Everyone knows I'm a sucker for apocalypse, but I almost didn't read this one. I was not sure I could take yet another breeder-apocalypse novel, one tEveryone knows I'm a sucker for apocalypse, but I almost didn't read this one. I was not sure I could take yet another breeder-apocalypse novel, one that focuses on women not being able to reproduce (a la The Handmaid's Tale or forces the women to become breeding machines to save the human race (every apocalypse novel, it feels like.) And this is present here, in fact the central character is an unnamed midwife who is one of the few survivors after some kind of virus has wiped out 98% of humanity, and the majority of the survivors are male. Somehow, she survives. Her name changes as she encounters different people in different situations (and even still, I hadn't really realized I didn't know her actual name; I just went back and checked for one!)
One interesting element of the novel for me was the issue of sexuality. The unnamed character is bisexual, although most of this comes up in her memories. To survive in a male-dominated society, she tries to be as gender-neutral as possible, trying to rewire her brain to move her body in a different way, to lower her voice, etc.
But that's not the only way. What happens where there are almost no women? Does male sexuality change? For some in the novel, it does. And in another story, some women form hives of a sort, with a queen bee, a bunch of men, and a lot of sex and drugs. In other situations, women are sexually assaulted, traded, and kept as slaves. The commodification of women in post-apocalyptic situations is not new. But in this novel, the unnamed midwife helps to fight it when she encounters it. Because of her unique background, she helps people through quick thinking but also birth control. Women are still dying from childbirth, almost every time.
There is a framing story where a small group of boys is tasked as scribes, making a copy of the nineteen journals making up The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. It is the society's history, it's start, and they have built in ways to preserve it. The journal entries permeate the novel and help break up the sections. At first it is just the midwife's journal, but it is joined by others.
Other parts I liked - the Mormons attempting to live exactly as they had before, and of course they are the most prepared with all their canned food and supplies. But there is more going on under the surface, and the elders continue to send out missionaries, but the reason may not be what you expect. The descriptions of the silence in a world without people also really stood out to me.
This book won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2014. I recently received a review copy of it from the publisher, so I can only guess that it is being re-released. And it looks like there will be a sequel early next year, which I will definitely be reading. (The Book of Etta.)...more
I have been done reading this book for a while, but don't interpret the gap in time between finishing and reviewing as a bad thing; the book wasn't quI have been done reading this book for a while, but don't interpret the gap in time between finishing and reviewing as a bad thing; the book wasn't quite done with me. I've had several dreams in Aer (the ancient city in the novel) and then randomly read a book of poems that felt like they were from this world. It was like my brain couldn't shake it.
Aer used to be the seat of an empire but is now a protected area on display 24/7 through a media platform called Worldview. People external to the city are watching them from everywhere, even through body cams, and the devices the Aeri carry serve simultaneously to help them connect with one another but also as tracking devices. Donations from the outside provide for basic needs, but not much more.
The people living in Aer are still practicing their ancient religion, circling a stone that is divine (in their view) but also now known to be radioactive, killing the very people who remain to preserve the old ways. There is a layer of complexity in it by how the people are managed - people rotate places of residence in an attempt to minimize radiation exposure, and the city is constantly under construction, buildings are rebuilt and streets are redirected. People and buildings are covered with abatement materials, even their clothing, to try to reduce radiation damage.
All along, I'm hearing the book in my head in the author's voice, after listening to a previous novel in audio, Chimpanzee. And you can hear the first chapter of Totem on the author's website. Nobody but the author could pull off words like "amalgate susurrus."
Compared to the other two novels in the "dystopian cluster" (see also Noise and Chimpanzee), it was harder to identify the most dangerous threat in this world. That's a very 21st century conundrum. Is it the willingness to live inside a poisonous environment? Is it the constant uprooting of home and community in the rotation around the stone? Is it the way the wired city turns everyone else into a consumer of the situation instead of stepping in? And what are they hoping for, complete destruction or are they just at the culture zoo?
And then in the time since I finished, I started to wonder if how I watch the news is any different from the non Aeris in this story. Am I a cultural spectator of a dying world? Do I view other places as going in circles to their own destruction (or is this the story I'm being sold?)
I'm still thinking about it, and that's the highest praise I can pay a novel.
Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this through Edelweiss, and to the author for sending me a pdf of the final copy. You can listen to a conversation I had with the author two years ago on the Reading Envy Podcast....more
I think I would group this book in the same pool as Station Eleven - a literary novel playing with a setting of destruction to explore other themes. AI think I would group this book in the same pool as Station Eleven - a literary novel playing with a setting of destruction to explore other themes. As people who know me know, this might hint at a lesser enjoyment of the book for me than I think other people will have. I've read many disaster novels and have some baseline expectations for the realism I require to find truth in the story.
