Dystopic near-future, terrific young-adult novel easily accessible to old fogeys like me. Set near the US-Mexico border in a time when some current trDystopic near-future, terrific young-adult novel easily accessible to old fogeys like me. Set near the US-Mexico border in a time when some current trends have run amok......more
What a treat! This was the second book by Boris Akunin I have read; a year or two ago I read The Winter Queen and enjoyed that as well.
What made thisWhat a treat! This was the second book by Boris Akunin I have read; a year or two ago I read The Winter Queen and enjoyed that as well.
What made this book so fun for me was the voice and setting. We're in Czarist Russia, in the provinces. The plot revolves around an attempted power-grab by a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church. We're rooting for the local bishop and the smart, capable Sister Pelagia (pronounce it pyellaGAYa), to thwart him. Some people (and some white bulldogs) are murdered; you'll have to read the book to see if and how evil is thwarted.
This seems simple enough, but it's in Russia, in a period I never read about, so I don't have the cultural background Akunin can assume in his Russian readers. I love that feeling, of being where I don't understand things that the characters know intimately. It's curiously like reading Neuromancer or even anything by Jane Austen. Or consider reading a western: when the sheriff ambles out onto the dusty main street, two six-guns on his hips, we know what that means, but if you were not from around these parts, you'd might need some schoolin'. Similarly, we know that there's a built-in conflict between farmers and ranchers, and that water, fences, and cheating at cards can get a man shot. What a treat to be from outside the culture, and get to observe its denizens going about their lives in the hands of an accomplished writer.
An example from this book will show you what I mean. The visiting procurator (the bad guy) tries to get the public behind him to wrest power from the local Bishop (the good guy) by pointing out how soft he is on the Old Believers, who should be brought back to the Orthodox fold. It's dangerous for them to be allowed their faith, bad for the morals of the children, dangerous for society.
So I asked my local informant on czarist Russia about "Old Believers"; it turns out that they were (and are) religious conservatives who didn't want to westernize under Peter the Great. "Think of them as Amish," he said. So imagine a church rep in the US trying to stoke the flames of fear about Amish terrorists; it could be a very funny premise.
But it's not just satiric references to Russian culture; it's the whole voice of the piece. I suspect it's very well translated, that the nuance of the original Russian is preserved. We hear clearly the way people tiptoe around issues, how they slyly disrespect each other. In addition, the author has a wonderful way of inserting the storyteller's voice; it doesn't smell like 20th or 21st-century prose. It's not from around here, in time or space, and that gentle "otherness" is enchanting....more
**spoiler alert** I figured I had better read this to see what the fuss is about. The story moves along passably. Certainly not literature, but it's n**spoiler alert** I figured I had better read this to see what the fuss is about. The story moves along passably. Certainly not literature, but it's not supposed to be. The writer is obviously not very experienced (despite an English Lit degree from Brigham Young), yet has somehow captured the imaginations and dollars of a lot of readers.
And yet (I'm sorry Shahada! I hope we can agree to disagree!) I didn't like it. I have several big complaints:
Narrow This may be the biggest deal for me, and can certainly be a matter of taste. This book is all about wanting and longing. Bella wants Edward. We know that she is in love with him before she does. And that is The Only Thing in the book. Everything else is down in the noise: We know she doesn't like going to Forks but she does anyway. We know she likes sun. We know she brushes guys off. She can cook lasagna. Her mom is a flake. She took AP Bio. She has read a lot of books. But all these background things get only passing mentions. None of them affect her big decisions in any way, and we see none of them in any detail. The only thing that has impact is her clumsiness (for which we have no reason) and even that is shown shallowly. We hear that she trips, but we don't really get a vivid picture. As a consequence, Bella, our heroine, is one-dimensional.
Even with a 1-D protagonist I could have a better time. In many genre books, we readers at least get to learn something new. Not here.
So what do we have time for in this novel? There is value in giving this huge beyond-crush infatuation the pages and time to flower. Excruciatingly. Slowly. So. We. Know. Her. Every. Thought. But I am reminded of a draft of a novel I once read in which the first-person protagonist was suffering from clinical depression. It was informative to really feel what it was like not to want to get out of bed in the morning, to see the world in taupe and gray, for everything to taste like cardboard. But beyond a hundred pages or so, well, it was depressing.
