It is winter now in Area X. Do you know where your borders are?
Acceptance is an unsettling but satisfying conclusion to the Southern Reach trilogy, c...moreIt is winter now in Area X. Do you know where your borders are?
Acceptance is an unsettling but satisfying conclusion to the Southern Reach trilogy, chronicling human interactions with a stretch of land conquered by inhuman forces and now resistant to comprehension. (And see, I wrote that, and okay, it kind of gets at the wider premise of the books, but it's also far too dualistic and too trite and too wrong to explain it all. So.) The first book, I thought, was perfect and could stand alone (my review here), but the trilogy as a whole was really good, and a really engaging reading experience for me.
I'm not usually into Weird fiction, not into Horror, and not into unexplainable shit, but I still really liked this trilogy. While the middle book was purposeful in its bureaucratic, lulling listlessness and splinters of creepiness, it was still listless, and long stretches of it were dull to read--and it's only now, after having the final book shed light on so much of the second book, that I can better appreciate its flashes of brilliance. Like the first book, though, this third book is pure energy; I both couldn't read quickly enough and couldn't read slowly enough. I wanted to have all three books in front of me so I could go through them with highlighters in hand, cross-referencing themes and imagery and clues.
Acceptance is about meaning-making, what's knowable and what's not, naming and identifying, the foolishness of causality as an organizational principle humans cling to. There's epistemology and biology and parents fucking up their children and how it's all terroir. And then there's the setting. The setting! VanderMeer could just write about the natural history of the forgotten coast and it'd be compelling. Of everything--after so many prickly, distant characters and shadowy conspiratorial forces--it's the setting that feels so real and so vivid to me. VanderMeer's prose, even when describing the obscure at the limits of the imagination, can be so clear and quick-sharp ("Lowry isn't your direct boss, is more like slant rhyme, not there at the end of things but still in control"), even if it sometimes gets too fragment-y for my tastes.
I liked how this final installment utilized multiple points of view, from multiple points in time. It shifts beautifully between first-person, second-person, and third-person, depending on the character, and VanderMeer chose among the key characters whose perspective are not, of course, objective, but are essential for this story: (view spoiler)[The Director (the Psychologist, Cynthia, Gloria), Saul Evans (the Crawler, the lighthouse keeper), Ghost Bird (not the Biologist), Control (John Rodriguez), and also--much to my excitement--the Biologist (singularly named, singularly known). (hide spoiler)] With so many voices from so many different whens, the book played beautifully with the concept of time, and the way time is used to create/force meaning, and when I arrived at the epilogue, I realized how much my assumptions were making me an active participant in this meaning-making out of what may not have meaning at all.
The other thing I really liked about Acceptance was the inclusion of Saul Evans, the lighthouse keeper of Area X before it was Area X. He's been present in some form in the prior two books, but here, in the final book, we get his life before-ish the catastrophe. Saul was a preacher before he was the lighthouse keeper, a man of sermons and negotiator of divine mysteries, and I liked his sections of the book not just because I demand religion in my science fiction (they often do such similar work omg why isn't more science fiction also about religion okay!) but also because belief in the existence of God isn't at all the interest of the book (that'd be obvious & low hanging-fruit to mull over in the universe of the Southern Reach trilogy, and so I like how deftly VanderMeer avoids that route) or of Saul. The focus is on his actions, his relationships with other people, his role of mediating experience.
Once, from this vantage, he'd seen something vast rippling through the water beyond the sandbars, a kind of shadow, the grayness so dark and deep it had formed a thick, smooth shape against the blue. Even with the binoculars he could not tell what creature it was, or what it might become if he stared at it long enough. Didn't know if eventually it had scattered into a thousand shapes, revealed as a school of fish, or if the color of the water, the sharpness of the light, changed and made it disappear, revealed as an illusion. In that tension between what he could and couldn't know about even the mundane world, he felt at home in a way he would not have five years ago. He needed no greater mysteries now than those moments when the world seemed as miraculous as in his old sermons.