In this book it is an ice age instead of a virus, with a smaller cast of characters and narrower themes of sexual identity (one character is transgender and suffering from lack of good medicine/treatment due to the disaster). At the same time the science feels inconsistent and more of a flavor than a reality. For instance, people are chopping wood at -20 degrees and at -6 degrees some children die by falling through the ice on a lake. An iceberg is simultaneously encroaching on the small Scottish village where the characters are living in a mobile home park ("caravan") and melting, raising the water level. (Can this happen in -44 degrees?) These kinds of seeming impossibilities pulled me out of the story a bit. It is possible that this IS the science but it didn't quite feel logical. And while almost all of Europe is frozen in, and nobody can get food, they speak of fishing and make cannibalism jokes (whereas everyone seems to assume that as long as they have enough heat for the winter, they will be able to take care of the details in the spring/summer... I'm not sure ice ages are that short or that forgiving.)
While an ice age is interesting, I think the meat of this story is Stella and her journey of identity - how to navigate bullying and personhood is always compelling no matter the context. In fact, the ice age slows that down and limits her options considerably, in frustrating ways. Dylan's story is interesting until he ends up sleeping with a completely different character than I expected, which also serves to move him more into the background. His backstory and family tree discovery seem unnecessary and muddy the flow a bit. Shouldn't it be the ice age that is the most startling thing?
Solid 3.5 stars, I expect most literary readers to give it a 4 or higher, and I would love to reward the author in some way for a fair portrayal of the confusing world of a trans teenager.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review....more
If you have ever seen the silly show The Last Man on Earth, you will find some interesting similarities with this novel. We are introduced first to aIf you have ever seen the silly show The Last Man on Earth, you will find some interesting similarities with this novel. We are introduced first to a man who appears to be the last man on earth, but instead of Tuscon, an aging scientist (Augustine) has been left behind in the Arctic Circle after he politely refused to evacuate with the last flight out. After the others leave, he does not hear from them again, and the radio is full of static.
Another character in the tv show is a lonely astronaut, with only a worm for company; in this novel the other character with alternating chapters is Sully, an astronaut whose shuttle has just started the journey back after a successful trip to Jupiter. They lost contact with Earth a year before, and the stress has started to get to them. She is mercifully not alone, but they do not know what they are coming back to.
And so the story unfolds. I really enjoyed the writing in particular, it is beautiful, and I took longer to read this than it demanded because I didn't want to reach the end. Highly recommended.
Thanks to the publisher for the early look!...more
"Like any reasonable apocalypse, pulsing with intimacy and the anonymous."
Well I do love a good apocalypse treatment, and this is unique in the handli"Like any reasonable apocalypse, pulsing with intimacy and the anonymous."
Well I do love a good apocalypse treatment, and this is unique in the handling of the topic. It isn't really a story, but a set of a few longer stories and then a bunch (a hundred, I'm guessing) of smaller little blurb stories, flash fiction really, all in this universe of collapse and destruction. There are fun bits to enjoy and one in particular ("Questions in Significantly Smaller Font") sent me on a huge internet rabbit hole, it was more of a poem quoting entirely from the FAQ of the website raptureready.com... which seems to be a real thing, in fact I saw a church yesterday in the mountains of NC that had a "rapture ready" banner up. And hey, the church was empty, so you can decide what that means.
This book was previously published by McSweeney's so even though I have a review copy, I believe it to be final copy. Mea culpa if I should not be quoting from it.
"This is why we lived twitching, as if we'd ever sense what could help us." (from Vibrissae)
"Despite everything, after the apocalypse there are hardly any suicides, no matter what we've done or failed to do. I suppose our minds assure us we can handle it. I mean God only gives you... I mean God only lets you do what you can live with after the apocalypse. After the apocalypse, we're just living with ourselves." (from Fertile Crescent)...more
This is a perfect book. I downloaded the review copy with a bit of trepidation - the length, the genre - I read it, devoured it, in two days. 200 pageThis is a perfect book. I downloaded the review copy with a bit of trepidation - the length, the genre - I read it, devoured it, in two days. 200 pages on Saturday and 513 pages on Sunday. The pacing is perfect and the occasional humor makes for a very enjoyable read.
Dragonscale is a sickness that is highly contagious and can cause people to spontaneously combust. Half the world is burning down and people with Dragonscale are being hunted before they can infect others. Harper is a nurse who is treating people at a local hospital, where she meets a few unusual characters - Reneé, the volunteer who walks out the door one day, completely lit up from the inside but not burning; The Fireman, who brings in a little boy needing surgery. When that hospital burns down and her husband turns into a crazy person, Harper seeks out a community of others suffering from Dragonscale.
This is where the book could have started to feel like other apocalypse/disaster novels, and in some ways it does - cultish community, people turning insane with power, weird religions - but these are the things I love about apocalypse books. But the choices that are made and the very unique properties of Dragonscale keep it interesting.
Dragonscale also may be a metaphor (view spoiler)[ - the community survives and thrives even with Dragonscale when they are united, but sometimes they are united for the wrong purpose... I did find myself thinking about the similarities in politics and religion in our current society. (hide spoiler)]
This book was discussed on Episode 065 of the Reading Envy Podcast.
The one downside to having a review copy is that I can't put little quotes that made me laugh here in this review, but when I buy the book for myself, I'll come back.
