I want to write something brilliant about this book, but for right now I think I prefer to just sit with it, let it sink in. I will say this: it reminI want to write something brilliant about this book, but for right now I think I prefer to just sit with it, let it sink in. I will say this: it reminds me of Joanna Russ and Margaret Atwood and Margo Lanagan and I already want to read it again. ...more
I would give this a sixth star if I could. I checked this out from the library but I will be buying a copy because I want to have this story around foI would give this a sixth star if I could. I checked this out from the library but I will be buying a copy because I want to have this story around for rereading, revisiting, and sharing. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and true and even though it is a children's book what I found it most reminded me of was Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in its emphasis on storytelling, truth, and loss. ...more
Review #2: [I have been putting this off, thinking that I'll be able to sit down and come up with something amazing to say about the series that doesReview #2: [I have been putting this off, thinking that I'll be able to sit down and come up with something amazing to say about the series that does it justice. I've just decided that that's not going to happen, so here's a slightly edited version of my notes from reading this last book in the series.]
I don’t read that much fantasy. In fact, I often have trouble with fantasy – I don’t care about elves and shit, I don’t generally like to read about battles, and I prefer science to magic. This series qualifies as fantasy, but it is grown-up, complex fantasy; it is fantasy that leans toward science and rationality even as it deals with magic. Abraham does not glorify battle, wealth, and tradition but challenges all of those things. But he never demonizes or condemns the people involved. The characters are paramount and they are all fully humanized, fully explored, whether their decisions are right or wrong, conservative or progressive. The truth is, Abraham shows us, that there is no simple answer to the problems of a fucked up world. There are options for change and there are consequences that must be lived with alongside those options; there are also consequences to be lived with for doing nothing. You do the best you can do and you live with it. You fuck up and you try to make up for it.
And I love his treatment of women. Abraham draws a hierarchical and patriarchal world in which women are, no matter their class, property. They are servants, whores, princesses; they are never leaders or poets. Slowly but surely he tears this to bits. Not only does the society within which this occurs collapse, providing a space for a new way of life that just might be more equitable, but Abraham creates fabulous female characters. They are dynamic characters, never simply someone’s wife, mother, or lover – although they are those things, too – and never simply a damsel in distress or a ballbuster. They grow and change alongside the male characters, sometimes better than, sometimes worse than, but always present.
The final book in particular hinges on this issue of gender difference. I would normally be skeptical of a writer who relies so heavily on difference in the way that he does here, creating a women’s grammar, having characters appeal to women to take action because they think so differently from men, etc. I do not believe that men and women are inherently so different. But I’m not sure that Abraham believes this, either. He has done the groundwork in setting up the extraordinarily different experiences that men and women have in a divided and sexist society and it is that experience that creates the possibility of turning to women and their women’s perspective for answers and for help. Abraham says, essentially, “You’ve gone and fucked it all up in so many ways, but here’s how you might salvage something from it. Look at those you’ve disenfranchised and ignored – what might they have to say? What powers might they have?”
Abraham even questions these assumptions about differences between men and women within the text. At one point, Cehmai, a former poet, says, “I don’t see how making poets of women instead of men will make a world any different or better than the one we had then” (70).
The title of this series – the Long Price Quartet – is incredibly apt. The most consistent throughline of the series is the price that we pay for our choices. No one is exempt. (view spoiler)[Otah becomes Khai and then Emperor, but at a cost. He loses his freedom and much of his family. Maati becomes a powerful and important poet, but he loses his best friend, his lover, and his son. Balasar succeeds in ridding the world of the andat and their incredible power, but he must live with the memories of killing and causing to be killed thousands of men as well as losing his individual position of power. (hide spoiler)]
It sounds simple spelled out in this way, and in some ways it is simple. We can never do anything – whether it is good or bad, right or wrong – without there being some price to pay. But it is also as complex as the lives we lead. Causality is not so easy to see, and even when the price is apparent from the beginning, the ramifications of that price are not. It is significant that this series covers decades because this allows the reader to see and experience all the ways in which the characters’ decisions, some of them made when mere children and hormonal teenagers, affect the rest of their lives.
“There are two sides to this, love. But they aren’t the two sides we think of—not the Khaiem and the Galts. It’s the people in love with the past and the ones who fear for the future.” (95)
This is not a series about good versus evil; in this series, even the heroes do horrific things and have to suffer the consequences. Is it evil to protect your family? Your country? Is it good to do so at the cost of others’ families and countries? As one of the characters notes, “It takes so long to build the world . . . and so very little to break it I still remember what it felt like. Between one breath and the next, Vanjit-kya. I ruined the world in less than a heartbeat” (173).
