Dark Places is the first book I've read by Gillian Flynn. I know the outlines of Gone Girl, but haven't read it nor seen the movie.
The opening lines mDark Places is the first book I've read by Gillian Flynn. I know the outlines of Gone Girl, but haven't read it nor seen the movie.
The opening lines made me really want to like it:
I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.
I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders.
This novel is a very engaging and well put together thriller. The plot concerns a young woman, the survivor of her family's brutal mass murder when she was a child, who decides to investigate what really happened.
It's impossible to say much more with spoilers. I can get away with saying the novel works on two time tracks, following our heroine in the present day, interspersed with accounts of various participates in the old crime. Flynn handles these parallels well. I also liked the construction of the mystery and its resolution.
The characters engaged me, especially the heroine, who I found very appealing, and her brother, the main past character. Flynn creates in the former a well-realized damaged person, and does a great job of getting into the teenage boy's mind in the latter.
There's a Satanic cult panic in the novel, but that's not the focus, nor does it get really taken seriously as a sociological and cultural development.
I was pleased to see so many central and rich female characters, from the heroine to her mother to, ah, that would be spoilerizing. The male characters are important and vital, but the girls and women are really the point.
Dead Wake is an engrossing read, a compelling narrative that's hard to stop reading. Larson demonstrates once more his ability to select and present eDead Wake is an engrossing read, a compelling narrative that's hard to stop reading. Larson demonstrates once more his ability to select and present excellent historical details, tied together in appealing plot lines.
However, it's very disappointing as a World War I book. Perhaps I'm asking too much, but given the huge attention focused on WWI during the centenary period and the renaissance in its scholarship, I found Dead Wake unfortunately narrow.
Essentially, the book focuses precisely on what it claims to address: the last voyage of the Lusitania. We read many details of the ship's construction and operations, the actions and some characters of the crew, and above all the lives (and deaths) of many, many passengers. This is fascinating and ultimately poignant, although one can't help feeling echoes of James Cameron's (massively overrated) Titanic movie. I was especially interested in the U-Boat details, plus the story of Room 40, a British cryptanalysis outfit.
Some details seemed superfluous. I could have had less of Woodrow Wilson's love life, for example.
In Dead Wake's acknowledgements section Larson admits to not knowing much about World War I. "Am I an expert on World War I? No." (Kindle location 5185) While that's a nice bit of authorial self-abnegation, it also seems to be true, and reveals a weakness in the book. Let me outline some reasons why. (NB: I'm not an expert in the field, but a very interested reader, with some training in history and more in literary criticism with a historical perspective.)
For example,President Wilson ran for president in 1916 under a pledge to keep America out of the war, but in 1917 took the country right in. This contradiction is one historians often work through, and would be apparent to many readers new to the topic, but Larson skips it.
Also on the American side, the book quietly undermines itself when it fails to make a case for the Lusitania's role in taking American into WWI. When Larson describes Wilson's decision-making, he emphasizes the Zimmermann telegram, and notes the liner doesn't even appear in the president's war message to Congress. This slightly weakens the book, taking down its importance a peg. We also hear nothing of the critical role played by American financial investment in the Allied cause (here's an intro).
From the German side, we receive a few flashes of description: a brief sketch of the war leadership's debates about using U-boats, a note about the German people's pride in sinking a major British vessel. But we don't get more than that.
On the British side, we don't get much sense of the Impact of U-boats on that island nation and empire. That is, Larson looks into naval strategy and some sense of national pride, but not on the lives of people The German command hoped to starve out the British before Britain starved out the Germans. This vastly horrible facet of total war is almost completely invisible in Larson's account, which actually undermines the book's power. Bringing total war into play would raise the stakes for this one pair of voyages.
Larson sets aside one conspiracy theory too quickly. This is the idea that the British allowed the Lusitania's sinking in order to encourage the US to join the war. Dead Wake argues that the event was simply the result of multiple forces coming together, but never addresses the British scheme option seriously. I'm not a Lusitania fanatic, so I don't know how seriously people take it - Larson should have addressed this.
The climax of the book takes place off the coast of Ireland, and in that country is where much of the final action takes place. It seems odd to me that Larson doesn't mention Irish unrest, or that the Easter Rising comes less than a year after the Lusitania dies. Historically this is obvious; as a nonfiction book, you'd think the author would want to mention such a juicy bit of detail, especially for American audiences.
Strangest of all is the lack of discussion about the Lusitania's cargo, as she was carrying (among other things) munitions for war. It's easy to see killing the ship as a war crime, because of the loss of civilian life and property, but Germans at the time justified the act by pointing out the amount of ammunition, guns, etc, in the ship's hold. Larson notes this deadly cargo as part of the manifest, but not its role in subsequent debates.
