++++++++++++++++++++ Sep '09: i discovered a bunch of my What Do I Read Next? reviews from the mid-90s when i was on a serious SF-canon reading tear (++++++++++++++++++++ Sep '09: i discovered a bunch of my What Do I Read Next? reviews from the mid-90s when i was on a serious SF-canon reading tear (and, apparently, averse to capital letters). ++++++++++++++++++++
Plot Summary: humans have become extinct or have moved on to other worlds and aliens have taken over our corporal forms; as such, the sentient beings of this time/location relive all the myths/legends/archetypes of interaction that plague/define human existence; identity for individuals is so tenuous that many "humans" are kept in "kages;" most characters seem to be at least part animal; lobey's love interest, friza, is kidnapped by kid death—a shark mouthed magician (?)—and thus begins the quest to get her back; the real quest in the novel, however, is the search for what IS and what only "is right now", a search for character and meaning in a world where EVERYTHING is governed by relativity, even macrocosmic things like people, houses, etc.
Main Characters: Lo Lobey—Orpheus/Theseus shepherd-musician turned questing hero
Kid Death—antagonist manifestation of chaotic evil ?
Friza—Lobey's love interest
Locale: Earth (sorta. kinda. well—yeah, it's Earth ... i guess)
Time Period: 30,000 years in the future
Comments: a thoroughly confusing book—like babel-17, i will have to read this again sometime when i'm not in the mood for mind candy; this book is ... dense, allusive (to a fault?), elusive, challenging, intriguing, enlightening, and a bunch more -ings besides! i'm willing to go so far as to say that it was a subconsciously satisfying novel that completely failed to woo me consciously—never once the page-turner's frenzy of howcanipossiblyendurereadingthisexpository/descriptiveparagraphbeforeifindoutwhathappensnext?!
originally published by ace in 1967 and winner of that year's nebula award for best novel
I tried more than once to read this in the ~20 years since a former coworker highly recommended it after i'd lauded Ursula3.5 stars (i can't round up)
I tried more than once to read this in the ~20 years since a former coworker highly recommended it after i'd lauded Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness as one of my favorite books of any kind of all time. These two works have many similarities, not the least of which being a kind of mild feminism. But Le Guin achieved something tremendous while Vinge "merely" tells a better than average tale. The Snow Queen is neither poorly nor well written. The characters are neither fantastically conceived nor boringly executed. The plot is neither tedious nor compelling.
I'm glad that i finally read it. It feels like delivering on a tacit promise between friends. I'm also saddened, however, that reading it has reinforced the stinking, growing suspicion that i've lost that loving feeling for anything dubbed science fiction. It used to be my go-to genre! "I like science fiction" felt like part of my personality. Nevertheless my intrigue thermometer rarely rises above lukewarm of late.
The standard SF novel's heavy reliance on action and adventure might've provided the genre's great appeal when i was a teenager, but i suspect this aspect of the novel to be the loose/lost linchpin. The quests of the two main characters, Moon and Sparks Dawntreader (her soulmate?!), have enough romance and suspense for me, but not much more than that. Recasting this Hans Christian Andersenclassic fairy tale on a distant planet didn't add much for me either.
Ahhhh piss on it! maybe i've just got too many splinters from The Devil's magic mirror in my eyes and heart. Read Andersen's story and then read this novel and you just might like both....more
A simplistic plot summary: Shadow's 6-year prison sentence for assault ends earlier than expected with the delivery of terrible news. The more he lea
A simplistic plot summary: Shadow's 6-year prison sentence for assault ends earlier than expected with the delivery of terrible news. The more he learns, the worse the news gets. On his way home he agrees to work for Mr Wednesday as a gopher / bodyguard / chauffeur / dogsbody. Together they travel throughout America enlisting allies in the impending war among the gods. Meanwhile Shadow's inner and outer lives become increasingly complicated. Should he "believe everything" as one of his dreams suggests? Of all the strange experiences and characters, what is mundanely real, what is metaphysically True, who's a god, who is merely human? If he were a character in a book, one would say the author is trying everything possible to compel Shadow to grow. Will Shadow's innate complacence be a sufficiently immovable object to resist the plot's irresistible force?
My favorite parts of the first 400+ pages were Shadow's dreams and the irregular, apparently digressive appendices at the ends of chapters (subtitled "Coming to America" and "Somewhere in America" etc.). His dreams provided much desired insight into his otherwise unrevealed inner life and they're intriguing as dreams—unlike my personal experience of dreams, they're much more coherent and internally consistent and (most of all) they're way more accurately predictive. The ostensibly add-on subchapters contained (for me) much needed emotionally connective scenes even though their main characters played almost no roles at all in the main plot.
