I want to start by saying that the last fourth, perhaps even third, of the book was pretty good. If I were reviewing a novel that had started out the I want to start by saying that the last fourth, perhaps even third, of the book was pretty good. If I were reviewing a novel that had started out the way it ended, I would probably be saying something completely different. However, That is not how Article 5 began. Article 5 begins with some seriously flawed world building that not only creates a bad novel, but also encourages some very bad political ideas and behaviors.
The premise of Article 5 is that a totalitarian theocracy controls what amounts to a dystopic contemporary America as a result of a war - The War. The War apparently included some bombing of major US cities, but left other areas almost completely untouched. It was severe enough to warrant the re-establishment of the draft and wiped out our basic media infrastructure. However, at least as far as can be inferred from the novel, it did not affect Mexico or Canada. Also, it lasted less than three years. There is very little information about the War provided, but what is provided is conflicting in nature. The physical effects of the war imply an external 'other' - that this war is with a nation that is geographically independent of the US. However, the socio-political effects do not match up with this sort of war.
American voters are, in actuality, on a spectrum. We have Liberals and Conservatives on each extreme jockeying for control, hoping to sway the Moderate Independents in the middle to their side each election. The result, therefore, is that, on really polar issues, the country is often divided into fairly equal, diametrically opposed sides with a huge mass of not-as-concerned people in the middle. That is part of why our politics tend to take a pendulum-type pattern - it takes something extreme to move the middle. In order to have such an extreme Neo-Conservative government take power, we would have had to have experienced a civil war, or a long, sustained war with an external 'other.' Neither of these options are even remotely possible with the way the war is described. (Seriously. Bush barely pulled 50.7% of the popular vote against a weak opponent three years after 9/11 while fighting two ongoing wars!!!)
Therefore, a contemporary America that could be interchanged for Nazi Germany, with a Morality Militia reminiscent of the Iranian militias and the Republican Guard, is really implausible based on Simmons' premise. On this shaky ground she then proceeds to build every Liberal's worst nightmare of America. Each flash-point is pulled directly from our current headlines, divided perfectly down the R/D line. However, most of what Simmons shows in the early part of the novel, while frustratingly offensive to most liberals, would have the average conservative saying, "yeah, and?"
This is where I have to ask myself who, precisely, Simmons intended as her audience. I mean, I get that she anticipates them to be teenagers - hence the young adult label. However, no age group has uniformly similar beliefs. There are conservative teenagers, liberal teenagers, and those who could really care less. Her portrayal of the 'liberal' characters is just sympathetic enough, and the 'conservatives' just offensive enough, to alienate most conservative readers. If she was trying to change anyone's political beliefs by showing some of the hazier implications of conservative ideology (which she admittedly does later in the novel), she fails by alienating her conservative readers early on. I doubt they even finish it. The worst part? If they do, it only reaffirms the often held belief of the religious conservative that all liberals are out to malign them as evil, simply for being religious and conservative.
More dangerously, though, is what I feel this book does to the liberal reader. The further the book progresses, the worse it gets. Article 5 is perfectly calibrated to push every liberal hot button. It makes your blood boil. It makes you angry. You feel frustrated rage and what those conservatives are doing to our country!!!......in a book. It is, in short, fear and hate mongering! Yes, these issues echo our current newspapers. BUT we are still working on it! There are equal and opposite reactions from the other side as well.
The only way to make a democracy work, without tearing ourselves apart, is to encourage discourse. When we are busy whipping ourselves up into a fervor over imagined slights, it discourages discourse in a serious way. America has real problems right now. Women's rights are seriously in danger. Religious freedom is daily being called into question. The LGBTQ community is still systematically disenfranchised. Racial equality has not yet been obtained. We have problems, but books like this - books that encourage righteous anger but offer no answers - contribute to the problem, not the solution. This is why, in my opinion, if you want to tackle serious issues in current events through fiction, it is best to create artificial distance by making the characters aliens or dragons, creating a futuristic or fantastical setting. Books like this are too personal. You can't get people to listen to you if they are busy defending themselves.
Add to these problems a heroine who is truly too stupid to live - and who is UTTERLY CLUELESS about basic world history if she believes all she professes to through the book. She also had to basically have lived in a box during the war to treat Chase the way she did when he had to become physically violent to protect her. (Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I eventually thought of Ember as an allegorical representation of how the politically active often view the 'clueless' mass of moderates in the middle. I can't even count how many times I have seen people on both sides of the fence nearly scream in frustration, 'how do they not see what is going on?!' I was definitely screaming that at Ember.)
