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 Technologists...moreThe 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.
I thankfully had a completely spoiled-free experience of this book, so I will respect Green's wishes and include no spoilers - even of the tagged vari...moreI thankfully had a completely spoiled-free experience of this book, so I will respect Green's wishes and include no spoilers - even of the tagged variety. (I think they are like Denis the Menace's button or Pandora's box, it is human nature to want to click it - even if we really don't want to!)
The Fault in Our Stars is absolutely Green's best work, and I want to thank him for it. It is witty and funny and sad and angry and true. In Isaac and Hazel and Augustus, an entire group of people are given a voice that many people don't want to hear. So often, when talking about individuals (but especially kids) who are terminally ill, people talk about them being strong and brave and inspiring. It's like what Wliloughby says of Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, they are the sort of people "who has every body's good word and nobody's notice," but for different reasons. People get uncomfortable when they are around people who are dying. They want them to be an inspiration, then go away. They don't like being confronted on a day to day basis with the REALITY of kids who are dying. Dying kids get angry, they get pitiful, they have dark humor, they get frustrated, they act out. They get tired of being the ones to perpetually comfort everyone else about their own death (and funerals absolutely are for the living), and so, sometimes, they really hurt the people who love them. And. They. Are. Not. Their. Disease/Disability. I particularly loved this scene between Augustus and Hazel:
"So what's your story?" he asked, sitting down net to me at a safe distance. "I already told you my story. I was diagnosed when --" "No, not your cancer story. Your story. Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, etcetera."
I also love just about every interaction between Isaac and Augustus. I would read a whole additional book just about their friendship. These three face things head-on that others want to ignore. They joke about the dying elephant in the room. I have bookmarked no less than 28 pages from which I would LOVE to quote, but I really don't want to spoil the book. Suffice it to say that this book is a window into a world that people do not live in, but die in, and we are allowed to visit. The residents are, in fact, strong and inspiring, but not for the reasons we often attribute these qualities to them. (You can't decide not to have cancer any more than you can decide to not have a baby when the baby is crowning, some things just aren't optional.) They are strong and inspiring because they remain themselves, despite all the expectations we place upon them, how much we try to change them. I leave you with one (highly censored) quote that just spoke straight to my soul, and, I think, sums up the reason I love this book:
"I hate myself I hate myself I hate this I hate this I disgust myself I hate it I hate it just let me fucking die." According to the conventions of the genre, ______ kept h- sense of humor till the end, did not for a moment waiver in h- courage, and h- spirit soared like an indomitable eagle until the world itself could not contain h- joyous soul. But this was the truth, a pitiful [person] who desperately wanted not to be pitiful, screaming and crying, poisoned by an infected G-tube that kept h- alive, but not alive enough.
Just a note: I am usually an emotive rather than an intellectual reader - I take things personally. Therefore, I think my reaction to this novel is better understood when I make clear that I have a sibling who has vacillated between "terminal" and "miraculous" for all 26 years of life. As a result, my mother became a child's rights advocate for children with disabilities - which brought me into contact with more children who were terminally ill during my childhood than most people encounter. Likewise, I have, within the last ten years, lost no less than eight family members to cancer, and have two more still living with it. (less)
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 download...moreWhen 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. (less)
I still vividly remember the very first time I read Buck's translation of the Mahabharata. It was my first semester back to school after taking time o...moreI still vividly remember the very first time I read Buck's translation of the Mahabharata. It was my first semester back to school after taking time off to have my son. We lived in a large room that was a sort of add-on to the side of my parent's church and doubled as the nursery on Sundays. My husband was working nights while going to school full time. I was trying to juggle a 21 hour semester at school while simultaneously only having my toddler in daycare for half days. Needless to say, I had little enough time for school work, and even less for reading for pleasure. It was assigned reading for our Honors Humanities Project - basically a four semester course that combined World Literature, World History, Composition, Religions (and a bunch of other things I am sure I have now forgotten).
So, late one night as my son lie sleeping on a mattress in one corner of the room, I curled up with a lamp and Mahabharata in another - ready to get my assigned reading done for the week. As I began reading, though, something magical happened. I could no longer hear the soft snoring of my son, the whisk of cars along the highway outside the window, or the steady crunch of gravel as people pulled in and out of the liquor store across the street. (There is always a liquor store across from the church, isn't there?) Nor could I feel the weight of all the things I needed to do but hadn't yet done pressing down on me. For the first time in a long time I was transported somewhere else. Buck's words washed over me, through me, surrounded me, engulfed me. I did not stop at whatever arbitrary page had been chosen on the syllabus, but continued on until I had devoured it in full.
For a long time after that, I carried it with me to revisit. I loved the stories within stories within stories. I could reread the whole book, or the 30 page story within the book, or the 11 page story within the 30 page story, or the 2 page story within the 11 page story. I cannot read the Mahabharata in its original language, but I like to think that Buck did something very right in the way he chose to translate it. His language is lyrical. Reading it is like listening to the ocean, humming a lullaby, or listening to crickets and tree frogs in spring - but not quite. The cadence is comfortable, but also slightly unfamiliar. I understand all the words, but he puts them together in new ways that completely change the way I think about the words.
Five years and innumerable readings later I still love it as much as the first time I picked it up. The edges are a little worn, the pages a little smudged, the cover has some deep seams where it has been folded and can't be smoothed. Now, I read those small stories within the stories to my son at bedtime. Slowly working my way out to the larger stories, the bigger picture, even so far as to tell the story of Buck himself - a young man entranced by the spirit and flavor of the sweeping epics of India, intent on sharing them in his own language. I love becoming part of this tradition of stories of storytellers telling stories of storytellers, spiraling forward through the generations.(less)