Certainly entertaining; I read the entire book yesterday, only partly helped by a nightmare two-hour commute. But this gets attention as a minor class...moreCertainly entertaining; I read the entire book yesterday, only partly helped by a nightmare two-hour commute. But this gets attention as a minor classic, and I'm not sure it deserves that status.
Jeff Winston dies at 43 and wakes up during his college years, doomed to live his life over. Then he does the whole thing again, and again and again. If you've ever considered what you might do with yourself if you had the prime of your life to live over...whatever answers you come up with, he probably tries that at one point or another.
(In time travel scenarios, the first thing the person inevitably does is bet on a sports event and get rich. You know, I wouldn't be able to do that. I can't think of a single event I'd be able to take advantage of. Sure, I guess I could buy stock in Apple or something, but as far as betting? Zilch.)
Around halfway through Replay I was really zipping along. Spoilers for the mid point: (view spoiler)[He finds another Replayer, which is neat, and then they find a third who is psychotic, and I loved that twist particularly; he's come up with his own theory about why this is happening and it's batshit and he's murdering hookers. And then they try the somewhat inevitable "What if we just go public?" which, if they'd read any comic books, they'd know how that sort of thing turns out, and it does, but it's fine for Grimwood to lay it all out for us. (hide spoiler)]
But..spoilers for the end: (view spoiler)[with all these questions raised, I was sortof hoping for an answer or two. Grimwood's own explication of what's going on here. And I got nothing of the sort. And I don't even mean science-wise, how did this happen: some kind of personal journey would have been good enough, and I didn't really get that either. Jeff finally gets past his heart attack and on with his original life, and he's like "Eh, I probably don't care for my wife but at least I've met a much nicer lady in the interim, so that works out well for me." It feels like wish-fulfillment, and I don't like that kind of thing. I don't need to hear middle-aged writers writing down the exciting ways they wish their lives had turned out. It's mundane.
At first Jeff stays in love with his wife, and I really liked that. Just once, a guy gets to do whatever he wants, and he chooses to be a better husband to someone he really does love! But that falls by the wayside; he ends up fucking a 14-year-old instead. That's a cheap shot, but it's also a thing that happens. (hide spoiler)] My homeboy Ronald claims that any book involving reliving one's life necessarily comes with an element of wish-fulfillment; I don't think that's true. And I find that anything that carries a whiff of wish-fulfillment (lookin' at you too, Stoner) turns me off pretty badly.
Final conclusion: fine beginning, better middle, lousy end. It's entertaining.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Reza Aslan is not just a historian; he's a missionary. His No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam argues forcefully for a liberal...moreReza Aslan is not just a historian; he's a missionary. His No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam argues forcefully for a liberal, peaceful interpretation of Islam, and he has points to make in Zealot as well - notably, that Jews aren't responsible for the death of Jesus and that he wouldn't have approved of a rift between Jews and Christians. (And a take-no-prisoners attack on Paul, whom he blames in part for that rift, and an argument that Jesus's brother James was way cooler.)
These are nice sentiments, but they leave me with the feeling that Aslan's being a tiny bit disingenuous; he likes to present as though he's a scholar, just laying out the facts, with no ulterior motive. In fact I think I think he is trying to alter the conversation about religion; his books are more persuasive than factual.
He runs into some awkward positions in Zealot: he's trying to analyze the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the actual dude, but he doesn't want to say that the actual dude was definitely not the son of God who rose from the dead; but there's no responsible way to present factual history and also allow for magic, and he twists himself all up in knots trying not to piss anyone off:
It could be argued that the evangelists, who were writing decades after the events they described, knew that Jesus's story would end on a cross in Golgotha, and so they put these predictions into Jesus's mouth to prove his prowess as a prophet. But the sheer volume of Jesus's statements about his inevitable capture and crucifixion indicate that his frequent self-prophecies may be historical.
Which, since we have zero of Jesus's statements from anyone other than the evangelists, is a silly thing to say. Aslan ends up confessing that
The fact remains that the resurrections is not a historical event. It may have had historical ripples, but the event itself falls outside the scope of history and into the realm of faith.
No shit, dude.
