Really beautiful short stories that are nearly the height of Sci Fi’s creative possibility. There’s definitely a barrier to entry, as Tiptree dives inReally beautiful short stories that are nearly the height of Sci Fi’s creative possibility. There’s definitely a barrier to entry, as Tiptree dives into some heavy hard Sci Fi and spends no time holding the reader’s hand—even when a passage begins with a mundane scene, it often takes a page or more to figure out what is happening. But the payoff is fantastic, as she uses technology and lifeforms right at the edge of imagination to extrapolate facets of the human condition we might not consider without being pushed that far. Not for everyone, but a deep investment pays an equal reward....more
Just an incredible read. I feel like there’s a spectrum that runs between “highly readable” and “memorable prose,” but this book blew that dichotomy aJust an incredible read. I feel like there’s a spectrum that runs between “highly readable” and “memorable prose,” but this book blew that dichotomy apart for me—I found myself flying through the pages wanting to read more, while trying to slow myself down to appreciate the beautiful construction of each paragraph.
My only complaint is that I wish it were longer, much much longer, because its strength lies in the way it inhabits its world so thoroughly. I’ve read complaints that the ending is unsatisfying, and counterpoints about how that’s an intentional choice, and I agree with both sides really—I think it’s an unfortunate truth that the “perfect” form of this story is capped by an imperfect ending. But that doesn’t diminish the outstanding journey that leads to it....more
Entertaining and informative, but less so than Forsyth's previous outing, The Etymologicon. I did like the conceit here of words sorted by broad categEntertaining and informative, but less so than Forsyth's previous outing, The Etymologicon. I did like the conceit here of words sorted by broad categories of usage, which lends itself to to a whimsical narrative style of word curation, but it often falls into a trap of leaning on this narrative and taking its subject for granted. Most notably, it generally places emphasis on the existence of the words it presents, rather on the reason the word exists. The book really sings when it gets into a good digression or juicy origin story for a word, and those are the words I will remember from here. I love the ultracrepidarian cobbler, and the cults to callipygian Venus, and the clear intention of meaning conveyed with those words will make them stick with me. But too often Forsyth blows through obscure words without even pausing to tell us where they come from, at which point they might as well be random assortments of letters.
Maybe the Wiki Age renders this review an irrelevant nitpick, as one could conceivably read this book supplemented by internet searches whenever curiosity strikes. However, 1) some of these searches will be for terms obscure enough that they point only to Forsyth's work, and 2) it seems odd to be passionate enough about obscure words to write the book but stop at this level as curation.
If you're into obscure knowledge and trivia, and like good sense of humor with your academic pursuits (though a tad hegemonic in its narrative style) you will like this book a lot. If you like to peel back the layers behind knowledge to see its inner workings, you may wish this book let you like it a bit more....more
There’s a lot to like about this book. Highly readable and page-turning, with deep insights that invite consideration, so it rewards multiple levels oThere’s a lot to like about this book. Highly readable and page-turning, with deep insights that invite consideration, so it rewards multiple levels of investment. Towards the end I started to see some of the edges of the artifice showing and got a little tired with the clumsiness of some of the devices used, but even in those moments Mandel is never far from showing you another corner of her intricate world. It’s a bit hard to pin down, and I guess what I’m getting at is that’s the best selling point I could give here. Just a really strong imagination fountain.
On a more specific note, I’m super impressed at the use of plague as connective metaphor between Shakespeare’s England and the world of this novel. A really impressive extended metaphor that doesn’t push too hard but got burrowed in my brain. Mandel does a number of things like this, and I have to imagine I’ll be talking about these things for a long time to come....more
It's not that I hated it; I just can't find any way to recommend it. Many books I've strongly disliked will at least have something in them to recommeIt's not that I hated it; I just can't find any way to recommend it. Many books I've strongly disliked will at least have something in them to recommend, to justify the effort, but I'm just not seeing in here. Readable enough, and mostly inoffensive if you shrug off the overwhelming maleness of it. It's the florid description of the uncanny from Poe, without a compelling plot; it's the male existentialism of Murakami without a trace of fun....more
Though it's not the fairest comparison, I couldn't help thinking of the movie Deep Impact. Famously, that movie dueled with another asteroid movie, ArThough it's not the fairest comparison, I couldn't help thinking of the movie Deep Impact. Famously, that movie dueled with another asteroid movie, Armageddon, and while the latter had a single-minded determination to blow its asteroid the fuck up, Deep Impact was a distinctly quieter movie that spent most of its time sitting with Earth's impending victims, weighing the consequences of a universal death sentence. Even when the movie sends its own mission to blow up the asteroid, President Morgan Freeman's confidence comes across not in Baysian cocksuredness but with the quiet desperation of a man playing the last card in his hand. The shuttle team have no idea what they're doing, and in the aftermath of the mission's failure, humanity kicks and flails in a blind attempt at meaning. It's not a perfect movie to this point, but in its quieter moments it does convey a vague sense of dread. Of course, then they go ahead and blow up most of the asteroid anyway, and HOPE SURVIVES because that is a better selling line than the alternative, but whether it meant to or not, the movie does pose a great what-if: what if the filmmakers had the courage of their convictions and ended that world full of hope?