I was provided a review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate the chance because I had yet to read a novel by Joe Hill, and was surprised at how much I liked it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I started this book because it was on the Man Booker Prize longlist, then set it aside for a while after it didn't make the shortlist. I decided it waI started this book because it was on the Man Booker Prize longlist, then set it aside for a while after it didn't make the shortlist. I decided it was worth finishing and went back to it.
I had some difficulties understanding pieces of this book, even sending me back to re-read the first fifty pages and watching various YouTube video reviews of it to try to sort it out. One video featuring two ManBooker Vloggers helped enormously, but it has spoilers if you care about that. They talked about how the book feels like it is in two parts, and that the author originally set out to write a YA dystopian novel which grew into a novel for adults.
AH. Okay, so that's a start in understanding it all. In some ways the characters are rather simple, and I suppose that could be partly because they were originally intended for a YA audience. It also could be because in this post-technology future world, nobody can retain memories. I almost grasp why, except the author doesn't explain some of the ideas that seem to conflict with the world she has created. What is supposed to be happening is that there is an enormous musical instrument (a Carillon) that wipes out memory and somehow resonates through Palladium, or "the Lady," an element that is used to build instruments. Palladium seems to be an aftereffect of whatever broke the world, shattering glass, etc. There are daily participatory musical rituals that perpetuate the memory loss but the people are compelled (forced?) to participate.
Music is in everything. Song is used to remember directions, places and objects resonate and thrum with the information about themselves, and people communicate sometimes in pure solfege. Italian musical terms replace adjectives and adverbs throughout the book; it seems like music if you are a musician (as I am) but you could argue it's just Italian since no other musical language terms are used. Simon and the other characters move through the world lento, events sometimes happen subito, etc.
The musical elements were where I started to get tripped up, rather than immersing into the world. I don't understand how people can communicate completely in solfege because that would only provide seven letters or syllables. Do-re-mi-fa-so-la. I don't understand how one central instrument can reach into the country and if that is what controls people, why they don't try using ear plugs. I don't understand why if people can't retain memories why they don't begin every morning in an amnesiac panic, why the people they live with aren't strangers, how they remember their jobs, etc. This is never sufficiently explained and it made the novel less believable. I love the idea of a world saturated and controlled by music (is it good or is it bad?) and where the most brilliant minds are used to improvise in perfect counterpoint. I'm just not sure it was as fleshed out as it needed to be.
The end of the book happens in a blur that would be great on film but I was longing for more time. There are important characters introduced too near the end; I think we could have known them earlier. I did have quite an emotional response near the end, which surprised me considering how lost I felt. That does speak to her ability to write characters that connect with the reader.
Simon is the main character, but he comes from the outlying regions. The other main character is Lucien, who has left the Order and lives a more rural existence. I think the novel would have been stronger if it had been longer and started with Lucien, or maybe alternated with his story. That would have been a way to understand more about what had happened, who these other people were, how the musical landscape worked, etc. I needed more backstory and details.
I am thinking about discussing this on a future Reading Envy episode because I haven't quite sorted out what I think. I'm definitely surprised it made the Man Booker longlist; it has a lot of potential but I think could have benefited from another round of edits and rewrites. The ideas are interesting but I'm not sure they all make logical sense, and if they do in this future world then it needs more fleshing out so the reader may understand them.
Discussed more in depth (and not very successfully) on Episode 044 of the Reading Envy Podcast....more
This book is not a copy of Station Eleven but I kept thinking as I listened to it that the same people who liked Station Eleven would love this book.This book is not a copy of Station Eleven but I kept thinking as I listened to it that the same people who liked Station Eleven would love this book. I think this one is better because it is more realistic and doesn't try to tell such a broad story. Set in a post-disaster Washington (state), it is looking more at a community that has been rebuilding after an eco-disaster triggered by earthquakes. The central character of Lucie returns to the island where her father was killed to reconnect with her childhood best friend, who lives as part of the community.
I loved Alexis M. Smith's first book, Glaciers, so I was excited to see what she did next. This one is more complex in the sense that it is about more than just a relationship between two people, and somehow it is the relationship in this novel that was less than satisfying. I think part of my issue was in listening to the audio, trying to grasp the distinctions between 2014 and 2016, so close together. There are some parts of story that seem to be telling the meeting of Lucie and her park ranger boyfriend, but then the majority of the story is later on, during the time where she reunites with her friend. I'm not sure why it needed to go back and forth, and it made both relationships a bit disjointed.
The setting of the novel, on the other hand, is stunning. An imagined San Juan island close to the Canadian border with its ruined landscape. An exploration of how mycology might restore a damaged environment. Anyone who loves the northwest or cold-weather islands (like me) should read the novel just for the placeness alone. I got a sense that the author had done some... research... on the mushroom element. Ha!
I listened to the audio, narrated by Emily Rankin. Most of the time she does a fine job, although she does the low whisper in some sentence endings that seems to be a new trend for female narrators. I prefer all my words to be spoken.
Thanks to the publisher who provided a review copy of the audio! I have been waiting to see what this author did next for a while....more
I received a review copy of this book in audio from Penguin Random House.
