This book was suggested to me a while ago by my friend Raul. I was having an existential crisis, you see, and I was wondering how to bring meaning to...moreThis book was suggested to me a while ago by my friend Raul. I was having an existential crisis, you see, and I was wondering how to bring meaning to my life.
Viktor E. Frankl is a renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, as well as a neuroscientist, who developed a form of therapy called “logotherapy”, or therapy of meaning. This type of therapy is meant to reconcile individuals with the meaning of their lives.
But this book isn’t read so much for its description of logotherapy as it is for the Frankl’s personal account of life in concentration camps during WWII.
It’s not the first time I have read such accounts. They are all touching, tragic but also infinitely hopeful. Someone survived to tell us the story. Enough of them survived to tell us many stories.
Sometimes, you read books not because they seem to your liking at first glance, but because you’ve been learning about the author for some time.
Last y...moreSometimes, you read books not because they seem to your liking at first glance, but because you’ve been learning about the author for some time.
Last year, when I expressed the goal to become a professional writer and maybe write novels, a friend on Twitter suggested I follow her friend Linda Poitevin, an Ottawa-based urban fantasy novelist.
So after a few months of reading her tweets and hearing about her book series, The Grigory Legacy, I picked up the first of them, Sins of the Angels, from the library.
All in all, this book gave me an entertaining time. Given my previous experience with urban fantasy, I wasn’t expecting much, but this book was fairly well written and had an actually interesting and plausible (for the genre) plot.
I recently joined a book club here in Victoria, and The Peach Keeper was our first read for March. I think it’s fun that we get to read something as a...moreI recently joined a book club here in Victoria, and The Peach Keeper was our first read for March. I think it’s fun that we get to read something as a group to discuss it later–it gives me a reason to read things that I would otherwise have not chosen, or read in its entirety.
Because, to be honest, I often wanted to put this book down and stop reading it. After the first chapter, I knew what the “twist” would be, who would get together with whom, and how it would all end happily ever after.
This book isn’t announced particularly as “chick lit”; it’s categorized in magic realism. However, if this is what general chick lit is like, minus the mysterious 80-year-old murder and magic stuff happening, I don’t really want anything to do with it.
This novel, about a PhD student who ends up getting pregnant in the worst of circumstances, caught my attention with its apocalyptic premise (a virus...moreThis novel, about a PhD student who ends up getting pregnant in the worst of circumstances, caught my attention with its apocalyptic premise (a virus that affects blonde-haired women and turns them into zombies!). It kept me with its strong characters and its pace, but it didn’t quite satisfy me at all the levels I wanted.
Last week, I reviewed Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse, a great plot-driven science-fiction novel concerning the day the robots take over.
His next boo...moreLast week, I reviewed Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse, a great plot-driven science-fiction novel concerning the day the robots take over.
His next book, Amped, became available right after I finished with Robopocalypse, so I got to reading it right away.
In Amped, humans are now separated in two groups: those with neural implants, or “amps”, meant to solve neurological problems such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADD and ADHD, etc. However, some people have now started to get amps as elective surgery, basically overclocking their brain and become smarter in the process.
Owen, the main character, describes his encounter with such an elective neural implant in his third grade class:
Eight years ago a little kid named Samantha Blex missed a week of class. In the first photos on the news, you could see Sam was a little cross-eyed. She smiled a lot through her kid-sized purple eyeglasses. Cute. The kid was all slobber and grubby fingers and grins. Had a habit of putting blocks in her mouth.
That’s why, when Samantha walked back into school after her weeklong hiatus, a lot of the other kids’ parents were scared. Terrified is more like it. A textbook case of fight or flight, with a serious lean towards fight.
See, Sam wasn’t cross-eyed when she came back to class. She didn’t put blocks in her mouth anymore, either. In fact, Samantha Blex pretty quickly demonstrated that she was now the smartest kid in third grade. After a few breathless rounds of testing, Sam turned out to be in the top-hundredth percentile on citywide intelligence test.
The kid had one hell of a week away.
The book begins the day a judgement is passed where Amps are forbidden to enter in contractual relationships with “Pure” humans. The argument is thus: if regular people cannot enter in contracts with mentally challenged people because they can easily manipulate or defraud them, then Amps are in the same situation of power over regular, un-amped humans. Therefore, they should not be allowed to make contracts with people.
