there is no doubt that sandra newman in a genius. i haven't read her other books, but this one is just mind-blowing. the first mind-blowing thing is tthere is no doubt that sandra newman in a genius. i haven't read her other books, but this one is just mind-blowing. the first mind-blowing thing is the language, that will or will not be challenging to you depending on the kind of mind you have, and on how easily you adapt to different sounds and grammatical constructions (i am not particularly good at either of th0se, so the language remained a bit challenging for me, though only to the extent that it slowed me down a little). regardless of its ease, the language of this book is absolutely mesmerizing: it is intensely lyrical (at some point i wondered whether i was willing to go so far as to declare the whole thing a long prose poem), it is incredibly inventive, it seems to me to present a respectable linguistic coherence and perhaps some pidginization (french seems to be an influence), and is very, very funny.
this is one of those books that tell of harrowing stories in the voice of a young narrator who is, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, pretty darn hilarious. as such, it would qualify in my book as twee, not something i mean in a good sense. other examples of twee would be Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (harrowing, funny, cute), All the Light We Cannot See (harrowing, cute), and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (harrowing, occasionally precious, magical). of these book, i love Extremely Loud and i think the twee works to great effect there, and, now, The Country of Ice Cream Star, where the twee seems to make this a YA book. i have nothing against YA books, except i don't read them.
since sandra newman is a genius, though, i am oh-so-happy to disregard the twee and focus instead on all the other genius aspect of this great novel.
the story is the story of an impossible dream. ice cream star, the protagonist, narrator, and hero, is a young female survivor of an apocalyptic plague that left people on at least the north-east of the united states afflicted by a disease that kills them before they reach age 20 or 21. at 15, ice cream star is already quite grown up, and soon (this happens quite near the beginning so i hope no one will consider it a spoiler) the leader of her people. her people is made out of few dozen souls, many of whom quite young (obviously); still, given the necessity of survival in all sorts of rough situations, being the leader is a position of high responsibility. ice cream star is fully equal to this responsibility, and then some. the impossible dream is to chase down the cure that will allow the young'uns to live to a ripe old age.
the story evolves in the most adventurous, bizarre, creative and breathtaking way possible, and i won't say anything about it. this is a book that keeps on giving and, once you get the hang of the language, it will be hard to put down.
i'm just going to mention something that struck me. everyone in the book is so damn young. it made me re-evaluate youth and non-youth in terms of relative duration. in a society where everyone dies by age 20, 13 year olds are quite mature and ready, say, to procreate (something it's imperative they do, if they want to spend at least some time with their own children). in a society in which people last well into their 80s, adulthood is feared and aimed to be delayed (see the pervasive anxiety of "adulting"), youth is semi-worshipped (youngsters consider themselves over the hill at 24), and old age is despised and (therefore) terrifying. there seem to be no chronological phases of life, in our real (western) world, that are unequivocally good. aging becomes a tremendous cause of anxiety the moment you are able to formulate the thought of its existence.
this is true in Country too, to some extent, but only because of the premature death of healthy bodies. the "children," though, seem to take this in stride. it's what happens, and there appears to be general equanimity about it.
i don't know if this is a failure of exploration on the part of the author. maybe so. but i enjoyed, as i read, reminding myself that the characters were all kids. apparently it is quite possibly to live without adults. sad, this.
i read this while being sick because relapsing from chronic illness, and the courage of ice cream star kept me going. she goes through soul-crushing loss, lots of injury, lots of fear, and lots of despair with the heart of a lion and the humor of a rock star. through tragedies half of whose magnitude would fell me, she stays optimistic, lucid, and hilariously focused on the next step. the solutions she comes up with are not always the most brilliant, but she tries, and tries, and never gives up.
this is what i mean when i say that this is the story of a dream. the odds, all told, are pretty shabby, yet ice cream star simply doesn't care. if saving her people required going to the moon, she would try till her very last breath.
so, you see, this is quite optimistic and encouraging. and this is what made me overlook some of the book's less perfect aspects (its possible twee quality, the underexploration of a foreshortened life, in spite of the fact that this is literally the engine of the book's plot!), and give it five stars.
as is de rigoeur in YA literature, there are all sorts of moments in which various characters have to choose between good and evil, selfishness and generosity, the love of one and the love of many, obedience and their own conscience. these are all well done -- convincing, engaging, gripping, and fun.
look, the world is going to shit, but do like ice cream star: keep your heart vally, full, and clear, and you'll see your way right through everything life throws at you. ...more
**spoiler alert** at first i thought this was a rendition of the psychoanalytic relation. the absolute dedication of the examiner. her efforts in easi**spoiler alert** at first i thought this was a rendition of the psychoanalytic relation. the absolute dedication of the examiner. her efforts in easing the claimant's (patient's) psychic pain. the exploration of painful dreams and memories and the re-elaboration of same. bewitching.