I'm not certain, but I might have read too many post-apocalyptic and dystopiaI received a review copy of this book in audio from Penguin Random House.
I'm not certain, but I might have read too many post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels. The last few I read just have not felt like they had many new ideas or fresh approaches. Is it the subgenre, is it me, or is it the authors? You should read this review in the context of potential reader/listener burnout.
I think most people will enjoy this novel. I have been meaning to read Claire Vaye Watkins ever since Jason gushed about her on the Reading Envy Podcast, and I do think she is a good writer. That may translate better for me in short stories than in a novel of this topic, but it was still present here.
The water situation in California is truly dire. It is a natural topic for the near-future. How will the government respond if it gets out of control? What will we do if everyone in California had to relocate? These questions form the framework of the novel's background, and are an interesting place to start. Her evocative descriptions of a California with no water, from the sand sea to the hollow yucca trees, brings the reader into this terrifying landscape. She shifts in tone and style in an effective way - I even noticed some good uses of lists and repetition, maybe easier to notice while listening to the audio.
Some of the elements that I feel are slightly overused in dystopian/post-apocalyptic lit are here too, and I think this is what I'm complaining about. A potential government conspiracy that means things are not what they seem (and the community-building power the belief in this has), a journey taken by central characters to allow the author to more fully describe the new landscape, and a prophet character or two that controls a group of isolated people, encountered by the wanderers. I'm not sure what could have made these elements, these tropes, more successful in my mind, but I felt let down to find them yet again.
For the audio version, there are two narrators - Jorjeana Marie and MacLeod Andrews. Jorjeana tells most of the story and MacLeod steps in for specific parts. It was kind of funny to hear his voice on this novel as he was also one of the two narrators for The Heart Goes Last, the last dystopian novel I read....more
I read this because it was nominated one month for the Sword and Laser book club but lost to a book I had already read.
There are elements of this novI read this because it was nominated one month for the Sword and Laser book club but lost to a book I had already read.
There are elements of this novel to like. The combination of Scandinavian and Chinese culture for the society of New Qian was really the best part, especially the section combining the northern lights with the Chinese festivals. Beautiful! Magical!
The theme of water scarcity is frequent these days, although having a teamaster in each village/town/city with the secrets of the water was a new twist.
I felt like much of the writing itself was repetitive, somehow separated from the true emotion of the story. Even in moments that I felt should have great despair, it felt like Noria was floating through life. Strange.
A copy of Wake was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review, and because she intentionally added a thrum. How could I resist?
I enjoyedA copy of Wake was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review, and because she intentionally added a thrum. How could I resist?
I enjoyed Maia Sepp's other End Times writing, a novella called An Etiquette Guide to the End Times, which I remember making me laugh. This is the story of the time right before that novella, about how the rising water levels occur. Key characters include a California girl (who has lived all over) working for a Toronto marketing firm, an iceberg scientist (her Dad) and a bunch of other characters that add a fun spirit to the novel. I particularly enjoyed the story of the almost-sentient kitchen appliances, because it seems like a believable end product of where our technology could head.
I laughed a lot, and emailed some Toronto friends in particular because I thought they would like it. I would have loved for it to be longer, although I like these almost episodic short novels in the End Times world, and I will look forward to what comes next, whether it is before the fridge or after the chickens. ...more
This is going to be a difficult review for me to write. First of all, you should know that I love Margaret Atwood, from her poetry to her literary novThis is going to be a difficult review for me to write. First of all, you should know that I love Margaret Atwood, from her poetry to her literary novels to her dystopian novels. I consider Oryx and Crake as one of my favorite reads and one of the novels I recommend most to people who either read science fiction and need a bridge to "regular" literature and vice versa. I quit a book club over that book, Margaret!
I was excited about Positron when Margaret Atwood was first publishing it in serial eBook form. You can hear me talking about the first three episodes way back on Episode 003 of the Reading Envy Podcast. I actually had to go back and edit that post because the serial eBook episodes are no longer available for purchase, and seem to have disappeared entirely from Amazon. It was a lot of fun - campy, silly, sexy - I was devoted and planned to buy all the episodes.
Unfortunately the transition from serial to novel did not go well. I had heard the book was "completely different" but that was not true. I'm not sure that came from the publisher so I am not accusing them of anything, but at least the first episode was present within this novel verbatim (the "I'm Starved for You" fuchsia lipstick part for those of you familiar with it.) The novel still reads like a string of episodes and the parts written to pull it together feel halfhearted. The beginning of the novel is actually pretty boring compared to the world that the serial version of the world started with. I think the back story should have been intertwined into the novel because by the end some of these elements are repetitive - in the way a serial can get away with, when you can't guarantee the reader has read all of it. But repetition is far from necessary in a self-contained work. In the end, problems like this just come across as rather lazy. And Elvis sexbots and mandated jail time can only go so far on their own.
Perhaps a novel can generate more money than a serial publication. I would have preferred getting to read something new. Maybe Atwood could have sent THIS novel to the time capsule and let us read the other one!