As a survey of what we know about Jesus, what we infer about him from reading the Gospels, and what we know about the culture around him, this is pretty good. But it's confused in its presentation, and not likely to make anyone very happy in the end. Atheists are gonna be like "Rising from the dead didn't happen!" and Christians are gonna be like "Did you just call my boy inconsistent?" and I don't know, man...A for effort, B- for results.(less)
Genia is practically giddy about it; Susanna gives it five stars, which is incredibly rare for her. I have Hochschild's newish WWI book on my schedule...moreGenia is practically giddy about it; Susanna gives it five stars, which is incredibly rare for her. I have Hochschild's newish WWI book on my schedule, but this is about the run-up rather than the war itself, so it should be a possibility.(less)
Prisoner of Zenda is a little slip of a book: its influence is heavier than its pages. Filmed numerous times, including (as El pointed out) once when...morePrisoner of Zenda is a little slip of a book: its influence is heavier than its pages. Filmed numerous times, including (as El pointed out) once when it was called Dave and had Kevin Kline in it.
And it was the major influence on Nabokov's Pale Fire, which basically amounts to an extended trippy metafictional cover of the same story. (Here's more on the similarities, if you need convincing.)
The story: what, you haven't seen Dave? What's your problem, that movie is awesome. Fine: the king is incapacitated and a normal guy who happens to look just like him is convinced to stand in for him. And then there's some buckling of swashes, and this terrific villain, Rupert Hentzau, who very nearly runs off with the story. (You can see Hope itching to switch to him, and in fact he wrote a sequel called Rupert of Hentzau that I wouldn't be against reading myself.)
It's a great plot, executed well and leanly; this might not be the world's heaviest book, but you could certainly do a lot worse with your weekend.(less)
Got to this a little late, but I got there. I thought it was...very good? Writing style grabbed me and kept me engaged. I found the symbolism a little...moreGot to this a little late, but I got there. I thought it was...very good? Writing style grabbed me and kept me engaged. I found the symbolism a little obvious. By comparison, Wilde was writing at the same time and I thought his way of talking about being trapped by society was subtler and weirder. But this was sharp, modern, intense writing; you could also compare it to something like Dracula (1895), which is miles behind it.
What it really should be compared to is Florence Marryat's Blood of the Vampire, which also deals with hysteria. Marryat is longer, so it has more room and it's unfair to compare them - and Yellow Wall-paper has more of an immediate punch anyway. But Marryat's subtler and sneakier.
But that last scene in Yellow Wall-paper*...(view spoiler)[I had been expecting her to commit suicide, especially thanks to all the mentions of rope, but the image she left me with instead was even better. That was a great, haunting image. (hide spoiler)]
* you know how much it bugs me to put a hyphen in that word? But that's how they did it back in the olden days, kids.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Lovecraft can be silly, racist, and extremely purple, but he has this terrifically unique imagination: his stories feel like...moreCindy, you're my favorite!
Lovecraft can be silly, racist, and extremely purple, but he has this terrifically unique imagination: his stories feel like nothing else. And they're very enticing. There's a certain feel to his stories - a pallid green glow - a whole collection of words like "eldritch" - that feel forcefully Lovecraftian. He's a true individual. I dig him.
Full (if growing) list of things to make sure not to miss: PARODIES? Herbert West - Reanimator (Ha, this was a ton of fun) The Hound (also great)
RACISM! Horror at Red Hook (Whee!) He (Loved this one. Watch out for those Chinamen, I guess.)
