**spoiler alert** I'm not one to expound too much on low ratings, but I feel compelled to do so, here, given the high praise heaped on this book by ot...more**spoiler alert** I'm not one to expound too much on low ratings, but I feel compelled to do so, here, given the high praise heaped on this book by other reviewers.
That said, this will be spoilerific, so if you want out, now would be the time to bail. Seriously. I'm going to spoil the hell out of this.
Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing against indie publishers (authors who choose to self-publish). This review has nothing to do with that.
First, the things I liked about the book.
The author is actually very good at pacing. The book reads easily -- one might almost say 'effortlessly' -- and you keep turning page after page to see how things come out.
I think that, from a technical viewpoint, the author is not bad. Nothing leaped out at me, as sometimes happens, to kick me out of the story because of some technicality of writing or style that reminded me, "Hey, you're reading a book." Some beautiful little turn of phrase or clever dialogue that made me focus on the words and not the story.
I thought the main characters were likable, and I found myself caring what happened to them at every point. This was, for me, the saving grace of the book.
Now, if that were all I judged the books on, I would easily have given this 4 stars and moved on. I was entertained. But a couple of things just have to be said.
First of all, I'm not a psychologist, nor do I have any clinical understanding of the field. But I couldn't help but notice that the people in this world don't behave like real people living in a real world. We are told early on that none of the people banished to clean the lenses has ever -- EVER, in hundreds of years -- failed to do his or her duty before dying.
Unless we're being lied to -- and that is a possibility, but if that's the case, then it was far too subtle for me to pick up on -- I find it highly improbable that not a single person would have failed to clean the lenses in hundreds of years. I would not have cleaned them, and I don't think I'm SO different from other people. I would have thought, "So long, suckers, I'm going to head over toward that miraculous city over there." Probably tinged with a little, "You jerks kicked me out. Why should I do you any favors?" Or maybe I would have frantically jumped up and down gesticulating wildly at the onlookers, trying to make them understand that they were being lied to.
I had a real problem getting past that. It seemed plausible right up to the point where you kind of started to figure out what was going on, and then with the least bit of thought about it, the premise just collapses.
I read this on my Kindle (so no skipping ahead). After the main character of the first section dies, I thought, "Oh, so that was kind of a prologue. No problem." Then I read the second part, where the mayor was the main character . . . and then SHE dies. "O . . . K," I thought, angry, but willing to move on. Then the third section opens with Juliette about to be sent out for cleaning, and we quickly find out that the deputy committed suicide, and I stopped reading for over a week, absolutely disgusted with the book. This was at 23% in the Kindle.
I mentioned as much to a friend who had read the whole thing, and she told me that Juliette remained the main character for the remainder of the book.
Had I not known this, I would have honestly stopped reading it right there. It's too much. Give me a character to hang onto from the beginning. Don't yank the rug out from under me like that not once, not twice, but THREE times, and expect me to continue reading.
The next time I almost stopped reading was when Bernard explained to Lukas how all the silos came to be. It was . . . just so contrived. I mean, straight out of insane conspiracy theories about the New World Order. In short, the US saw that it was in decline, and rather than just deal with that, the Ebil Gubmint decided that if they couldn't be in charge, no one ELSE could, either, so they literally made the surface of the entire planet uninhabitable and established the silos as a kind of Ark to preserve the species and their ideological way of life. Why? Because they're EBIL. And they're the GUBMINT.
Had this come earlier in the book . . . I would have stopped reading it and moved on to something else. As it was, this came after I was invested in the characters of Juliette, Solo, Walker, Shirly, and Lukas. So I kept reading to find out how it ended. That, incidentally, is why I didn't give it 1 star. I did get invested in the characters, and I did want to know what happened. And, as I said, the pacing was marvelous.