i have not abandoned this hypothesis; some of it still holds. but there's a lot more at play here. the drug that wipes out the patient's consciousness, memory, and cognitive functions when the patient doesn't respond to the loving "cure" of the examiner. to the point that, eventually, the patient may be turned into a barely-functioning individual. the sinister spreading of the villages, so that, at this point, most of this strange "republic" is covered with them. the author's suggestion here may be that an ever increasing number of people are afflicted by pain so severe that only this extreme measure will do, but the specter of isolation, manipulation, and the construction of an alternate reality remains. it is not comforting. it's scary as all get out.
is it loving that so many people should be devoted to the well-being of one? sure. but.... freedom?
and yes. the claimant chooses not to die but to entrust his life to this network of helper, only partly cognizant of what will happen to him. meaning: there is conscious choice involved.***
the long conversation between the claimant (clement!) and the man in the office (don't remember his title) is a lovely thing. the man listens endlessly, tenderly. at the end of the story, the man administers the cure without further ado.
so no, not a psychoanalytic relation, but a system aimed at sweeping away pain through chemicals and yes, loving mental reconstruction.
it's an interesting book. this is where it displeased me:
* the story of clement and rana is long and i found it took away momentum from the extraordinary first part. i read the first part in one go, willing to stay up all night to finish the book. the story of clement and rana took me a few days to finish. it's a love story, a tragic love story, like so many others. this book is not about tragic love, i don't think. i don't want it to be. i want this book to be about healing (good healing, bad healing).
* i found myself having no patience for the "quotable" lines. there are many of those. they might be amazing if your mind is of a certain kind, but my mind has read one quotable line too many and is very very ready to move on. in fact, it has moved on. some time ago.
i'm not entirely sure i understand the play at the end. if someone here gets the play and wants to discuss it in comments, i'd love to hear what you have to say. thank you.
*** i am a bit shocked by the news coming out of belgium, where physician assisted suicide is legal and extends to people in intolerable psychic pain. how can someone in the grips of terrible, terrible despair choose freely whether to live or die? and, of course, suicide is always an option. but the moment someone else enters the scene, then i cannot think of that someone else's role as anything other than comforting and soothing. people have the power of giving each other happier lives. only people can do that for each other. helping others to die because their psychic pain is so harsh is abdicating the fundamental human duty to help. ...more
**spoiler alert** this is a YAish post-apocalyptic dystopian novel about a society in which humans have evolved to give birth only to twins. of the tw**spoiler alert** this is a YAish post-apocalyptic dystopian novel about a society in which humans have evolved to give birth only to twins. of the twins, one is always able-bodied and the other is always disabled (the words “disabled” and “able-bodied” are never used in the novel). the able-bodied twins stay and grow up with their families and are called alphas. the disabled twins are cast out as early as possible, branded like cattle, and called omegas. omegas cannot reproduce. they live in destitute villages and are increasingly persecuted.
i scanned goodreads quickly before reading this and i saw a review that lambasted this book for being ableist, so that was something i paid attention to while i read it. and at first i wasn’t sure. the main characters are all omegas, even though the protagonist is “disabled” only in the sense of being a seer (not much of a disability, though it would have been nice if haig had discussed at least a bit why seers should be perceived as disabled).
but then at the end it turns out that her love interest and co-protagonist, in spite of missing an arm, was never an omega. so we have two protagonists who are entirely able-bodied (is an alpha with a missing arm able-bodied? and if so, what does it mean to be disabled? there’s some very cool essentialism/non-essentialism debate here that could have used a wee bit of exploration), and two other main characters only one of whom is mildly impaired (he lacks an arm too, but that is rarely remarked upon, so much so that one forgets – this is not so for the love interest, whose lack of his arm is constantly brought up). finally, two other major characters (the confessor and zach) are also able-bodied. not much disability is presented to us after all, in spite of the novel’s setting in a profoundly disabled world (the disability of the world is its dysfunctionality and horror).
the story is well constructed and the writing is beautiful, so these are excellent qualities. but what sapped me, what ultimately unmade me (cuz a careless book can undo me, especially in these tremendously fragile times) was that a book that could and should be focused on bodies is almost entirely disregarding of bodies. injuries, hunger, thirst, fatigue, comfort, discomfort, touch – all the materiality, the fragility, and the neediness of the human body are treated with great lightness, and often ignored, to the point that it’s so, so hard to suspend disbelief. when kip is first liberated from the tank he runs for quite some time without shoes on very harsh terrain, yet no mention is made of the fact that unless you are used to not wearing shoes, not having shoes will simply stop you. you can’t go without shoes unless the sole of your feet is as tough as leather.