CTHULHU Dunwich Horror At the Mountains of Madness (Fun stuff, I wrote a review elsewhere) Shadow out of Time (Kinda too long) Call of Cthulhu
THE REST OF IT The Case of Charles Dexter Ward The Dreams In The Witch House Colour out of Space (Great...sortof like a parable about radioactivity?) Whisperer in the Dark Shadow over Innsmouth
While this Penguin edition is lovely, I'm supplementing it with a cheapo Collected Works on my Kindle, for the stories I want to read that aren't in this collection.(less)
Casey recommends this: "It's called Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters, and it traces the scientific origins of monster myths (...moreCasey recommends this: "It's called Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters, and it traces the scientific origins of monster myths (including Frankenstein!). Anyway, I haven't read it yet, but it's at the top of my TBR, since it sounds pretty awesome (also, I chatted with the author for a bit, and he was really cool). "
Some other dude says it combines literature, history and science and that's okay with him, and you know what THAT'S OKAY WITH ME TOO.(less)
So my buddy Ryan introduced me and Jo to his new girlfriend this past weekend and she's a mathematician (who is clearly not very good at it, because R...moreSo my buddy Ryan introduced me and Jo to his new girlfriend this past weekend and she's a mathematician (who is clearly not very good at it, because Ryan with a girlfriend doesn't add up - ZING!), so I was like "Do you think we're all avatars in a big futuristic game of The Sims?" and her face just lit up, like "I've been waiting for someone to ask me this all my life!" She is adorable, and we geeked out about parallel universes for like half an hour while Ryan and Jo made big exaggerated sighing noises. "Hey, just let us know when you want to talk about something that's not the nerdiest bullshit ever." "Okay, that will be never because we're best friends now." I said that. Ryan's girlfriend probably thinks I'm just okay.
And that's why this is a great book: because it's wicked fun to talk about all this shit. Whee, multiverse! says my avatar. You ever hear that theory that once computers get to the same complexity as human brains, they'll sortof automatically develop consciousness? Scientists think that because otherwise there's something we totally don't get about consciousness, and who needs that? Lame. So here's the thinking: if that's true, then we'll probably have it by around 2020. And once we have artificial intelligence, what are we going to do with it? Put it in video games, obviously. We know this because we are people, and that's the kind of shit people do. So we're going to have these virtual worlds, just like The Sims except the people in it will actually be aware, and we'll all play these virtual world games on our Playstations. And that means there'll be like thousands of virtual worlds with conscious inventions in them interacting with each other. And that means that only one of all the worlds featuring conscious beings is the real one; the rest are video games. And that means that odds are the world you're reading this in isn't the real one. Just statistically, it's more likely that you're a collection of sprites that some pimply teenager created near-arbitrary rules for.
That's nuts, right? Crazy nuts! Batty! Among other things, it means that there's a God after all, because whatever pimply teenager is playing this particular game that I'm in can delete this game whenever he wants, or make an asteroid hit Brazil, or make Kate Middleton show her boobs. For most intents and purposes, that is God.
Also, it raises this question: is Pimply God doing a good job? Is this particular world a good one? Or is he an asshole? If all the sim worlds were ranked from most pleasant to least, where would this one fall? If you set a bunch of AIs up in a fairly nice place, will they probably fight? Is there like an Aggression Slider so you can make us more or less likely to fight? What would this world be like if Pimply God was deep in the throes of puberty? Or is this it?
Ryan's girlfriend thinks we are most likely virtual - seriously, serious people think this whole thing makes perfect sense - but I think I lost her with the puberty bit.
This is the craziest and last theory in Hidden Reality. There are eight others, and they're not mutually exclusive. The least crazy theory is that space is infinite, and infinite is a lot, so somewhere beyond what we can ever see, given the speed of light, there will be a world just like ours, and infinite worlds just like ours, because infinite means everything, including a world where everything happens and will happen exactly like it has and will in this world you're in now with the sole exception that, instead of reading this review, you personally decided to make a sandwich.
Infinite is a lot.
Everything in Hidden Reality is theoretical, so there's no pressing reason for you to read this book. (Or any of the rest of the books, while we're on the subject. Pimply God read Shakespeare and was like "Ha, that's cool - it rhymes and everything, sometimes! I mean, it's terrible compared to real-life literature, but not bad for artificial intelligence.") But whee, multiverse! Four stars, says my avatar, as Pimply God happens to narrow his focus on my apartment just to see what's going on near Boston and says "That sim there just called me pimply! Here's a random asteroid, how ya like me n(less)
The Cyclops' only claim to fame is that it's the world's only complete surviving Satyr play. In Athenian drama festivals, each playwright submitted fo...moreThe Cyclops' only claim to fame is that it's the world's only complete surviving Satyr play. In Athenian drama festivals, each playwright submitted four plays: a tragic trilogy and a concluding satyr play, which is a retelling of a classic myth with the addition of a bunch of dudes dressed as satyrs. With boners. Boners were an integral ingredient of the satyr play.