So. I recommend the trilogy, while noting that a) this is not where you should look for solutions, answers, or explanations, and b) the second book is different and not as successfully executed as the first and third books, but it's still necessary to read.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I loved how so many of these stories echo Dawn, which makes me even more eager to read more of Butler's long fiction. I thought there were four very g...moreI loved how so many of these stories echo Dawn, which makes me even more eager to read more of Butler's long fiction. I thought there were four very good stories, one frustrating but still thought-provoking story ("Book of Martha"--THAT is what you suggest to God? I am unconvinced), and two meh stories in this collection. One of the very good stories, "Bloodchild," is available online.(less)
The most gripping book I've read recently. There's a lot of interesting intellectual work being done about love, captivity, oppression, resistance, an...moreThe most gripping book I've read recently. There's a lot of interesting intellectual work being done about love, captivity, oppression, resistance, and collaboration. The latter two themes interested me, because in a lot of ways, Dawn was an antidote to the hero-rebels-against-oppressive-government stories dominating a lot of popular fiction, and it's pretty brazen in portraying challenging, layered, complicated systems of oppression, and in its insistence on asking constantly, "At what cost? By whose choice? Is this a choice? Is choice something to be prioritized? What about survival itself? What does survival even look like?"
So, yeah, there's a lot of uncomfortable stuff here, amid an immediate and intense story about the questionable survival of the human race.(less)
This book was ridiculous, and I really liked it. It was a perfect summer read, and it served up exactly what I wanted: an exciting action adventure sc...moreThis book was ridiculous, and I really liked it. It was a perfect summer read, and it served up exactly what I wanted: an exciting action adventure science fiction medical thriller YA with the flimsiest of plots but a strong voice. Though all its flaws shined through, still I read on, enjoying every popcorn-y moment of it.(less)
Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective--even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.
For years, teams of volunteer researchers, of scientists and explorers, venture into Area X, a mysterious, dangerous, wild, horrific place abandoned by human life. The survival rate of these researchers is dismal, and if any progress is being made into understanding the nature of Area X, it's not public knowledge. On this, the twelfth expedition, an unnamed biologist narrates the fate of her team and maybe comes closer to knowing some truth behind this terror. Things are strange from the start, when arriving at their base camp they are surprised by the sight of an elaborate entrance to a tunnel--or perhaps an inverted tower--unmarked on their maps.
I didn't think I'd be an ideal reader for this book. I'm not really one for Weird--though having been devoured by Welcome to Night Vale last summer (I think that's the way it went, not the other way around), my appreciation for it has at least increased. Additionally, I'm not typically drawn toward Horror, because fear and dread aren't emotions I'm really interested in being manipulatively whipped up within me, and gawking at fictional inhumanity isn't my bag. In this book, however, I really liked the tone used in regard to all the weird horrors encountered: straight-forward and blunt without being sensationalistic. It helped that the story belongs to a fairly unemotional narrator: she's not devoid of emotions, but she's distant and she knows it. She's introverted, she's used to holding herself apart from other people, and she's long found safety in her role as an observer. And yet with all this knowing distance and all the increasing shakiness of what the narrator observes and relates, I thought the emotional story underneath it all--the biologist once had a husband, and they both were clear-eyed about the differences between them even if they couldn't bridge the gap with love completely--remained the engine of the narrative thrust, from the first page to the last.
Okay, so I really liked the narrator and the depth and nuance brought to her, that she was brutal and self-contained and a mix of untrustworthy/trustworthy and, at one time, loved. If the book does not finish with any answers, the biologist's arc ends triumphantly and beautifully. (Readers who want answers and want definitive status updates on characters might not be so satisfied, however. Most mysteries remain mysteries throughout this book, and IDK if the future books will explain/reveal everything.)
I also enjoyed the ways this was a survival story, a story of exploration, and a first contact story. Well, a first contact story that knows it's not FIRST, not really, but still doesn't know the half of what they're to come up against. The biologist may not be an everyman representative of an average human being, but her humanity, and what she loses and what she gains in that inhumane landscape, is unquestionably human. And that's what I want from my science fiction, even when set in an inhuman world.