Speaking of getting invested . . . Juliette risks her life to leave silo 17 and return to silo 18. I fully expected Lukas to die, so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be Bernard. But in spite of her promise to the inhabitants of silo 17, we are not shown that she mentions them AT ALL after her return to silo 18. At the end, in an epilogue, we are given a glimpse into what's going on in silo 17 as Solo is about to call Juliette . . . but we don't know if anyone in silo 18 was primed to receive the call. For all the 17ians knew, Juliette died in the Outside. She was, after all, out of commission for weeks while she healed from her burns.
I was expecting Juliette's acceptance of the Mayorship to hinge on connecting 17 and 18 in the Down Deep and get some engineers over there to get 17 running again. But . . . no.
To be fair, perhaps this is the story for the sequel series, but it would have been nice for him to have at least followed up on this.
One last thing that just bothered the crap out of me is resources. It was stated that the silo complex was located near Atlanta, Ga. There were mines and oil wells under the silo. But I find it very difficult to believe that there is enough ore and oil in Georgia to sustain 50 silos for hundreds upon hundreds of years of constant mining and pumping. I also found it very difficult to believe that in all that time, not even once did a wall collapse between the mines of adjacent silos.
Anyway, that's enough. My two stars are because I just can't accept the psychology, world building, physics, and math of the world I'm being asked to accept. And basing the entire premise on a loony conspiracy theory didn't help.
I wanted to like this book more. I'm not sorry I finished reading it, but if someone had told me from the beginning that it was based in New World Order conspiracy theories, I would have passed.(less)
One of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. Thi...moreOne of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. This anthology is nicely balanced. The humor ranges from puns with elaborate set-ups that are a great deal of fun to more subtle humor that doesn't make you laugh out loud, but may make you chuckle. Evilly, even.
I think there's definitely something in this collection for everyone, no matter what your sense of humor. The comics are a nice addition I wasn't expecting, although my one complaint is that they're awfully hard to read on the Kindle edition. Luckily, I have a print edition, as well, so I can see them there.
I was just looking at the table of contents to see if I could pick a favorite. Harder than I thought.
"El and Al vs. Himmler's Horrendous Horde from Hell" by Mike Resnick is definitely in the top few. Resnick is one of the masters of short fiction, and this story kept me giggling throughout. Just imagine Albert Einstein as a wizard fighting Himmler...and you still don't really come close. You need to read it.
I also really enjoyed "The Alien Invasion As Seen In The Twitter Stream of @dweebless" by Jake Kerr. If you're on Twitter, you'll doubly appreciate the humor.
"The Velveteen Golem" by David Sklar also satisfied by providing an entirely hilarious story that surprised me at the end with a deplorable (meaning really good, in this case) word pun, that I should have seen coming but didn't.
I think of all of them, Jody Lynn Nye's "The Worm's Eye View" and Ferrett Steinmetz's "One-Hand Tantra" were my favorites. Nye's story is a good hard sci-fi story that manages to weave humor into it in a way that doesn't detract from the science fiction. Kudos to her for that.
Steinmetz's story...ah, what I can say about this that won't get me banned from Goodreads? :) "Hilarious!" That works. I mean, who knew masturbation could be a magical power?
You'll definitely find something here to tickle your funny bone.(less)
This is a collection of fourteen of Chuck's short stories, all of which have one thing in common: They're strange. :)
I certainly don't mean that in a...moreThis is a collection of fourteen of Chuck's short stories, all of which have one thing in common: They're strange. :)
I certainly don't mean that in a bad way, either. What's neat about these stories is that whether they be science fiction, fantasy, or straight-up horror, they're all really strange. The world depicted in Chuck's stories is just a little off-kilter. From "The Death Gerbil," which has all the earmarks of a horror story, but with a quirky ending that brought a chuckle; "The Wizard Lottery," which is a straight-up fantasy with all the earmarks of the genre; "Freshly Ghost," which tantalizes the reader with a huge world of which we see only a tiny slice; "In the Closet," which has a very creepy premise and a logical ending, something that most horror stories lack, in my humble opinion; to "Memory Fades," which is a heartwarming, touching story with a supernatural twist.