kip and cass go days without drinking. they get hurt over and over (during their escape from the island they are slashed repeatedly by the rocks and the mussels), but their injuries are quickly forgotten.
since the fragility of the human body is the key theme of the novel (each twin will die or be hurt if the other twin dies or is hurt, so death and injury are always a possibility), glossing over so much vulnerability is not just careless, it’s callous. literature exists so that we learn how to be human. a book about bodies that ignores bodies deals a little bruise to our humanity and leaves us a little emptier.
finally, why not develop the tremendous narrative and conceptual potential of a society in which half the population is disabled? the power of the able-bodieds is stipulated but not explained, and very little is made of the disempowerment of the non-able-bodieds. in fact, *different* bodies appear only in passing. it is never the case, except for kip’s armlessness and post-tank weakness and for cass’s seerness, that a body’s disability plays a role in the narrative.
so ultimately this left me empty. because what i crave most in books is depth, and compassion, and understanding. the story, meh, the story is just a story. ...more
this is about the entire trilogy, not just this book.
this trilogy is unwaveringly fantastic. there is no point in any of the three books when i thougthis is about the entire trilogy, not just this book.
this trilogy is unwaveringly fantastic. there is no point in any of the three books when i thought, eh, that could have been done better. so if you know the story you know the story and if you don't you can go find it somewhere (it's easy!), but here are the things i loved about this endeavor:
1. language means a lot. when jimmy is alone, language comes to him unbidden. words. strange words. beautiful words. words that sound the same as each other and thus allow for nice alliterative strings. erudite words. the world has ended (as far as he knows) and he hangs on to the past through memories and lost words.
2. this is another dystopian fantasy in which people are kind. the people who are not kind are severely brain damaged.
3. the trilogy tackles head on what it means to be human. are the crakers human? are the pigs human?
4. i think it's a powerful touch at the end when(view spoiler)[ it turns out that crake had designed a world in which various combinations of humanity -- mainly through interbreeding, but also through cooperation, as in the case of the pigs -- could repopulated the earth. intentionally, apparently. (hide spoiler)]
5. storytelling is central. the craker civilization, which we see at its incipience, is built on storytelling and, pace crake, mythopoesis -- which, arguably but not that much, go hand in hand. this whole aspect is developed carefully and lovingly, until (view spoiler)[ the crakers themselves take it over from the more traditional humans (hide spoiler)]. there is no history without storytelling and benevolent, invisible caretakers.
6. the crakers are a fabulous creation, worthy of Octavia Butler, really, except
7. i have never read anything that so completely bypasses all chances to upset the gender binary, when chances present themselves at every turn. whoah. there are men and there are women. men love women and women love men. the end. butler would have not missed this opportunity for the world.
8. i loved the parts when zeb is the first person narrator. the language (language again, see?) becomes markedly different, a skillful reproduction of what in literature passes as male language. well done ms. atwood.
9. some authors reach a point in which sentences leave you gasping for the way in which they are written. many sentences in these books spoke to me of someone for whom putting words together has become a matter of such expertise, she doesn't need to worry about getting it right. the language in these books sizzles. fantastic.
let's get the misconceptions out of the way: this is not an alt reality book, this is a dystopian book. it is narrated in alternating chapters by twolet's get the misconceptions out of the way: this is not an alt reality book, this is a dystopian book. it is narrated in alternating chapters by two characters, both in the first person. this does not make things confusing. it is not a difficult book and the vocabulary is rich but perfectly comprehensible. it is beautifully written (having listened to the audio version i can't vouch for the punctuation, but what i heard was beautiful: beautiful sentences, beautiful words). one of the characters has a bit of a hard on for hegel, the 19th century german philosopher you may or may not have heard of, and unless you know hegel you will probably glaze over those bits. they are few and far between. they are lovely in their own poetic-philosophical way. they are very short, like one sentence or two.
there are footnotes. the footnotes are part of the text, except they are at the bottom of the page and in smaller type. they require that your eyes move down and then up again, with the added chore of finding where you left off in the body of the text. it's really no biggie. Junot Díaz and David Foster Wallace do it too, but i haven't seen anyone go ballistic over their doing it -- to the contrary. alene graedon is a terrifically gifted writer and this novel is tremendously original. no, she's no [insert favorite fantasy/sci-fi possibly male author here]. the reason for that is that she is herself. and what a splendid self she is.
