This book made me think of a cross between Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Asimov's End of Eternity, with a helping of Douglas Adams on top. Of cour...moreThis book made me think of a cross between Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Asimov's End of Eternity, with a helping of Douglas Adams on top. Of course, any humor here was Pratchett's, but I still was reminded of Hitchhiker's by all the unusual elements: the AI program Lobsang, who had the consciousness of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman and who we first meet as a talking soda machine, the Harley-riding nun (I loved Sister Agnes, and wished there had been more of her), the stepper box powered by a potato, and the bear-like ape creatures who communicate by singing like a barbershop quartet and were mistaken at first for Russians.
The Long Earth represents all the possible variations of what our Earth could have been, stacked together like a three-dimensional card deck and waiting to be accessed by humans once they can learn how to do it. A scientist invents a stepper box which can take humans across the gap to these other earths and uploads the schematics online where anyone can access them.
Soon people are migrating off our Earth, the Datum Earth, and establishing outposts and cities on these other "empty" Earths. The mission of the main character, Joshua, and the AI, Lobsang, is to seek out and find the last world at the end of the Long Earth in their airship, the Mark Twain.
This book has a somewhat weak plot structure, and it was clear after a certain point that the main focus of the novel is on world-building for future books. Joshua's adventures are interlaced with the stories of other one-shot characters who tell us about their experiences, both with the establishment of outposts and back on Datum Earth as the scientific change brings about social and political turmoil.
I didn't really mind the weak plot structure so much. I was too busy enjoying all the new stuff there was to discover. However, I do still feel that this book suffers from a number of other flaws.
First of all, there is a bit of a clash between the chapters written by Pratchett, with his familiar ironic style of narration and frequent pop culture references, and Baxter, with his more stiff, serious writing style, in some chapters. Also, I feel like some of the silly elements mixed with serious things didn't quite work.
(view spoiler)[Probably the worst example I can think of was the discovery of the slaughter at the Church of the Cosmic Confidence Trick outpost. There's a scene describing the carnage and blood in the hall, then a moment later, Joshua sees the altarpiece of a man thumbing his nose. I literally had my mouth open, because the whole thing was played straight, and it just felt really weird and creepy seeing comedy religion + serious deaths. I don't know what they were thinking with that section. (hide spoiler)]
Second, while there was a lot of effort put into explaining the world rules and the social repercussions of suddenly being able to step across worlds, there are certain things established about the world-building which kind of bug me:
1. I'm not really buying into the part about iron or steel being unable to cross the barrier between worlds, even though iron compounds like blood or rust are able to cross just fine.
Chemical compounds may be more closely linked than an alloy, but they are still mostly held together by only a few outer valance electrons. Some compounds can be broken into ions simply by immersing them in water, or exposure to light. The idea that a force, which is strong enough that it can hold back iron, can be thwarted by a few tenuous shared electrons is stretching credulity for me.
However, the part about possibly being able to trap an "elf" with an iron cage suggests to me that this was really more of a fantasy idea that Pratchett couldn't let go of, even though it doesn't really fit as well in a SF novel.
2. The conceit in this universe is that you can take with you any worn clothing item or things held in hand while stepping from world to world, which includes small animals and apparently a character who could carry her non-stepper dad across by holding his hand. However, larger items which can't be lifted or larger animals such as horses cannot pass through. This doesn't seem logical if you think about it harder.
For instance, what is preventing a person from stepping with a horse that they are riding, if they were to, say, make a jump over a hedge while they are stepping, so that the horse and rider are airborne together? Why is this much different from carrying a sheep? And why did everyone else need to be picked up when Sally could just hold her dad's hand to step together?
I also wish that the book had explained the nature of phobics earlier than the last few pages, because I really couldn't understand why Rod had to stay behind if he could just be carried.
3. If the worlds go by in bands of similar types of worlds because they represent different branches of causality, why aren't there more worlds near Datum Earth that contain people? I know Lobsang went into a speech about the minute possibility of life on other planets at one point, but this is not space we're talking about, this is alternative potential Earths, where it is firmly established that humans DID evolve.
I know that I should just be ignoring some of these things and tell myself it's a soft SF novel, but I kept seeing hard science facts brought up by the text itself, so I just couldn't stop thinking about it. :rubs temples:
I did still enjoy this book for the concept and for most of the characters, but it also made my head hurt a bit rather than enjoying it completely. I will definitely pick up the next book when it comes out to see what happens to the characters, but I'm giving this one a 3 stars.
