China's biggest scifi author finally comes to the US, and he is a nerd. Cixin knows a shitload of science & math, and he's going to throw a lot ofChina's biggest scifi author finally comes to the US, and he is a nerd. Cixin knows a shitload of science & math, and he's going to throw a lot of it at you, including:
- The civilization-as-simulation idea which I learned about from The Hidden Universe by Brian Greene; ((view spoiler)[this one turns out to be a red herring (hide spoiler)]) - The Fermi Paradox: where is everybody? - Stephen Hawking's warning that maybe we should shut up because look what happened to the Aztecs when they came in contact with aliens; - Some extremely complicated math involving the three-body problem, which is a real thing; - The Sixth Extinction, the idea (entirely accepted at this point) that humans are causing the biggest catastrophe to life on earth since the dinosaur-killing asteroid; - And then it takes all these thoughts to a place where really only fiction would dare to go - this idea that (view spoiler)[we might basically commit suicide as a civilization because we're doing such a shit job. (hide spoiler)]
I like the book's grounding in real science. And I like that it feels specifically Chinese; the Cultural Revolution hangs over the whole book, and the characters' reactions to events like the dismantling of science and the possibility of alien contact come directly out of those events. (There is also an American who gets to the same place for different reasons.)
But it does seems like Cixin is so excited about science that he forgets about plot sometimes. There are long passages describing some theory or other instead of happening, which isn't as dire as it sounds but it's still not always gripping. And I think it's likely that there are lots of scifi authors dealing with the dramatic possibilities of dimensions five through eleven, and this just seems cool to me because I don't read a lot of scifi.
And I wish I'd paid more attention and realized that this is the first book of a trilogy. It definitely feels like it; the plot is not at all over when the book is, and I don't really feel like reading the rest of it.
I'd say this is worthy if you dig scifi anyway, maybe not crucial if you don't.
Translation is by Ken Liu, who swept the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy awards a few years back with a short story called The Paper Menagerie which I thoroughly disliked. It feels, as translations from the Eastern hemisphere tend to, slightly awkward; I think they just talk different over there. You get used to it. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Aubrey says: "namely 'Love and Friendship', 'The Female Philosopher', and 'The History of England' (might be slightly wrong on the title of that one).Aubrey says: "namely 'Love and Friendship', 'The Female Philosopher', and 'The History of England' (might be slightly wrong on the title of that one). From those, I gathered 15 year old Austen was a caustic rebel who likes dick jokes. "
"Why should I read Jane Austen?" asked my wife. I've read all of Jane Austen now - this was my final one - so I was ready to answer.
The 1800s were all"Why should I read Jane Austen?" asked my wife. I've read all of Jane Austen now - this was my final one - so I was ready to answer.
The 1800s were all about a shift from Romantic to Realist literature, I said. Romantic novels are full of telepathy and crazy ladies in attics, and bizarre plot contrivances, and orphans who turn out to be the long-lost sons of the noblemen who happened to be acquainted with pretty ladies. Only toward the end of the century did it occur to authors like George Eliot and Gustave Flaubert to write plots that were plausible in the real world. Jane Austen alone, I said, writing way back in the 18teens - before the great Romantic masterpieces by theBrontes,Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas - seemed to predict realism. Her plots were (largely) realistic; her characters recognizable humans. It's astonishing to read her in context; she seems to be writing in the movement past the movement that hasn't even flowered yet.
"But I don't care about context," said my wife: "Context is for nerds. I'm only interested in reading books that are entertaining now, to me."
That kindof threw me for a loop.
Because Austen does feel old-fashioned. The other shift in the 1800s had to do with morals. Novels, generally aimed at young well-to-do ladies, were marketed as prescriptive: they served both as entertainment and as guides for how to behave, and that meant that they were often snobby and prudish. It was, again, not 'til later that writers like Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton started to challenge the status quo instead of enforcing it. And Austen wasn't ahead of her time here: she was a merciless status quo enforcer.
In Sense & Sensibility, sense wins. Of the two sisters - steady, diligent Elinor Dashwood and sensitive, spazzy Marianne - Marianne holds your interest, but Elinor drives the plot. And in the end, (view spoiler)[Marianne (in a bummer common to many Victorian novels) marries Colonel Mustard Brandon, a man she's been completely indifferent to until the last five pages. The primary relationship in the novel, honestly, is the steadily growing respect and trust between Brandon and Elinor, who would be well suited to each other, both being sensible and boring. You'd be forgiven for feeling like they got their pairings wrong. But, then, here's Austen the realist: Brandon, with his fortune, can afford to pick the prettier one, and men have been known to do so. (hide spoiler)]
Along the way Austen is merciless to women of slightly lower class than her protagonists - notably Lucy Steele, who's (view spoiler)[secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars. (hide spoiler)] To be fair, she's merciless to everyone else too, like snobbish, insipid Lady Middleton. But still: this kind of social moralizing hasn't aged well, and Austen comes off as kindof a dick. That quote that opens Pride & Prejudice,
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
She's kinda kidding / not kidding about that; she says it tongue in cheek but it is in fact the plot of most of her books, and taken as a given. Her novels are often about the dangers of falling in love with someone slightly above or below one's station. They warn of the dangers of charming young men. They suggest that perhaps the boring, older, stolid gentleman in possession of a good fortune might be a better choice.
