This is the first time I've read this series in YEARS, and I've never bothered to think about them individually before (my copy is the Ultimate Hitchh...moreThis is the first time I've read this series in YEARS, and I've never bothered to think about them individually before (my copy is the Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, which makes it easy to judge the whole series rather than its individual parts). Trying to do that on this read-through.
My brain is feeling very overwhelmed right now due to non-book-related things, so I'm not sure I'll do a full review, but I might have something to say later. Who knows. I'm not promising anything.
Anyway, this book was even funnier than I remember (probably because I'm an adult now and have a fully functioning brain).(less)
Just realized I hadn't rated this. LOVED this as a kid. MIGHT have gone through a phase where I followed people around and wrote their personal shiz d...moreJust realized I hadn't rated this. LOVED this as a kid. MIGHT have gone through a phase where I followed people around and wrote their personal shiz down in my notebook. MIGHT have gotten kicked in the stomach by my sister for it. Also, wasn't there a kid in this named Pinky Whitehead? Love it.(less)
I was doing so well with my review writing until I got to this book, just plodding along reading and reviewing, reading and reviewing. And then I got...moreI was doing so well with my review writing until I got to this book, just plodding along reading and reviewing, reading and reviewing. And then I got to this fucker. Not only did it traumatize me the whole time I was reading it, but just the thought of writing about it felt like re-living that trauma (and this isn’t even taking into consideration that the task of writing about this book even without the added pressure of traumatization would be a difficult task). So I am now way behind on my reviews. Thanks a lot, Walter M. Miller, except you can’t read this because you’re dead (but we’ll get back to that later).
A Canticle for Liebowitz is a classic of the sci-fi genre, although there’s barely any science fiction in it at all, excepting the unexplained presence of one character and a bit of spaceship flim-flammery near the end. Mostly, it’s a story about how humanity is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again (and also a story about how part of making those mistakes is struggling against making them as well). Take the circular thematic nature and nuclear weapons of Battlestar Galactica + the social commentary of 1984 + monks and Catholicism and you’ll have a close approximation of A Canticle for Liebowitz. Actually — and I believe I said this in a status update or a tweet or something while I was reading — I think this book is better, or at least more relevant to us now today, than 1984 is.
Because did I mention about how it’s fucking terrifying?
The novel is structured essentially into three smaller novellas that intertwine with one another. The first begins in a post-apocalyptic, post-civilization wasteland, some seven hundred years after the world was annihilated by nuclear weapons and the surviving world’s citizens responded by blaming scientists and people of learning: burning books, spurning education, and lynching those related in the streets. The titular Leibowitz is revered by an order of Catholic monks deep in the desert as one of the few men to successfully attempt to preserve books and knowledge in the face of a world gone mad — for six hundred plus years they have been working to canonize him as a saint. Leibowitz himself was murdered in the streets, essentially turning him into a martyr, and now the monks in the Order of St. Leibowitz follow in his footsteps, working to preserve and further learning, and shed some light on places long kept in the dark.
The first section ends on a rather bleak note, setting the stage for parts two and three, which take place, respectively, right at the dawn of a new age of enlightenment, and at the second coming of the end of the world.
Miller’s novel takes place in a world almost completely devoid of hope, which is what made it such a devastating reading experience for me. He writes about fear and violence with a frightening accuracy, and the ending of the novel all but condemns humanity as a species, a pessimism which is only counterbalanced by the way his monks mix a love of learning with their faith in a higher power. I was raised Catholic so this especially hit home for me, seeing a world in which those who champion educational enlightenment and spirituality don’t necessarily have to be at each other’s throats. But even in the oasis of the Abbey of St. Leibowitz, its inhabitants cannot be protected from the blunders of the species they belong to.
I’m not sure this is a book I’ll be reading again, and if I do it won’t be for years and years, but it was a book I’m glad I read the once, even if it was written by a man who was so disillusioned by the world that he eventually killed himself rather than having to face it any longer. I think books like this are important in making us ask ourselves tough questions, but I’m also the kind of person who prefers to look at the world with a little bit more optimism, so this kind of story isn’t one I’d like to read often. Especially if the ending is going to give me nightmares for weeks. I mean, seriously, you guys? It’s pretty fucked up. Smart and really well done, but fucked up nonetheless, which is what is keeping me from giving what might otherwise be called a modern masterpiece five stars.