The series is also about aging and mortality. Because it follows the same characters throughout (Otah and Maati primarily), we as readers get to watch them age. We get to see them as children, teenagers, young men, middle-aged men, and old men, as sons and fathers, lovers, brothers, husbands, students, teachers. In the final book, we get to see where all of this leads: so much responsibility and power but bodies and hearts that are weakened, watching younger men and women take up the roles they are vacating. I have recently found myself wishing for this kind of coverage of aging in more fiction and entertainment. So much of what we are given to read or watch focuses on young people growing up. That is an important and interesting story, but so is this progress from youth to adulthood to old age. There are lessons to be learned beyond those in adolescence and early adulthood. The fact that this series addresses all of those stages pleases me.
Despite such heavy ruminations on responsibility, loss, and death, these books are remarkably hopeful. Idaan says, for instance,
We’re all born to die, Most High . . . . Every love ends in parting or death. Every nation ends and every empire. Every baby born was going to die, given enough time. If being fated for destruction were enough to take the joy out of things, we’d slaughter children fresh from the womb. But we don’t. We wrap them in warm cloth and we sing to them and feed them milk as if it might all go on forever. (245)
Abraham finds this perfect balance between optimism and realism. Yes, the world is fucked up and yes, we’ll probably find ways to make it worse; but there is still joy and the potential for us to also make things better, even if only in small and personal ways.
Review #1: Wow. This series is going on my list of books that I recommend to everyone.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is beautiful - prose poetry memories and reflections presented as dictionary entries. I might have given it four stars instead of five except thaThis is beautiful - prose poetry memories and reflections presented as dictionary entries. I might have given it four stars instead of five except that I could tell, even when I was only partway through, that I would want to read it again.
It's not only car accidents. Why is it only car accidents? It can also be when I lean over you in the morning, trying to see through the sliver of open window shade to find out what the weather is like. Cranes, the birds with the rubber necks, don't always find carnage. Sometimes it's just rain.
As in this entry, the book itself combines tragedy (of a car accident, of a damaged or failing relationship) with possibility (of a view out the window, the possibility of a new love). This combination is what makes the book work. ...more
This book is hilarious and smart and says important things. In the middle of reading the book, I actually sat down and started planning a new literatuThis book is hilarious and smart and says important things. In the middle of reading the book, I actually sat down and started planning a new literature course that would give me the chance to include this book and make some young people read it.
I think the best and most accurate thing I can say about this book and my reaction to it is that it reminds of Joanna Russ. Its combination of biting humor and justifiable anger and frustration is like that of The Female Man, but Beauty Queens is updated for the more slick, commodified, and supposedly post-feminist world of the 21st century. It's also (for better or worse) simpler than The Female Man and plays with entirely different genre conventions in making its point. The spirit is there, though, and I love it. ...more
I'd read one of the stories in this book before, "Desertion," and loved it. I still think I love that story best, but the whole book is definitely worI'd read one of the stories in this book before, "Desertion," and loved it. I still think I love that story best, but the whole book is definitely worth reading. In fact, this is one book that I would love to teach, for several reasons.
1. It's a fun read, with some interesting conceits (a future Doggish society [made up of a race of intelligent speaking dogs], space travel, a society of ants, etc.) 2. It demands close reading skills, not just in the stories themselves but in the Doggish commentary on those stories, which reveal a great deal about the future Doggish culture as well as providing some incisive critiques of humanity. 3. It raises several really fascinating questions: What counts as intelligence? What is the ultimate value and worth of humanity? How is humanity defined? Is progress worth more than happiness, or is progress necessary for happiness? Is violence inherent within humanity? How intelligent are animals? What would happen if animals had humanly recognizable intelligence and society? What are the possibilities of a "Brotherhood of Beasts," a recognition of connection and commonality across species lines? And is a truly nonviolent world possible? Is it really "better that one should lose a world than go back to killing" (252)?
