I wanted to comment purely on the storytelling in The Handmaid's Tale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are plenty of other excellent comments and di...moreI wanted to comment purely on the storytelling in The Handmaid's Tale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are plenty of other excellent comments and discussions here about the context of The Handmaid's Tale with regards to historical events, feminism, post-modern writing, etc.
I simply loved the way Offred the Handmaid's story unfolded. It was slow and deliberate, despite the horrific events. You are mostly being told the rather mundane yet utterly foreign day-to-day life of Offred in her own narration. Yet, she starts to drop clues from the beginning that getting to that slow, controlled life was a complicated story. Offred offers more and more clues to her background as she becomes bolder in her life.
In some ways, it was a bit like watching Mad Men in that it takes patience from the viewer/reader to get to the payoff. But when it does, events start to spin faster, feeding on themselves - both with Offred's present story and how much she tells the reader about the history of the religious revolution, how she lost her husband and son, and her experiences in the Red Center. The background disclosures seem to go hand-in-hand with her undoing.
About halfway through the book I was so eager and anxious to know more about the background stories that I realized that I was feeling a bit like the poor Handmaids. Just as they were desperate to find friends and pass around information in secreted tidbits, I was desperate for Offred to tell me more about the Canada crossing or how the country could become so religious and militarized so quickly. Will she ever find Moira? Will she become too bold and get caught by the Eyes? Will she get pregnant and secure her future? Will there be a revolution, or will she die?
The reveals end up being so delicious because the reader has been collecting these crumbs of the stories, waiting patiently for the big reveals. At the end I realized I was so immersed in the world that Atwood created that I couldn't decide how I wanted the book to end.
I can see how lots of people are disappointed that some parts of the society aren't fleshed out enough, and you're left without some explanations. However, this is Offred's story, as a representative of the plight of the Handmaids, and she tells you as much as she can when she feels ready. As a narrative, a character study, I found it completely fulfilling.(less)
Fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction who haven't yet read A Canticle for Leibowitz, RUN, find yourself a copy and read it now. It's fascinat...moreFans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction who haven't yet read A Canticle for Leibowitz, RUN, find yourself a copy and read it now. It's fascinating to read the inspiration and precursor to other great novels in the genre. (Margaret Atwood's speculative fiction really springs to mind.) Really, it should be an imperative to read such a well-crafted epic story.
I'm a wholly inadequate reviewer for Canticle. The central issues of religion vs. society and recurring history feel way beyond me - not to mention that I don't know Latin. I'm not surprised to find out scholars have been picking apart Walter M. Miller's novel for decades.
It's clear that Miller was meant to write this book with his background in WWII and later conversion to Catholicism. I was sad to find out that Canticle was his only novel published during his lifetime. He wrote another novel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman later in his life, but wasn't able to finish it. He asked Terry Bisson to finish the book, and it was published posthumously.
Some other interesting things I want to mention: A Canticle for Leibowitz was received and reviewed in non-science-fiction publications, putting it on par with straight-up literature. I can completely agree with this since it is so well written. The three sections translate to "Let There be Man," "Let There be Light," and "Let Thy Will Be Done."
______________ Part of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza.(less)
I wish I had read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" in 1988 - I was in high school, totally into TNG and Asimov. It's a pulpy, fun, sci-fi law-an...moreI wish I had read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" in 1988 - I was in high school, totally into TNG and Asimov. It's a pulpy, fun, sci-fi law-and-order-esque romp. Each chapter is like a mini-story with a little twist.
Read this when you want a robot & android filled escape. It would be perfect for a cross-country flight, or staying at home with a cold, or avoiding the family when you're home for Christmas. It's fun, but I wanted more background, more detail, just more. It was over too quick!(less)
I can't quite figure out what to say about Blindness. I totally loved aspects of the book, and really loathed others.
Things I loved: the writing, the...moreI can't quite figure out what to say about Blindness. I totally loved aspects of the book, and really loathed others.
Things I loved: the writing, the flow, the despair, the allegory, the internal struggles. (Check out the quote below...) A few more specifics: the dog of tears and the joy of a clean glass of water.
Things I hated: Blind people are not completely helpless - even a newly blind person wouldn't writhe around on the ground, begging people to help them stand up. Also, why wouldn't people use names? That came across as a lame 'literary' come-on, trying to be deeper than it actually is. Imagine you are invalid, forced into a room with a bunch of strangers - of course you'd share names. How else would you know what name to call out in the throes of ecstasy? I also can't imagine folks within hours of going blind would just start relieving themselves wherever. Finally - Saramago is trying to say that given such an improbable event, people would immediately resist leadership and organization. The thing is real-world examples seem to disprove this: post 9-11, the Chilean miners, the light-rail crash in Chatsworth. I guess I would have believed a bit more evolution into devolution, if you know what I mean.