This effectively removes any claim to citizenship Amps might have: they cannot rent or buy homes, have jobs or get access to the justice system. They all become nobodies, a little like illegal immigrants.
As you can imagine, a resistance builds, and an almost-civil war ensues.
The structure of Amped is more linear that than of Robopocalypse. It follows Owen, an amp himself (he believes it’s medical, for epilepsy) who ends up living on the run. He witnesses the cruelty of Pure behaviour against Amps, he joins a rebel group, and eventually uncovers a plot that was meant to create a civil war all along.
I didn’t quite get attached to Owen as much as I did the cast of Robopocalypse. The story itself is excellent, featuring technology just advanced enough to be eerily believable. But Owen himself didn’t quite get me. He was a bit whiny, even though he ends up being like super-hero strong at the end. His development was believable, but he just wasn’t sympathetic enough to grasp me.
The plot, however, is gripping. I was most fascinated with the imagined breakdown of society and the racist/essentialist overtones. It was another form of us vs. them, not based on race or gender or origin but rather on the choice to use or not to use a technological device. The bad guys are really bad, and the novel uncovers the deviousness and the dangers of essentialist rhetoric and of religious-like following of political figures.
It was, essentially, an allegory on one (or all) of these things: racism, anti-immigration, homophobia and religious essentialism. Interestingly, the people being rejected, Amps, are inherently stronger than Pures: they are smarter, often stronger and have better control of their bodies and of their minds. Yet, they cannot fight the force of a movement backed up by law. The book did a great job of illustrating the dangers of rejecting a part of humanity because of an inherent characteristic (inherited or chosen). And as a warning, it worked strongly on me.
The writing is, again, very visual. The details are neat and easily imaginable. I could see the trailer camp park, imagine the old stone houses with ivy devouring their walls, and picture the speed and agility of military Amps. It would make a great movie or short TV series. Wilson has a great ability to let us picture his scenes, both static and moving, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started writing scripts.
It’s a fast read, so even though you don’t end up caring so much about Owen, I know you will care about seeing how the conflict between Pures and Amps develops.(less)
Ever since I heard Daniel H. Wilson in an interview onQ, I’ve wanted to read Robopocalypse. I finally got my hands on a copy from the library.
It was d...moreEver since I heard Daniel H. Wilson in an interview onQ, I’ve wanted to read Robopocalypse. I finally got my hands on a copy from the library.
It was definitely worth the wait.
The robots have become self-aware. They are now out to kill us… or most of us.
The book follows a group of characters mostly involved in the fight against Archos, the artificial intelligence behind the robot uprising. Most important is Cormac Wallace, the rebel who finds the recordings that are described in the novel.
Imagine waking up one day to find that your smart car wants to run you over, or your domestic robot strangle you to death. Technology has its own mind now… and it doesn’t like working for you.
This is the world of Robopocalypse… and maybe our own, soon.
I read this book in at most 3 sittings. I couldn’t put it down. I especially appreciated the echoes of Asimov towards the end (for some reason I remember what I read but barely if at all understood when I was 14 years old… maybe it’s time to revisit the Foundation series?)
The plot was gripping. We know from the beginning that the humans win… but how did they manage? The book answers that question, not totally, but with an excellent sense of how people can connect together despite distance, racial and philosophical differences.
However, I had a few issues with the voice developed through the book. The only distinguishable voices were those of Cormac and Lonnie Wayne Blanton. It’s mostly Cormac Wallace narrating and commenting on some of the recordings, and so I found a little blandness in the voice where multiple characters are involved. It’s not bad, but it was just a bit annoying. At times, I even wondered if Cormac really had access to some elements of the scenes. Although it’s all supposed to be described from an observer point of view, unless otherwise specified, sometimes the third-person POV took over and my suspension of disbelief dropped a bit. But it shouldn’t stop you from reading the book at all.
Here’s an excerpt describing the birth of Archos:
“Archos?” asks the face. The man’s voice echoes in the empty lab. “Archos? Are you there? Is that you?”
The glasses reflect a glimmer of light from the computer screen. The man’s eyes widen, as though he sees something indescribably beautiful. He glances back at a laptop open on a table behind him. The desktop image on the laptop is of the scientist and a boy, playing in a park.
“You chose to appear as my son?” he asks.