the book is on the long side. there is some repetition. it could be a trimmer book. is it the only book that could use some trimming in the eyes of this reviewer? most certainly not. there's a certain dickensian quality to the length, and if you go for the sort of thing (i don't) you won't complain; if you don't, you'll be mildly frustrated, on occasion. i punished graedon for this minor irritation by docking one star.
you can read about the story elsewhere, though i recommend you don't. there is brilliance to the way in which greadon builds a story around how digital technology is affecting our use of language (and our way of living, but she doesn't dwell on that much). i am not a luddite and i like my internets; when people rant about how the internet isolates us or makes us less smart or drastically reduces our attention span, i shrug. it's not like IT and digital communication are going away any time soon. so this is really the first time that i took a long hard look at my internet habits. since this is a dystopia as much as a fairy-tale, it is not preachy. i guess the lack of preachiness is what kept me from dismissing its critique of The Way We Live Today (all dystopias are critiques of TWWLT).
more than that, though, this is a lovely and totally spot-on reflection on language. what it does. how it gets lost. how it changes. language as a social phenomenon. language as a philosophical entity. how poor language leads to poor thought. how poor thought leads to poor feelings. how love requires that we have words and thoughts. how the impoverishment of language is an impoverishment of humanity.
i think i'm doing okay with language. i think everyone who reads this review is doing okay with language, because this is a site for readers. we all love language kind of desperately. most of us (all of us?) would give up just about anything before we gave up reading. language sustains and nourishes us. language consoles us. one can weather many a rough day with the simple knowledge that a good book is waiting when the lights dim, the noises quieten, and the tears dry up. language is our emergency raft and our permanent cruise ship. we live and float on language.
the only regret i have is that i'm pretty much losing the capacity to write with pen and paper. not only does my hand hurt after about two lines, but i keep making mistakes. how bizarre. my brain has unlearned how to write cursive. i remember the distinct delight of putting words on paper. it was as pleasurable as reading. i remember thinking very often that a lot of the text was in the interstices between words. i found that miraculous. i reveled in that. such wealth of meaning.
there are no interstices in typed text (included text typed on manual typewriters) and that's just the long and the short of it, at least for me. also, typing is so much faster. i truly mourn the slowness of writing with a pen. and of course i miss the ink, the friction of the pen's tip on the paper, the noise this friction produced. i spent so much time in stationary stores. remember the smell? i had special pens for special needs. some pens were faster. some pens wrote prettier. and the paper. beautiful paper. so many textures. even the most ordinary paper (white newsprint paper) had its magic.
all of this i grieve daily (seriously) but i seem unable to go back (i've tried so many times). sometimes i fantasize about black-outs that would force me to write with pen and paper. but black-outs bring a lot of misery, too.
i occasionally worry about the loss of privacy. more than that, perhaps, i worry about what might be diminished ability to spend time with myself. but this doesn't hit me as hard. those times spent with myself weren't awesome, and i love chatting with you all. i'm happy, though, that i don't have a smart phone. i can still spend time alone when i'm not at home. that is valuable. i think i'll try to hold on to that, as long as civilization allows me. ...more
i loved this book super much and wish i could have lived with these people a lot longer (not right there, just in my head). what a fantastically deep,i loved this book super much and wish i could have lived with these people a lot longer (not right there, just in my head). what a fantastically deep, intricate, seamless, warm and human piece of literature. i'm going to read all of this woman's books.
it's a dystopian novel, but it's really not, primarily, about What Happens After The Collapse, though there is that element too. it's about what binds us, what makes us human, and what allows us to tolerate love and tolerate loss. and emily st. john mandel does it so beautifully, you wonder all the time, how is she doing this? and then, strangely, it's also very much a book about acting (acting?! yup) and about making art, and, again, you wonder: how is she doing it all so well, without the book's being contrived? but she does. i have never once in my life thought i would like to be a stage actor (or an actor of any kind) and i don't go to plays (i find it hard to follow them because i'm not a auditory learner), but this book... well, i think i should go to plays, or at least read shakespeare very very slowly and imagine his plays being acted in front of me.
i am reminded very much of Janette Turner Hospital's extraordinary Due Preparations for the Plague. there are writers who, when describing Colossal Human Crises, go for the dog-eat-dog scenario. not these two women. and it's so damn nice to read a book in which, yes, there are people being nasty to each other, but there are so many more people doing what needs to be done, tending to each other, caring, just being so fucking decent. so this alleged collapse of civilization is really a testament to the endurance of civilization. the center holds. the periphery holds too. the human heart -- it holds. ...more
atwood is eye candy for her absolutely mastery of the narrative form. the storytelling just slips offETA: i reviewed the whole trilogy here
atwood is eye candy for her absolutely mastery of the narrative form. the storytelling just slips off her pen, not a word wasted, not a sentence out of place. crisp. it never gets melodramatic or slack or anything but taut. it's just perfect.