The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it could not be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.
"At this point, I had no idea where the text would go. My sense of the narrative direction had been twisted too many times — I was being conned, and I was delighted. Everything depended on the characters' choices at this point: there was no one story shape (reunion story, Presents romance, redemption arc) that was controlling the narrative's direction..."
I've been struggling with some romance reads recently, needing not to see the well-worn tracks the story was running on, and Rulebreaker was a refreshing change. The plot and character arcs weren't fleshed out enough to make this a five-star read for me, but the first-person POV was well-done (and not employed as a purposeful untrustworthy gotcha!...I'm still ugh-ing over a recent read that used first-person POV for that) and the characters were engaging and unpredictable enough to keep me turning pages. The use of science fiction is about on par with J.D. Robb's In Death series, so not terribly much, but I hope the other books set in this universe expand on those interesting sci-fi aspects.(less)
A dark page-turner, but the ending was a letdown. Like the ending to The Mirage, it worked and seemed inevitable enough and I couldn't read fast enoug...moreA dark page-turner, but the ending was a letdown. Like the ending to The Mirage, it worked and seemed inevitable enough and I couldn't read fast enough, but it did nothing for me on an emotional level.(less)
What a half-assed ending. I'm left with a bitter taste despite finding this book, as well as the trilogy as a whole, very gripping and very uncomforta...moreWhat a half-assed ending. I'm left with a bitter taste despite finding this book, as well as the trilogy as a whole, very gripping and very uncomfortable-making.
I still recommend all three books, but with the caveat that the ultimate deus ex machina ending isn't at all earned, neither as a coherent emotional arc nor, well, as a consequence of all the plot that came before it.(less)
Set in an alternate-universe fascist Britain in 1949, this is a cross-genre thriller featuring a genderflipped performance of Hamlet in which the lead...moreSet in an alternate-universe fascist Britain in 1949, this is a cross-genre thriller featuring a genderflipped performance of Hamlet in which the lead actress (Viola Lark, who comes from an infamous Mitford-like family) is a reluctant conspirator in a plot to kill Hitler during their opening night performance.
Honestly, the book had me enthralled at simply the prospect of genderflipped Hamlet (and it delves into the acting implications and all the theatre-side stuff wonderfully!), but the continuation of the world set up in Farthing is also breathlessly and twistedly done. The ever-tightening fist of fascism is relentless, and the depiction of Inspector Carmichael as a reluctant agent of this system is rendered with very patient delicacy.
Survival demands change. It means exposing your weak side. It means the death of something in exchange for hope, in exchange for further vulnerabiliti...moreSurvival demands change. It means exposing your weak side. It means the death of something in exchange for hope, in exchange for further vulnerabilities, in exchange for further change. But even if change is a universal condition of humanity, acceptance of change doesn't seem to come easily to humans, no matter what planet those humans are from.
So. This book. An anthropologist from Earth lands on a planet-of-women for a six-month mission to study the people of this world and to test a recent medical advance. Everyone who sets foot on this planet comes down with a debilitating virus -- a virus that kills all men and some of the women -- and Marghe, our anthropologist, is the first person to test a vaccine intended to resist this virus. Marghe, though, gets swept up in an unexpected mission: a woman who was supposed to be her assistant disappeared in the far reaches of this planet prior to Marghe's arrival, and Marghe ventures into some dangerous territory to find out what happened to her.
I fell pretty hard for this book in its dramatic moments, and I loved the thematic work from beginning to end, hence the five star rating, even though there were lots of poky faultlines marring the book's landscape that both felt weird and didn't match up with my personal tastes. For example, Marghe was an irritating construct of a character at times; I could accept some of the foolish things she did as her just being a bad anthropologist or being an emotionally stunted person, but it was still annoying at times. But other times, I felt for her so, so deeply.