So if I'm so unhappy with the way Dead Wake treats WWI, why would I recommend the book? Because Larson does a fine job with tracing the journeys of two ships, liner and submarine. He makes the machines and people fascinating. Even knowing the outcome, the reader is likely to be drawn in, wondering how things will turn out. That's successful nonfiction, and worth the ride....more
This is a reread for me. I read the book when it came out circa 1990, and read some of the stories in collections before that. "The Girl Who Was PluggThis is a reread for me. I read the book when it came out circa 1990, and read some of the stories in collections before that. "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" I taught in an ambitious literature class at the University of Michigan, around 1997.
Why reread now? My dear friend, podcast maven, and Goodreads user Jenny Colvin has been describing her reading of these stories in severalplaces. Her reflections (and an odd discussion with another podcaster/reviewer) made me want to revisit these stories. And another friend gifted me a copy of the Tiptree*/Sheldon biography, so I added that to my reading.
(In these notes I won't revisit that biography, nor offer a story-by-story review. I might do the latter, given time.)
So what was it like returning to these stories?
It's exactly like revisiting works of art you admired, and now find them even more powerful, impressive, and disturbing.
I found myself slowing down to reread paragraphs and whole stories, savoring Tiptree's astonishing ability to cram details and information into compressed sentences, admiring the way she built hints and clues throughout a tale to set up its conclusion. Even the longer stories ("Momentary Taste of Being") are as rich as novels.
The bleakness and melancholy struck me harder this time. “Man is an animal whose dreams come true and kill him.” (431) I'd forgotten how often the end of the human race appeared in Tiptree's fiction, especially by nuclear war or aliens. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is filled with humans wiped out, ruined landscapes, and people degraded as a species. These are tragedies and post apocalypses. John Clute's introduction arranges the stories in an arc towards death, which makes some sense at the risk of too much biographical criticism, but decay and doom are throughout the tales.
"You carry despair as your gift." (Well quoted, Jenny) Part of that degradation stems from hard science, a kind of biological determinism. The superbly realized aliens in "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death" (and have I mentioned the awesomeness of Tiptree's titles?) are largely driven by biological imperatives, and doom themselves when crossing them. Humans reveal hideous depths when probed or tweaked biologically in "Houston" and "Screwfly". Our noble desire to explore the universe, an sf staple, becomes entropic ("And So On, And So On"), a pathetic cover for sex fetish ("And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side"), or just a species-level cover for another species' sexuality ("Momentary").
The sheer power of anti-patriarchal outrage came across more clearly than before, too, possibly because of today's political climate. This is obviously the point of some of the famous stories, like "The Women Men Don't See", the truly terrifying "Screwfly Solution", and "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" But we also see the ferocity and subtlety of men's oppression of women in other stories, like the nightmarish first 1/3rd of "With Delicate Mad Hands" or the gender imbalance between the two main characters of "Slow Music." Readers interested in gender and science fiction today *must* read these stories largely from the 1970s. These stories are such powerful howls of outrage, such deep critiques of patriarchal masculinity - "Houston" is a clear anatomy. At times Tiptree's women must defy the entire world, trying to overwrite it entirely ("Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!") or flee in desperation ("Women Men Don't See"):
"Please take us. We don't mind what your planet is like; we'll learn - we'll do anything!... Please. Oh, please." (146)
Her Smoke has other intersections with sf history. I see "Girl Who Was Plugged In" as a critical cyberpunk antecedent. "Her Smoke Rose Up" echoes powerfully John Crowley's criminally under appreciated Engine Summer. "The Man Who Walked Home" and "She Waits for All Men Born" are fine examples of science fiction engaging with the construction of myth, on two very different levels. Tiptree's use of hard science places this collection powerfully in hard sf's tradition, and also offers a fascinating path for feminist sf (a fine antecedent for Joan Sloncewski).
These stories verge on the horror genre, but are more horrific than generic. "The Last Flight of Dr. Ayn," one of my favorite short stories of all time (and a nice contemporary to J. G. Ballard's compressed stories") so elegantly summons up cataclysmic fear with quiet lines like "Birds are, you know, warm-blooded" (10). "We Who Stole the Dream" is based on moral horror, itself predicated on lethal torture. The final cruelty of "Her Smoke" is like Greg Egan's worst torments, and features desolation akin to that depicted by Lovecraft in "Mountains of Madness" or Hodgson's Night Land, but so much more economically expressed.
Read this book. Reread it. It's one of the great science fiction collections, and should be a fixture in 20th-century American literature.
*I'll refer to the author by her pseudonym here, partly for convenience, and also to reflect her choice of publication. Much like I say "Twain" instead of "Clemens."...more
Superintelligence is a grand-scale book, written at the level of human destiny. Nick Bostrom invites us to think at a cosmic scale, while contemplatinSuperintelligence is a grand-scale book, written at the level of human destiny. Nick Bostrom invites us to think at a cosmic scale, while contemplating a vast range of possible transhuman futures.