The Last Policeman doesn't really have that much in common with Deep Impact content-wise, except obviously for the asteroid scheduled to hit the Earth. Also similarly, the world doesn't end, which isn't really a spoiler because this is the first book of a trilogy. But where I found the strongest connection was in tone and theme: this book spends a long time sitting with characters who really feel the gravity of what is happening to them on a day-to-day basis. The story follows a detective at a short-staffed New Hampshire police department who has a funny feeling about a routine suicide case--a natural, dime-a-dozen set-up. But what is so compelling about this book is the way it builds a sense of the hopelessness of the world at large through his case: no suspects, no motives, no leads, and a general apathy for the idea of law not only from the citizenry, but from his superiors. In a morbid way, I enjoyed living in that world.
Then, as Deep Impact before it, The Last Policeman takes a bit of a disappointing turn. Partway through I was so impressed by the writing I found myself guessing at solutions far more sophisticated than the typical detective novel. Unfortunately, it does eventually veer back to conventional territory, which is frustrating given how successfully it had been playing by its own rules. What was a meditation on meaning in the face of mortality becomes a procedural that holds the reader at arm's length, contorting itself unnaturally to fit what it seems to think is a proper detective story mold. Oh, and I guess it's the beginning of a trilogy? It seems like the end just wants to set up a cute little cliff-hanger, which feels a bit desperate. Like, if he'd just carried out the promise of the first two-thirds of the book, of course I'd come back to live in his world, without a bridge into it. Still, there's a sustained run of really excellent storycraft in here that is really worth checking out....more
I had read a few of Garcia Marquez’s more famous short stories a while back—“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” “The Handsomest Drowned Man In The WI had read a few of Garcia Marquez’s more famous short stories a while back—“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” “The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World”—as an introduction to the concept of magical realism, and really fell hard for his writing. I was a little thrown as I began this collection of short stories, which actually presents three volumes of his stories as they were originally collected, because the style was so different from what I remembered: these were languid, solipsistic single character narratives focusing mostly on death and loneliness. But this first volume (Eyes Of A Blue Dog) represents just one of Garcia Marquez’s styles—the second (Big Mama's Funeral) veers sharply into wry looks at quotidian village life heightened by circumstance, while the third (Innocent Eredira) opens into the magical realism of the impossible and scientific walking together. It’s awesome and humbling to go through these stories and experience his virtuosity in each style, and it provides an opportunity to step back and appreciate his novels all the more, which weave these elements together so fluidly. ...more
A great, fresh, funny novel with a gripping voice all its own. I’m kind of surprised I hadn’t heard of Leyner before, because his brand of absolute drA great, fresh, funny novel with a gripping voice all its own. I’m kind of surprised I hadn’t heard of Leyner before, because his brand of absolute dry devotion to demented premise resonates really strongly with the comedy canon I identify most strongly with – think Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Firesign Theater, They Might Be Giants; not in content per se, but in finding a new way to be outlandishly silly and running with it in a way that immediately feels familiar and makes you feel a little apart from people for being in on the joke.
I am a little glad I didn’t discover this earlier, because I can absolutely see a younger version of myself being swallowed completely by Leyner’s style, much in the way the Hitchhiker’s Guide series infected everything I wrote in middle school with an ersatz-Adams mediocre wackiness. Like Adams, Leyner makes carefully constructed passages feel effortless, as though finding the funniest word is like a stream of consciousness for him, letting each one drop and immediately moving to the next. His tendency to weave in topical references definitely makes the book feel dated, but at the same time his devotion to it goes far enough to make this feel like a historical artifact: a national zeitgeist (albeit heavily warped) frozen in time.
The ending was a bit of a letdown. At a certain point, it definitely feels like Leyner has run out of steam; to his credit, he jumps to a radically different style that works to disguise this. But I couldn’t help thinking of another obstinately weird 90’s work, Scud The Disposable Assassin. There, author Rob Schrab similarly had a really compelling premise that he kept pushing further and further, and eventually he lost the thread in a really obvious way. Schrab, working in comics, was able to put the series down for a decade and came back refreshed, finding a satisfying conclusion. Leyner is unable to avail himself of that solution here. ...more
Hell has a poet's sense of form, and uses it to craft a compelling account from the eye of a cultural hurricane. Smoothed into something like objectivHell has a poet's sense of form, and uses it to craft a compelling account from the eye of a cultural hurricane. Smoothed into something like objectivity by the passage of time, Hell does succumb to a couple of chances to settle old grudges, but these ultimately don't distract from a capable self-portrait of a fascinating personality....more
A really fresh, rewarding read. The format takes a little while to get into, and the sheer barrage of references to the Sci Fi literary canon is a litA really fresh, rewarding read. The format takes a little while to get into, and the sheer barrage of references to the Sci Fi literary canon is a little overwhelming, but somehow the author constructs a fascinating collage of a world from every piece she can find. I wasn’t familiar with the large majority of the works she referenced, but I found the book accessible nonetheless, and I’m excited to use it as a bibliography for compelling SF to check out. And of course, the protagonist guiding us through this world is smart and three-dimensional, a pleasure to follow. I’m glad this book exists....more
Disappointing, on the whole. To be fair, this is a gripping noir story that weaves disparate threads together in a phenomenally realized future sci-fiDisappointing, on the whole. To be fair, this is a gripping noir story that weaves disparate threads together in a phenomenally realized future sci-fi world. It tackles the real problems facing tough issues like energy consumption, bioengineering, and climate change, and sets it all in a part of the world that doesn’t get much focus in the Western canon. It takes a little while to get into the constantly shifting narrative focus, and with the huge scope of the stories going on, sometimes the small plot points that don’t lead anywhere can be distracting, but I did like how those elements painted a realistic, multifaceted world.
That said, the whole thing is problematically colonial and misogynistic. It’s a little odd that the story begins from the point of view of the one major White character, and this character goes about victimizing the characters around him while still being treated fairly sympathetically by the narrative. Most notably among those victimized is Emiko, the titular Windup Girl, though she is a glorified minor character. She is a genetically engineered servant who has been sold into sexual slavery, and we get multiple graphically described scenes of her degradation and rape; she also has an epiphany about the extent of her physical capabilities, which leads to her being about to do some really cool and empowering stuff, almost none of which is given any narrative treatment.
It’s not like Bacigalupi is alone among authors in treatments like this, but it’s disappointing in a world he has largely made compelling and three-dimensional....more
A really interesting work not just of history, but of historicity. The title made me assume it would concentrate on the Punic Wars, but this book consA really interesting work not just of history, but of historicity. The title made me assume it would concentrate on the Punic Wars, but this book constitutes an exhaustive history of Carthage, beginning with Tyrian Phoenician colonization and concluding with Augustus Caesar’s rebuilding of the destroyed city leading to the first Carthaginian-descended Roman emperor. The throughline here is the narrative of surviving texts, of which we have many Carthaginian primary documents (monuments, altars, etc.) but no historical records of the kind written by the Greeks and Romans. Carthage, as a trade rival to these civilizations, was vilified in general and specific ways in their histories, and its own records were destroyed when Rome razed its cities. The result is a narrative that must be taken with a grain of salt, but Miles navigates it deftly, checking it against archaeological records by era to call bullshit when necessary, and accept ambiguity when no alternative exists. I was lulled a little bit by Miles’s tendency to end each chapter with an extended “in summation” sequence, but this is a valuable history lesson for anyone interested in the Mediterranean over the period of Carthage’s rise and fall, as it sheds light on the actions and motivations of all players involved.
Interesting tangential fact: you have almost definitely heard of Hannibal, if you’re a little more historically versed you may have heard of his father Hamilcar, and the intrepid may have even heard of Hasdrubal. If you wade into this book, be warned that the Carthaginians had, like, five names total, so you’re going to run into a lot of characters with these names....more