Part of my low rating of this novel is inexorably linked to my audiobook listening experience. I had a review copy that could only be accessed using Penguin Random House's new audiobook application, which has a way to go before it will be a viable product. I had to listen at 1x speed which made the draggy parts more draggy, and since my place didn't save, I had to remember where I was and restart sections. My original download ended at track 11, so I was stuck with Elvis on the plane and couldn't fathom that kind of ending. Luckily I double checked and was able to download the last three parts. I dragged my feet going back to it, which is not a good sign. I DO think the two narrators did a good job, and since the story alternates between Charmaine and Stan, it was a good use of voice talent.
I keep waffling between two and three stars, but I reserve three for books that are decent, good, but simply not for me. I'm afraid I like this novel less than that, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, and I wish it didn't exist. It has left a bitter taste in my mouth. So I have taken it upon myself to add it to my science fiction and fantasy shelf, because Margaret Atwood hates that. (That does help a little. 2.5 stars.)
I was provided a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which you can see I have given. I would have bought this book immediately if I hadn't had a review copy, so I actually appreciate the chance to not make that mistake....more
For a post-apocalyptic novel to really work, it needs to be plausible. There are a few problems with this new series that disconnected me from the stoFor a post-apocalyptic novel to really work, it needs to be plausible. There are a few problems with this new series that disconnected me from the story - all of the sudden, everyone has a twin! And one of the twins (but only one, always) has a deformity! And society is divided into Alphas and Omegas. Except if your twin dies, you die. I actually like the consequences to this divided society, to the extra risk of murder/illness for your twin, but it isn't explained. It would have been more believable on a different planet or for a different species or to have some kind of virus... but the explanation is "for an unknown reason." Weak. If this core concept had been handled better the entire novel would have been much stronger.
Then they spend 1/3 of the novel running through a forest to an island. This would have been a great time to get to know these two characters more but you really don't, it's more descriptive of the journey than of them. They seem to have a brother-sister type relationship and then suddenly they are kissing. I wanted that story, that arc, but it seemed to just be there when convenient.
Also I saw the end coming. I'm sure it will make an exciting film, but reading/watching will require a rather large dose of suspension of disbelief....more
It was an interesting experience to reread this book, because I remembered nothing about the plot or characters, just the world itself.
In the introducIt was an interesting experience to reread this book, because I remembered nothing about the plot or characters, just the world itself.
In the introduction the CBS Radio production of Brave New World in the mid 1950s, Aldous Huxley (serving as narrator) indicates that he meant the book as a warning about what would happen with our society if we continued on the path of consumerism and technological advance to the detriment of our humanity. He uses the term "negative utopia," and twenty years after the publication thought he had overestimated the number of years it would take us to get there - the novel was set 800 years into the future, and 20 years later, he decided it may be more like 200. He is very stern in this recording, a prophet of warning.
I think this time around I was struck most by the debate about happiness. Is happiness truly the greatest pursuit? Or should it not be the "first thing?" (subtle C.S. Lewis reference, booyah)
In the world of BNW:
"You can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma."
Conditioned to only want what you can have, and if that's not enough, a mood-altering drug to balance you out. That's the world of BNW, until it is disrupted by John the Savage and a few Alpha males who long for things their society is not set up for - one desires isolation and one desires poetry.
Women are resigned to "engaging" with men on a regular basis, pregnancy is simulated to cheer them up, birth control is something they are conditioned to do, and marriage and other long term relationships are considered pornographic. The greatest compliment a man can pay a woman is to say she is "pneumatic." But if this is a negative utopia, perhaps Huxley knew that increasing the number of castes, and keeping women from the top, would only be a part of the calm but controlling world he feared.
I wish Huxley would have written a novel set on one of the islands where the outliers are sent. It seems like the conversations and advancement of ideas in those places would have been more interesting than the rinse-repeat-condition universe of The World State. ...more
I don't feel any worse or better about this book than I did about Divergent (see my review), in fact I feel a bit of deja vu because I picked this upI don't feel any worse or better about this book than I did about Divergent (see my review), in fact I feel a bit of deja vu because I picked this up after seeing the movie trailer and thought oh yeah, gotta read it before the movie comes out.
I read 50 pages and then set it aside for a month or so, that's how much I cared! All the labels still seem false to me, and people continue to act inconsistently, in ways that don't make sense inside the strict factioned society the author has set up. Is Tris a hero or a victim? She is kind of obnoxious. Yes I know she has done an awful thing but she doesn't seem to frame it well and we don't want real-life PTSD in a dystopian heroine, do we? No! We want fearlessness and smarts and leadership. Without it, all the characters seem to bumble through, making the novel and the dramatic fight scenes longer than necessary to advance the story forward to the final reveal.
And I should have had a drinking game for the number of times lips were pressed against something. These chaste kids do a lot of it....more
"You are only partly alive. We can help you more than you can imagine."
I had never heard of this book before it was selected for an SFF Audio Readalon"You are only partly alive. We can help you more than you can imagine."
I had never heard of this book before it was selected for an SFF Audio Readalong discussion, and I think I liked it more after we talked about it for an hour or so.