And now I have a desire to go read some Mark Twain. I can't imagine why...["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I read this book back in June, but I've been uncertain how to go about reviewing it, and I'm still really...moreRead in: Japanese Japanese Title: 風の歌を聴け・村上春樹
I read this book back in June, but I've been uncertain how to go about reviewing it, and I'm still really not sure. I think this book might be another "guilty pleasure" for me, much like The Pickwick Papers was earlier this year. Because, much like that book, the plot is mostly made up of shaggy dog stories, misadventures, and guys sitting together in a bar talking.
The main characters are the "I" narrator and his rich friend Nezumi, two guys who met one night at Jay's Bar when they attempted to drive home in Nezumi's sports car after drinking too much. The two of them ended up crashing the car into an azalea bush in the park. The narrator seems to keep getting into awkward situations like that all through the novel.
For instance, he wakes up one morning in the apartment of a woman with nine fingers after finding her on the floor of the bathroom in Jay's Bar and carrying her home (according to him, nothing happened). The woman is one of a set of twins who rather likes having nine fingers because it sets her apart from her sister. She and the narrator eventually enter into a casual relationship after he meets her again at the record store where she works.
He got sent there after a radio DJ calls him at home about a Beach Boys record which he borrowed from a girl he once knew, then never returned it. He sets out on a quest to find her and give her another copy which ultimately goes nowhere.
All this is intertwined with discussions with Nezumi at the bar about books, a narrative about the psychiatrist he got sent to as a child because he refused to talk to anyone for an extended period of time, stories about the only three women he ever slept with up to that point, and so on.
The book is mostly sustained by how offbeat so many of the characters' stories are. For instance, one of the subjects he keeps coming back to is a (fictional) pulp author from the 1930's, Derrick Hartfield, who he admires and who inspired him to write. Hartfield's two favorite things were his mother's baked cookies and collecting guns. He finally killed himself one day by jumping off the Empire State Building while holding to his chest a portrait of Hitler. Um, yeah.
I'm not that big on symbolism, so I'm not going to attempt an analysis of this book, but I'll just say, that while this isn't strange like some of Murakami's work (okay, it is still strange, just not as strange as some of his other work), it was still an amusing read. I'm about one third of the way through the next book in the trilogy, but I really need to get myself motivated to read again. I got bogged down during his lecture on the history of pinball in that one.(less)
I think I enjoyed this one even more than Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. I mean, at first I was worried it was going to be more of the same all the...moreI think I enjoyed this one even more than Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. I mean, at first I was worried it was going to be more of the same all the way through, when Nicholas was introduced to the schoolmaster and his poor little waif charges that resembled the children in Oliver Twist. Then in Chapter 6, he started up with the unrelated short stories again, like in Pickwick Papers, but fortunately, that was the only appearance of such filler.
When Nicholas Nickleby Sr. dies after making some bad investments, Mrs. Nickleby and her two children, Nicholas and Kate, move to London to seek out the assistance of their uncle Ralph Nickleby, who is a money-loving investment banker. Ralph instead sets both the children up with some rather unpleasant jobs. Nicholas, he sends to be an assistant teacher at a boarding school for neglected and disabled little boys, under the terrible headmaster Squeers. Kate, he sends to a milliner shop, which often underpaid the workers and made them prone to eventually entering into prostitution. Neither job goes very well.
The first two-thirds of the book involves the two siblings trying out various occupations on their own. Nicholas runs away from the boarding school with one of the boys, tries his hand at tutoring French, then falls in with a theater troupe. Kate is fired after the milliner loses her business to a rival employee, then works as a day companion to a rather nasty social-climbing upper middle-class woman.
There were a lot of great comic characters introduced in this section. I particularly loved the actors in Nicholas' theater job. They reminded me of the self-promoting, narcissist types I remember from when I had a part-time theater job in college. I noticed that the Child Phenomenon never had a line of dialog in that entire section, and she was all the more hilarious because of it.
I also found Ralph Nickleby rather interesting at first. He seemed to be developing a more rounded, nuanced character than Dickens' normal flat personalities by showing a genuine concern for Kate. He does not quite manage Scrooge's level of redemption, however; by the last third of the book, he is meaner than ever.
I honestly hated Lord Verisopht and Sir Mulberry Hawk at first. I mean, Dickens is good at writing unlikeable characters that are still enjoyable, but every time these two showed up, I wanted to stop reading for a few days. They were the sort of guys you wished the plot would drop an anvil on so that the story could move on. These two men attempt to sexually entrap Kate, then follow her around harassing her at her job for a month or two afterwards. However, Dickens ultimately played his cards right, because when Nicholas came and finally broke out the whoop-arse on those two, it had to be the BEST scene in the entire book (seriously, he really played out the tension in that scene for a nice payoff).