I appear to be able to write way more about the things I hated than all the stuff I loved! In an attempt to counter-balance my ranting, Here's a passage that is beautifully written:
"The girl with the dark glasses was also accompanied to her parents' house by a policeman, but the piquancy of the circumstances in which blindness had manifested itself in her case, a naked woman screaming in a hotel and alarming the other guests, while the man who was with her tried to escape, pulling on his trousers in haste, somehow mitigated the obvious drama of the situation. Overcome with embarrassment, a feeling entirely compatible, for all the mutterings of hypocritical prudes and the would-be virtuous, with the mercenary rituals of love to which she dedicated herself, after the piercing shrieks she let out on realising that her loss of vision was not some new and unforeseen consequence of pleasure, the blind girl hardly dared to weep and lament her fate when unceremoniously..."(less)
I really love the concept here: in 2054 cybernetic robot "surrogates" have become the virtual replacement for real people. You stay in the comfort of...moreI really love the concept here: in 2054 cybernetic robot "surrogates" have become the virtual replacement for real people. You stay in the comfort of your own home controlling your beautiful surrogate at it navigates the world at your behest. Work, travel, human interaction all have this surrogate buffer, but you feel all the sensations as if you are really there. The immediate upside is that violent crime and disease have mostly been eradicated. People can do jobs their real bodies wouldn't normally allow them to; disabled people can become rock climbers, a frail woman can be a buff security guard, and an aging overweight man can be a police lieutenant.
However, the surrogates also create a human disconnect, and not all humans like the way society is reshaping itself. Someone is violently frying surrogates and wants to ultimately shut down the whole surrogate operations.
This is an incredibly intelligent graphic novel that will leave you thinking about the rife ethical and technical issues. The style of art is much looser than a typical comic. It's quite sketchy in places with lovely color washes.
A comment on the 2009 movie adaptation. This is one of those rare instances where they movie gives you some rich expansion and details the novel lacks. This is probably due to the original story only comprising of a miniseries of 5 comics.(less)
I really want to give this two-stars. Why? It utterly fails the Bechdel Test. You'd think after 1153 pages King could have two women interact with eac...moreI really want to give this two-stars. Why? It utterly fails the Bechdel Test. You'd think after 1153 pages King could have two women interact with each other. But no.
Other than that... it was okay. I found the storyline to be quite predictable. I was hoping for a more intricate story in such a long book. King seemed to be more interested in describing everyone in the large cast of characters. But a large cast doesn't make an intricate book.
The long journey at the end (don't want to give anything away!) was the best part of the book by far. I could have taken much more of the survival story, and much (much) less of the supernatural thing.
I saw that the 1994 miniseries adaptation was released on Netflix last week, so I'll update my review after I watch it.(less)
Stir contents vigorously. Serve with eggs on hard tack with maggoty butter.
Sounds implausible, doesn't it?
The narrator, Adam Hazzard, tells the story of the rise of Julian Comstock, nephew and unwanted heir to the current President Deklan Comstock in 2172.
The world has survived an almost-apocalypse with the End of Oil and the Plague of Infertility. By the start of the story, new mega-countries have been formed, the population is growing again, and America is at war with Mitteleuropa over Labrador and has effectively replaced the Supreme Court with the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth. (I should mention that America has 60 states and covers most all of North America. The Presidency is effectively a hereditary emperorship prone to coups.) It's all a bit Republic of Gilead, don't you think?
This new world isn't all bad - as a matter of fact, it's very much like America in the 19th century. Horse, carriage and trains are the main modes of transport, women generally wear long skirts, and people are expected to maintain their lot in life. Wars are fought mostly with rifles and calvary in trench warfare, but "new" weapons are starting to tip the scales. Movies are very rare and still don't have sound.
Adam Hazzard gives the story an "aw, shucks" naive tone. Many of Adam and Julians' hi-jinks will have you amused and laughing like you did at Tom Sawyer. Adam and Julian are boyhood friends from Athabasaka (northern Alberta) who love to shoot and fish together. Despite Adam's lower caste (lease-holder, one step above indentured servant), Julian (a high-born Aristocrat) tries to share with Adam the knowledge of the Secular Ancients that he's gleaned from non-Dominion approved antique books. This knowledge is in effect heresy, because it claims that space travel existed and evolution was accepted science.
Once Adam and Julian get conscripted into the Laurentian Army to fight in Labrador, the stories of training and warfare take over. Normally this is where my eyes would gloss over; I'm definitely not a fan of war stories or strategies on the battlefield. However, Wilson seems to move deftly from battlefield to human stories, and kept me interested throughout.
I can't really tell you too much beyond this without spoiling the story. Adam develops a love of writing and telling stories from his childhood and his path to becoming a writer is an amusing subplot. Even more amusing are his attempts at romance with the "fairer sex." It's rare that I laugh out loud while I read, but I was chuckling over and over again at Adam's naïveté, or supposed innocent observations. However, all the characters Adam describes end up being deliciously flawed and curiously interesting.
Likewise, the near-dystopic society Wilson creates is fascinating: it's in the future, but it's backwards! Certainly it will have you contemplating society's future after Peak Oil, although hopefully in a fictional way.
Wow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.
It's the near-future in Sweden, a socie...moreWow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.
It's the near-future in Sweden, a society that values capital and societal value above individual life. If you are childless, not in a protected job, have no dependents and no loving relationship, you are considered to be "dispensable." Dispensables are taken to The Unit at age 50 for women or 60 for men-i.e. after they are no longer reproductively viable, with the intent to give back to society through their own body. They donate body parts, participate in drug trials and scientific experiments, all while living in a little enclosed Club Med-like "utopic" dollhouse.