There is a lot to think about here. The novel is in four sections and quite a bit of it has hints of other dystopias - the community with scheduled sex and neighbor-reporting is similar to We, the drugging of society feels like Brave New World, and I was completely expecting it to go in the direction of the ending of 1984.
This book won the Prometheus Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society for examining concepts of freedom. Hmm, I have read 18 books from their list. What does that mean?
But that may be the most interesting part of the novel, or at least what I was thinking about while reading it. Many people rate the book low because of the rape scene, and while it feels gratuitous in the moment, I actually think it is our first huge clue that Chip is a questionable hero. What is he going to do if he overthrows Uni? Would he be someone to follow? And what is worse, knowing the truth or living a passive, expected life?
And one little quote, one I felt very deeply considering recent events:
"We’ve got to fight, not adjust. Fight, fight, fight." ...more
This is an author I had not heard of until we recorded Episode 014 of the Reading Envy podcast, and Jason (our guest) mentioned her in passing as he dThis is an author I had not heard of until we recorded Episode 014 of the Reading Envy podcast, and Jason (our guest) mentioned her in passing as he discussed a book by her husband. Then I was poking around in Edelweiss looking through review copies of interesting sounding books, and found this, Laura van den Berg's first novel. (Oh yeah so disclaimer, I got this for free, but that does not alter my honest review.)
This is the author's first novel, but I will definitely be finding her short stories to read after this. The story is bleak, about a girl named Joy who is living in quarantine in a hospital. I would not read the novel description because I think it gives too much of the story away. We do know that many of the people have died from a disease that turns your skin silver and causes you to lose your memory, before you eventually die of it.
Part 1 centers around the hospital with some back story, while Part 2 moves on from there. It was there that I encountered some explanations of things that sent me back to Part 1 to try to make sense of it all. In a good way, I think.
I liked the unique details like the pilgrims and the mother....more
I received a review copy of this audiobook from the publisher.
I had this book on my radar for a while after seeing it in Publishers Weekly, because II received a review copy of this audiobook from the publisher.
I had this book on my radar for a while after seeing it in Publishers Weekly, because I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic novels. It ended up on the National Book Award longlist, surprising I thought, considering I'd never heard of the author! That moved it up in my listening queue.
It is possible I am tainted by my depth of post-apocalyptic reading, because I don't feel this book does anything other authors haven't done. The story is crafted well with intertwining stories and time periods, but a lot of practical details are conveniently ignored. For instance, 20 years after 99.9% of the world died, a symphony travels around and performs music and Shakespeare, but there is no information about how they feed themselves. Kind of strange, kind of convenient, as is much of the details about the farthest future covered by the book.
The characters that become main characters are also not the most interesting people in the world, and I think that was another thing keeping me from connecting to the novel. Of course, once everyone else dies, they become the most interesting people in the world, and maybe that is the point the author is making.
The audiobook was well-read but I seriously considered quitting halfway through....more
I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a fun, quick read about an advice columnist in dystopian America. TI received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a fun, quick read about an advice columnist in dystopian America. The government steals back her stolen chickens during a "negotiation" to get her to work as a propaganda artist for zombie-free America. I liked the vivid world-building in this novella, just wanted more of the story! I had not heard of this author before, but I'll be back.
The timing of this story was terrific because I was on my first day of three weeks of zero internet access, and in the story, the Internet gets turned off! Dystopia is now.
The writing makes it a fun read, and I could picture it as a tv show because it is snappy. Here are a few examples:
"Maybe she's doing something like good cop, bad cop?" "You need two cops for that." "Looks like she's an overachiever."
"I open the package and look inside: a gluey glop of hot-as-hell contents, chunks of almost identifiable foods swimming in the sludge. It's the perfect meal to eat while watching a terrorist act unfold."...more
This is a review of the hardcover, but I have to say I am really looking forward to listening to the radio play version that arrived in my mailbox onThis is a review of the hardcover, but I have to say I am really looking forward to listening to the radio play version that arrived in my mailbox on Saturday!
What I need in my dystopia is realism and possibility, that it could happen here, in my lifetime. That is the brilliance Darin Bradley brings to his novels, both in Noise and in Chimpanzee.
The premise of Chimpanzee may be even more chilling to those of us working in academia, who have seen the impact of the various economic downturns on expensive liberal arts educations. Now that there are no job guarantees, and no guarantee on the investment made (often by the students through hefty loans), people are starting to question the benefit of the system we have maintained for so long.
I hate this conversation, because I work at one of those schools, and depend on it for my livelihood. So did the author, for a while. And that's where reality and the terror of this possible future start to blur within the novel. Benjamin Cade, actually Dr. Benjamin Cade, can't find work teaching and can't pay back his student loans. He is in the middle of having his education repossessed, a treatment that deletes memories along with knowledge. In the meantime, he is required to pay back the cost of the treatments by working for Renewal, the government structure that reigns in some of the chaos during the New Depression.
Cade's memories are included every once in a while between the text of the present day, and the reader can see how the repossession has started to effect them. I don't want to say more about the story because I think the rest should be discovered by the reader.
Anyone else still paying off their student loans? Yeah.......more
I received a copy of this from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.