Simak himself says that this book was "written out of disillusion" (1) after World War II. He says, "City was written not as a protest (for what good would protest do?) but as a seeking after a fantasy world that would serve as a counterbalance to the brutality through which the world was passing" (2). He goes on to recognize that he "peopled the fantasy world with dogs and robots because [he] could see little hope of mankind arriving at such a world" (2). I'm not sure I agree with the cynicism of this statement or with City's insistence that violence is an unavoidable part of human nature, but I do agree that the humankind of the 20th century deserves to be indicted for its behavior. Simak argues in his introduction to the book (from which I have been quoting) that humanity is beyond saving and, further developing this argument, creates in this book a world in which humankind disappears, leaving a more peaceful, kind, and empathic world of Dogs and Robots; I would argue, on the other hand, that Simak's creation of this world shows the possibilities of nonviolence, even for humans, because it shows through this contrast what changes would need to be made to have this kind of world. The Doggish commentator on the stories asks, "If Man had taken a different path, might he not, in time to come, have been as great as Dog?" (146). Despite the violence of the 20th century (and the opening of the 21st) and despite Simak's loss of faith in humanity, I believe there is still a chance for us to take a different path. And the kind of criticism of humanity levied by Simak is an important part of the process involved in finding that path....more
**spoiler alert** Spin won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Novel and deservedly so. It is science fiction in all the stereotypical ways--it includes spac**spoiler alert** Spin won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Novel and deservedly so. It is science fiction in all the stereotypical ways--it includes space/time travel, advanced technology, planetary exploration, even an alien--but it goes well beyond this, interweaving explanation of the technology with character development, a fully realized social reality, and explorations of what it means to be human and to face the reality of death, both of the individual and of the species.
When Tyler DuPree, the novel's protagonist, is 12 years old, the stars in Earth's sky disappear. He and his friends Jason and Diane watch as they blink out. The world has been placed within a membrane that slows time for the earth while the rest of the universe ages. This phenomenon comes to be known as the Spin. For every one second that passes on earth, 3.17 years pass outside the membrane; for every year on earth, 100 million outside the Spin. The Hypotheticals (as the creators of this membrane come to be called) are mysterious, unknown. Are they benevolent or malevolent? There is no way for humanity to know. The only thing they do know is that they are fast running out of time. The sun will die eventually and then so will they. As it is, the only thing that is keeping them from dying is the membrane itself. If it disappears, all of humanity dies--pretty much immediately. If it does not disappear, all of humanity dies anyway--just a little further into the future.
Tyler, Jason, & Diane belong to a generation without hope, that expects the world to end before they have a chance to grow old and die naturally. This generational and worldwide millenarianism and apocalypticism is borne of science, though, not religious fervor. And because humanity's fate is provable and real, the world is changed, and not for the better:
"The global economy had begun to oscillate, consumers and nations accumulating debt loads they expected never to have to repay, while creditors hoarded funds and interest rates spiked. Extreme religiosity and brutal criminality had increased in tandem, at home and abroad. The effects were especially devastating in third world nations, where collapsing currencies and recurrent famine helped revive slumbering Marxist and militant Islamic movements. . . . The suicidally disgruntled were legion, and their enemies included any and all Americans, Brits, Canadians, Danes, et cetera; or, conversely, all Moslems, dark-skinned people, non-English-speakers, immigrants; all Catholics, fundamentalists, atheists; all liberals, all conservatives . . . For such people the consummate act of moral clarity was a lynching or a suicide bombing, a fatwa or a pogrom. And they were ascendant now, rising like dark stars over a terminal landscape." (190-1)
The novel explores the reactions of people to the knowledge of their certain death for uncertain reasons. Do they turn to religion? Science? Sex? Drugs? Do they veil themselves in ignorance and pretend not to see the end coming? Do they try to change the future? Or do they try to live with the full knowledge of what is coming, no anesthetic, no avoidance, nor any savior complex or false hope?
What does it mean to live in a world without a future?
For most people, growing up in this world means reaching out for faith, for something to anchor them in an increasing chaotic world. Sometimes that's religion. For Diane, this is the case. Sometimes, however, that something is much smaller.
For instance, when the world seems to be finally truly ending, as Tyler struggles to save Diane's life, this exchange between Tyler and Simon, Diane's husband and a religious fanatic, is revealing. Tyler says,
"I refuse to let her die as long as I have a choice." "I envy you that," Simon said quietly. "What? What could you possibly envy?" "Your faith," he said. (386)
Faith is not the sole province of the religious. Tyler has faith in something, too. He has faith that there is something to work for, that there is still hope, no matter how small it is. He is essentially agnostic and he has more faith in the end than the sincerely religious man does. What he has found to hold onto is nothing big, nothing that provides a real hope for the future. What he has found to hold onto is instead the present, the moment, his specific abilities and his determination to continue doing what he can do for as long as possible.
But Tyler's faith is a small faith, not a big one. He may believe in his ability to do what he can, but he no longer believes in "Big Salvation." As the Spin lasts longer and longer, he realizes that his faith in such salvation is gone.