Henry James has beautiful people inside of his head, if only his verbal diarrhea didn't get in the way. Dear Jesus, I wish he knew how to write a shor...moreHenry James has beautiful people inside of his head, if only his verbal diarrhea didn't get in the way. Dear Jesus, I wish he knew how to write a short sentence.(less)
Like most people, it seems, I saw the trailers for Andrew Stanton’s John Carter adaptation and thought it looked stupid. And this is coming from a per...moreLike most people, it seems, I saw the trailers for Andrew Stanton’s John Carter adaptation and thought it looked stupid. And this is coming from a person who LOVES science fiction, especially of the pulpy kind (more often than not, the stupider it is, the more I love it), and who knew the history and importance of the John Carter name in relation to all kinds of sci-fi since its initial publication. The dismissal of this film has been written about by many people in the last couple of months, but the consensus seems to be that the marketing campaign for the film was completely botched, and that because the marketing failed to capitalize on the movie’s strengths and legacies, it thus failed to appeal to the very people who would have loved it, had their butts been in those seats during the opening two weeks. Because of this, John Carter* seems doomed to go down as one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Which is a shame, because after reading that Vulture article I linked to above, I was consumed with curiosity about the film and went out to see it the very next day. No surprise, I loved it.
*As an aside, I can’t help but feel that it is extremely stupid that they cut the title from the originally proposed John Carter of Mars (although the film actually ends by adding the words “of Mars” to the title) to simply John Carter. I read somewhere that they were trying to avoid comparisons to the box office bomb Mars Needs Moms, but this is obviously a move both ironic and stupid, as I’m sure it led many people to wonder why they would ever care about that doctor guy from ER jumping around in some desert.
Extremely long story short, my love of the film (which was cheesy and romantic and spectacular in all the best ways) influenced me to finally seek out the source material, which had been on my radar for quite some time as one of the foundational texts of pulp and fantastical sci-fi. There are eleven novels in Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom books (the first three of which were adapted by Stanton for the film), and the first of these is A Princess of Mars. A Princess of Mars chronicles John Carter’s first year on Mars: how he came to be there in the first place; his capture by the green men of Mars, a warrior race called Tharks; the exceptional physical abilities given to him by the light Martian gravity; his romance with the titular Martian princess Dejah Thoris; and his ultimate acceptance into the culture and lifestyle of Mars, which becomes his home. The novel is actually framed as a manuscript given to “the author” by his uncle, who proclaims his story to be true.
It was a bit strange going from the film to the text, as one of the things Stanton did was update the story a bit for modern audiences (clarifying some of the science, as it was almost a hundred years out of date, modifying problematic racial constructs, and editing a bit here and there for story and content), and weirdly, I like the film’s version* better. The novel does that weird first person POV thing that older novels sometimes do where the narrator tells exactly what happened in an almost clinical detail (sort of like a travelogue), and poetical images and character moments are somewhat rare. (It reminds me very strongly of the writing of H. Rider Haggard, a Victorian adventure writer who set most of his stories in Africa.) Some parts were pretty wacky in terms of Burroughs’ understanding of science, but overall I was surprised at how well most of it has held up. The power of Burroughs’ story (and imagination) makes it easy to overlook most of its faults.
*I will be honest with you here and admit that a large part of this bias PROBABLY has to do with the fact that I am now completely in love with Taylor Kitsch and think he is gorgeous and wonderful to look at and I want my DNA to be with his DNA forever.
I’m rating this 3.5 stars for now, mostly because it took me so long to get through. The beginning is gripping, and once Dejah Thoris comes into play some good character and action stuff starts happening, and then it kind of rockets until the end. The first 1/3 of the novel, however, is mostly concentrated on giving Carter’s anthropological observations about Thark culture, which is kind of interesting, but extremely less so than other things that I can think of (I think Burroughs wasted some opportunity here to really make Carter a sympathetic character by not playing up the fish out of water aspect enough — this is something the film does very well). I also think I had a hard time with it because I was reading it on the Kindle app on my phone, and e-books are REALLY not my thing. I like paper, the way it smells and feels, and the way that the physicality of actual printed books helps me connect to the story. It was hard for me to motivate myself to pick up my phone to finish reading when I have so many lovely printed books at my disposal, and I’m sure reading it so protractedly like that didn’t help my enjoyment of the actual story.
Anyway, moral of the story: John Carter is a good movie. Please rent it when it comes out on DVD.
Sidney's 'Apology for Poetry': A bunch of awesome stuff said in the most boring and overly long prose imaginable. If you have the patience to sift thr...moreSidney's 'Apology for Poetry': A bunch of awesome stuff said in the most boring and overly long prose imaginable. If you have the patience to sift through it for the main points, you'll be rewarded, but not many people have that sort of patience.
The last line is awesome, though. Basically, he's all - and I'm paraphrasing here - "For those of you who don't like fiction and poetry and think it worthless and harmful, I'm not going to pick a fight with you or anything, but I hope you fall in love a shit ton but never actually get any, because you need fucking poetry for that shit, but you won't have any because you're an idiot, and oh also, "may your memory die from the earth for want of epitaph."' That last part was a direct quote because it's so awesome and bad-ass I didn't even need to change it.
('Astrophil and Stella' and 'The Arcadia' are also mildly interesting, and his sonnets are okay, but I only had to re-read 'The Apology' for my exams, so that's what got reviewed.)