I enjoyed all fourteen stories. I read about a third of them before on Chuck's website, but seeing them all combined into one volume like this really brings that strangeness to light.
I read this book because later in the year I will be attending a workshop at which the author, Steven Brust, is an instructor. As a kind of game, I di...moreI read this book because later in the year I will be attending a workshop at which the author, Steven Brust, is an instructor. As a kind of game, I didn't read the book's summary/blurb. I wanted to let the story engage me on its own merits without knowing what it was about.
It took me a while to put together the clues. Not long, but if I had read "This is a novel about a vampire..." it would have taken away some of the fun of not knowing, of having to piece together the clues, of figuring things out.
The main character in this book is very well developed, and I am sorry that Agyar is a stand-alone novel, even though that is why I chose it in the first place. I'd like to read more about him. Some of the other characters are less three-dimensional, but they are depicted through the eyes of the main character. A predator.
I don't normally like books wherein the character acknowledges writing the very book that I am reading, addressing the act of writing and conjecturing about who might be reading it. But...this really worked for me, in this case. I wasn't put off by it in the least. Well, maybe a little at the very beginning, but I got over it. :)
This is a vampire novel. And yet, it is not a Vampire Novel. It is not soaked in seduction, sex, and blood, although those definitely play a part. But they are not the part. The story is about Jack/John Agyar and what he must do to overcome the difficulty he finds himself in. If that occasionally involves seduction, sex, and blood, that's because it's what he must do to live.
It is a violent story, but told from the viewpoint of the creature who must commit violence or die. He seems callous at times, vindictive and cruel at others, but tender and regretful as well. He is a man of some honor, but it's an odd kind of honor that's a bit horrifying at times.
I look forward to reading more of Brust's work.(less)
**spoiler alert** This story engaged me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last. It sucked me in, and I found myself wanting to read...more**spoiler alert** This story engaged me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last. It sucked me in, and I found myself wanting to read more.
I liked the main character, the automaton Mattie, but from the get-go, I either disliked or was ambivalent toward most of the other characters with the exception of Niobe and the soul-smoker.
With only one exception that I can think of, all the other characters in the book only wanted to use Mattie to further their own selfish goals. The gargoyles wanted her to find a cure for their affliction. Iolanda wanted Mattie's access to Loharri. Loharri created Mattie and wanted her to be a combination (sex) toy/companion/housekeeper. The soul smoker wanted her around because she was the only one he could talk to given that she was immune to the effects of his "profession." Beresta's ghost wanted Mattie to find her son, Sebastian. Niobe befriended Mattie because she was the only one who would talk to her, and then used her knowledge to gain favor with Iolanda.
Only Sebastian seemed to want nothing from Mattie, but he was disturbed or perhaps disgusted by what she wanted to give to him, and was driven away.
Mattie's emancipation was a cruel joke. She was emancipated in name only, but still remained a mere tool to be used by everyone in her life. Perhaps the cruelest twist of all was that her programming required her to return to her creator periodically even though she came to despise him.
In the end, Mattie got nothing in return for all that she did except for the gargoyles' (futile) attempts to find her key so she could be revived. But revived for what?
I'm sure I could go on about the metaphors, blatant and not, that are explored in this book. But I won't, because that's not why I enjoyed it.
As I said, I very much enjoyed the book in spite of what sounds like a very negative review above. The writing is very good, and I thought the world in which the story took place was interesting enough that I'd like to see more of it, but perhaps this microcosmic view is all we should see.
Because the story wasn't about plot/events. It wasn't about settings. It was about Mattie. And I liked her character. A lot.
I was at first disappointed by the ending, but now that I reflect on it, I'm glad Sedia didn't pander to the readers who only want 'happy' endings. The way this book ended was far more realistic, in my opinion, especially given the tone of the rest of the story. Sometimes, you don't get what you want OR what you need.
