survive, on their own terms. and it is a story with flawed, real characters who will stay with me.
anti-epic: do not expect sturm und drang. despite everything I listed under riveting and tragic, the music this trilogy plays is all in minor notes. things are not made to be larger-than-life; instead they are precisely the size of individual lives, no matter how great the stakes. it is not operatic, it is intimate.
bromantic: at the heart of this saga is the story of a friendship between two men, a human and an alien. watching this relationship evolve into something real and lasting was amazing. the (platonic) love that grows between them is the foundation of the entire trilogy; it is the best part of these excellent novels....more
from the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octaviafrom the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
one thing became clear to me as I read this trilogy: Octavia Butler is not partial to the human kind. oh, humanity: violent, vengeful, and vicious; petty, pitiful, perpetually proud. avaricious and all too willing to prey on their own. as a fellow visitor to this planet, I can only view Butler's perspective as one that is in line with my own. and so this was quite an invigorating experience given the overabundance of naively pro-human novels in the science fiction genre.
the story, in broad strokes: humanity destroys itself... the starfaring race of the Oankali arrive to pick up the pieces by saving what few humans remain on their blighted planet. these saviors of humanity offer them a sort of bargain: join with us - literally - and be reborn. it is not actually a bargain because humanity does not have much say in the matter. predictably, humans seethe and rebel against this kindly offer. my cynical self can't help but think that the main reason humans resist the compassion of the Oankali is because a large number of tentacles are involved. oh, racist humans! the trilogy follows the lives of three individuals: the woman who paves the way for a joining of the two species, and two of her children - two different kinds of human/Oankali "constructs".
Butler correctly assesses humanity's tragic flaw: a genetic tendency towards hierarchism at every level. a flaw that on the micro level leads to an inability to form relationships based on equality - and in the macro, one that could easily lead to the end of humanity's home world as they know it. oh, humanity. Butler writes in simple, straightforward prose, in what I imagine to be a chilly, neutral monotone. her style of writing makes the reading experience a deceptively simple one. but this is not a simple work. there is so much to contemplate throughout this series, in particular the idea of essentialism in terms of basic human nature: in gender roles, in the propagation of the species, in the ability to form families and other necessary social units, in the ways that humans think and act and react. science fiction as a genre once had at its core the idea of "speculation" - what would happen if this concept was introduced, what would happen if that idea changed a world. Butler's trilogy is a part of that excellent tradition and these books are challenging in the best sort of way: they force the reader to speculate on their own limited natures, on their own individual decisions and on the future of their kind. Lilith's Brood imagines where humanity's ultimate path may lie if they continue to give free reign to their basest genetic impulses - and then she imagines another path.
it should go without saying that Butler is ultimately in favor of the Oankali way. as a race, they are not without their own rather endearing flaws. but compared to humanity? well, that's like comparing a human child's scribblings to the works of the relatively advanced human Da Vinci. it was quite refreshing for me to read an alien invasion saga that is so resolutely on the side of the sensible "aliens". it was also fascinating to witness Butler's iciness gradually melt away, slowly revealing herself to be a rather tender individual who fully endorses the spirit and acts of cooperation and connection and joining that are necessary for any species' ongoing survival. her calm, dry-eyed observational skills are merely the outer shell of a person who values above all else such things as curiosity, compassion, and the concept that to live is to change. all beings are works in progress.
I have observed humanity as well; indeed, that is my entire mission on this planet. I hesitate to say that I am more sympathetic to the species, but my robot heart does have a certain fondness for this stumbling, bumbling race - a sympathy that a being from Butler's own insect species would most likely find quite foreign. well, I have been programmed for both sympathy and empathy while such emotions are often eschewed by her culture. I suppose such differences in perspective will be reconciled once our joint invasion of Earth commences....more
so I had a dream last night where Graham and Brian and Steve and I were all back in Seattle, and it was like it was before, four friends who were diffso I had a dream last night where Graham and Brian and Steve and I were all back in Seattle, and it was like it was before, four friends who were different from each other but still really connected, like brothers, and we were having adventures and serious talks and stupid talks and good times and bad times and it was all just so sweet and real, like things had never changed. of course things change and these are still my friends, but change is change and so Brian and Steve still aren't talking when they should both be bonding as fathers and leaders in their fields and as men, but change happens and now they can barely be in the same room together. and Graham - I still love him of course, I still love all of them, but I can't even remember the last time I saw Graham. these days I feel closer to Dave and to Jill, which is odd to consider because honestly back in the day they felt like satellites of the four of us. oh the small little tragedies and realities of life, the changes and the sweet memories and the never going back.
so there's a book called Dreamcatcher and it is about four friends and their histories together and the long times apart and their annual hunting trip. four great friends who were different from each other but still really connected, like brothers. four friends who grew up together; four individuals who are deeply characterized like they are all people the author knows, or maybe all different pieces of the author himself, made separate. or maybe both are true. it is easy to see your friends as a kind of extension of yourself, different but similar, four different sides of a square that is still one basic shape, one thing.
Dreamcatcher is not just about those friends but I sort of wish it had been. it is Stephen King's second version of an Aliens Attack! story and there is a lot to enjoy and speculate about, the telepathy and the strange forms that the aliens take and the government overreaction and spores and infections and two hilariously over-the-top villains. King is a great writer, he can craft a solid, fast-paced narrative and turn it into a great big tome without making it feel especially bloated. I like a thrilling adventure filled with horror and action, sure. but I really wanted to read more about those four friends and their lives together and apart. when one died it felt much too soon because I totally got him and yet there was still so much more to see. then when another died I felt genuinely sad - and not even because of the death itself, which made narrative sense - but because now there was a second story, a second life, that was all finished up in the book and that I still wanted to go on. King's humanism and his skill at giving you characters who the reader can implicitly, deeply understand almost works against him in Dreamcatcher, at least for me. I found myself wishing that this was a different book, one that wasn't a novel about an alien invasion but was instead all about these four friends, their histories and their futures, their annual hunting trips where they could be their true selves. I wanted all of that instead of aliens.
still, good book. and the cover is awesome, meaningful even: