I really struggled with how to rate this, because I was so ambivalent while reading it. There were sections I loved and sections that I really had toI really struggled with how to rate this, because I was so ambivalent while reading it. There were sections I loved and sections that I really had to work to get through. The plot is so unique and such an interesting concept: an apocalyptic book in which the epidemic is language itself. Children's speech becomes toxic to adults, and problem spreads as other forms of communication (writing, sign language) become harmful as well.
This book has a lot to say about interpersonal relationships, because really, without a way to communicate aren't we really all alone? It's really interesting to see how people adapt and continue their lives while on the brink of death, without so much as making eye contact with their loved ones. I especially liked the portrayal of Esther, the teenage daughter, and I think Marcus's goal with this book may have been to explore that alienation between the generations. Right, it hurts when your kids get too cool for you and diss all your interests and stay out all night, but what if being close to them is literally killing you? Sometimes I felt like I was being hit over the head with metaphor, and at others I thought it seemed too obvious and maybe I just didn't get it.
A few more issues:
I found the concept of the Forest Jews intriguing, but I wish we were given more information about their history and culture. The different, future form of Judaism just didn't really make sense to me in the context of the novel and I don't understand what point Marcus was trying to make. First it seemed the Jews were being blamed and persecuted in a Neo-Holocaust type scenario, then it seemed like the Jews were the answer to stopping the virus, then it all just sort of fizzled out. I don't get it.
Also, the main character, Sam, seems to be having an identity crisis throughout most of the book. He starts out being like an everyman father character but then becomes, in short order, an expert chemist, biologist, linguist, and spelunker. Can you say Marty Stu?
I did really like elements of this, though! The prose is absolutely beautiful. Marcus creates some wonderfully creepy imagery, and has a real gift for showing human nature -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- especially in such an alien environment. For example, this book contains probably the least sexy sex scenes ever written, but they're extremely powerful. I have a feeling this might be one of those books that lodges itself in my brain and I like more in retrospect, purely for the memorability factor....more
I had a feeling I wouldn't like this one much, but for some reason I read it anyway. Eoin Colfer continues the H2G2 series where Douglas Adams left ofI had a feeling I wouldn't like this one much, but for some reason I read it anyway. Eoin Colfer continues the H2G2 series where Douglas Adams left off, and he obviously understands Adams' humor and has a great appreciation for his work, but... meh. The whole thing just felt like a pale facsimile of the original books. I chuckled a few times, but on the whole it was mostly forgettable....more
Despite a little bit of a slow start, I actually really enjoyed the first quarter of this. We’ve got a crazyThis is the most tedious apocalypse ever.
Despite a little bit of a slow start, I actually really enjoyed the first quarter of this. We’ve got a crazy military expedition to the jungles of Bolivia, scientists fucking shit up, and secret agent men kidnapping little girls from crazy nuns. Oh, and a mutant virus outbreak that kills everyone. Cool.
It goes downhill from there. Just as the novel is picking up steam, Cronin decides to jump ahead in time to a group of colonists going about their day-to-day nearly one hundred years after the apocalypse. BOR-ING. It wouldn’t be so bad except that the whole thing is so inconsistent. The major storyline is a good one, and there are definitely some exciting parts, but these are few and far between with hundreds of pages of nothing in the middle. Cronin splits the book into so many parts that it just feels all over the place. He sure likes to use commas, too – I thought I was bad, but some of his sentences go on for about half a page.
Cronin sprinkles in various epistolary bits which he probably thinks spice up the narrative, but are actually unbearably repetitive and bored me to tears. If you just spent a chapter describing things in real-time, you don’t then need to spend the next chapter describing these exact same events in italicized diary entries from the point of view of a minor character. It’s redundant. There also seemed to be very little dialogue throughout the book, and when there was dialogue Cronin threw in the worst future slang I’ve read since Feed -- and I actually liked that book. “Flyers”? Seriously? And what’s with calling babies and kids “Littles”? With a capital L? Also dumb.
My biggest problem with this book has to do with the characters. There are about 500 major characters, and most of them are never given any descriptive traits or identifiers, preventing me from picturing them in my head and keeping them all straight. Every time a character was mentioned, it took me about 5 minutes to figure out, “Oh, that’s the one who is in love with that other chick whose brother killed that one dude 200 pages ago”. This seriously disrupted my reading, as you can imagine. Furthermore, none of the characters are really fleshed out due to there being so many of them. Cronin seems to have tried to make the characters “real” by making them flawed, but most of the characters are made up entirely of flaws and have no redeeming factors. The whole story is ostensibly about Amy, but we’re never even told anything about her –and not in an “oh, she is a mysterious enigma!” way, but in a “why should I even care?” way.
I kept hoping this book would redeem itself in the end, but the ending sucked too. It just kind of... stopped. Actually I think there was a decent ending in there, but then Cronin kept writing for another hundred pages. Oh well. I hear this is supposed to be a trilogy, but I won’t be picking up the others....more
I completely fell in love with David Mitchell while reading his masterpiece Cloud Atlas last year, and resolved to pick up more of his work. I thoughtI completely fell in love with David Mitchell while reading his masterpiece Cloud Atlas last year, and resolved to pick up more of his work. I thought it might be interesting to read them in chronological order and see the development of his distinct style, so I started with Ghostwritten, his debut novel.
I'm a little sad to say that I didn't love this one quite as much as Cloud Atlas, but I didn't really expect to. It's probably unfair to compare the two works, but I'm going to anyway, so get ready*. Cloud Atlas (I'm getting tired of linking it) is a really tight and polished novel: while it's a little gimmicky and meanders all over the place, changing perspective and style every 50 pages or so, the structure of it makes perfect sense. The links and connections between characters are clear and the narrative shifts occur at logical places. It's a really easy, enjoyable piece of postmodern literature to read. Ghostwritten also tells the stories of multiple characters in different locations and has shifting narration, but it just doesn't get quite up to the same level as Cloud Atlas. It's interesting to see the connections between the characters here, but it's almost like there are too many of them. I just didn't "get" all of them. Also, as opposed to Cloud Atlas, where the 6 stories are interrupted and nested and then relate back to one another, in Ghostwritten they are complete vignettes just put in order, more like traditional short stories in an anthology of related works.
I found that I liked some stories better than others, so maybe I'd better break them down. Each is titled by the location where the protagonist spends the majority of the story:
Okinawa - Narrated by terrorist hiding out after detonating a gas bomb on a crowded subway in order to purge the "unclean" in the name of His Serendipity, an enigmatic cult leader. I found this one fascinating.
Tokyo - A recent high-school grad obsessed with jazz, who works in a record store while trying to figure out what to do with his life. It follows several weeks of his life as he meets a girl and falls in love with her. Not my favorite.
Hong Kong - A corrupt, divorced, British suit working in the corporate world of Hong Kong and living in a supposedly haunted apartment.
Holy Mountain - I loved this one. It was beautiful and haunting: a bildungsroman following the life of a lonely tea shack proprietor, from when she is raped as a young girl by the Warlord's Son (because he is bored and to show he can) and shamed by her father (who could do nothing to stop it, so channeled his guilt into anger at her for allowing her loss of chastity to ruin the family's reputation) until she dies as an old woman who has seen destruction and war so many times. Her only company is her tree, who she believes is magical and can talk, but we find out more about that in the next part.
Mongolia - This is a strange one, and it took a little while to figure out who's narrating, but I don't really think it's a spoiler to say since all the narrators are listed (in order) in the book description above. The protagonist is a parasitic mental entity that calls itself a "noncorpum" and travels from host mind to host mind to find out more about its own existence. One of my favorites.
Petersburg - Narrated by a museum attendant who is seducing her boss in order to steal priceless paintings from under his nose with her boyfriend (who is an abusive piece of scum), it tells the story of their last heist and how it all went to shit.
London - A flaky, wasted musician and part-time ghostwriter, trying to decide if he should quite his manwhoring and settle down with his baby momma, who seems to be getting along fine without him. Along the way he saves a life and does some gambling.
Clear Island - A brilliant physicist from a small island in Ireland, who has been conscripted to develop new weapons for the U.S. military and is desperately trying to get out.
Night Train - A New York late-night DJ who keeps fielding mysterious on-air calls from someone who calls themselves the Zookeeper. Guess who it is? Meh.
Underground - Kind of a bonus chapter, only a few pages, it's almost a prequel or alternate-universe version of the first part, Okinawa. It's intentionally vague, and I'm still kind of undecided as to whether I liked that kind of no-end-ending or not.