the story didn't feel hugely gripping to me. post-apocalyptic whatever. i don't really care a whole lot. but the understanding of how we got to this -- through sheer, criminal neglect of the environment; through science gone mad; through nasty experiments; through rigid and spiteful class division -- this is all so brilliantly conceived and yet so simply delivered, you know it's true. it is so true that just a few years after this book was written the things atwood wrote are coming to pass, under our eyes, without our having to make an effort to look for them -- and we are doing nothing to stop them. sorry, kids.
maybe this startling simplicity, this predictability is what made the story less than gripping to me.
here's something else that's fabulous. this entire book pivots on the voices of two women. atwood chooses to hew close to genre and does not delve into the intricacies of their personalities (in other words, she resists the pull of the psychological), but she gives us two great female voices while, somehow, managing not to turn this into a "woman's book." see how it's done, boy-authors? you can put women's voices at the center of the book without erasing the men at all. go to school at atwood's academy, boy-authors. stop erasing women from your stories. we are tired.
honorable mention to the book's dealing with sexual violence. this is how it's done, boy-and-girl-authors. not a second of graphic prurience, yet so devastating. men so infatuated with the penis that they put it at the center of their perception of "the perfect human." men brutalized by the compulsion to violate women. this is what brings the world down y'all: men split off from women. women split off from men. like jimmy; like lucerne.
unlike others (i am talking to you, jakaem, my prime interlocutor), i saw the gardeners as entirely un-ironic. in fact, i found them quite inspirational. yes, adam one is hokey, but so what? that's what religion always looks like from the outside (both toby and ren are outsiders) -- irredeemably absurd, over the top, ridiculous. i think atwood has a ton of respect for the gardeners. why wouldn't she? she makes them the flood's survivors. the dick-wagging boys? they all go down.
david mitchell is a genius who should get the nobel prize for literature right about now, off season. this particular book is genius and beauty and lodavid mitchell is a genius who should get the nobel prize for literature right about now, off season. this particular book is genius and beauty and loveliness and smarts, and it should get all the prizes it didn't get, now, a year or two later, it doesn't matter. all sorts of exceptions should be made for this book. maybe it should get two pulitzer prizes or three at the same time.
this is how much i loved it. i was in a godawful book slump that had lasted months (pity me!) and it pulled me right out of it. so, you see, it's personal.
but it's also such a fantastic book. i think i love it as much as Cloud Atlas, which means that i put it at the top of my david mitchell book list. but then i think i love it more than Cloud Atlas, and even though i know it's probably because i read Cloud Atlas years ago and Bone Clocks just now, i don't care.
first, the writing is absolutely explosive, more than captivating. it is enthralling and fabulous and rich and inventive and the richest, most original, most brilliant writing happening today. i am not saying there aren't writers who write as gorgeously as david mitchell, or more. i am saying that no one i know or have read writes as pyrotechnically. it's not eye candy. it's a complete unbelievable meal for the eye, first second third courses dessert french cheeses wine liqueur, eaten on a tropical beach on a perfect summer night, your favorite band playing live a few meters away, the person you love most in the world across the table from you. it is this kind of meal for the eye. more than candy, way more than candy.
second, the story kept me reading ravenously. david mitchell can work at so many levels simultaneously. even as he crafts language that is the equivalent of a majestic meal for the eye, he also gives you story. great story. passionate story. kind story. suspenseful story. super smart story. lots of twists and turns. it's more than story. it's über story.
and it does all this -- super language and über story -- while also going crazy and gently po-mo on genre. if you've read Cloud Atlas, which this book, among mitchell's books, most resembles, you know that david mitchell likes to play with genre. so here, just like in Cloud Atlas, you have loosely connected sections all written in different genres.
and the genres are nailed. they are not just nailed. every section is a super example of its genre. if each section were published on its own, it would win the pulitzer prize. well, in my world. and it would win all the awards specific to that genre.
i won't spoil the particular genres for you. discovering what particular genre a section is is a delight unto itself.
so masterful. masterful control of technique. seamless. effortless. effulgent.
but then, what david mitchell does, he deconstructs the genre. because genre is so limited isn't it? you can do it perfectly and it's still just genre. so he goes and makes gentle fun of the genre he deploys so magisterially, pushes it to its kitschy absurd, makes it all a big fun game. at the same time, though, the story and the writing never stop being convincing (well, with some genre-appropriate suspension of disbelief). it's the most amazing sleight of hand.