Shallow Even though we spend too much time in Bella's head listening to her agonize, we don't even know why she is so obsessed with Edward. He's gorgeous, sure. That could drive you over the edge for a while, but she is willing to give up her life for this. She agonizes interminably about so many things; what makes her so certain for such trivial reasons? She's not stupid.
But she is passive. Passive and weak. Her big stand near the end of the book is essentially to offer herself up for sacrifice. This may seem like a strong choice on the surface, but really, it's the easy way out: we haven't seen her like life very much. She is a depressed teen, and wow! If I'm dead, everybody will be safe! She can commit suicide for love! What a deal!
But of course the guy rescues her. Hardly anybody's feminist model.
Poor Editing Okay, maybe I shouldn't complain but here we go: p 142 (this edition, mid-chapter 7): "I ate breakfast cheerily, watching the dust moats [sic:] ..." Come on people, motes. It's stuff like this that makes me lose confidence in the author (who probably made the mistake in the first place) and the publisher (who didn't care enough to find it and fix it). I mean, this wouldn't happen with Marisha Pessl, right?
More serious lapses occur as well. On occasion, the author forgets that it's a first-person narrative and lets omniscience creep in. This is just careless, and somebody should have caught it. Of course you can mix these stances, but if you do, you should set it up better than Meyer does. One wonders if Meyer noticed and if so, whether she cared.
Maximum Capacity But Meyer commits more serious infractions, particularly in the age-old area of maximum capacity. The principle is that characters have to be as smart, wise, thoughtful, strong, whatever, as they can be. Characters can be limited, of course, but it violates the code of dramatic prose if, for example, a smart person does something stupid.
And that's what we have here. In particular, our heroine, Bella, repeatedly decides to do things on her own, keeping secrets from people who can help her, when she could take care of things more easily by opening up. We get reasons why she keeps these secrets, but they are lame, lame, lame. It's especially egregious in Chapter 21, when she gets the phone call from the Bad Vampire (James) asking her to ditch the Good Vampires (Alice and Jasper) or Bad Things will happen to her mom. She has to promise not to tell them. (We have all seen this scene a million times in kidnap stories: "any cops and da broad gets it.")
But why does she even try to keep the secret? The GV's are smart and hugely capable, and have demonstrated how they want to keep everybody safe. So why the hell not tell them and get their help?
The problem, it seems to me, is that Meyer knew she wanted a scene where Bella has to face James alone, so she had to invent a skein of reasoning to make it work. The writing lesson is: this usually doesn't fly, at least not without more drafts.
Another example: in an earlier scene in which Bella convinces them to let her go to Phoenix (the one in the Jeep) you can almost hear the author's gears turning, there are so many twists to the logic. It's clear that the dramatic goal is not to let the story play out, but to get Bella to Phoenix. And there readers like me lose confidence that the story comes first.
Dashed Hopes As a writer, don't let your reader down. In my case, I kept hoping for various things:
• More interaction with the coastal folks, who could either impart some wisdom or create bigger problems.
• Any conflict to interrupt the basically linear progression of Bella and Edward's love. She gets more and more in love with him and less and less frightened throughout. And as we learn, it's the same for him.
• Something to explain Bella's morose alienation, her immunity to Edward's telepathy, and her great attraction for him. My favorite, which I think would have been great, would be to discover that she has a streak of vampirism herself (mutation? genetic? a throwback?) and never knew; exposure to vampires helps her find herself. Why, it could all have been a plan hatched by her parents......more
Hugely thought-provoking. And supports a stats statement I have thought of making: there is no such thing as a categorical variable, where sex is theHugely thought-provoking. And supports a stats statement I have thought of making: there is no such thing as a categorical variable, where sex is the usual counterexample. ...more
Or maybe three and a half. I enjoyed this a lot, an unusual detective story, told from many points of view, not quite chronologically. The time uncertOr maybe three and a half. I enjoyed this a lot, an unusual detective story, told from many points of view, not quite chronologically. The time uncertainty and the unreliable narrators have an interesting effect, make me never quite sure whether all of the cases are really solved and exactly what has happened.