*Another reason it's hard not to compare this book and Cloud Atlas is that there are actually a number of connections that can be found to the later book hidden within the text. Tim Cavendish, of "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" (the 4th narrative in Cloud Atlas) makes an appearance in the London section - turns out he's the ghostwriter's boss. His brother, a lawyer, is mentioned a number of times in the Hong Kong story. Luisa Rey, from "Half-Lives" (3rd story in Cloud Atlas) calls into Bat's radio show in Night Train. And there are a couple mentions of characters having comet-shaped birthmarks. These are passing references that a casual reader might not pick up on, but having read both books they really intrigue me. It makes me want to root around in David Mitchell's brain and see what his obsessions are - why the elaborations on these throwaway, bit parts to turn them into main characters for a later work. Or were the two books written around the same time and the allusions were made intentionally as an Easter Egg? In any case, David Mitchell is clever enough to write great, genre-bending literature without being so clever as to be obnoxious, and for that I will continue reading the rest of his oeuvre....more
Meh. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. I thought the "everyday apocalypse" aspect was refreshing - I'm sure not eveMeh. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. I thought the "everyday apocalypse" aspect was refreshing - I'm sure not every day after a cataclysmic event contains an epic battle between starving survivors in a bleak wasteland, a trope that occasionally makes me tire of post-apocalyptic novels. But as it turns out, without scenes like that a slow apocalypse is pretty damn boring.
Boring is pretty bad, but that's not my only complaint here. I've heard criticisms that the narrative voice didn't feel real, but I actually thought the writing style was pretty authentic as far as (intelligent, reading, writing) teenage girls' journals go. My journal around that age read very similarly. Of course, whiny teenagers with petty problems (before the event especially) and embarrassing obsessions (that male figure skater? really?) are not always my favorite things to read. There's a reason I shredded my own journals when I found them a few years ago. Shit like that is mortifying.
There's also a weird, possibly slightly sexist bent in the novel. There's this assumption by the family (and Miranda herself), that Miranda won't make it, and she's the one who should be sacrificed, and thus should eat less food, etc. than the rest of them. Why was she considered the useless one? I can't remember how many years younger than Miranda her brother Jonny was supposed to be, but in some cases he was even treated older! A few times Miranda mentioned having to be inside while the two boys were chopping wood - um, why couldn't she chop wood too? Instead, she gets laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, which she even refers to once as "women's work". I swear, at some points I felt like I might be reading a novel set in the 1800's. Maybe the author did this on purpose so then later when she becomes the hero it's more of a character change, but it seriously irritated me.
What really turned me off, though, is the obvious lack of science in this book. Normally I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but for a novel that's presumably set in our world and reality-based, some things just didn't ring true as I was reading. Then, in a group discussion here on GR, one of the author's blog posts came up. In it she basically brags about not doing research and "just guessing" at what might happen. Seriously, in this day and age, you can't spend half an hour googling some scientific facts to improve your writing and make your speculation more believable? That's fine if it's what you want to do, but I can't reward lazy writing with a good review.
I realize my review is overwhelmingly negative and maybe I should be giving it one star, but I try to reserve that for books I really hated. This one does have a lot of issues, but the plot was decent and I never felt tempted to abandon it, so two stars it is....more
Update 7/28/2012: So when I first heard the Wachowskis were planning to make a movie of this, I was incredibly skeptical. It's super ambitious, I thinUpdate 7/28/2012: So when I first heard the Wachowskis were planning to make a movie of this, I was incredibly skeptical. It's super ambitious, I think, to try to translate a novel that focuses so much on literary techniques into another medium. But now the trailer's been released, and I've gotta say -- it looks pretty fucking awesome.
Thoughts? The more I watch it the less it looks like the book to me, but I'm still pretty excited. I may well end up hating it, though.
If I could give this book a million stars, I would. It is an absolute masterpiece.
I tend to like experimental, postmodern fiction with a good gimmick, but it's not enough to make a book great. Most of the time, I end up thinking "Well, the author had some cool ideas, but..." No. There is no "but" when it comes to this novel. The concept of 6 nested novellas - taking place in completely different time periods, with different characters, and each written in a different style - sounds seriously gimmicky, but Mitchell is such an excellent writer that the different narratives work together flawlessly. The voice of each section is so distinct, you would never guess they were all written by the same author if the stories had been published separately. What's even more astonishing is that each of the 6 stories, though very different, are all excellent. While this isn't exactly a short story anthology, allow me the liberty of a comparison - I have never read a short story anthology in which each piece was great on its own. There are always one or two stories, included to flesh out the collection, that just aren't very good. This is far from the case with Cloud Atlas. None of the storylines stand out as being better than the others, and none is forgotten by way of being mediocre. Each story seems better than the last, until you reach the midpoint and the order reverses, and then somehow each one is STILL better than the last. It defies science.