i think part of the job of undermining genre is performed here by the proliferation of genres. this proliferation draws attention to technique. it's the opposite of immersive. it's jarring. and yet, it's done seamlessly and you slide from section to section the same way as you slide from course to course, with sorbet in between to cleanse the palate and make you ravenous for what's coming next.
so if you find something trite, which you will, know that it's david mitchell doing genre with his tongue stuck in his cheek. but, also, be aware that this is Big Heart writing, compassionate, in love with its characters, respectful of them, committed, dead serious. except, you know, not. not entirely. because it's all a big fun game of a book.
i would like to review this book here for you all but i can't, because GR is bullying everyone, taking away our right to be, and showing itself to bei would like to review this book here for you all but i can't, because GR is bullying everyone, taking away our right to be, and showing itself to be profoundly ungrateful to people who have provided content here for years for free, and my buddy octavia, may her lovely soul rest in peace, would most definitely be against bullying and ungraciousness. so i'll tell you a story instead.
the author of Donald Davidson, philosopher Simon Evnine, used to live in west l.a. and when he lived there he had this absolutely unreliably mustang. i knew nothing from nothing so i was duly impressed when he told me that a mustang was a really cool car to have, that mustangs were fast and powerful cars, that mustangs were prestigious cars. i was so impressed that i really didn't care that the car wouldn't go more than one block without stalling, bucking, sneezing, coughing, and being stubborn, which, on hindsight, and with a better knowledge of the english language, i see was an entirely appropriate behavior. the mustang also released really bad fumes, which, even in hindsight, i can't find any appropriateness for (unless you want to equate fumes=poop, and i'm not willing to go there). (reader beware: this is a gun that won't discharge.)
one day Donald Davidson's author and i took a trip to san francisco, in the mustang. it was thanksgiving and the california hills and valleys could not have been more beautiful.
unlike the california valley of The Grapes of Wrath, however, this valley was as dry as a bone. in fact, when i say that it could not have been more beautiful, it is my readjusted memory that's talking. at the time, i was so utterly confused by the mere existence of such a landscape, and so utterly bereft by the lack of proximity of real mountains (where real mountains=the alps), or, in other words, so fucking homesick, that my reaction to the landscape was one of incredulity and dismay. what was i doing here? what were these burnt hills with no vegetation except stubbly yellow grass and the occasional isolated tree? where were the lush green, the vineyards, the old curvy roads, the ancient dry rock farmhouses that in my mind designated life on the planet earth?
so, you see, i wasn't in the best of moods. one could even say that i was pretty despondent.
and then i saw that this earth, this yellow dry-as-a-bone moonlike earth had cracks. largish genuine cracks, like the heat and dryness were too much and, like unmosturized skin, the earth has simply cracked open. the cracks were big enough for maybe three people to stand comfortably inside them. at least that's what it looked like from the car. i had to stop the merry chat Donald Davidson's author and i were merrily conducting to ask, "simon, do you think there are snakes in the cracks?"
being a man who doesn't pronounce even tentatively on things he has no way of knowing, Donald Davidson's author responded, not unreasonably you might think, "i have no idea."
i, being a person whose belief system and speech is made up entirely of untested hypotheses and flights of fancy, asked again, "but what do you think?"
Donald Davidson's author couldn't understand the question. please do realize that he didn't know me well at all, and he had never in his entire life been pushed to give an opinion about something he knew nothing about.
an exchange ensued. i would call it an argument, even a very heated argument, but that would be airing dirty laundry in public so i'll just leave it at conversation. the gist of it was:
but you can guess!
but i don't have any basis on which to guess!
there was born the "are there snakes in the cracks?" trope of our micro-civilization. when Donald Davidson's author doesn't have any opinion at all about something but is pushed, by me, to pronounce, he remembers, "are there snakes in the cracks?" and assuredly says "yes" or "no," depending on his mood, on butterflies batting their wings in asia, the vicissitudes of el ninõ or some such (non) random phenomenon. me, i'm entirely satisfied.
a proper review of this book will be provided when i finish reading the third volume of the trilogy and it will be posted on Booklikes. i will provide a link, so come back!