As i finished chapter 17 i felt compelled to note that a large portion of my slight dissatisfaction (to that point) came from unnecessary obscurities, such as when the omniscient narrator essentially becomes blind / deaf / dumb or is simply unwilling to provide crucial details of a scene (e.g., a character's name) with no justification other than to maintain or create suspense. And then chapter 18 begins with an unpredictable breaking of the 4th wall. From then onward, i felt a change in the relationships between me and book / narrator / characters / author.
The interview with Neil Gaiman at the back of my paperback edition might have been the final boost needed to increase my rating from 3 to 4 stars. Or it might've just been that the ending pulled everything together in a very satisfying way for me. My experience was much the same as with The Good Soldier: for the majority of the dispassionate narrator's description of the wild events in the life of an extremely private (Gaiman's interview descriptor), disconnected (my word) protagonist, i felt the book intentionally keeping me at more than arm's length and i feared we would make no psychic or emotional connection.
Even though the main plot resolved with Happy Daysesque magic words (speechifying), there was something accurate in it for me. I won't go as far as Michael Chabon to say it was "nourishing to the soul," but i felt emotional import and valuable insight in the main character's quest for the meaning of life.
Some Other Thoughts I was a bit disappointed in myself for missing The Main Twist but somewhat self-satisfied about figuring out a few of the smaller ones. If i'd known The Main one, i might've enjoyed the storyline less. So ... maybe the obscurities i'd disliked were necessary(?) for me(?).
Caveat: I'm not a parent. If you know a Percy Jackson and the Olympians fan and you feel s/he is mature enough for "adult language" and "adult situations," you might recommend or get this book for her/him. I'd guess anyone 16 or older. The younger the reader, the more i recommend an adult co-reader to facilitate discussion and explanation.
Warning: this book is as secular as a book "about the gods" can be; i doubt that you will be getting any spiritual insights.
Warning: if you're looking for investigations of religious beliefs, especially of the world's most popular religions, you'll have to look elsewhere. Gaiman wisely (in my estimation) sticks with lesser known gods and icons and heroes.
Final Warning: if you are rigidly monotheistic, you'll probably feel that this book is sacrilegious. In America you have the right to petition to have it removed from your local libraries, burn it publicly, or otherwise advocate censorship, but don't expect any of those activities to diminish the book's popularity or to increase yours. Cheers....more
I strongly recommend this novel for anyone who's willing to suspend disbelief and revel in the joys of discovering a future world.
Please don't make thI strongly recommend this novel for anyone who's willing to suspend disbelief and revel in the joys of discovering a future world.
Please don't make the same mistake that i made in thinking (for at leas 20 years!), "I've seen Blade Runner; why should i bother reading the book?"
I don't remember anything in the movie about empathy boxes or Mercerism or the reverence with which pet ownership was held. I don't remember Deckard being married or being even slightly milquetoasty. And i don't remember Isidore the chickenhead who befriends the Nexus-6s. I'm gonna rewatch the movie soon to confirm these recollections (or lack thereof). This handful of differences make the book drastically different than the movie and, in my opinion, make it much more rounded and enjoyable.
Thanks to my swiss cheese memory of what i read only a few weeks ago, i don't recall specifically what made me love this book. It definitely became my favorite PKD novel, supplanting The Man in the High Castle. It certainly surpassed the enjoyability of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, though these titles give each other a close battle for best ever. (sci-fi books probably have a naturally unfair advantage in such competitions, though)
I remember now that the exploration of Humanness and Identity reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time, The Fifth Head of Cerberus. Dick pretty literally asks the question, "What's the difference between being self-aware and being unable to determine the difference between 'not self-aware' and 'self-aware'?" Like the proverbial unheard/soundless tree in the forest, is an android actually human if it believes it is human? What if other humans can't determine whether or not it is human or android? And can the existence or absence of empathy be a clear enough distinction to be certain?
I can't help but get jazzed about a book that seriously poses those questions within an innately enjoyable adventure.