"All the brands and flavors of Big Salvation. At the last minute we would devise a technological fix and save ourselves. Or: the Hypotheticals were benevolent beings who would turn the planet into a peaceable kingdom. Or: God would rescue us all, or at least the true believers among us. Or. Or. Or. Big Salvation. It was a honeyed lie. A paper lifeboat, even if we were killing ourselves trying to cling to it. It wasn't the Spin that had mutilated my generation. It was the lure and price of Big Salvation." (340)
He already intuits what Jason says to him later, that we are all as "ephemeral as raindrops." The danger, this reveals, is not a lack of faith but too much faith. Too much faith is blinding, misleading, and eventually harmful.
As Martian Wun Ngo Wen says, "the question is how to look at the sun without being blinded" (323). The question here is how to have faith without ceding the ability to ask questions, how to believe in the future without ignoring the truth of our tiny place in the universe and denying the inevitability of death.
Jason writes in his final letter to Tyler,
"Our generation has struggled for thirty years to recover what the Spin stole from us that October night. But we can't. There's nothing in this evolving universe to hold on to, and nothing to be gained by trying. If I learned anything from my 'Fourthness,' that's it. We're as ephemeral as raindrops. We all fall, and we all land somewhere." (428)
Diane provides even more illumination of this idea, though from a very different perspective. She says to Tyler:
"There's a phrase Pastor Bob Kobel liked to use back at Jordan Tabernacle. 'His heart cried out to God.' If it describes anyone, it describes Simon. But you have to parse the sentence. 'His heart cried out'--I think that's all of us, it's universal. You, Simon, me, Jason. Even Carol. Even E.D. When people come to understand how big the universe is and how short a human life is, their hearts cry out. Sometimes it's a shout of joy: I think that's what it was for Jason; I think that's what I didn't understand about him. He had the gift of awe. But for most of us it's a cry of terror. The terror of extinction, the terror of meaninglessness. Our hearts cry out. Maybe to God, or maybe just to break the silence." (440)
Diane and Jason both confirm the fact that we have no savior to turn to, no God, no hope to grasp a foothold in this universe. Even the Hypotheticals are not aliens with godlike powers; they are actually an evolving form of technology that is part of a larger network. They are neither benevolent nor malevolent. The Spin may be protecting humanity, but even still, Jason points out, "The Spin membrane isn't God--it can't see the sparrow fall. It can, however, prevent the sparrow from being cooked with lethal ultraviolet light" (411). The Spin membrane is a protection, but it isn't a savior. Ultimately, what happens to humanity is left in the hands of humanity. For some unknown, mysterious, and perhaps self-serving reason, humanity has been given a second chance. And a third. And perhaps even more.
But the evolution of those chances is neither predetermined nor protected. As Tyler, Diane, and the other refugees cross over the Arch to the new world, Ina says, "It's as if one history has ended and another has begun," while En (a child with his whole future ahead of him) disagrees, saying, "History doesn't start until we land" (452). Neither of these statements is quite right, though. Human history has not ended. A new chapter may be opening, but these humans carry with them to these new worlds the baggage of terrestrial history. That cannot be erased. There is still a burden to carry. Can humans learn to live responsibly, ethically, sustainably with a fresh start? Or will this planet be devoured in the same way the earth was? If the same people and the same cultural values are being transported to a new planet, what will keep humanity from repeating this process?
Wilson provides the reader with a vision of what might be necessary in order to avoid re-creating this history. The "Fourthness" described by Tyler and Diane is not just a physical state. It's not just that their bodies have changed, gained years of life. The Fourth age also includes a deeper sense of empathy, a sense that pain occurring to others is occurring to the observer. It is this empathy that might give a new world a chance. This extended sense of self provides possibilities for change, possibilities for living more ethically in a new world, possibilities for a more sustainable environmental policy and more peaceful political relations.
The question remaining at the end of the novel is whether or not this is enough. Perhaps this is just a reprieve after all. As Tyler notes,
"we had never conquered death, only engineered reprieves (the pill, the powder, the angioplasty, the Fourth Age)--enacted our conviction that more life, even a little more life, might yet yield the pleasure or wisdom we wanted or had missed in it. No one goes home from a triple bypass or a longevity treatment expecting to live forever. Even Lazarus left the grave knowing he'd die a second time. But he came forth. He came forth gratefully." (234)
Spin is a novel of fear and warning, but also of very cautious hope....more