She can be a little boring. There's not a ton of plot to her books. A few people fall in love; there are complications; most of the complications are resolved.
So, "Why read Jane Austen?" I don't really have an answer. I like her characters. They're human and relatable, flawed, "almost pretty." (Her female characters, that is. Her male characters are generally defined by their manners, incomes and illegitimate children.) They remind me that the basic concerns of humans - whom to spend time with, where to get one's money - are always the same. Now we call our Colonel Brandons "settling," but it's the same choice.
Austen is funny and perceptive. But if her novels feel familiar, you could choose to read a more recent, familiar novel - one that doesn't force you to sit through endless card games you don't know how to play, or know the difference between a barouche and a post chaise.
So my wife quit Emma after 50 pages and read The Marriage Plot instead. I was unable to convince her or myself that there's a screaming need to read Jane Austen. Can you think of one? I'd be happy to hear about it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Just because a book is about serious things, doesn't mean it's a serious book. I'm sad to say I found this book a little corny.
That seems like a weirdJust because a book is about serious things, doesn't mean it's a serious book. I'm sad to say I found this book a little corny.
That seems like a weird word to describe a plot this dire. A woman is kidnapped in Haiti; terrible, terrible things happen. If you're into trigger warnings: (view spoiler)[rape rape rape rape rape. And torture. Also rape. And a miscarriage, not at the same time. (hide spoiler)] Roxane Gay is writing about the outer limits of human endurance.
But there's a Nebraska mother-in-law prone to homespun wisdom who made me groan every time she opened her mouth. There's an insistence that Mireille's prior life was a "fairy tale." There's stuff like this: "He kissed me so hard I felt his lips in my spine. It was the kiss of a stranger and I wanted it and I wanted him." It's corny. I feel like the writing skill isn't quite up to the subject matter here. I liked the second half better than the first half: I think Gay does a good job of depicting post-traumatic stress, and how difficult it is for Mireille to pull herself out of the hole she's in. She's particularly effective at showing how, in the aftermath of Mireille's loss of control, she finds everyone still trying to make her do stuff: see a doctor, make a sentence, be okay, and all she really needs is to find some way to be in control of her life again. It was hard to read but I'm glad I did. I got it.
I don't think it's a bad book. It made me think a lot, which is good. It also disturbed me a whole lot; if you're prone to nightmares you should think twice about it. Or if you have a low tolerance for corniness.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Jennifer D says: "just wanted to mention this book to you...because of its context in the history of the novel. the introduction is fascinating and taJennifer D says: "just wanted to mention this book to you...because of its context in the history of the novel. the introduction is fascinating and talks about the process of getting the inuit oral tradition transcribed... then understood and translated."
Jennifer is right, I'm super into this. Thank you friend!...more
Muriel Spark keeps surprising me. This is the third book I've read by her and none of them are like each other. The Driver's Seat was ferocious, deepMuriel Spark keeps surprising me. This is the third book I've read by her and none of them are like each other. The Driver's Seat was ferocious, deep metafiction, but this is...this is just a bunch of old people acting dotty.
I mean, no, it's about death, I guess that's pretty intense. A memento mori is a reminder of death. You know who gets into this stuff is monks. The idea is that you can't truly appreciate your life unless you've come to terms with oncoming death. This is why the capuchin monks in Florence built a whole chapel out of bones:
I totally visited this place once, it was aight
At least that's why they said they did it. It was probably just that they thought it looked awesome, which it does.
Anyway, memento mori is Latin and it translates as "Remember you must die," which is what a voice on the phone keeps saying to all these dotty old people in Muriel Spark's weird book. They all hear and respond to the voice differently. They're connected to each other in complicated ways. Here, I'll lay it all out. I suppose there are spoilers here, but this isn't really the kind of book where spoilers are a thing.