In Simmons' defense, once she quite pushing her political agenda the book really did get quite enjoyable. I really liked Chase, and the action was fast paced and engrossing. I just really didn't like how Simmons got there. I don't think I will be recommending this book....more
I should start by saying that Lilliefors' background as a good journalist is clear from page one. Whether it be politics, history, geography, technoloI should start by saying that Lilliefors' background as a good journalist is clear from page one. Whether it be politics, history, geography, technology, or biology, where there are facts he has used them. His precision and acute attention to detail lend a veracity and viability to his fiction. At no point did I ever stop reading or pull away from the story and think, "like that could ever happen!" There was a chilling plausibility to everything he wrote.
Lilliefors style was also very journalistic. Everything felt rapid-fire. There was an urgency--a hot-off-the-press vibe, if you will--in the way the story unfolded. The chapters were short snippets of pertinent information; there was an efficiency in the words he chose. I would tell myself, "one chapter more," then find that I had read five chapters without noticing. Lilliefors method of writing propelled me further into the story just as much as my interest.
The only place where I feel his style failed him is in characterization. Too often it felt like a cool recitation of facts or events. I didn't feel anything from the characters. The Mallory's were interesting, but never relatable. Lilliefors crafted such an compelling, suspenseful, and scary story, but I was prevented from ever becoming truly engaged by an insurmountable wall of objectivity.
All in all, I think it is very much worth the read for fans of action packed thrillers and political espionage. However, I think it would be too inaccessible to fans of character-driven novels. ...more
The only way for me to really talk about The Technologists is to pull it apart into its different layers. At its most basic, Pearl's The TechnologistsThe only way for me to really talk about The Technologists is to pull it apart into its different layers. At its most basic, Pearl's The Technologists is a mystery, a thriller. It is also a novel with a profound sense of place - not only of the where but also when. Pearl takes his setting very seriously, and in it is entirely convincing - in fact, it is primarily in the steampunkish technology that we wander outside of historical fiction into alternative history. Finally, The Technologists reads almost as an Ode to Science and Technology, as well as an exploration of their place and purpose in the world. It explores the morals and ethics of innovation, the value of technology and scientific discovery, and even attempts to distill to its simplest form what science and technology really are.
It is only in that first, most basic layer of the book - they mystery/thriller - that I feel Pearl has failed. His writing style, while beautiful and absolutely perfect for his other aims, hampers the sense of urgency he is attempting to create. I recently read a very interesting blog post from Query Shark in which she talked about word count in sentences, and sentence count in paragraphs, as part of what increases tension in mystery/thrillers. Pearl's writing can at best be called languid. It is the type of prose you wallow in, not speed through. Additionally, I get that it is a convention of the genre to introduce the reader, at a rapid rate in the first of the books, to numerous people who will be among primary characters, secondary characters, as well as mere victims of whatever disaster is imminent. This lack of characterization is okay because it is rapid. Unfortunately, according to my Goodreads status updates, I had read a fifth of the book before I really started getting to know the main characters of The Technologists. I knew that the mystery would eventually unfold; I knew that the Tech boys (and girl) would eventually be my focus; I didn't particularly care. But, here's the thing: I did care enough to keep reading because of all the other layers that Pearl did really, really well.
As a reader, I have to attach myself to someone to continue to invest in a book. Pearl's constant introduction of new characters left me with little other option but to attach to Boston, the city, as its own character. (In fact, I would be quite surprised to find that it was not at least partially Pearl's intent to make Boston so present in the novel that it appeared a character.) Likewise, Pearl's writing is at times so evocative of the mid to late 1800s, that I was surprised when I get to something 'alternative'. Everything from sentence structure to word phrasing to chosen vocabulary firmly places the book in the 19th century, while simultaneously being approachable by the modern reader. Pearl does this with such balance and grace that it is truly beautiful to behold. I was shown 19th century Boston in all its full-bodied glory.
However, where The Technologists really shines is in its handling of science and technology. It is the story of the pioneers of science education. This book is firmly about the time in history when MIT had to fight for its very existence in a world that mistrusted it. Yet, it would require an almost ostrich-like approach to current events to not realize that this is a battle still playing out today. The thing I think I most appreciated about Pearl was his ambiguity. His characters were not always fully formed because they were often embodiments of the different views people take in this fight. Marcus IS MIT, and MIT is Marcus. Agassiz is Intelligent Design, and Intelligent Design is Agassiz. And, in allowing each of these approaches to be embodied by a person, Pearl allows more nuance and ambiguity into the discussion. It is easy to ask MIT to have a protectionist stance, as an institution, within the city of Boston for its own self preservation. However, to think of Marcus sitting idly by feels morally wrong. This duality in the characters allows the reader to see the hypocrisy in thinking something is a safe decision from an institution, but morally repugnant from an individual. They are the same. So often in this fight between science educators and moral objectionists, all the decisions seem to come from cold, faceless institutions; but really they are made by people with fear, hubris, conviction, excitement, etc. - people who are anything but cold or faceless. Pearl is also perpetually defining and redefining science and technology, and the definitions rarely feel wrong. I found myself nodding along with Agassiz at first, until his rants slowly slipped into something that, at first I only could not follow, until finally they reached something I abhor.