THIS REVIEW IS CLEARLY IN VIOLATION OF ALL THAT IS SACRED IN THE WORLD, NOT TO MENTION THE GOODREADS' TOS. PLEASE FLAG IT FOR BEING ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT TO THE BOOK IN QUESTION, FOR ATTACKING A GR AUTHOR AND FOR ITS GENERAL CUSSEDNESS AND INAPPROPRIATENESS. THANK YOU.
for jakaem: this is the second installment. ...more
i'm going to review this classic without reading anyone else's review (i'll read them later), because the experience of reading it was so powerful fori'm going to review this classic without reading anyone else's review (i'll read them later), because the experience of reading it was so powerful for me, i want to try to convey it here intact. this is my fourth octavia butler, after Parable of the Sower, Fledgling and Wild Seed. butler is pretty consistent in her themes, but not until this time was i able to see precisely what she's doing.
this "precisely" indicates the level of power this book had for me, not the truth of what octavia butler is in fact doing. what i mean is, while reading this book i had a precise sense of what she was talking about. this precise sense is a merging of butler as a writer and me as a reader. it is unique. it doesn't speak of anyone else's experience, or at least of the experience of those readers who didn't come to this book with the same general set of issues and apprehensions and emotions with which i did.
it seems to me that all of butler's book are about love. in Sower the protagonist is an empath. she cannot helps feeling what others within a certain spatial range feel -- not their feelings, but their pain. feeling others' pain is love. wanting to alleviate this pain -- because it becomes our pain -- is love. in Fledgling the vampires love the humans they bond with absolutely. their love is so powerful that losing one of these humans devastates them. again, love brings enormous vulnerability. loving involves the possibility, maybe even the certainty, that sooner or later you will feel terrible pain. in both books, there is a salvific element. i'm using the christian word, maybe wrongly, but i can't think of another one. in Sower humanity truly positively needs to be saved from destruction.
in this book humanity has already managed to self-destruct though war and nuclear annihilation. the planet has been rendered uninhabitable. enter the oankali, an extraterrestrial species that plucks from earth the few survivors, puts them in hibernation to be able to study them, and in the meantime restores the earth to salubriousness. it also destroys all ruins, with the precise intention of giving humans a blank slate.
250 years later our protagonist, lillith, is awakened from her suspended animation and restored to normality. she's on the oankali's ship, prisoner. she is at first treated like a prisoner, too, and subject to interrogation by invisible and patiently stubborn interrogators. eventually she is told that she, along some of the humans who have also been saved (the ones most fit for such enterprise, and also the ones willing) will be sent back to earth to start from scratch, or almost (they won't have to redo stone age, obviously, and they will have some modern tools). but there is a catch. in order to survive as a species, the oankali need regularly (we are talking in terms of thousands of years, i imagine) to find another species with which to merge. the humans are incredibly attractive and stunning for them, a real find. they find them to be full of untapped potential, and really amazing from a number of points of view.
here starts the delicate and brutal love dance between lillith, presumably chosen for her specialness to be the first to do this, and the oankali who are specifically designated to deal with her as her family.
lillith resents the oankali because there are many aspects of her future (and her present) the oankali have decided for her and about which she doesn't have a choice. for one, she can't leave the ship and go to earth on her own, refusing the oankali's help and, above all, their intention to merge with her and the other humans. she is a prisoner. but it's also true that the oankali give her all sorts of freedoms and choices, including to refuse them (in which case she won't get to go to earth). also, and this is the other part of the equation, the oankali have saved her, continue to save her, and are incredibly kind to her. what i am saying is, if someone were that kind to me, spoke to me like that, used that kind of respect and treated me like i am the most precious things ever, i'd find it pretty damn seductive. who doesn't want to be loved like that? but there is a price, of course, and the price is a certain kind of freedom. she does have the freedom to say no, but she doesn't have the freedom to shape her life as if she were alone.
this is where the story and my own thoughts/emotions/beliefs converge. 'cause, do we ever have the freedom to shape our life as if we were alone? and if we do, which we don't, but if we manage to do it as much as possible, isn't there a price to pay? i am not saying that those who choose to live like this are doing something wrong. god no. i am saying that those who abandon the world and go live in a cabin in the mountains with dogs and pets but no other humans (which is the extreme case of going it alone) do pay a price, a price they may be very happy to pay but which most of us simply cannot pay. and then it goes without saying that they, too, rely on others in some respects, just because of the way societies and the world have evolved.
so, the way i read this book, when lillith struggles against the amazingly seductive, warm, loving, and respectful captivity of the oankali, she is fighting against giving in to love, salvation, maybe even a superior form of freedom. because the oankali to whom she's bound give her moments that are so special, it's hard for her to walk away from them, and to acknowledge that she's walking toward them of her own free will.
