Mockingbird is set about five hundred years in the future; robots rule the Earth and humans live in a narcotic bliss pursuing pleasure and respectingMockingbird is set about five hundred years in the future; robots rule the Earth and humans live in a narcotic bliss pursuing pleasure and respecting Privacy.
Robots were designed with increasing levels of ability and they perform various tasks based on their skills. Robert Spofforth, a dean of a university in New York City, is a Make9, the most advanced robot model. The Make9s were created using a clone of a human brain so they experience emotions and retain memories that once belonged to the human. Spofforth is thus able to feel things like longing and anger and has distinctly human habits, such as whistling and enjoying long walks. He is unable to die as long as there are humans to serve. He is weary of existing and willing to resort to devious means to eradicate the human race.
Humans are raised in dormitories, where they are taught strict rules regarding how society operates. Conversation and eye contact are considered Invasion of Privacy. “Quick sex is best” is the guideline to follow; romantic relationships are forbidden so there are no marriages or families. The platitude “Don’t ask, relax” means asking “Why?” is unacceptable. And because robots perform tasks typically allotted to humans there is nothing to do, so people fill their days with mindless television programs, quick sex, and drugs. There is no curiosity, no intelligence, no passion.
Mary Lou is a renegade who escaped from the dormitory where she was being raised so she was not exposed to the indoctrination. She has lived on the fringes of society and learned to subvert all the rules. Paul Benchley is a rebel of a different sort. Quiet and scholarly, Benchley has mastered the forgotten (and forbidden) skill of reading, which brings him to the attention of Spofforth.
Spofforth hires Benchley to watch ancient silent films and transcribe the subtitles. In performing this task, Benchley discovers the magic of words and the beauty of a lost civilization. One day he finds Mary Lou living at the zoo and brings her home with him. He teaches her to read and they fall in love. Driven by intense jealousy, Spofforth has Benchley imprisoned for the crimes of “reading” and “co-habitation” and takes Mary Lou as his own wife (though he is physically incapable of consummating the relationship).
In prison, Benchley continues to read (having found a library of forgotten books) and discovers the unexpected joy of community through relationships with his fellow inmates (who mostly ignore the rules of society). Mary Lou, meanwhile, learns more about Spofforth and the evolution of this new society. She also discovers the shocking secret of Spofforth’s plot to eradicate humankind. Benchley eventually finds his way back to Mary Lou and together they change the course of history….and grant Spofforth his ultimate wish.
The world building in Mockingbird is simply phenomenal. The author creates a future drastically altered from all that is familiar and makes it something both understandable and believable. The characterizations are also remarkable. Spofforth is a villain yet is someone the reader is totally able to empathize with. Benchley is such an unlikely hero - the bookish nerd saves the universe! - that the reader can’t help but love him and cheer for his triumph.
Mockingbird is profound and poignant and compulsively readable. It makes the reader question technological advances and reflect upon the danger of unthinking obedience. The author posits the question: Who are the robots? The creatures that were designed with that label or the humans who live a meaningless existence?
The title comes from a phrase that is often repeated in the novel, Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods, which captures the theme of the book. A mockingbird is a creature that mimics the songs of other birds and the sounds of insects. The “mockingbirds” in the novel are the ones who simply repeat the platitudes they were taught rather than singing their own song. And because they are unwilling to search for their own heart’s song, they exist only on the borders - the edges of the woods - rather than discovering the wild adventures of the deeper forests.
Ultimately, Mockingbird is a romance novel of sorts. It is a story about the love of books, the love of all that makes a culture something sentimentally beautiful, and the love between two people and how critically important that is. ...more
This collection of short stories is simply sublime. There is something about the author’s voice that brought to mind the way one would approach a frigThis collection of short stories is simply sublime. There is something about the author’s voice that brought to mind the way one would approach a frightened animal - softly, slowly, and cautiously. Yet at the same time the message of most of the stories was thought-provoking in a “smack you upside the head” sort of way. That dichotomy worked, and it worked very well. The overall tone is melancholy, there are strong messages about society and spirituality, and there is a hint of the supernatural that wafts like smoke from an extinguished candle. And the quality of writing is just perfection.
My favorite stories in the collection:
The Lives of the Philosophers. A man receives an epiphany about his thesis on Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Nietzsche when his girlfriend experiences a tragedy. This story just shattered me. It left me breathless and weepy. I had to go for a walk. I almost took the book to my sister-in-law and demand that she read the story that very second (because I knew she would understand what I felt).
A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets. A man purchases a coat at a thrift shop and discovers the pockets of the coat mysteriously fill with scraps of paper on which prayers have been written. This was such a unique concept and there was a such a quiet desperation in the story. Poignant and profound.
Father John Melby and the Ghost of Amy Elizabeth. A priest endures a crisis of faith when he is visited by a ghost. This story is dark and gothic, and so compelling that I couldn’t look away for an instant.
The View from the Seventh Layer. A woman reflects on how her life has been impacted by a childhood visitation from an angel. I loved this story for how it was structured, in a sort of a circular, stream-of-consciousness manner. Beautiful and brilliant.
I also appreciated (but didn’t love) The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device: A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story. This one is just very very clever.
There were two clunkers in the book - a StarTrek fan fic piece and one about a television show similar to America’s Funniest Home Videos. These were awful in a “Can I tear these pages out of the book?” way. But ultimately they didn’t detract from my rating of the book because the stories I loved, I loved A LOT. ...more