I think maybe I'm not smart enough to understand this book? Usually I hate it when science fiction works explain away various sciencey things to keepI think maybe I'm not smart enough to understand this book? Usually I hate it when science fiction works explain away various sciencey things to keep the reader in the loop, but this book stops for no human. I understand that once you read the second book and go back to re-read the first book, the first book makes a lot more sense.
I really enjoyed the intro, but the world setup, while I could tell was pretty cool, left me a little lost. This book almost needs an introduction or preface that serves as a guide for understanding the basic dynamics of this book. Once they were explained to me at sci-fi book club, the book seemed a lot more interesting to me. But even though I could follow what was literally happening in the book, the larger dynamics of the world or why we were supposed to care about the characters or what was happening never grabbed me.
I could wind up eating my words, though, if I do continue on in the series and come back to this, but for now I didn't really care for it. ...more
I haven't seen the movie Carol. But when it came out I was somewhat convinced by some essays surrounding it that lesbian literature is underrepresenteI haven't seen the movie Carol. But when it came out I was somewhat convinced by some essays surrounding it that lesbian literature is underrepresented in the literary canon. I have read and enjoyed a few Sarah Waters books, but my general reading diet doesn't feature many lesbian characters — romances or not. I decided to remedy that with reading the Price of Salt.
This book is a type of novel that I rarely come across anymore, set in a time in New York when young people pretty much could just come and work lowly retail jobs and survive. Obviously, the city has changed a ton, as well as America as a whole. We've pitched the concept of a high-end department store as well as outdated notions same-sex relationships. But that doesn't make that period of America any less significant. In many ways, we are nostalgic for that time of America, when lesbian relationships were hidden and people kept their marital discord under wraps.
The plot of this particular novel is very girl-meets-girl and then goes on a road trip to escape her husband, only to be brought back via blackmail from a private investigator who's been tailing them the whole time. Carol, for whom the film was named, is actually a pretty selfish individual, and you can see her stringing along Therese in a way that's a little painful to read. But then, young people often get trapped in relationships that are rather one-sided and only realize later that they've been in something rather toxic. There's no reason a young woman who falls in love with an older woman shouldn't get a chance to make the same mistake. ...more
A really excellent meditation on terrorism, particularly from the side of those plotting the attacks. For too many Westerners, the idea of terrorism lA really excellent meditation on terrorism, particularly from the side of those plotting the attacks. For too many Westerners, the idea of terrorism leads to a far too reductive idea of otherness and hatred. But understanding why these actions appeal to some is key to understanding the problem.
The heartbreak of parents who lost their sons in the original blast is also excruciating. It's rare to find a work that can delve so expertly into the perspective of both victim and perpetrator of such a divisive idea.
We should be reading and writing more books like this one. ...more
The plot is pretty silly and sprawling in this one, but some of the ideas in it are very cool. From a Cold War analog with the Trisolarans to an underThe plot is pretty silly and sprawling in this one, but some of the ideas in it are very cool. From a Cold War analog with the Trisolarans to an underground tree city, there are some really creative elements of this world. I also appreciated the attention to the Escapists, that inequality is greatly problematic when you're choosing who lives through escaping earth and who dies if they stay.
Maybe not quite as good as the first one -- and the writing/translation is still quite poor -- but there's enough in here to appreciate that I will probably check out the final book when it comes out this fall. ...more
This book packed a ton of ideas into it about a pretty cool and interesting hypothetical future, all fit within the constraints of a basic murder-mystThis book packed a ton of ideas into it about a pretty cool and interesting hypothetical future, all fit within the constraints of a basic murder-mystery. (I am writing this review post-sci-fi book club, so apologies for any ideas I have accidentally stolen from that discussion.)
The idea is essentially time travel, but the time travel only goes in one direction. People are placed into "bobbles" that suspend people's aging as time moves forward. Thankfully, the mechanics of this fictional technology are never explained, and it leads to some pretty interesting ideas about how the rest of humanity deals with the passage of time once this technological revolution happens. Some of this picks up on ideas that I'm sure were explored in the first book, The Peace War, but it seems like this world is essentially organized into high-techs and low-techs, people who embrace biological tech extensions on their persons and people who don't (which seems to largely depend on when they first emerged from the bobbles, before or after something seems to have destroyed the rest of humanity).
The mystery -- and title of the book -- comes in when Marta, a high-tech who has a prominent role in rebuilding civilization, is "marooned" outside the bobbles, only to live out her life in survival mode, aging naturally, and ultimately dying alone. (This personally set me into a too real spiral about contemplating my own mortality.) The solving of this mystery is satisfying, I guess, though I didn't care much about Marta's killer. I was far more intrigued by the world Vernor Vinge created.
I'll make a short note here about diversity. He just sort of drops midway through the book that the protagonist is black. (Spoiler: so is a villain.) He also sort of randomly notes that various characters are Asian/Chinese and throws in a lesbian couple for good measure. It's certainly much better than your typical hard sci-fi book written before the era of the more natural diversity (which has incidentally manifested the Sad Puppies movement as a reactionary), but it also sort of thrown in in a way that doesn't give much thought to difference of experience and how that might shape a character's point of view. He does also (probably rightly) point out that women aren't all that receptive to becoming baby factories to reinvigorate humanity after making then-centuries of progress toward professional equality.
I'd never heard of Vernor Vinge, but I really enjoyed this brief journey into his imaginative world. ...more
I've become locked into a cycle of reading overly long books, so that may impact my view of this book, which struck me as overly long. Initially, I heI've become locked into a cycle of reading overly long books, so that may impact my view of this book, which struck me as overly long. Initially, I heard that Jonathan Franzen, who isn't on social media but who has managed to troll the entire internet anyway, was writing a book involving a plot heavily based around internetty ideas, I thought, oh no.