The high-pitched voice of a young boy echoes out of the darkness.
“Did you create me?” it asks.
This entire chapter is rightfully creepy, and sets the tone for the rest of the novel.
One of the most fascinating and unusual elements of this novel (considering it is a technology-focused science-fiction work) is the interest in the link between nature and robotics. At one point, a year after the robot takeover, nature is taking control of the environment again, and far from disrupting this balance, as humans do, the robots take advantage and even accelerate it. It is both disturbing (the robots eventually start building nature-inspired machines to access difficult landscape) and hopeful (if only we gave up a little bit of our dependency to technology, the planet could repair itself).
The book also illustrates the counter-intuitive notion that in the case of a robot takeover, cities might actually be safer than the countryside, because nature can be just as lethal as technology. And given that most of us have forgotten how to survive in the wild, it’s not very surprising when you think about it.
But what really shines in this book is humanity. Human resilience and human creativity and human unpredictability. In the face of an apocalypse that we ourselves created, we are able to adapt and fight back. A lot is lost, but a few important things are gained.
I really enjoyed reading Robopocalypse. It was definitely a page-turner with an eerie sense of impending doom, and yet a hopeful ending. But we will only survive if we learn some really hard lessons.(less)
Another happy random find at the library, Alan Lightman’s Mr G was a surprisingly delightful read. Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist and writer w...moreAnother happy random find at the library, Alan Lightman’s Mr G was a surprisingly delightful read. Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist and writer who was the first academic to receive a double assignment in physics and the humanities at MIT.
Such a description might seem daunting, but Lightman’s writing skills are the kind that I wish all academic writers had.
This is not so much a plot-based book as a philosophical fable. One day, Mr g, living with his Aunt Penelope and his Uncle Deva, wakes up from a nap and makes a decision; thus, time begins.
From this single, original decision cascade a number of further creations like space, universes, the elemental laws of physics, atoms, stars, planets and life. Throughout his exploration of creation, Mr g is challenged by Belhol, a shrewd adversary.
If you’ve ever wondered about current theories of creation, this is a great book to get you started. Sure, it’s told from the point of view of a divinity–and forget about the idea a Christian God that you may have. This Mr g is definitely no old white-bearded man living in clouds. He’s young and naive, a genial but inexperienced deity who suffers moral conundrums and questions his own decisions. He is all-powerful, but not all-knowing. He makes mistakes, too.
There is a lightness to this book, something… luminous. In a sense, it illuminates a lot of fundamental scientific and philosophical concepts that may be hard to grasp in other contexts. Take, for example, Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. Descartes isn’t especially easy to read or understand, and his argument comes from complex ideas and thoughts.
In this passage, Mr g discusses a planet where the inhabitants have such advanced technology that they transferred their consciousness into small balls of titanium, finally getting rid of their bodies and living a life that’s purely of the mind.
I know that many of these bodiless creatures yearn for the bodies and physicality they once had. They are tormented. They worry that because their entire existence is now interior existence, then the exterior might be only an illusion. Carrying this logic one step further, they worry that even their interior world might be illusion, thatall is illusion. For how could they tell, within the confines of their little spheres, whether anything exists? All they know for sure is that they think. In a certain sense, isn’t this true of creatures with bodies as well?
There you go, Descartes in a paragraph.
Some people have criticised this book for avoiding to answer big moral questions such as “why would a benevolent God let evil and suffering exist”, but I think that one of the points of the book is to show two things: that these questions will never be fully answered and that it is our responsibility as living creatures to figure it out for ourselves. This deity is so large, so powerful, has seen millions of species and civilizations rise and fall–why would it be concerned with the petty wishes of singular entities?
Being more or less atheist myself, I find that his version of God is a version I can live with–the Prime Mover. But beyond that, we’re on our own, and questions of morality and ethics belong to us, not God.
I read this book in two sittings–it’s a short read, and the language, and the concepts, are clear as crystal. It won’t cause anyone any difficulty. It was a nice little philosophical interlude between two more frivolous reads, and I really enjoyed it. I think it’s best borrowed from a library–I wouldn’t buy it, but it’s worth reading nonetheless.(less)
I picked up Deadly Descendant last week at the library, kind of randomly as I sometimes do, and I wasn’t disappointed this time.