The book's treatment of gender (and sexuality) gets a straight A from me. No fuss over the lack of men, no weird essentializing of women, just people of all types getting on with their lives and these people just so happen to all be women. No big deal.(less)
A sci-fi thriller that was deliciously over-the-top with plenty of "No real person would ever do that!" moments and "LOL I love your non-straight forw...moreA sci-fi thriller that was deliciously over-the-top with plenty of "No real person would ever do that!" moments and "LOL I love your non-straight forward evil plans that have immense holes in them" moments but still fun to read. The prose was a bit above Dan Brown level. Pages were turned at a rapid pace, and I remained thoroughly entertained.
Content warning for some racism (tell me more about the foreign hostiles' "jabbering"!) but less than I usually expect in this genre, as well as female objectification and sexism (tell me more about how, after seeing the heroine tortured that she'd be beautiful on anything but other than this, her worst day) but it was all so overt and obvious that I could overlook it to get to ALIEN TECHNOLOGY and A GLOBAL SCIENTIST CONSPIRACY and SHOOT THE GUY IN THE INVISIBILITY SUIT OMG DO IT NOW!!(less)
Redemption isn't easy when a) your former allies are now your feeling-betrayed enemies, and b) your former enemies and now possible-allies don't trust...moreRedemption isn't easy when a) your former allies are now your feeling-betrayed enemies, and b) your former enemies and now possible-allies don't trust you. Sky Ranger, former leader of the Extrahuman Union and known traitor to the Reform Party (you know, the same Reform Party that killed the rest of the Extrahuman Union), has put three years of work into fighting against the Reform Party and has bailed out of Earth now only as a last resort. The not-very-legal refugee ship he escapes on, however, crashes onto a desert planet, and he and the fellow survivors have to find a way to survive and to dodge the Confederation Military Police hunting them down.
Meanwhile, back on another planet, Penny is presented with an opportunity to possibly locate the lost Sky Ranger...
Even better than the first book! (Yes, I rushed to buy and then read this book immediately after finishing Broken.) I found the characters more emotionally immersive, and the world-building really coalesced in this one. Bigelow has a talent for juggling multiple characters and storylines (all the minor characters I LOVE THEM--they all served various purposes but felt real, expansive beyond what they did for the plot), and the plot was, unsurprisingly, fast and well-developed. Lots of politics, lots more about the Extrahuman experience, and lots of little things that made me happy: a transwoman main character (with subtlety and a lack of identity angst), cats, a couple that argues and sees one another's flaws and differences but clearly loves each other, families of friends.
I'd recommend starting with the first book, because it's good in its own right and because it establishes some of the foundational characters and history.
And omg WHAT WAS IN RENNA AND BRIAN'S LETTER?? And how long do I have to wait for the next book??(less)
A teenage boy who can see glimpses of possible futures tracks down a lost and broken former superhero, so that the two of them can save a baby who is...moreA teenage boy who can see glimpses of possible futures tracks down a lost and broken former superhero, so that the two of them can save a baby who is the future savior of progress & revolution (or the future emperor of evil, depending on how well their efforts go).
Recommended, for a fast-paced and surprising plot as well for one of the more elegant renderings of the talent of prescience I've come across. Characters who can see into the future are, I imagine, difficult to write, and often when I encounter them (in books or on TV), there's a lot of clumsiness and authorial manipulation, but Michael and his talent were very well-written (and the other prescient characters were written with care as well). I liked the character of Broken (bitter ex-superhero!) as well and I especially liked her flashbacks. The world Bigelow created was very engaging, even if not everything about it was explained.
The book "only" gets three stars from me because there wasn't enough character depth for me. I never really felt like I was "inside" the characters; there was almost always a gap of connection, a lack of emotional understanding between me and them. (Michael, near the climax of the story, is an exception. That was beautifully written and came from inside his head and his heart.) This lack of depth disappointed me because it's clear that Bigelow came up with some very interesting, non-stereotypical characters, but I wanted to be inside their heads more than what the text provided.The writing style was simple, unadorned, and straight-forward, but I think that sparseness contributed to the lack of emotion.