I was intrigued by the description of this book, a post-apocalypticI received a copy of this from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.
I was intrigued by the description of this book, a post-apocalyptic world where the main character works in an archive? Sounded interesting. In the end, I feel like the author tries to do too much at once - post-apocalypse plus crime plus grief plus a John Brunner media-saturated landscape. It reminded me of Stand on Zanzibar in the way everyone is assaulted by advertising and an abundance of information about every person they encounter, with the added twist of advertising that changes in reaction to a person's response. Porn and graphic violence in the media was also prevalent.
The trouble is, I'm not really sure what this has to do with the core story. I thought it was somehow linked to the destruction of Pittsburgh, but instead it just seems to be the attempt to represent the future and serve as a convenient way to link most of the important clues to solving the crime. And while the survivors of Pittsburgh seem to be greatly effected by its destruction, the rest of the world seems somewhat zombie-like. I never really figured out, is this the world or is this a result to tragedy?
More real to John Dominic Blaxton (who rarely is just referred to as John) is his dead wife, who he is able to spend time with in a recreated virtual space. The virtual reality has been built from actual recorded data (the vast network of surveillance) and added to based on memories, recalled info, and so on. He spends a lot of his waking hours reliving moments with her and trying to feel close to her.
He also is investigating a woman's dead body who seems to be disappearing from the archive, and ends up wrapped up in a crime family of sorts that threatens his most important memory. He's hired as an outside researcher after having to leave his archival job (drugs), one of those situations where the police are no use (necessary for him to be necessary, of course.)
"...The police don't have the resources. Besides, they don't prioritize this as a missing persons case or anything of the sort but rather a data mismanagement claim or at worst cybervandalism or a hacking charge. Digital graffiti, that sort of thing... I've searched on my own, but she's vanishing. I have photographs - I know she exists. Existed-"
The author has created some challenges for himself. In order to make a greater dramatic arc for John Dominic Blaxton, the reveals have to be absurdly violent and gruesome for them even to register for the reader after being exposed to the stream of porn and blood and gossip that the average person in his world encounters every day. To me, that event was not that startling. To me, the most sorrowful moment happened earlier in the story, when his wife suddenly isn't available to him. The poignancy of that story gets covered up by the crime romp.
There's not a lot to live for in this world, but I couldn't help but think the archive was not doing much to allow John Dominic Blaxton to move on. There didn't seem to be a lot to live for otherwise. Early on he even admits this - "I can't fathom what happiness might mean anymore - it seems like luxury to someone whose life feels like a lead-lined discomfort... I don't seek out happiness, just pockets of alleviation - a drowning man sipping at bubbles of air."
I really enjoyed the world-building part of this novel, and the use of existing technology in a more saturated way (adaware, augmented reality, virtual reality). It's just the crime element that I didn't connect to. I wonder what it would have been like as a short story, because I was yearning for a tighter reading experience....more
Never reviewed this one but you can hear me discuss it on the SFF Audio Podcast. This one is a utopia. What happens when life is good? Well, not a lotNever reviewed this one but you can hear me discuss it on the SFF Audio Podcast. This one is a utopia. What happens when life is good? Well, not a lot. I do like the parallel future idea that KSR had for this triptych, but I haven't read the other two....more
What would you do if you knew the world was ending in six months? Hank Palace decides to keep doing his job as a police detective in Concord, NH.
TheWhat would you do if you knew the world was ending in six months? Hank Palace decides to keep doing his job as a police detective in Concord, NH.
The first third and last chapter of this book were my favorite parts - the world, the crisis, the lack of seeming hope. And then it ended with some questions I'm interested in and hints of other things going on that I'm unclear on, so I will probably read more books in this series.
The rest of the book is very much a crime, police procedural novel. Well written and the characters are more interesting than in a regular crime novel because of the pending doom, but still a crime novel. And crime novels aren't really my thing. It didn't make me want to put the book aside or anything, so I still enjoyed it.
A few bits: "The end of the world changes everything, from a law-enforcement perspective."
"People's inability to face up to this thing is worse than the thing, it really is."
We're discussing this on the SFF Audio podcast this weekend, so once it posts I'll link to it....more
Full disclosure - I got a review copy of this in audiobook form when John Joseph Adams contacted the review coordinator at SFFAudio, me! I snapped itFull disclosure - I got a review copy of this in audiobook form when John Joseph Adams contacted the review coordinator at SFFAudio, me! I snapped it up because I already own many of his anthologies and reading The Wastelands changed my reading life.
Table of contents and audiobook narrator listings copied directly from John Joseph Adams' website. If you want more detailed summaries of each story, I found the review at Tangent very good, particularly because it is so hard to keep track of short stories when you are listening instead of reading!
The audio was an incredible asset to this anthology, although I will probably also need to buy this for my shelf o' anthologies. The best in audio are Removal Order, BRING HER TO ME, and The Fifth Day of Deer Camp.
My favorite stories were BRING HER TO ME and Goodnight Moon.
I'm most interested in the next installment (so please let there be a next installment) of Removal Order, Pretty Soon the Four Horsemen are Going to Come Riding Through, and Spores.