this is the gist of what i wanted to say. there are other things here, trademark butler themes: the leader is always a woman, a black woman, and she is formidable at the same time as she is also vulnerable. she does get hurt, but she is strong as all get out. she has vision. she understands others. she gets it.
sex is a fluid thing, a merging of bodies and minds and hearts that is sublime and special. the gender of the other person doesn't matter. the species of the other (humanoid -- no bestiality in butler) person doesn't matter. the appearance doesn't matter. the number doesn't matter. what matters is intense, unbelievable erotics mixed with something so deep and alluring, it makes you willing to give your life for it. i call it love. it is love.
this is what i mostly got from this book. lillith is being taught how to love in a way that makes her rebel but also give in. the struggle, as i see it, is a struggle that comes from the very same traits that have made humanity destroy itself, and that would make humanity destroy itself again if it weren't for the loving (and pained: the oankali love too, and therefore suffer) teachings of the oankali.
at some point, the oankali tell lillith that humans have one exceptionally good feature and one feature that dooms them. i don't remember the exceptionally good feature but i remember the dooming one -- a pernicious tendency to arrange themselves hierarchically. i had the duration of the book to mull this over and i think butler gets it exactly right.
ETA and now that i browsed the reviews i see that people think poorly of the oankali, who to me are adorable. what do you know. ...more
i admire the heck out of this series. it's a genre i don't read much at all -- basically never, really -- so i lack terms of comparison and, perhaps mi admire the heck out of this series. it's a genre i don't read much at all -- basically never, really -- so i lack terms of comparison and, perhaps more importantly, the language to talk about it. the way i see it, the way it talks to me, it's as a saga in which good and evil confront each other on the bodies and the minds of humans, pretty much like it happens in the real world, except, because this is literature and because it is the particular genre of these books, all taken up a vast number of notches through metaphor.
the metaphor is the blood, which may or may not be the blood of christ. when there is blood there are vampires, but there are not vampires proper here, though there are people who want the blood of other people.
the religious aspect, which is not heavy, could have bothered me, the way it bothers me in all the dreck connected to vatican conspiracy theories and possibly even umberto eco, though i read him a long time ago. but tananarive due uses it only tangentially and above all she uses it more intelligently than i can say. this is not about christianity, really, but about making choices. good choices. impossible choices. choices so important that whichever way you choose someone is going to get hurt and someone is going to get saved.
and yet the difficult, imperfect choices must be made, because even the highest characters of this book are not perfect, because what is good is not always clear, because even when it's clear there is no straight road to it.
i've said this before about other writers who write in this genre -- i think Octavia Butler and definitely Nnedi Okorafor -- whatever this genre is: i perceive in tananarive due the compulsion of the story. i imagine her writing in a sort of writerly trance. i feel as if the story told itself through her. it's just too complex, and the details occasionally leave me breathless. why this detail? what that detail? and yet they seem so necessary, so appropriate, so essential to the fullness of the story.
so i find butler, okorafor, and due not to be awesome stylists, but i find all of them to be incredibly compelling, inspired, deep, and super smart tellers of essential stories.
now: i tried to push this series onto a fellow reader who likes the genre and is a deeply discerning reader, and he couldn't get past book one. i don't understand it when that happens. i don't understand when masterpieces talk to someone but don't talk to someone else who is just as subtle and discerning as the people who are in love with them. my buddy found the books clunky. clunky???? he also finds octavia butler clunky. when he says it i cover my ears with my hands and say la la la. ...more
Knife is lovely on a number of accounts, but none more than todd's voice and his relation with his little dog manchee, which goes from indifferent/hosKnife is lovely on a number of accounts, but none more than todd's voice and his relation with his little dog manchee, which goes from indifferent/hostile (todd --> manchee, not viceversa of course, dogs being dogs all worlds over) to deep and devoted. and patrick ness is a heck of a writer, so everything happens smoothly and sweetly and the story is wonderfully developed and it's both charming and terrifying.
my entirely subjective complaint is that this was a bit too YAish for me, i.e. too much adventure and maybe a wee bit of oversimplification of what are really complex issues. still, i couldn't wait to go back to it and today i'm picking up book two. so, you see, no consistency from me.
elizabeth wein always writes about love. this book is about tortured love, hurt love, torn love, and ultimately, gloriously, healed love. it's very beelizabeth wein always writes about love. this book is about tortured love, hurt love, torn love, and ultimately, gloriously, healed love. it's very beautiful, written with gold ink. it's stunning passage after stunning passage. and it gets down to the depths of the human heart, where goodness and terrible rage live side by side, always, always. (it's also a brilliant depiction of a sado-masochistic mother-son relationship, and of the hurt and torture such a relationship brings to the heart). ...more