Additionally, I was left with a lot of questions about plot (WHY did Broken lose her ability to fly, for one) and world-building (what was the relationship between the two alien cultures? what was the nature of the outer space colonization?), and due to that emotional gap previously mentioned, I didn't really get Broken's love for Sky Ranger or why he sided with the people he had sided with. HOWEVER, I am pretty eager to read the next book (maybe my Sky Ranger questions will be answered!), and I still recommend this one.(less)
I liked the concept (man falls in love, man asks woman to marry him, man's future self travels back in time to tell man NOT to marry the woman he love...moreI liked the concept (man falls in love, man asks woman to marry him, man's future self travels back in time to tell man NOT to marry the woman he loves), and some of the writing, when emotions were involved, was quite good. The ending was in fact PERFECT. It almost made me cry, and it was pretty much the only way the book could end.
However, I didn't find it very funny or amusing (minus the Ryan Seacrest references in the narrator's short story, because I thought those were comedy gold), and I think I was supposed to. IDK, it wasn't a good fit for my sense of humor, and I found the purported cleverness to be cold and pretentious and very constructed. I'd hate to be stuck in the narrator's head for any longer than I was, because I didn't find his thoughts and his reactions to people as interesting as he apparently did.
Also, I know I shouldn't read literary books that are supposed to be romantic or love stories, because as a genre romance reader, I find these kind of books unsatisfying in terms of, you know, developing a romance. The titular Q, the narrator's love interest, was flat, and remained pretty much an object, not a subject. Basically, she was lovely and boring and perfect and progressive-without-being-as-alienating-as-her-super-liberal-friends and quirky. Yawn. The narrator's love for her felt immature, but given that he's the sort of person who blindly follows the ridiculous advice given to him by future selves, he wasn't going to win any emotional maturity contests, anyway. I think I was more disappointed than I would be, about the whole flat romance and flat lead female character, though because whenever the book veered into actual emotional territory, Mandery's writing was excellent! And then he stopped doing that to go write about boring thoughts and opinions for pages upon pages. I kept wanting to shout at the book, "No, stop trying to be clever, and go back to being vulnerable!"
I'm glad I pressed on beyond the first half of the book (with the exception of I-60, I found everything through the Thanksgiving dinner, and ESPECIALLY that Thanksgiving dinner, to be tedious to read, but the second half of the book was more engaging), but I wouldn't read it again. Despite the fun time travel (and that part WAS fun), I wasn't the ideal reader for a book like this.(less)
Philip and Alice's relationship falls apart when Alice falls in love with the void of nothingness that her university physics department has created....morePhilip and Alice's relationship falls apart when Alice falls in love with the void of nothingness that her university physics department has created. And the story is mostly about that, and about the flippant game of academia, which sounds like it should be fun, but overall, this short read left me feeling unbothered.
Hopeless lovesickness. That's basically the tone that pervades most of the book, and it's a really good and immediate portrayal of that emotion, but it still left me cold. Humorwise, the book is clever and sometimes amusing, but not even in the neighborhood of hilarious (as promised by the blurb). I liked a lot of the ideas that the book played with, but it fell short of complicated-but-cohesive meaningfulness for me, mostly because it was unclear the extent the world or the characters were to be taken seriously. (And I'm not sure if that's a feature or a bug of the book; someone with more patience for that and less reliant on needing-to-like-characters will have to figure that one out.) It was decent, but it left me wishing I had reread Girl in Landscape instead.(less)
1) Le Guin writes so precisely, so immersively, and somehow she maintains that style without it ever getting clinical or overwhelmi...moreScattered thoughts:
1) Le Guin writes so precisely, so immersively, and somehow she maintains that style without it ever getting clinical or overwhelming. There's a beating heart in every word, every descriptive choice, every action. And by the end of the book, I was feeling every feeling of the main character without even realizing it. My goodness.