So at first I resolved never to read it. But then the reviews were actually pretty good and some people I knew liked it, so I was like, sure, I'll give it a shot. The result is it's only okay.
I wound up liking the main character, the titular Purity, as someone who's sarcastic and a bit of a mess. But then most of the book moves on to be from the points of view of other, much less interesting characters. There's Andreas, who's like Julian Assange but claims to be more feminist (not really borne out by some developments), there's Tom, who is pretty much That Guy in journalism who lands with a multi-million dollar nonprofit that seems drastically overhyped, and there's Leila, Tom's girlfriend who is also caring for her husband who she would leave if he hadn't wound up disabled. But though the book is about Purity, it's also mostly about her mother, Anabel, who appears to be deeply troubled (and also kind of awful).
Here's the problem: We never get the story from Anabel's perspective. This is maybe intentional. Perhaps the book was constructed with Anabel as the central mystery to everyone's life (except for Anders, whose central mystery is SPOILER murder). But when you paint this person as pretty crazy and outright ridiculous at times, it's hard to treat her as a real character when everyone is constantly recounting how awful she is. It would have been an interesting challenge to have the reader see this person from her own point of view. In the end, I wound up regarding her as a terrible person who was overly mean to Tom (I think? the ultimate message about emotional abuse was pretty muddled) and more or less ruined Purity's life until SPOILER she found out she was entitled to a shit-ton of money that her mother never told her about.
In any case, though I liked a bunch of this book more than I thought I would, I ultimately ended up thinking of this as deeply flawed, particularly because I think Franzen has a history of trying to make you feel more complicated about characters who initially come across as awful. Still, giving this three stars because I managed to finish it in a crazy work year. On to the next 600-pager!...more
America is really bad at poverty. In case you had any doubt about this, Matthew Desmond does a great job of dissuading you from any other notion.
He foAmerica is really bad at poverty. In case you had any doubt about this, Matthew Desmond does a great job of dissuading you from any other notion.
He follows the lives of very poor people, each with unique circumstances, and each who grapple with the plague of constant unstable living situations. The stories of these people are heartbreaking, but I think what stood out to me was how these stories aren't particularly unique. He uses data to back up some of the stories in these people's lives. He notes, for instance, that families with children were about the equivalent of being behind four months on one's rent when it comes to eviction.
I also came to realize in a very visceral way how expensive it is to be poor. If you read a certain type of news or come from a certain kind of world view, this gets talked about a lot. But in the context of rent, it means a lot more: Poor people are spending virtually all of their take-home pay on rent. And the rent they are paying is much closer to the median than you might imagine. When Desmond explained that poor people in Milwaukee are paying upwards of $600 a month to live in very poor conditions, I found it shocking. That's certainly a good deal if you live in high-rent cities like D.C. or New York, but even in Milwaukee, where rent tends to be a bit lower, it's more or less out of reach for people making poverty wages. Not to mention they also have to find child care, feed their children, and try to save something for when a car breaks down or they inevitably need to move again.
He also highlighted how eviction pretty much carries stigma almost equivalent to prison time. It damages your credit, and plenty of landlords won't rent to you if you have a prior eviction on your record. Thus reducing the pool of options further when you're suddenly out on the street looking for a new place.
He also does a good job of explaining some of the judgment that goes with poverty. A lot of people like to shame the poor for making bad decisions, but he gets into the minds of people living this way, who realize they have to work so hard to get out of a hole that they can never afford what they want. So they might as well indulge in the small pleasures of a pack of cigarettes or that thing they want that they had to buy through layaway.
Unfortunately, I think it's going to take more than a well researched and reported book to change people's mentality about how we treat the poor. ...more
All things being equal, this is a pretty typical science fiction plot. An alien species is having trouble on its own planet, so it plots to take overAll things being equal, this is a pretty typical science fiction plot. An alien species is having trouble on its own planet, so it plots to take over the Earth. It starts by subverting a small portion of the population through a video game, and its plans only get more sinister from there. Sprinkle in some physics concepts as explained by a metaphorical object (in this case, a pool table).
But all things aren't equal with this book. This fairly typical sci-fi plot is layered on top of the historical context of China's Cultural Revolution. And this book just highlighted for me how much of an ignorant Westerner I really am. I know virtually nothing about the Cultural Revolution, but this book and a perusal of the Wikipedia page suggests that the Chinese are living in something of a sci-fi reality already. In the West we will write terrifying tales of important information being withheld from the public -- living in an Information Age where the information is not all truly free. That is the reality, as far as I can tell, for China.
I've heard Westerners describe China as both free and not free, and layering a science fiction tale on top of that is an incredible combination. ...more
**spoiler alert** Okay, so ... I've heard a lot of great things about Adam Johnson, and I do have to admit these short stories are definitely a mix of**spoiler alert** Okay, so ... I've heard a lot of great things about Adam Johnson, and I do have to admit these short stories are definitely a mix of the fascinating and the weird. His choice of worlds can be really absorbing, but I am very uncomfortable with the third story. I was almost relieved when, after reading the first three stories, all of which contained either missing or dying wives, I found an interview in which he talked about his wife's cancer. He writes from her point of view, and it's all a little too real— particularly some of the stuff about her hand-wringing of his flirtation with other women.
I genuinely enjoyed the fourth story, about a former prison warden in East Berlin after the fall of the wall. He is left to justify his role to himself and others, even after history has turned against him. There's even a viral video.
Overall this book is good but pretty weird. I'm curious if people like it more or less than Orphan Master's Son, which is still on my to-read list. ...more