The focus of the book is the ways an artificial intelligence could grow into something greatly surpassing human intellect and control. It's a classic science fiction theme (think HAL, Colossus, Skynet, and of course the origin in Frankenstein); what Bostrom adds is considering the problem philosophically. That approach is Anglo-American analytical philosophy, not continental, which is a pleasant change of pace for me. This means many considerations of ethics, frequent definitional explorations, and many divisions of concepts into subcategories.
Frustratingly, Bostrom's discussion feels at times fruitless. When he breaks down superintelligence takeoff rates, for example, the reader might shrug, given the huge dependence on so many variables we don't know now and which the author doesn't settle. "It depends" seems to be the implicit conclusion of too many chapters.
This is a book rich with ideas. Superintelligence tosses off concepts like a speed-addled science fiction writer: AIs turning humans into paperclips, or transforming planets and stars into computational substrates based on varying information architectures. I appreciated the many forms meta-human intelligence could take.
Bostrom parallels his exploration of superinteligent AI with related human structures. He considers the possibility of massively augmenting human intelligence throughout the book, while pondering human organization in like manner. For example, a later passage posits a human singleton in order to counter an AI singleton, "a global superintelligent Leviathan" (182). Bostrom's discussions of how to uplift humanity is breathtaking, and also chilling.
Yet Bostrom leavens his reflections with very entertaining, sometimes visionary or disturbing passages.
The bouillon cubes of discrete human-like intellects thus melt into an algorithmic soup. (172) And so we boldly go - into the whirling knives. (118) A mere line in the sand, backed by the clout of a nonexistent simulator, could prove a stronger restraint than a two-foot-thick solid steel door. (135) (from a chapter positing the fun idea of "anthropic capture") The universe then gets filled not with exultingly heaving hedonium but with computational processes that are unconscious and completely worthless - the equivalent of a smiley-face stricker xeroxed trillions upon trillions of times and plastered across the galaxies.(140) ("exultingly heaving hedonium"!)
It's hard to issue a recommendation for this book. It really appeals to a very narrow set of readers, people interested in transhumanism and willing to work through British-style philosophical discourse. For those people it's a rewarding read. It may also be productive for science fiction writers, hunting ideas.
For the general public, eh, this leans too much in the specialist direction....more
I came to this book in a rush of nostalgia for Twin Peaks. My daughter had just started watching the show on Netflix, and, rewatching it with her, I rI came to this book in a rush of nostalgia for Twin Peaks. My daughter had just started watching the show on Netflix, and, rewatching it with her, I remembered that mix of delight and strangeness.
Posting about this on Facebook, a friend recommended Crouch's Wayward Pines stories, which just appeared as a tv series. So I Kindled the first book.
And it was fun, grabbing my attention and sustaining it, racing along at top speed. Pines begins with a cliche, the protagonist with amnesia, but it works, as we want to figure out what happened to this Secret Service agent and what's going on in this odd small town.
Other reviews describe not being able to summarize the plot without spoilers, and they are utterly correct. The plot heaves in different, sometimes surprising directions every few chapters, and so I'll erect the spoiler shield shortly. Suffice to say that Pines starts off as a mystery, and the mysteries keep coming. In fact, genres start.... spoiler shields, now! (view spoiler)[The book quickly gets into Prisoner territory, as it establishes the town as a charming and sweet, yet ominous place from which nobody can escape. Artificial features pop up, like a speaker playing cricket sounds. Then we branch off from the hero's perspective to follow his wife's point of view, as she grieves for her lost spouse. Then the book enters science fiction territory as we get teased by time travel, then attacked by mutants? aliens? (here I see William Hope Hodgson's House on the Borderland and its pig-people), then giant experimental bases, then suspended animation, the hint of nuclear war, and the Stapledonian sense of humanity's collapse in the passage of time. Whew. (hide spoiler)]
All of this transpires in extremely taut prose. Most paragraphs are a couple of sentences, if that. Some are sentence fragments. It's a bit like Koontz, plus Hemingway, especially the latter as we get a great deal of physical exertion and damage. Indeed, I wanted to check bits of this with my emergency services wife. This isn't a novel that likes description or lyrics, but grabs you by the lapels to throw you off another cliff.
Pines enjoys its references, or at least I imagine it does. David Lynch's tv series is here, and the book's author's note explicitly claims kinship. But we don't get Lynch's deep sense of weirdness and open-ended uncanny. Imagine Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper as an action hero, and the show racing through a third season which explains everything. That satisfies us to some extent, but cuts out the most powerful effects, unfortunately. (I mention some other big references in the spoiler section)
That lack of powerful effect is unfortunately true in general. While I felt compelled to finish the book, its details slipped from my mind very quickly. The main character is cardboard (I still can't recall his name) and no other person gets any detail. I really appreciated the final plot twists, which were carried off well, but they lacked emotional punch. Pines is a quick read, in short, a fun adventure. A snack between meals.
I haven't read the sequels, and am not sure I should. Any recommendations? ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more