I couldn't care less about the politics or the other events that are going on in the background of the story. In that respect, this book reminds me a small bit of the movie "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," in which two minor characters from Hamlet wander around for our amusement while "Hamlet" takes place in the background. In the big picture of the political upheavals and the revolution going on, Mattie is a tiny speck of insignificance. But by focusing on her life and having her take center stage, Sedia relegates the important world events to mere background window dressing.
And I kind of like that. :)
This story will stick with me for a long time, I believe.(less)
I don't read a lot of non-fiction, so this is an exception to my usual reading habits. While doing some research on the history of Atlanta, Georgia, I...moreI don't read a lot of non-fiction, so this is an exception to my usual reading habits. While doing some research on the history of Atlanta, Georgia, I happened across a mention of the Atlanta Ripper. I had never heard of such a thing. I could find very little about it online except for a mention of a book by a local history professor. Intrigued and curious, I looked up the book on Amazon and discovered it had a Kindle edition.
The frustrating thing about the entire story is that so little information has survived. Because it was an African-American killer whose victims were young African American women in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Atlanta, it was not taken very seriously until the number of killings were in two digits. Wells manages to bring it all together in one seamless narrative that lays out the full history of the killings, as well as events leading up to them. It astounded me that some of the victims were never identified, at least by the journalists of the time. Wells lays it all out with names, dates and locations of the killings, and the men accused, tried, and either convicted or acquitted of the crimes.
I definitely have a better image of what Atlanta might have been like in those days. In the wake of the race riots of 1906, tensions were still high, but the city did eventually come together to try to bring this man--or these men--to justice. And that is the crux of the issue: Who was the Atlanta Ripper? Was he one man or many?
Although there is no definite conclusion--because there was never a conclusion to the case, itself--Wells presents a compelling case for the non-existence of a single "Atlanta Ripper." That most of the murders were committed by opportunistic copycats.
Think about it. The whole city was in an uproar (eventually). The modus operandi was well known: he bashed his victim in the head, slit her throat, and sometimes took personal effects from her body. Knowing this, if you had murderous intent toward a young lady for some transgression, real or imagined, what better way to divert attention from yourself as the prime suspect and shift police attention to the unknown Ripper than to rid yourself of her in a way consistent with other known victims of the Atlanta Ripper?
I had already drawn this conclusion by the time Wells presented it, so he definitely laid out all the clues properly so his readers could follow along.
I found it a quick, informative read, and I definitely recommend it to those for whom the rich history of Atlanta is a compelling draw.(less)
This is a very dry read, and you have to really want to know about werewolves to slog through it, but it is full of some very gruesome stories, indeed...moreThis is a very dry read, and you have to really want to know about werewolves to slog through it, but it is full of some very gruesome stories, indeed. Of course, "gruesome" is in the eye of the beholder. The author wrote this at around the time of the civil war in the United States, and what was considered too horrible to be printed then would be put in children's books now. (I exaggerate, but only just.)
I read this book for reference, and will probably refer to it as a source for werewolf and other were-animal stories when the fancy strikes.
If you can find an actual written copy, you'd be better off. The e-book is riddled with transcription errors that probably occurred when the original was scanned using OCR. It often turns 'e' into 'a' or 'o', as well as making other strange substitutions. Which is sometimes easy to catch when the author is writing in English, but almost impossible to catch when he is writing in German, Greek, French, or Latin.
If nothing else, I've found a treasure trove of names, dates, places, and events to research separately.(less)
I found this to be an easy read. The story kept me entertained, turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. I enjoyed the Bitchun Society...moreI found this to be an easy read. The story kept me entertained, turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. I enjoyed the Bitchun Society, and how seamlessly Doctorow blended both the high-tech narrative and the deep Disneymania into the story in a supportive way. The plot depended on it, but didn't get overwhelmed by it. So the exposition was handled well, I thought.