I thought for a while (of late) that i'd have to strike "SF lover" from my personal list of identifying characteristics, but this book proved to me that i am still capable of relishing it. Amen....more
Did Atwood manipulate me into liking this book with her almost preacherlike prose in the concluding 20 pages? If so, i don't feel cheated or tricked cDid Atwood manipulate me into liking this book with her almost preacherlike prose in the concluding 20 pages? If so, i don't feel cheated or tricked cuz it was the kind of sermon i wanted to hear....more
*sigh* I must read the 4th book in the series, for no reason other than to say i made it to the end of The River again. I've grown tired of Farmer's m*sigh* I must read the 4th book in the series, for no reason other than to say i made it to the end of The River again. I've grown tired of Farmer's manipulative and frequently ham-handed style. Therefore, i now skim (to find the end asap) anytime he starts into a Famous Historical Personage's wiki-bio: they never relate to the story, the plot, or existing characters and are slightly less tedious than the technical specs for building The Temple in The Bible. And what's with the obsession for reporting exact measurements of every physical object? In imperial and metric units?!...more
Underwhelmed. That's how i predict you'll feel by what happens inside The Magic Labyrinth's final ~100 pages. Unless maybe you're a teenager feeling oUnderwhelmed. That's how i predict you'll feel by what happens inside The Magic Labyrinth's final ~100 pages. Unless maybe you're a teenager feeling out and nurturing your budding apostasies.
What about the first 300+ pages? I recommend that you skip from story tidbit to story tidbit until you get past the dueling boats chapter or the dueling swordsmen chapter.
If it weren't for Nostalgia's bonus star, i'd've rounded up from 1.5 to 2 stars.
Note for my own amusement only? i realized while reading last night that several ideas i espoused during a recent metaphysical breakfast conversation are tight paraphrasals of Frigate/Farmer's objections to the Nirvana. During breakfast, i believe i cited them as being derivative of books i'd read, but i had no idea it was this book!...more
Ms. Leckie, you are a smarter cookie than i am, and i tip my hat to you for entertaining me while simultaneously identifying my shortcomings. But thisMs. Leckie, you are a smarter cookie than i am, and i tip my hat to you for entertaining me while simultaneously identifying my shortcomings. But this was not the easiest book to get into.
A gender-neutral narrator in a gender-blind galaxywide society? I am a mere Earthling, possibly more addicted to gender distinctions than most, so i floundered as the only gendered pronouns coming out of the narrator's mouth were she and her.
A narrator with thousands of points of view and almost as many bodies? Initially i couldn't integrate those voices as a single Artificially Intelligent mind.
What about all those galactically significant political intrigues expressed on a local level? I'm politically apathetic but my "attitude" might actually be a necessary self-defense for (willful?) ignorance.
How many subtly alien social cues and futuristic human interpersonal relationships can there be? I’ve got Aspergerian tendencies, apparently, so i might've clued in to 1 of every 10 or so.
And then in the end when it became predominantly a war/action story? I am humbled and embarrassed to admit my befuddlement surrounding who was fighting whom and why.
Yet i’m compelled to read the sequel. Now. Not available ‘til October 2014! So maybe i’ll reread this one ... and finally grasp some of the more slippery (for me) aspects. [update March 1, 2015: i'm no longer so sure i'll ever read the sequel/s]
In conclusion, many thanks to The Mik for the Bookmarks magazine that featured this title in its science fiction reviews....more
As usual, i can only supply a scattered assortment of thoughts.
plot/character summary A very enjoyable, simple boy meets girl at the end of the world tAs usual, i can only supply a scattered assortment of thoughts.
plot/character summary A very enjoyable, simple boy meets girl at the end of the world tale told in three dimensions.
In 25th century New York City, Bob Spofforth is the most knowledgable, capable, and powerful man in the country, possibly in the whole world. He is also the last Make Nine android. Spofforth was built with a perfectly tall, muscular, symmetrical, beautiful, youthful, unaging body in which was placed the perfectly simulated and filtered-of-emotions/memories mind of an adult male scientist. Spofforth’s skin color seems to be important since it’s frequently mentioned: he’s brown. He has ebony earlobes so humans will recognize him as an android. As far as he knows, he’s the only Make Nine who was not created to look like a white man. (Unless i missed it from gender blindness, i believe all androids/robots in this book are physically masculine, sans genitalia.)
Paul Bentley is a professor at an Ohio university who taught himself the lost art of reading. He earns a visiting professorship at New York University where he reads into a recording device the dialog from silent films.
Mary Lou Borne is a hyperintelligent and quirky perma-outcast whom Paul meets at the New York Zoo. Paul teaches her to read but she quickly outperforms him as a reader and as a writer. Paul’s life tanks after he’s separated from Mary, but things kinda improve for Mary and Bob. (Mary’s first chapter as narrator begins right after the separation and what she says about her relationships was shocking.) Paul has harrowing adventures that reminded me of The Road while Mary and Spofforth begin their own relationship.
narrative purpose Each central character has chapters dedicated to her/his experiences. Paul starts by writing brief first-person journal entries, because Spofforth (as his boss at NYU) suggests it. After learning how to read and write from Paul, Mary writes first-person chapters also. Spofforth’s chapters are third person limited.