Nikki is a pr...moreI picked up Deadly Descendant last week at the library, kind of randomly as I sometimes do, and I wasn’t disappointed this time.
Nikki is a private investigator who’s a descendant of the goddess Artemis, making her not only a great shot with any kind of thrown weapon, but also awesome at finding and tracking people. Useful skills to have as a PI, if you ask me.
When a new descendant appears in the DC area, sending a pack of enraged dogs after innocent bystanders, Nikki must investigate with the help of her new Liberi mates, all immortal descendants of other gods under the stewardship of the mysterious Anderson.
Who set this “Dogboy” free? Can Nikki stop him?
I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. It’s not romance; it fits rather in the category of “urban fantasy”, where paranormal elements meet contemporary mystery or thriller. This is a genre I’m particularly interested in these days.
The book is very fast-paced; I didn’t see the pages turn as I read through it. I got to the ending and thought “What? Already?” Even though it’s the second in a series, there’s enough information, cleverly placed at important spots in the novel, to help me understand the background. You can just pick up this one and get into the story and the characters without reading the first one, Dark Descendant.
As a main character, Nikki is great. She’s fiercely independent and solitary, but now has to count on other people to help her. She has to learn how to work in a team and trust others. There are more than a few snags along the way, but in the end she realizes that this is the place where she finally belongs. As an adopted child who went through the foster family circus, this can be terribly difficult to accept, but Black makes it quite convincing.
I enjoyed the simplicity of the internal world. Sometimes paranormal authors can get way overexcited by a multitude of creatures and powers (see My Wicked Vampire), but not here. It’s a version of Highlander, where only Descendants can kill immortal Liberi to become immortal themselves and develop powers. The powers are also logically related to the deity you descend from. This gives Black a lot of ideas to play with, and I really like what she did with two different descendants from death gods.
I’ve read better mysteries, honestly, but Nikki’s character carries the plot rather well despite the general weakness of the puzzle. The final confrontation let me down a little, but opened up a few avenues for development that I hope Black continues to explore in future installments.
All in all, it was a pretty fun and quick read. The writing did not get in the way of the plot and made me laugh often. It’s a great vacation or leisure read. Nothing to break your head over, action-packed and never boring.
Have you read any good urban fantasy lately? Share your suggestions in the comments! (less)
A man with a hard decision to make about the neighbour’s boy. A woman who tries to sell health products to her friends. Two couples entangled in infid...moreA man with a hard decision to make about the neighbour’s boy. A woman who tries to sell health products to her friends. Two couples entangled in infidelity. A woman writing a letter to her estranged husband’s mother. A young woman in love with a man… and his ex-girlfriend. A fire in the candle factory.
These are a few of the stories in Sarah Selecky’s This Cake Is for the Party, nominated for the Giller prize in 2010.
I read this book because I’m currently taking Sarah’s Story is a State of Mind e-course, and I wanted to know where she came from as an author.
I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not especially fond of short stories; I’m more of a sprawling multiple story lines kind of person. I like expansive, complex books that reflect the complexity of human life.
These short stories, in a way, achieve that. Sure, it’s about a certain type of people–working-class, sometimes entrepreneurs and people who make a living out of their garage. They are about moments in time or short periods of time (an evening, a weekend, an hour). But the variety of emotions and situations represented really made me feel like I was plunging in an unknown world.
From “A Thousand Wax Buddhas”, my favourite of the collection:
I wish I’d just asked her about the mileage. I could have just said it: What do the numbers mean? Why is ten o’clock important? I could have asked her. She would have let me in. But I was too afraid.
These stories are exquisitely crafted. They are fragile like insect wings and yet strong like reeds. They were mostly sad, it’s true, but sadness is not something we should shy away from. Life is full of it. I felt strangely invigorated after reading them.
Each story is about 20 pages, a nice pace if you’re reading in the bath or during your commute. They are perfect little nibbles of stories, a set of 10 cupcakes to be relished slowly, not devoured in one sitting. There is both wit and wisdom in them–a sign that both can go together.
I especially admire Selecky’s control of her craft. Each word is there for a purpose; there is nothing superfluous. The descriptions are exquisitely evocative and there is not a single image that won’t strongly impress itself on your mind. I could easily see, feel, hear and smell each of the tiny little worlds she constructed.
If I am even half the writer she is, I will feel proud of my work. (less)