Setting the story as a conflict between two teams of hereditary Disney employees bent on making the park a better experience for all involved made the story simultaneously more approachable and more obscure. By setting the action against a backdrop that is essentially the same in whatever far-flung future Doctorow has imagined as it is today, it gives him a familiar anchor point to highlight how different things are. At the same time, however, for those of us who haven't been to Disney in a long time or who are unfamiliar with the various rides featured in the story (I have never seen the Hall of Presidents or the Haunted Mansion because both have always been closed for maintenance during my visits to both Disneyworld and Disneyland.), it is more than a little frustrating.
The problem I had with the book at the beginning was that nothing was really at stake. For anyone. The park was not going anywhere (as in "static"), and all the changes being made were done to preserve the experience for the visiting public. So no matter how it came out, nothing would truly change. Sure, maybe some of the characters would be inconvenienced, but it would be just that--an inconvenience.
Julius, the main character, goes on and on at some length about how death--even his own murder--is not that big a deal. Serious, debilitating health problems--such as, say, murder--are easily fixable: just clone a new body, make a backup, and restore into the new body, better than the previous one. With multiple lifetimes to live, humans tend to lose the urgency that makes every minute of our lives precious, and this is nicely portrayed throughout.
When Julius loses all of that about halfway through the book, this is when it "picked up" for me. Now we have a character who genuinely has something to lose. His every moment becomes precious because he can't back up, so if he renews, he'll lose a large chunk of his life, including the last year of the life of one of his best friends. This underlying story was what kept me turning the page, wondering how it was going to be resolved.
I didn't really expect the revelation at the end (the Whodunnit), but it made sense within the framework of the story, and didn't betray the characters' personalities. I thought Doctorow handled it well.
The reason I gave this three stars instead of four (I did really enjoy it while I was reading it) is that the ending...just sort of petered out. Again, nothing was really at stake. Once Julius agreed to be restored if anything happened to him and forgave his murderers, there just wasn't any reason to care anymore what happened to him. Which may be exactly what Doctorow had in mind. Julius moved on, Disneyworld went back to whatever passes for "normal" in the Bitchun Society, and the story ends. What eventually happens to everyone other than Julius is left unrevealed, and as a reader, that didn't bother me.
Because nothing is at stake for any of them.
My main dilemma right now is trying to decide whether this story was Utopian or dystopian. I could go either way.(less)
**spoiler alert** By all rights, I should not have enjoyed this book. Sure, it's a book about time travel, and I do love those. But it's the oddest bo...more**spoiler alert** By all rights, I should not have enjoyed this book. Sure, it's a book about time travel, and I do love those. But it's the oddest book about time travel that I think I've ever read.
The protagonist is a man in his early 30s who has spent the last 10 years living in a box the size of a phone booth. With his non-existent dog, Ed. He sleeps, eats, and, one presumes, does everything else a person needs to do inside the walls of his time machine.
He has escaped the world, tucking himself into a pocket of time between tenses in what he calls the present indefinite. Occasional calls from his AI boss to repair time machines—his job—are all that compels him out of his self-imposed exile. Yu sprinkles the text with what are either stunningly brilliant insights or really good "soundbites." I'm not honestly sure which. For instance:
If you ever see yourself coming out of a time machine, run. Run away as fast as you can. Don't stop. Don't try to talk. Nothing good can come of it. It's rule number one, and it is drilled into you on the first day of training. It should be second nature, they tell you: Don't be a smartass. Don't try anything fancy. If you see yourself coming at you, don't think, don't talk, do do anything. Just run.
Dog sighs are some form of distilled truth. What does he know? What do dogs know? Ed sighs like he knows the truth about me and he loves me anyway.
I read those and marked them in my Kindle app because they seemed to resonate with me. Sure, the first one might never be something I have to use, but the second one certainly is true. Anyone who has ever been owned by a dog will understand what the author/protagonist is saying instantly.