(view spoiler)[Godfrey, the weak and philandering husband of Charmian, the aging famous writer who has Alzheimer's or something; Dame Lettie, Godfrey's sister who gets the first calls;
Their servants: Mrs. Anthony Mrs. Pettigrew who is a mean person and who formerly worked for Lisa Brooks, who had an affair with Godfrey and blackmailed Charmian about her lover... Guy Leet, who married Lisa to shut her up;
Godfrey & Charmian's former servant Jean Taylor, who had an affair with Alec Warner, who also screwed around with Lettie and who is methodically studying senescence, which means getting old;
Percy Mannering, a poet; His granddaughter Olive, who has an arrangement with Godfrey regarding stockings (an arrangement shared by mean Mrs. Pettigrew) (hide spoiler)]
Spark hurls all this at you in just over 200 pages, and I'm not sure why. For fun? I took notes but I'm not sure it matters. All of these people will face death in various ways. (view spoiler)[Alec's notes - his life's work - are destroyed. Lettie is brutally murdered. Others die of being old. (hide spoiler)]
I was left with the impression that this is more or less a pleasant book about aging, a little like Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Maybe less serious than that. So, once again, I don't know what Muriel Spark's deal exactly is, although I'm certainly going to keep trying to find out. One thing she doesn't do is write bad books. ["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"]>...more
It tells the story of four brothers who battle fate, or a crazy guy, or Western influence - in an interview Obioma calls the book in part metaphorical, mad "prophet" Abulu representing outsider predictions of what young Nigeria will come to. (The critic Fredric Jameson argues that "All third-world texts are necessarily allegorical.") Abulu predicts death for the oldest son, Ikenna. The brothers deal with that prophecy in different ways. In order of descending age: 15- year-old Ikenna who "nailed small things to big crosses" (view spoiler)[believes it; (hide spoiler)] 14-yo Boja (view spoiler)[succumbs to it; (hide spoiler)] Obembe (11) and our narrator Ben (9) (view spoiler)[fight it, murdering Abulu, with Obembe fleeing afterwards and Ben imprisoned. (hide spoiler)] The father is largely absent, the mother (view spoiler)[consumed by spiders. (hide spoiler)] The two youngest children, David (3) and Nkem (1), are egrets in Obioma's allegorical telling; (view spoiler)[they more or less miss the turmoil and maybe they'll be okay. (hide spoiler)] The plot is solid and interesting; the ending is perfect.
Obioma's use of figures of speech is terrific, entirely unique. I don't know for sure whether it's him or Nigeria coming up with these sentences I've never heard before, but wherever he got stuff like "The dying sun pitched in a corner of the sky as faint as a nipple on the chest of a teenage girl," I'll take it. There are elements of magical realism; Abulu at times seems to have real prophetic power.
There's a quote at the beginning of one chapter: "Those the gods have chosen to destroy, they inflict with madness." It's tagged as an Igbo proverb, but it's originally from Euripides*. We're all working off the same traditions here. This is a terrific addition.
* Wikiquote says it's commonly misattributed to Euripides and it's actually some dude named Publilius Syrus. Whatever. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
What Ripley's Game doesn't share with its two predecessors is Ripley's shadowy games with identity, the maneuvering and confusion about who he is, who he's killed, who's dead. I miss it. Instead, he spends much of the book insisting that he's not even a bad guy: the victims this time around are Mafia, bad guys themselves, so he's pulling a Dexter.
He seems incapable of settling down: he keeps finding excuses to murder people. But now he's coming up with a heroic self-image in his head to justify it. (Of course, you're aware that the Mafia guys were all casualties on his way to his real target, (view spoiler)[who was always Trevanny, even if he didn't know it himself. (hide spoiler)] That's still interesting.)
It's still a fun and entertaining book. He always makes me want to bring up hypotheticals to my wife: "If I suddenly came into $200,000, how could I explain it believably?" We couldn't think of a way. "If I murdered a guy but then bought you a harpsichord, would that be cool?" She said that sounds nice. She's probably kidding. I don't think she wants me to murder anyone. Maybe she does.
But I don't love the whitewashing. In Talented Mr. Ripley he was a void, a great screaming abyss of amoral loneliness; as he gains confidence he loses some of his interest.
I'm getting diminishing returns as I read through the Ripley series. Only the first was what I'd call a great book; the next two are just fun reads. Nothing wrong with a fun read though.
PS If you have any other good examples of closet cases in literature, I'd like to hear 'em. My list is shorter than I feel like it ought to be.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Roald Dahl continues his mission to ruin your child by insisting that a man-sized centipede would not be the most horrifying thing in the world. CentiRoald Dahl continues his mission to ruin your child by insisting that a man-sized centipede would not be the most horrifying thing in the world. Centipedes are nightmares, man. Wanna see a foot-long centipede hunting bats? Of course you don't, that's awful.
Anyway, so here's a book about a kid who murders his legal guardians and takes off with his creepy friends. Along the way they meet magical people who make rainbows, and pick a fight with them. When they're done they deface the Empire State Building. As you can imagine, the result of all this is that they get a parade.
There are some great songs in here, too, all of which should be sung to the tune of something by Gilbert & Sullivan....more
If the phatasmagoric Kater Murr were published tomorrow as the work of a young Brooklyn hipster, it might be hailed as a tour de force of postmodern fIf the phatasmagoric Kater Murr were published tomorrow as the work of a young Brooklyn hipster, it might be hailed as a tour de force of postmodern fiction. - New Yorker piece about fictional composers
None of that sounds tempting but the book does sound cool. ...more
I was like "I love when authors describe identity, how it shifts according to who's seeing it, how unable we are to describe even ourselves accuratelyI was like "I love when authors describe identity, how it shifts according to who's seeing it, how unable we are to describe even ourselves accurately, much less anyone else."
and Liz M was all "And that is why you should read this Saramago book.”
I totally dug Blindness but never returned to Saramago, so this all seems like good ideas. Thanks Liz!...more