Euripides' luckily-saved satyr play is, as you may have guessed, a retelling of the famous episode from The Odyssey where Odysseus fools the Cyclops and gets half his crew eaten in the process.
It's fairly entertaining, I guess. I mean, I think we can all agree that most stories would be improved by having a bunch of drunks prancing around in the background with their boners out, whether or not that has anything at all to do with the plot.
But it's not at all the best work Euripides did; it all seems pretty tossed off.
I've been getting super sick of Paul Roche's translations, so I switched over to William Arrowsmith's for this one, and I liked it much better. I even skimmed Roche's afterwards for comparison. Arrowsmith wins, although Roche's having ten plays in the same volume is still a pretty big advantage.(less)
I don't always love Aristophanes; he can really cram the obscure contemporary references into his stuff, which makes it sortof impossible to get the j...moreI don't always love Aristophanes; he can really cram the obscure contemporary references into his stuff, which makes it sortof impossible to get the jokes. But he makes a lot of fart jokes, too, and those are timeless.
In order, the best of these plays:
1) Lysistrata, by a long shot. The most original of Aristophanes' ideas, and the most timeless: as recently as 2012, feminists sarcastically suggested a Lysistrata when the Republicans accidentally launched an ill-fated war on birth control. The story is that Athenian women conspire with Spartans to deny sex to their husbands until they end the war. That idea is simple, funny and filthy. (This is, depending on your translation, the first time dildos are mentioned in literature.)
2) The Birds, which I like to imagine animated in the Yellow Submarine style. Clean and well thought out.
3) Clouds, relevant because it's about Socrates, whom we know, and because it includes the best of Aristophanes' fart jokes - which is saying something since, as noted above, Aristophanes really likes fart jokes.
4) Frogs, which is mainly an argument between Aeschylus and Euripides about who's the best dramatist. (The play up til that climactic confrontation, which describes Dionysos disguised as Herakles journeying to the underworld to find a great poet, is faintly amusing but largely forgettable.) Aristophanes leaves Sophocles out, claiming that he's too dignified to bother with the whole charade (although one has to imagine that, however sweetly it's explained away, his absence has to betray Aristophanes' judgment). This was a lot of fun for me - and it's getting the most time here because I'm reading it right now, and realizing as I do that I never really reviewed the rest of them; I've done my best to write capsule reviews of those, but they're not what I'm thinking of at this moment. Anyway, I can't see the attraction for anyone who isn't pretty invested in both Aeschylus and Euripides. It contains what amounts to scholarly comparison of the metres of both poets; at times it sounds like a grad thesis.
Aeschylus appears to come out the winner here, but it does seems like all the best lines go to Euripides. Maybe this is just my own prejudice coloring my interpretation; I like Aeschylus, but I like the enfant terrible, tricky and rebellious Euripides better. To me, Aeschylus comes out pretty stodgy.
Aeschylus: The poet should cover up scandal, and not let anyone see it.
Euripides: You ought to make the people talk like people!
This judgment by the Chorus seems about accurate:
One [Aeschylus] is a wrestler strong and tough; quick the other one [Euripides], deft in defensive throws and the back-heel stuff.
And at the last, after Aeschylus has beaten Euripides, line for line, Dionysos says:
One of them's a great poet, I like the other one.
I'm going to go ahead and decide Aristophanes secretly agrees with me: Euripides is more fun. (Note: the text really doesn't support my conclusion.)
Aristophanes is aiming at, and concludes with, a more serious question for his time: should the politician Alcibiades be followed? Aeschylus says yes, Euripides says no. This is during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Greece. Alcibiades, a politician with an amazing capacity for joining whichever side happened to be winning - he had switched from Athens to Sparta to Persia back to Athens - would soon be exiled after some disastrous naval losses. (And Athens will, y'know, lose this war.) Aristophanes didn't know this yet (if I have the dates right here), but Euripides was right.(less)
The history isn't all that rigorous, and Bodanis hammers the living crap out of you with his point, but the story is terrific and well-told; yeah, thi...moreThe history isn't all that rigorous, and Bodanis hammers the living crap out of you with his point, but the story is terrific and well-told; yeah, this is worth a look.(less)