I knew next to nothing about this book going in, except that it came highly recommended by a friend (whose tastes I didn't even know, but I decided to trust him). My reaction while reading basically went like this:
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Pt. 1) - Wait, what is this? Epistolary historical fiction? Why did I keep seeing this book on science fiction and dystopia lists? I'm not really into this stuff... Hey, this is kind of interesting. It's written beautifully, in any case. I'm getting into it. Hold up! Why does it just end in the middle of a sentence? Am I missing a page?
Letters From Zedelghem (Pt. 1) - Well now I'm in a brand-new story apparently and have no idea what's going on. I wish I knew what the hell happened to Adam Ewing. That story was good. Wait, Adam Ewing Who? Now I'm super invested in this mysterious disowned wannabe playboy composer! Robert Frobisher, that's one hell of a name. And the reason the previous story ended so suddenly was because he found the book that was torn in half? You genius, David Mitchell, you.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Pt. 1) - An eco-mystery? Seriously? Hey, I like this Luisa girl, she's spunky. Oh no, cliffhanger!
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Pt. 1) - Aburd, Kafka-esque, hilarious. This is my favorite so far.
An Orison of Sonmi-451 (Pt. 1) - Sorry, did I say the last one was my favorite? No, this is my favorite. Clones on death row, y'all. You know I love a good dystopia. And this is an excellent one, with a wonderfully imagined future world. Oh crap, another cliffhanger? David Dearie, why you gotta play me like that?
Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After - Oh no actually, now this one is my favorite. Post-apocalyptic Hawaii? Who comes up with that? And they worship.... Oh noooo, I did not see that coming. The dialect is kind of A Clockwork Orange meets The Color Purple meets Firefly, but it works. And then perfect segway back to...
An Orison of Sonmi-451 (Pt. 2) - I changed my mind again. Screw Zachry, this makes Sonmi my favorite again. THIS BOOK NEEDS TO STOP GETTING BETTER WITH EVERY PAGE OR MY HEAD WILL IMPLODE. What, another perfect segway to Timothy Cavendish?
I seriously don't understand how it's possible to write a novel this good. It's totally unique, with fleshed-out characters, beautiful language (varying from proper 19th century correspondence to invented far-future pidgin), amazing storylines, all wrapped up in individual nested gift-wrapped boxes with bows that would make Martha Stewart proud. I almost wish I could erase it from my memory in order to have the pleasure of reading it for the first time again. This book is perfection. I hope the rest of Mitchell's work lives up to this standard, because I am going to go out and buy everything he's ever written in hopes that it's as good....more
When I first started seeking out science fiction novels written by female authors several years ago, this was one of the first that made it to my listWhen I first started seeking out science fiction novels written by female authors several years ago, this was one of the first that made it to my list. I've been meaning to read Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang for ages. It has won multiple awards, is part of the Science Fiction Masterwork series, and has been highly recommended to me numerous times. After finally reading it, I know it truly deserves all that praise.
I can't think of very many books about clones off the top of my head, which is surprising considering the scientific advances we've made in that area over the past few years and the huge potential (both positive and negative) human cloning has for radically changing our society. Kate Wilhelm explores the myriad implications of cloning to great extent here, but it doesn't come off as preachy. While some would consider this hard-sf, the technobabble is kept to a minimum. At its heart, this is really a story about family, and conformity versus individuality. How much of your own self should you sacrifice to ensure the survival of your siblings, your neighbors, the rest of the human race?
While the storyline was fascinating on its own, I also really liked the writing style. It's kind of Philip K. Dick meets Margaret Atwood. There are some uncomfortable subjects here, from incest to mass murder, but the prose is beautiful and clear. This one might be moving to the favorites list. ...more
My opinion of this book changed a few times as I was reading it. I absolutely loved the first half, but started to getUgh, I hate cliffhanger endings.
My opinion of this book changed a few times as I was reading it. I absolutely loved the first half, but started to get annoyed with the main character midway through. He was just SO. DENSE. Plus, all the twists seemed over-the-top and so far-fetched as to be ridiculous (Seriously, how many mortal injuries does the villain have to sustain in order to actually die?? I was literally groaning - out loud, on the subway - every time this dude showed up again). And then that ending? Gahhhhh!!!!