The book is also an unusual mix of humor and sadness. The characters go through a lot, including, especially, the deaths of family members, and huge helpings of regret....more
All thanks be to Elizabeth for recommending this series. I list this book here first as a stand-in for the Canon. There are many things to praise in tAll thanks be to Elizabeth for recommending this series. I list this book here first as a stand-in for the Canon. There are many things to praise in these books, but let us just pause and bathe in the language....more
Okay, okay, I co-wrote it, so take the five stars with a grain of salt, but what's really ingenious in this book is that the sample documents throughOkay, okay, I co-wrote it, so take the five stars with a grain of salt, but what's really ingenious in this book is that the sample documents through which you learn about the program are clues in an ongoing murder mystery....more
Thoughtful, earnest, dated feminist dys/utopia. Piercy wears her heart and politics on her sleeve.
I love the unreliable narrator; Piercy pulls off anThoughtful, earnest, dated feminist dys/utopia. Piercy wears her heart and politics on her sleeve.
I love the unreliable narrator; Piercy pulls off an interesting trick making us wonder if the protagonist really does travel through time or to an alternate universe — or if she is just insane. ...more
Science fiction where the science is Archaeology. One of the first strong-female-protagonist sci-fi, an eye-opener for the young me. Set largely in thScience fiction where the science is Archaeology. One of the first strong-female-protagonist sci-fi, an eye-opener for the young me. Set largely in the Yucatan, it includes scenes at Cal, where (for example) our highly-attuned heroine can see the long-dead natives at work by Strawberry Creek....more
Very early Jonathan Lethem, and set in Oakland! We hear that he was consciously trying his hand at different genres during this period, and what a finVery early Jonathan Lethem, and set in Oakland! We hear that he was consciously trying his hand at different genres during this period, and what a fine job he does. Too bad for Oaktown he moved back to Motherless Brooklyn....more
Northern California, Oregon, and Washington secede from the US. What's not to like? Five stars for imagination, given that this was written back in thNorthern California, Oregon, and Washington secede from the US. What's not to like? Five stars for imagination, given that this was written back in the 70s. This is a flawed masterpiece, an original vision that sticks to the inside of your head (OK my head) for decades. Callenbach shows us an alternative to the corporate- and profit-dominated world we live in now. Having read the book, I can't hear pundits talk about rising GDP and the need to increase our standard of living without wondering whether all economic hocus-pocus is hooey. And that's a good thing.
That said, other reviewers have rightly said that the book is sexist, racist, and naive. I imagine it is, and I hate to think what influence it may have had on my adolescent mind back then. On the other hand, millions of us boomers survived the animated Peter Pan only to shudder in horror when showing it to our children. ...more
The first half blew me away at first reading. A coherent, exuberantly detailed vision of nanotechnology in the new-Victorian age. This is one of thoseThe first half blew me away at first reading. A coherent, exuberantly detailed vision of nanotechnology in the new-Victorian age. This is one of those books whose ideas and images will always be with me: the Primer, matter compilers, dirigibles filled with vacuum. ...more
Re-read 2008. Not part of the Smiley canon, yet another splendid character study where we readers get very anxious for the safety of our upstanding BrRe-read 2008. Not part of the Smiley canon, yet another splendid character study where we readers get very anxious for the safety of our upstanding British spy protagonists....more
The jacket labels this a technothriller, and that's not a bad description. It's more in the style of Pattern Recognition than earlier works: strong feThe jacket labels this a technothriller, and that's not a bad description. It's more in the style of Pattern Recognition than earlier works: strong female protagonist (Hollis Henry), present or near future, technology closer to our own. No "jacking in to the deck."
In fact, it's the same universe as the one Cayce Pollard lives in; the strange and rich Hubertus Bigend is pulling strings. A good book, a good read, but without the punch and thrill of its predecessor....more