The character tells you constantly that he is stuck in a state of constant lack of motion, of half-assed beingness without purpose. In essence, he tells you exactly what he knows to be true, yet seems unwilling to accept.
It used to be that you could cheat the machine by leaving it between gears, living in a kind of half-assed way, present and at the same time not quite in the present, hovering, floating, used to be you could avoid ever pinning yourself down to any particular moment, could go through life never actually being where you are. Or I suppose, more accurately, being when you are. That's what P-I [Present-Indefinite] allows, a convenience mode.
But I abused it. It's not supposed to be used as the primary driver of chronogrammatical transport. It isn't designed for that kind of use: the Present-Indefinite isn't even a real gear. It's like cruise control. It's a gadget, a gimmick, a temporary crutch, a holding place. It is hated by purists and engineers, equally. It's bad for aesthetics, bad for design, bad for fuel efficiency. It's bad for the machine. To run in P-I is to burn needless fuel in order to avoid straightforward travel. It's what allows me to live chronologically, to suppress memory, to ignore the future, to see everything as present. I've been a bad pilot, a bad passenger, a bad employee. A bad son.
He rather boldly states the entire summary of the book right there. He's put himself in between moments in order to escape from his own life.
But not only that, his mother has done the same thing, if a little more boldly. She has chosen to lock herself away inside a one-hour loop of time so that she lives one of her happiest moments over and over and over. And the reader will be excused if s/he finds her/him-self thinking that if that was her happiest hour, what a bleak life she must have led. And on top of that, his father has come purposefully unstuck in time (also to escape his life), and no one knows where he is. Traditional protagonists, these are not.
He keeps saying that he's on a mission to find his father, but it must be the least mission-like mission in all of the science-fictional universes.
That's what I meant when I said that by all rights, I should not have enjoyed this book. For the better part of the book, the character is motionless in his own life, neither growing nor changing. Everyone else has been sloughed away until all he's left is a dream of a woman he never married; an AI ship; an AI boss who doesn't realize he's not real; an improbable, impossible dog that never existed until he "rescued" him; the tragedy that his mother's life has become; and the mystery of what happened to his father.
There's no Earth-shattering revelations here. And yet. . .it's a compelling read. It's nicely written, for one thing. Yu does some things in his prose that I would not, and that would bother me if it weren't written as a sort of stream of consciousness in the mind of the protagonist. But somehow, they don't bother me, here. There's no big, science fiction discussion of how time travel works. In fact, that's glossed over except in a few brief scenes. There's no action. No startling revelations of the nature of the universe. Even the things that I would normally find intriguing are relegated to the backdrop (such as the nature of the science-fictional universe itself).
It's not until he sees himself come out of the time machine and reacts by shooting his future self in the stomach that the story becomes more than the protagonist avoiding living his own life. As he struggles to both read and write his book at the same time, he comes face-to-face with the truth.
What follows is in my opinion a brilliant time-loop story in which the protagonist finally comes to understand what the reader has already discovered, admits to himself that he has to take action and face up to the consequences of those actions, and realizes that he could have found his father and "rescued" his mother a decade earlier if he'd simply made the decision not to avoid living his own life.
In spite of the fact that almost nothing is resolved (in a traditional, plot-driven sense) by the end of the book, I found myself reading it avidly, and satisfied at the ending. So many questions are left unanswered, yet you leave the book feeling like the protagonist has finally broken out of the loop he had put himself in and is at least making decisions, accepting consequences, and living his life.
In one sense, the character hasn't really outwardly changed except that he's aged 10 years in a subjective week for the rest of the non-time-machine-entrenched world. But inwardly, he's changed. If even only slightly, he's changed.
And I find that it's enough.
If you pick up this book thinking it's going to be a time-traveling adventure tale of grandfather paradoxes and love stories, you will be sadly disappointed. But if you go into it knowing that it's a very internal story, you may find yourself enjoying it as much as I did.(less)