2) Sooooo many interesting thoughts going on in here. I'm not going to lie, reading this in 2011 and being well versed in feminism and gender theory, I was expecting already to mentally prepared for the book's intellectual dimension. Oh, but there was far more going on! There was even a passage that had me scrambling for my own journal so that I could reflect on its implications in my own life, philosophically and practically. (For reference: Estraven's observation that opposition of something is the maintenance of something, particularly in regard to theism and atheism.)
3) This may have been the first book I ever read where an introduction from the author was awesome and, if not necessary, it at least expanded my understanding of the book before reading said book, and I was able to embark upon the book in a way that prepared me to be as open as possible to what the book was presenting. It prepared me to be in dialogue with the book without spoiling or presuming too much or interfering with my experience of reading it. GOOD INTRODUCTION.
4) I love anthropological & sociological SF dearly, and I need to do a better job of tracking it down, because I end up enjoying it so. (Or social-science science-fiction in general. I don't know these terms. See, I need to go genre exploring!) I could clearly see how my favorite book (The Sparrow) is a descendant of The Left Hand of Darkness. The deep and shadowy places of humanity are being deftly dissected here.
5) Both Caitlin and Xochitl thought I would love this. Or they were basically, independently, saying, "Why have you not read this yet and what is wrong with you?" In a nice way. Points to them for their dual emphatic recommendations.(less)
For film buffs and Connie Willis fans only, I'm afraid. Knowing all the film references, and being able to tolerate Connie Willis's trademark "seeming...moreFor film buffs and Connie Willis fans only, I'm afraid. Knowing all the film references, and being able to tolerate Connie Willis's trademark "seemingly uselessly and frustratingly thwart the protagonist, who is also under the influence and/or ill and/or exhausted for long stretches of the book" method of plotting is necessary to enjoy this book. I love it, but I think the appeal is limited. This book feels a bit like Lincoln's Dreams in plot structure and relationships, and the characters are awfully thin, but I felt very immersed in this specific Hollywood world she built, even if seems a way impossible vision of the future, here in this post-reality TV, post-Glee world. The classical musical might be dead, but I don't see a reason why we wouldn't keep having a few Moulin Rouge type films every so often. The ending, the last few sections, from when Tom finds Alis again, were wonderful and struck the exactly perfect cinematic tone and the exactly perfect emotional chords, which bumped this up from a three-star read to a four-star read for me.(less)
So basically, this book was perfect (for me). I only wish that I could have had the opportunity to read it when I was Miranda's age. I also probably s...moreSo basically, this book was perfect (for me). I only wish that I could have had the opportunity to read it when I was Miranda's age. I also probably should have read this sooner, because time travel is one of my very favorite things to read about, but the time period (1979) didn't sound that appealing to me. My mistake! When You Reach Me was complicated and juicy while being accessible (well, if you're up for some thinking about time travel, that is, which is not admittedly always the case). The characters were interesting and seemed like authentic middle-schoolers, and Miranda's thoughts and feelings were very grounded. The details included in the book were numerous but never overbearing, each adding to the illuminative realness. It was so easy to put myself in her shoes. Julia, however, was my favorite character, ever since she turned up determined to add a UFO to the class project.
I wish I read this as a kid; I enjoyed it now, but this would have knocked off my socks and delighted younger me. Now I'm too critical of the plot and...moreI wish I read this as a kid; I enjoyed it now, but this would have knocked off my socks and delighted younger me. Now I'm too critical of the plot and the explanations (or lack thereof).
I loved Vivian, and I liked Jonathan and Sam. The worldbuilding was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed how the time travel functioned, even if I was left with more questions than answers.
This is my third DWJ book, and I've learned that as much as I can sink into her writing and enjoy the hijinks along the way, her endings have fallen flat for me. They feel rushed and poorly fleshed out, and I leave her books feeling newly dissatisfied. I wish that wasn't so, because I enjoy her worlds and her characters, but I'm always left feeling out of sorts, and not in a good way.(less)