It's a very disturbing situation that Dorrit, our narrator, seems to implicitly accept, even while grieving the loss of her independence, privacy and solitude. She was a novelist who loved living alone, in a remote little cottage with her spotted dog, Jock. Cracks start to form in Dorrit's acceptance and beliefs in society. The new close relationships she develops in The Unit - unlike any relationships she's had before - create an unusual situation for her. She eventually has to decide between those relationships, her place in society and the common good.
I think what's remarkable is Holmqvist's simple, stark, straight-forward writing can still pull you into an unusual world and the complex mental state of a Dispensable. This book will hit you between the eyes if you have made life choices that are out of the mean for our society.
In the end, I'm not sure if Holmqvist is making a statement about capitalism or socialism. The dystopia is not created by some sort of totalitarian regime (as in The Handmaid's Tale or 1984) or as a response to a world-wide catastrophe (as in A Canticle for Leibowitz). Instead, it appears that the democratic society has decided that people who add no value or capital to the society should donate their organs to the more deserving, and remove themselves from life. Somehow everyone is convinced they are choosing this option, yet no one appears to have a choice or claim on their own life. This seems more insidious: to grow up believing that some people have more rights to their life than others just based on who they are.
I was wavering between four and five stars for this one. Ultimately, I can't deny the power of a book that makes me hold my breath and cry and grieve for the characters. (less)
I read this in two sittings. I just couldn't stop reading. This is a very powerful book - the story, the way it's written, and the message. It's one o...moreI read this in two sittings. I just couldn't stop reading. This is a very powerful book - the story, the way it's written, and the message. It's one of those books where when you get to the other side you feel changed.
I'm sure I'm being a bit hyperbolic. Superlatives are the best!(less)
Such a funny little book. I bought the book partly because of the cover. I was expecting something more grim. Also, I'm labeling this one as YA, even...moreSuch a funny little book. I bought the book partly because of the cover. I was expecting something more grim. Also, I'm labeling this one as YA, even though the publisher hasn't designated it that way. It would be excellent for someone learning English, or who struggles with reading. The story is told from the point-of-view of a pre-teen human "mount."
And no, not "mount" in a pervvy way! Imagine humans as a cross between a horse and a slave, and little alien creatures are perfectly physiologically suited to riding on our shoulders and being our masters. Emshwiller has created a curious dystopia, where humans have become universally subjugated, but not always unhappy.
The way she slowly unveils the aliens - how they look, how they act, how they organize themselves is brilliant. I had to keep remolding and reshaping my image of them. Without giving anything else away, this is ultimately what the story is about: an evolving point of view.
Part of my "Finish the series already!" month. _______________________
I really, really loved this book! I don't use love very often with books - partly...morePart of my "Finish the series already!" month. _______________________
I really, really loved this book! I don't use love very often with books - partly because I can't choose a select few to elevate above the others. Mostly I don't say I love a book in a review because who am I to say that you will love it too? But this book? Loved it.
Like Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress focuses on societal development as seen through the eyes of different caste individuals in the United States. I don't want to give away any more details than that, except to say that the time period, time span, and layout of the story are quite different than Beggars in Spain. I half expected something quite different, mostly because Beggars in Spain started as a novella (first third of the book), then expanded to a novel, then expanded to a trilogy. What I didn't expect here is a totally different social commentary, and done so damn well. Right now in the hours after finishing it, I think I enjoyed this more than Beggars in Spain.
This is always the tricky thing with second-in-a-series: when the author chooses to do something so different than the beloved first book, she risks alienating folks that wanted more of the same. Despite the differences in Beggars and Choosers, the reader does get more Sleepless, more social commentary, more mind-blowing ideas of how small changes can effect the core structure and belief system of the country.
At any rate, if you've read and enjoyed Beggars in Spain, make the effort to find a copy of Beggars and Choosers. I don't think you'll be disappointed.(less)
Kress starts off with a simple premise: what if we could genetically modify our children so that they didn't need sleep? She follows all the complicated, society-changing implications from there. (Hint: there's way more than you'd think!) Honestly, after reading the Hugo-award winning novella, I didn't see how it could continue; I thought she had explored all the moral and societal issues with the Sleepless. How wrong I was! Each book has a new simple premise (or two or three) and explores the outcomes and knock-on effects from various individuals' points of view and the wider-reaching societal complications. The brilliance lies in each book presenting a different commentary on society - following a slightly different cast of characters, through new political, economical and emotional terrain.
Specifically about Beggars Ride: It was a good, satisfying conclusion to the series. Sadly, this is the weakest of the three books, but still holds up. For a book that has a couple of huge events, not much action happens. There is too much thinking and talking about stuff, and not enough doing. In most chapters we're inside a character's head, alone with their thoughts. That's just not very compelling. On the other hand, Kress explores new society-changing questions only touched on in the previous books. In addition, this book was grittier, dirtier with depressing elements and reluctant heroes. Yay for grit and dirt!(less)