I have not read anything by Connie Willis before, so now I am certainly going to read more. I also have not been so sad for having finished a book in...moreI have not read anything by Connie Willis before, so now I am certainly going to read more. I also have not been so sad for having finished a book in a long time. The book is about one man's search for the elusive Bishop's bird stump. Now, if you did not understand the previous sentence, that's alright. The search will continue. And there will be a boat, a dog (who likes to snore, a lot!), three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog!), Darwin, drownings, many many many different kinds of fish, the river Thames, many many dresses with ruffles, a cat (who likes to eat all kinds of fish), a butler (who likes to read books!), a lady (who likes to talk with the spirits), oh, and, time travel, of course. Waterloo and Napoleon will be discussed often. And the signing of the Magna Carta. And if a single act and a single character can change the course of history, or a single cat. There will be a series of women who resemble other women in the way they talk, walk, demand, and argue. And it will all make one humorous romp of a tangled story that goes from 2057 to 1888 to 1395 to 2018 to 2057 to 1888. And in the middle of it all, one pivotal, hideous bird stump. Oh, and how can I forget, the butler! In fact, two very able butlers. This book made me laugh out loud many times, made me wish I had a butler named Baine or Finch, contemplate owning a dog, wish I could linger in the Victorian times and travel down some river on a boat, and is the reason why I will read Three Man on a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. (less)
**spoiler alert** Red Mars is an impressive piece of work. I would give it 5 stars, but it is, indeed, a tad bit too long. The book is "about" the col...more**spoiler alert** Red Mars is an impressive piece of work. I would give it 5 stars, but it is, indeed, a tad bit too long. The book is "about" the colonization of Mars by humans who certainly are waaay ahead of science and technology than we are in 2011. The technical aspect of the story is hefty, so those who cannot deal with long arguments about terraforming or bioengineering or mining minerals might hate this book with a passion. The other hefty part is politics. The first 100 scientists who start the colonization go through a selection process and soon it becomes clear that most people had to hide their political views (among other things) to be able to make it. So soon after they take off, political factions start forming. This becomes the main drive of the story, in a way. As the colonization expands from just the first 100 to more people, the powerful force of capitalistic investment is felt and this further strains the different beliefs and factions among the Martians.
The story is told form the point of view of a select few, who are some of the most important characters among the first 100. These characters are well-developed with distinct world views. They also represent different philosophical ideas. In the end, the main issue is if Mars is another mine to be used and abused by a crumbling Earth, or is it, should it try to be, its own, independent entity? And if it is going to be a power of its own, how should it be formed? The economic, philosophical, and biological arguments throughout the book address this and many related mini-issues.
Ultimately, there is a sadness about the way humans go somewhere and destroy it. We have done this to Earth and we will surely follow with something else, if only we could get ourselves to that place.
The molecular biology aspect of the technical stuff was well done. I will say that as of 2011 we do not know a way to just cause "autokilling" in any type of organism by just engineering in two genes. This is done in the book, and it can be thought as a simplified version of what actually happens. But the whole point of the already existing death mechanisms in cells is to prevent overgrowth. Cancer is not the lack of these genes, necessarily; it is the by-pass of such mechanisms. So just engineering in a cell death mechanism does not, would not, prevent an organism from taking over the whole surface of Mars, for example. (less)
**spoiler alert** I suppose I didn't get the feeling that Carol was that aloof or cold. Nor did I think the book was about sexual obsession.
To me, it...more**spoiler alert** I suppose I didn't get the feeling that Carol was that aloof or cold. Nor did I think the book was about sexual obsession.
To me, it seemed like a very well told story of a young, inexperienced, insecure girl (Therese) falling in love with an older woman (Carol), who is more experienced, and has a lot to lose. So, yes, often Therese worries or thinks that Carol is being cold, or aloof, but this is just her insecurity. Carol has many worries, which we slowly find out about as the story progresses, and to me, it seemed like Therese was the needy, insecure, and cold in many ways. She is very much a colossal id that needs feeding, and when it is not fed, decides others are not paying attention to it and sulks. Carol has moods, but they are very much due to real problems she is having in her life, like the divorce and custody case. Carol also hesitates more than Therese in letting herself being carried away by her feelings, as expected; she has been there before, and again, she has a lot to lose, unlike Therese who has no family, no obligations, and not even a job. So I disagree that Carol is cold and mean to Therese. I also disagree that the book is about sexual obsession, unless sexual obsession means wanting to have sex with someone you have a crush on.
The only thing that bothered me about it all was Carol's apparent heartbreak over losing custody of her daughter. This seems a bit out of character. Carol seems to be the type of person who would say, well, I am what I am, and perhaps it's best for me not to have a child and live the way I want (considering back then having a child and being in a same-sex relationship was very difficult and rare). She does not seem to be the type of woman who would be crushed not to have custody of her little girl. But then again, I think I am seeing Carol the way I want to, instead of believing the thing Highsmith has shown throughout the novel. I want Carol to say, sod off you lot! Take the child, I don't care! But clearly, she is not the carefree woman I want her to be, and due to either societal pressure, or the idea of herself as a mother, or actual genuine love for this child, she tries and fails to gain custody. Perhaps that is in character; after all, she does put up a good fight, considering the evidence proving her "deviance."
I do agree that Highsmith has a certain distance from her characters, and she seems to exact revenge on them at times with her cruel observations. At times, it seems that Highsmith is a misanthrope, and one with not very high opinion of men.
In the end, Price of Salt is a great novel, regardless the sexual orientation of the characters. It is not a great queer novel, it is simply a great novel that happens to have queer characters in it. It could very well have been about a heterosexual love affair, and Highsmith would have written a great novel anyway.(less)