This climactic scene comes only two-thirds of the way through the book, and Nicholas soon after finds himself a dream job with a couple dream bosses, the Cheeryble Brothers (seriously, there is no way these two could ever exist in reality), so the third act of the book feels more like a sequel to the first part.
The main plot of this section involves a crush of Nicholas, Miss Madeline Bray, her cruel, sick father and his debts, and an elderly friend of Ralph named Gride who wishes to collect his debt by marrying her. This section felt much more like the stereotypical contrived serial story. I mean, the ending involves a unknown fortune in hidden paperwork, revealing the true birth of characters, and so on, which Dickens himself already used as the resolution to Oliver Twist, so it was a bit disappointing to see it again. I swear that the writing in this section felt very drawn-out and wordy also, although it might have just been that I was eager to get the book over with at that point.
There was also Mrs. Nickleby's neighbor, the crazy old guy who kept coming on to her with his weird sense of humor. Like Chapter 6, he seemed to serve no purpose to the overall narrative, and I feel like Dickens put him in for a few extra laughs, even though he wasn't that funny to me.
There were still enough moments of really awesome in this novel for me to enjoy it, however. I may even reread it someday (although preferably in an abridged version), but for now, I'm glad to be done with all 760 pages of it, and on to The Old Curiosity Shop.(less)
Someone pointed out this book while I was reading a discussion on another site about the issues of race and publishing in America. The book addresses...moreSomeone pointed out this book while I was reading a discussion on another site about the issues of race and publishing in America. The book addresses the popularity of the urban fiction genre (books like Push/Precious), and what that means for African-American authors who want to escape being pigeon-holed into writing about certain subjects pertaining to racial identity. This book makes the subject entertaining and most of the characters believable and sympathetic.
The plot is really split into three threads. Monk, the main character, wishes to publish experimental literary fiction, but he feels pressure by his agent to write a book about race, while he also watches the urban fiction author of We's Lives in Da Ghetto go on Kenya Dunston (a parody of the Oprah Winfrey show) to promote her book. Monk's sister is murdered, and he finds himself taking care of his mother who is in the progressive stages of alzheimer's disease. Meanwhile, he tells us the story of his brother Bill, who comes out to his wife and two children, then must deal with the struggles of being an openly gay black man.
At first I wondered if he wasn't juggling too many topics, because I was interested in all three, but the book kept changing the subject just as I was getting into one of them. Then I hit the middle section, which is a 60-page story called My Pafology by Stagg R. Leigh, an urban lit book that Monk starts writing while taking care of his mother as a form of stress relief, then sends it to his agent to see if it would sell as a parody. Only the book gets accepted as a serious depiction of the African-American experience, and now he feels pressure to take the money and guest appearances offered to him, and to become a sell-out who is misrepresenting the community as a whole, because he needs the cash to look after his family.
It is the third section of the book which managed to weave together most of what he started in the first act. I could see how everything in the novel and the meta-novel was selected to show the contrast between Monk and his fictional character's viewpoint of the world. I was impressed how much this book kept me reading and eager to find out what happens next, because I've read far too many literary fiction books lately that just drag on with too much filler. There are some unnecessary scenes provided to flesh out Monk's personality throughout the book, but Everett seems aware of the tendency of information unrelated to the plot to weigh the book down, and he keeps these pretty short, usually a brief paragraph.
I also felt a lot of empathy with Monk and his situation with his mother, because I've been through something similar with taking care of my own grandmother. Everett really does a good job of presenting the conflicting feelings that arise with that situation. I think everyone worries about putting their parent into a assisted care facility, and it's hard to admit that the time is right, when there is also the risk that if you wait too long, something could happen to them. It's a very scary situation to go through.
My only disappointment is with the third plot thread about Bill, which tapers off to nowhere, nor does Bill leave the story under circumstances that are made particularly clear. I was very interested in Bill and really would have liked to see some sort of resolution to this thread.
I mostly liked this book, however, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. I just wonder if this might had been improved a bit if it had also mentioned similar problems faced by more mainstream or genre authors looking to publish on a subject other than race.
I mean, I totally believe his argument that he's being pigeon-holed as a African-American writer, because I've seen enough stories about it from other people on the internet to know this is a real phenomenon, but it makes it a bit harder to make a case with an experimental literary novel, because, let's face it, not many people buy or read much of that stuff. Experimental books are going to be tough to sell to a publisher no matter who you are. And there are degrees of intelligence in storytelling between a semantic breakdown of an academic critique of a literary novel like F/V: Placing the Experimental Novel and We's Lives in Da Ghetto that are not acknowledged by this book, because the author seems to think commercial fiction beneath him, and I find that disappointing.(less)