The Technologist asks of us, where is the line between protecting ourselves with innovation and from innovation? When have we gone too far? Where does religion fit into a new, more scientific world? Where does science fit into a religious worldview? What about ethics and morality? Where is the moral line between theory and practice? (For example, was it morally acceptable for these scientists to theorize about the construction of this new virus, but wrong to actually create it? Or was it wrong to even theorize? Or should they have been allowed to create it and publish it anyway, for the sake of learning?) Does technology improve society or destroy it? Are we naturally innovators, or do we defy nature by our innovation? Were we already set apart as better than the world around us, or do we set ourselves apart by our attempts to better ourselves? Do great minds arise because of education, or in spite of it? There is not always a set right or wrong in these questions, but dynamic shades of grey that change as often as the faces of science and technology themselves change. Other times there are clear rights and wrongs, and they require action - and Pearl shows that as well. I love how deftly and beautifully Pearl deals with these issues, how he often forces the questions without providing the answers, and so I don't really care that I felt no urgency for his mystery - that wasn't really the most important question he asked anyway.
Craft Activism: Ideas and Projects Powered by the New Community of Handmade and How You Can Do It Yourself is a beautiful book full of really interestCraft Activism: Ideas and Projects Powered by the New Community of Handmade and How You Can Do It Yourself is a beautiful book full of really interesting people doing really great things. Part pattern book and part biographical sketches of activists, it helps to highlight some of the ways that crafters can use their skills to help contribute to causes about which they are passionate. The pictures are just lovely, and the patterns (and why they were created) provide inspiration for independent artistic expression as well as simple pattern templates. I think it is an excellent starting point for the crafter new to using their talent for change. ...more
When I downloaded the free copy of Blackwelder's The Day the Flowers Died , I was in no way prepared for the book I got. Yes, like many free downloadWhen I downloaded the free copy of Blackwelder's The Day the Flowers Died , I was in no way prepared for the book I got. Yes, like many free downloads, it is in need of some good editing. There are times when the descriptions go on forever, and at times the narration or dialog feels stilted. However, Blackwelder's story is so powerful that is rises above these problems. I find myself, a month later, still thinking about the story, about the characters, as if they were people who truly lived - perhaps in my family, or a friend's family.
I studied Political Geography and German, and my husband's emphasis for his History degree was WWII. Between the books from his senior level classes and my German-Jewish writers class, I felt that I had a pretty decent handle on the events leading up to the Holocaust. I've been to numerous museums, both in the US and Germany, read memoirs and spoken to Holocaust survivors, so I thought that I had an (albeit sheltered and incomplete) empathy if not understanding of some of the emotional aspects of living in Germany during those years. But nothing has ever quite impacted me on an emotional level in the same way as Eli and Rebecca's story.
Throughout my reading I found myself stopping and looking things up in books such as Hitler's Thirty Days to Power: January 1933 or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, only to find that Blackwelder's history was achingly accurate. Things that I had intellectually understood now resonated on an emotional level. I had seen and understood the horror of the ghettos, but not the suffocating fear and uncertainty of the middle class street suddenly devoid of children, the park without strollers. I think it is easier to separate ourselves from things that are extremely horrible, absolutely outside the bounds of our experience. However, we have all felt the odd chill of an unusually quiet street, a silent park, an empty building. To imagine the streets of Munich thus, and to see it so through Eli and Rebecca's experience - the added fear, shame, confusion - left me deeply unsettled. They became real to me, and, despite knowing the few possible outcomes for them, I couldn't help but wish that I could unknown history for a little while. Or that Blackwelder might fudge the historical accuracy, but she does not, nor should she.
I don't think this book will be for everyone, nor do I think it is perfectly constructed. However, I think that Ami Blackwelder brought history to life for me in a way that, though I may not have liked, I certainly needed. I feel privileged to have know Eli and Rebecca, and find that, though they were fictional, they were also real. ...more