All three narrative voices, however, sounded very much alike to me. In other words, the female and black narrators’ stories are told in the white man’s (Paul’s) voice. Perhaps Tevis’s honkiness and ethnocentrism intefered with the execution. Or maybe he didn’t care. This seems like a rich field of inquiry for a student of speculative literature, especially when factoring in the explicitness and frequency with with Spofforth’s skin color is mentioned as well as the apparent absence of robots with female bodies/faces.
Mary’s memoir-like chapters, from the very start, show more sophistication than Paul’s early entries, but once Paul becomes more self-aware, confident, and mature, his chapters and Mary’s are stylistically interchangeable. I’d love to prove that Tevis wants us to think of Paul as the author of Mockingbird. Paul imagined Spofforth’s experiences, wrote them down, and combined them with edited/selected entries from his own and Mary’s writings to create a comprehensive view of their joint experience and the human condition.
How could residents of the just-born 21st century read a book from the 25th century? Perhaps it was sent backward in time. Anyway, i can’t help wondering who wrote Spofforth’s chapters. This is the best i could come up with.
Nirvana?! For almost 200 pages i wondered, “What motivated Walter Tevis’s dystopian vision?” At the instant i read the word “nirvana,” it occurred to me that he was (over)reacting to the American fascination for Eastern religions in the 1960s and ’70s. But i searched the Interwebs afterward and read somewhere that Tevis wrote Mockingbird while/as a way of recovering from alcoholism, which makes even more better sense than my simple supposition.
Quotes The book’s title comes from a silent movie that Paul watched: “Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.” Someone on the web accurately pointed out Paul=mockingbird, singing=writing, and edge of the woods=the end of human history.
Another favorite quote that Paul revisits is from T.S. Eliot’s “A Song for Simeon”: My life is light, waiting for the death wind, Like a feather on the back of my hand. (Paul—or maybe Tevis—erroneously says this quote is from “The Hollow Men”. Or maybe i misremembered it as being attributed to this poem. You should definitely read “The Hollow Men.” Do it. It’s pretty depressing, as is much of Eliot’s best stuff. And as this novel is. It totally fits. Do it.)
Paul also quotes the Christian Bible more than once, especially the following words ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (approximately the King James translation)
see also This novel obsesses about the importance of literacy. Hard to think of this book and not think of Fahrenheit 451 for that reason and 1984 comes to mind strongly also. Of these three, i remember 1984 impressing me the most.
The French book cover is beautiful. The human figure in the center must be Spofforth and, therefore, this image lies to us visually but in ways that don’t really matter, so it’s easily forgivable. You may PM me or discover/ignore the inaccuracies on your own. Seriously, i dig this image.
Finally, Franco Brambilla’s cover (presumably from an Italian edition) is also powerful. I can’t decide if i’d rather have a beautiful lie or a lukewarm truth....more
I thought this'd be a good follow-up to Mockingbird because it's about a robot in a human world whereas Mockingbird is about people in a robotic worldI thought this'd be a good follow-up to Mockingbird because it's about a robot in a human world whereas Mockingbird is about people in a robotic world. Roderick’s life story isn’t much of an investigation or exploration of sentience, consciousness, or humanity. The innocent robot hero grows up by being bounced (by Sladek) from one crazy frying pan to another zany fire. Goofy one-note characters randomly appear and disappear. The great irony is that such a life has a realistic shape (ie, amorphous) though that’s exactly what makes his story unsatisfying as fiction. A satire usually aims to teach us a lesson. I think Sladek’s point is that humans as a whole (and especially in groups larger than three) are terrible to one another. Sometimes they’re good, though usually only in small doses and/or small groups. I do not agree with the bookjacket blurb that says this is “a major American novel,” but i do agree with another that says, “it reeks ... of Candide.” So now i'm rereading Voltaire’s tiny satire.
Being nice: Sladek creates word collages with snippets of overheard conversation and menageries of nouns/subjects complemented by flocks of verbs/predicates. Being picky: Alas, this fictional world seemed too farcical and caricaturized when it wasn’t depicted via expressionism or pointilism. Nice: Each supporting character had a clear, dominant trait, which helped me quickly navigate Sladek’s dramatic and blind narrative leaps. Picky: Each supporting character consisted of nothing more than a single trait and (sometimes) a name. Nice: Sladek provides some logic puzzles that you might enjoy trying to solve. Picky: They’re irrelevant.