This book is at times hilarious, and all the other times, boring. Probably the most accurate phrase would be "hot mess." This is a book about snubbing...moreThis book is at times hilarious, and all the other times, boring. Probably the most accurate phrase would be "hot mess." This is a book about snubbing conventions and does not even attempt to construct a linear narrative. The narrator becomes distracted by context so much so that in his supposed autobiography he isn't even born until the third volume (three hundred pages in). It is ridiculous. But, you gotta appreciate a book that opens with a guy describing his own conception. His parents are totally just going at it and his mom stops and goes "Did you wind the clock?" and the dad is all "WOMAN! WHY ARE YOU INTERRUPTING ME?" And that was how Tristram Shandy came into the world.
There's a semi-film version of this book that came out a couple years ago, and I watched it because Gillian Anderson was in it, and I have this life-rule where I have to see everything she's ever in, so I rented it, and it was quite enjoyable. The joke is that since Tristram Shandy is a supposedly unfilmable novel, the film is about attempting to film it. And, like the book, it is told in fits and starts of a non-linear nature. You should actually watch it instead of reading this book, which basically in between making me laugh sometimes, just gave me a headache.(less)
This sucker was one of the first-ever novels, and you can totally tell. For the first 130 pages, all that happens is Robinson Crusoe salvages stuff, p...moreThis sucker was one of the first-ever novels, and you can totally tell. For the first 130 pages, all that happens is Robinson Crusoe salvages stuff, plants stuff, kills stuff, and domesticates stuff for survival, all while being weirdly paranoid and repetitive. Friday doesn't show up until over halfway through, and at that point, Defoe just skips through years like nobody's business. Nothing like what I'd imagined it to be. (And certainly nothing like what NBC imagined it to be. Hey, that dude is Frank from Fringe! No way! Also, poor guy.)(less)
Putting issues of imperialism and race aside, Kim is a wonderfully told story about a rascally boy searching for his own racial and cultural identity....morePutting issues of imperialism and race aside, Kim is a wonderfully told story about a rascally boy searching for his own racial and cultural identity. Kipling has a storyteller's way with words and a deep affection for all of his characters and the country in which they roam.
I had a history teacher in high school whose parents named him after the protagonist in this book, and I guess it turned out to be a fitting name, for he too is a rascal. I had him for history twice, once when I was a freshman, and once when I was a senior, and I also had him for psychology. Dude is smart. He went to Harvard. It's totally not his fault that I used to fall asleep in his class, even when I was sitting in the front row. His voice was so soothing! But he was cool about it. Instead of being a dick, he just gave me a stupid nickname. The kid who sat next to me got one too. His real name was Nick, but together we were Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. I think I was Dum. Also when we weren't falling asleep (or paying attention), we took turns "going to bathroom," which mostly consisted of doing laps around the building just for the fun of it.
You saucy minx. My favorite parts of your autobiography were when you told the story about finding the little fish inside the b...moreDear Benjamin Franklin,
You saucy minx. My favorite parts of your autobiography were when you told the story about finding the little fish inside the big fish and so you didn't feel bad anymore about eating them, and also when you told about your "intrigues" with "low women." I think you are a funny and also classy guy. I wish you weren't dead so we could be friends.
Every time I re-read something I read as an undergrad, I'm reminded of how stupid I must have been. Adding a star, because this was kind of awesome (o...moreEvery time I re-read something I read as an undergrad, I'm reminded of how stupid I must have been. Adding a star, because this was kind of awesome (once I got used to the Middle English).(less)
As a powerful reminder of what my asshole ancestors did to Africa, this book is perfect. As a novel and a piece of fiction, it's pretty flawed. Also,...moreAs a powerful reminder of what my asshole ancestors did to Africa, this book is perfect. As a novel and a piece of fiction, it's pretty flawed. Also, even though I felt really bad for Okwonkwo at the end of the novel, that guy was kind of a dick.(less)
If scholarship were based solely on quality, Pamela would have been lost to the ages a long time ago (and good riddance), but unfortunately for me, sc...moreIf scholarship were based solely on quality, Pamela would have been lost to the ages a long time ago (and good riddance), but unfortunately for me, scholarship is also based on influence, and this stupid book, despite being extremely poorly written, repetitive, and didactic in all the wrong ways, is one of the foundation texts of English Literature. For a hundred years afterwards, you were either a Pamelist or Anti-Pamelist. (I would have been an Anti-Pamelist.)
Are you ready for this? Here is the entire book:
Pamela: I am virtuous and noble and also beautiful! Leave me alone! Mr. B: But you are so young and beautiful, I must have you! Pamela: I would rather die than be ruined! Mr. B: THAT MAKES ME WANT YOU MORE! Pamela: I WOULD RATHER DIE!!!!!!! Mr. B: If you get any more beautiful and desirable and unattainable, I don't know if I will be able to refrain from raping you, and that makes me cranky. Pamela: I am an important symbol of class and gender inequality!
Mr. B: So, do you want to get married and stuff? Pamela: Okay!
No joke, you guys. And the second volume, a sequel Richardson wrote after the public went insane, isn't even worth mentioning, it's so godawful boring.