On the other hand, this is a really unique novel. The premise is extremely original and well thought through, the characters are developed nicely, and the backstory is gradually teased out as you go along, without any clunky infodumps. The writing itself is actually very good, especially compared to the buttload of YA dystopias out there right now. In addition, the story has a lot to say about gender and how it relates to society, which I didn't know at all going in but pleasantly surprised me.
This one is worth a look and recommended, but be aware going in that the ending is a cliffhanger and there isn't any kind of resolution, since I know that pisses a lot of people off (myself included). I will probably pick up the sequels, but may wait a while just out of spite.
(This book does, however, have the distinction of being the first thing I read on my new Kindle Fire - thanks Overdrive! So I guess that's something.)...more
I don't read that many plays, but I should probably read more considering that I work in theatre. I picked this one up primarily because it's famous fI don't read that many plays, but I should probably read more considering that I work in theatre. I picked this one up primarily because it's famous for coining the term "robot". The creatures in Čapek's work aren't really what we typically consider robots today, though--they're more biological than mechanical.
Written in 1920 and first performed in 1921, this was way ahead of its time. The machines-rebelling-against-their-masters trope is ubiquitous in contemporary science fiction, and R.U.R. is arguably where it all started. It's a dark and apocalyptic vision of the future, but it's also a social commentary and witty satire. There are quite a few bits that are very funny. I wanted to read this for the historical contribution it has made, but it truly stands up today and I enjoyed it based on its own merit.
I'd love to be involved in a production of this....more
Oryx and Crake follows Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, in the aftermath of a mysterious apocalyptic pandemic. He appears to be the only human left on earth, grudgingly watching over the naive and simpleminded Children of Crake. Through a series of flashbacks, Atwood explains, just a bite at a time, how Crake went from being Jimmy's best friend to the world's biggest asshole, how the two came to love a mysterious and irreparably damaged girl called Oryx, and what happened to destroy this near-future dystopia.
So, so good. There is no other writer like Margaret Atwood. I have no idea how she keeps coming up with new, more horrible ways to terrify her readers while writing so beautifully. Her characters are real and flawed, and while the story does require a certain suspension of disbelief (like most post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels), it contains enough truth and similarities to our world to be absolutely haunting.
I'm definitely looking forward to picking up The Year of the Flood to continue the saga. Anyone know when the third in the trilogy is supposed to be out?...more
Yeah, so this is a bit of a weird one. But that's totally a good thing. It's not really horror, not really science fiction... but it has definite elemYeah, so this is a bit of a weird one. But that's totally a good thing. It's not really horror, not really science fiction... but it has definite elements of those genres, among others. The plot is twisty and turny and doesn't really make sense because hey, everyone is on drugs!
David Wong (another to add to my author-as-character shelf) is one of the most creative unreliable narrators I've read--and I have quite a fondness for them. He goes so far as to invent plot holes and inconsistencies, then go back later and point them out, showing how the nature of reality is constantly shifting in his world. It's a warning not to trust any of your senses, not to believe his story actually happened the way he says it did while recounting the whole tale to a skeptical yet intrigued journalist in a strip-mall Chinese joint in Undisclosed Midwestern America. And yes, there is an actual story here, despite originally being published as a series of random online posts. It's a meandering, absurd, over-the-top plot, but a plot nonetheless. John Dies reminds me a little of The Illuminatus! Trilogy and Crooked Little Vein in ways, with a similar creepiness factor to something like House of Leaves. The tone is loud and brash and unapologetic, and yes, the humor is extremely juvenile. But come on, who doesn't think poop and dick jokes are funny?
I have to say, though, I was a little disappointed that (view spoiler)[John in fact doesn't die at the end. Misdirect! I guess that leaves room for the sequel that is apparently coming. (hide spoiler)]
In any case, they're releasing a movie based on it this year, and the trailer has me pretty damn excited. Check it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So yeah, it turns out this is nothing like the movie Blade Runner. It's amazing, though. I expected the novel to have the same noir atmosphere as theSo yeah, it turns out this is nothing like the movie Blade Runner. It's amazing, though. I expected the novel to have the same noir atmosphere as the film, but this is pure PKD: surreal, hilarious, and utterly creepy all at the same time. I could spend paragraphs listing the differences between the two, but it just wouldn't be fair. They're each excellent on their own....more