4 stars for style points but only a weak 3 stars for character + story....more
4 stars for the author’s reach exceeding his grasp. 2.5 stars for failing to hold my attention.
Justifications for Wordiness I’m wordy. Which is perhaps4 stars for the author’s reach exceeding his grasp. 2.5 stars for failing to hold my attention.
Justifications for Wordiness I’m wordy. Which is perhaps a too-well-packed (because both senses aren’t explicit for today’s lazy [ie, non-poetry] reader) way of saying that i love words (and would make them my life’s work ... if i could) and i suffer from long-windedness (just ask anybody on stage with me, especially when i’m nervous). I believe that, therefore, i’m qualified to criticize Nick Harkaway’s well-written but annoying debut novel.
I can only think of 3 reasons to condone a novelist who wastes words: payoff, playfulness, and parody (wordy version = reasonable delay of adequate gratification, ecstatically enjoyable divagations, and making fun of a particularly wordy author or work by being at least as wordy as the parodied author/work). I can’t identify an author or work that Harkaway might be parodying, can you? I didn’t much enjoy the asides, tangents, flashbacks, etc enough to tolerate them after about 50 pages. And the delaying effect of the wordiness never(?) culminated in personal ha-ha or ah-ha moments. Final tally: i can't abide the narrator’s wordiness.
I should’ve wasted more words so anyone who enjoyed The Gone-Away World could justifiably say i’m a pot calling the kettle black.
If you like this “school” of British speculative fiction that aims to make the reader laugh, predominantly via the techniques of delayed payoff, extensive digression, and intentional obliqueness, and you like The Gone-Away World, then consider reading Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Of the three, Adams is the strongest creator of this sort of fiction. An American studying abroad at this “school” is James Morrow. I haven’t read anything by him in years but seem to recall similarities. Kurt Vonnegut is a visiting professor. Pratchett’s Discworld books crush them all in sales (take that as you like)....more
I feel as if Pringle and i are kindred spirits. He created a list of the 100 BEST science fiction novels yet most of his discussions are quite negativI feel as if Pringle and i are kindred spirits. He created a list of the 100 BEST science fiction novels yet most of his discussions are quite negative nancyish. It reminds me of my review of SF Hall of Fame, vol 1 (a childhood fave), to which someone commented something like, "This is possibly the most negative 4-star review i've ever read." I laughed, i smiled, i saw myself through another's eyes. That's kinda what i look for and love most about SF and about talking about books, moments of insight, about oneself, about identity, about Humanity.
David Pringle does something similarly wonderful and dangerous for us: he puts his Self on every page.
I especially loved his grumblemumble assessment of the lone Isaac Asimov novel. Pringle did NOT wanna include even one book by this beloved American icon, but the star of his disdain wasn't quite massive enough to become a black hole of unmovable hatred, and so the nearly irresistible force of presumed outside editorial pressures pushed The End of Eternity past Pringle's not-quite event horizon and a supernova of literary awesomeness exploded onto pages 53-54. I basked in its unintentional humor.
How will you know whether you should override a particular novel's implicit recommendation (ie, being in Pringle's Top 100) by (a) your personal SF fancies and/or (b) Pringle's negatively slanted discussion? That's what makes this book/list such a delightful challenge. You'll have to read closely, not only the words on the page, but also your self.
I once hung out with a woman who constantly misunderstood me and vice versa. We could not clearly communicate, even when we each thought we were speakI once hung out with a woman who constantly misunderstood me and vice versa. We could not clearly communicate, even when we each thought we were speaking plainly. Ward Moore and i might have the same problem. I've only ever been willing to take half the blame for the real life communication breakdown, but i'll assume it all in this case for being a careless reader.
Did Moore choose a narrator who couldn't understand the characters he interacted with? Is Hodgins Backmaker inevitably confusing? Is his unreliability as narrator meant to be a flaw deriving from his career as a historian? He hypothesized endlessly about the motives behind his male mentors, Tyss and Enfandin, but rarely about the women he loves, Catalina and Barbara. Is Backmaker or Moore the one with the weird attitude toward women? Why can't i figure out what the hell's going on?
(i hope the SF Masterworks editors fixed all the OCR errors that remained in the edition i read)...more
I believe PKD could've fashioned a much better ending. This one felt like the ramblings of a lunatic who spent his energies in a fit so violent that hI believe PKD could've fashioned a much better ending. This one felt like the ramblings of a lunatic who spent his energies in a fit so violent that he passed out before he could reveal the kernel of his insanity and, thereby, accidentally save himself....more