What do I mean by next installment? Well The End is Nigh is the first volume of a triptych. It will be followed by The End is Now and The End Has Come, with some authors contributing linked stories. Very exciting concept, and as the Queen of Apocalypse there is no way I couldn't read this.
For more detailed impressions, click past spoiler (not really a spoiler) (view spoiler)[
Introduction—John Joseph Adams, read by Lex Wilson
"Post-apocalyptic fiction is about worlds that have already burned. Apocalyptic fiction is about worlds that are burning.
The End is Nigh is about the match."
The Balm and the Wound —Robin Wasserman, narrator Jack Kincaid End times and a preacher rises up.
Heaven is a Place on Planet X —Desirina Boskovich, narrator Folly Blaine Aliens forcing humans to be enforcers of their own people, in preparation for a worldwide move to Planet X. You can read this story on Wired.com.
Break! Break! Break! —Charlie Jane Anders, read by James Keller Teenaged film makers
The Gods Will Not Be Chained —Ken Liu, read by Anaea Lay Communicating with the past through emoji
Wedding Day —Jake Kerr, read by Folly Blaine What does it take for gay marriage not to be an issue? How about an earth-destroying asteroid? Sounds campy but isn't, very present-day pending doom.
Removal Order —Tananarive Due, read by Laurice White A very sad story that left more questions than answers and I hope it continues in the next anthology of the triptych. The narrator was perfection for the tone of the story.
System Reset —Tobias S. Buckell, read by Jack Kincaid A post-Snowden, pre-apocalypse hacker wish fulfillment story. :)
This Unkempt World is Falling to Pieces —Jamie Ford, read by Rajan Khanna Comet story. Honestly I forgot it already!
BRING HER TO ME —Ben H. Winters, performed by a cast that includes Kate Baker, Mur Lafferty, Anaea Lay, Tina Connolly, Rajan Khanna, Lex Wilson, and Jack Kincaid as GOD VOICE Creepy. I hope God never speaks to me. A must-listen in audio.
In the Air —Hugh Howey, read by Lex Wilson In the same world as Wool, a father elects not to go to the silo even though he knows the world is ending. This story is the last day with his family.
Goodnight Moon —Annie Bellet, read by Tina Connolly Astronauts facing certain death. No really, certain. I thought it was lovely.
Dancing with Death in the Land of Nod —Will McIntosh, read by Norm Sherman A decently interesting virus premise, a drastically mundane setting.
Houses Without Air —Megan Arkenberg, read by Anaea Lay In this pending apocalypse, the world is running out of oxygen, which will be certain doom. One person's roommate responds with art.
The Fifth Day of Deer Camp —Scott Sigler, read by Scott Sigler Oh my gosh, you must get the audio for this one. The author does a great northern Minnesota accent for this of what would make a great story from deer camp if these guys can survive.
Enjoy the Moment —Jack McDevitt, read by Sarah Tolbert The first of two stories that include a the interruption of the earth's orbit. This one is more connected with a physicist and an important discovery.
Pretty Soon the Four Horsemen are Going to Come Riding Through —Nancy Kress, read by Mur Lafferty A major volcano blew unknown substances across the world 5-6 years before this story takes place. The effects on the unborn children of the time are just now starting to be noticeable. I'm glad the author is continuing the story in future volumes because non-violence doesn't seem like the end of the world to me!
Spores —Seanan McGuire, read by the incomparable Kate Baker The end is near and it is a FUNGUS. Of course. Not quite as creepy as her Parasite novel but has more heart, and really more about living with OCD than it is about the end of the world.
She’s Got a Ticket to Ride —Jonathan Maberry, read by Ralph Walters Another story about the earth's orbit, this time with more cults!
Agent Unknown —David Wellington, read by Jack Kincaid This story feels very much like straight zombies, but okay, we can call it a virus.
Enlightenment —Matthew Mather, read by Kate Baker This one can only have an emotional response. I was driving when I listened to it and I almost threw up. Horrifying but would have been more believable if the characters had more to them. The relationship between the most important two never made sense.
Shooting the Apocalypse —Paolo Bacigalupi A story about a reporter and a photographer covering the water crisis on the border between Arizona and Texas, which are now separate countries.
Love Perverts —Sarah Langan, read by Lex Wilson Mad Max and an apocalypse lottery. (hide spoiler)]
Some of these can be read for free on the Apocalypse Triptych Website. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This took me forever to read because I downloaded it on my iPhonish, and only read it in moments where I needed something to do, in line at a food truThis took me forever to read because I downloaded it on my iPhonish, and only read it in moments where I needed something to do, in line at a food truck, at a faculty forum, in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.
I have been wanting to finish some of the series and trilogies that I have started, and this was a good pick due to the movie coming out. It really is the worst of the trilogy. Part of it is that it just goes on too long. The chapters alternate between Tris and Four (Tobias) but unfortunately this means that we have to hear about awkward teenage groping from both perspectives. It really doesn't seem to fit in the scenario they are in, but overall the pacing seems to be "Learn horrifying fact about your family/the world/yourself" - "have emotional reaction that alienates your friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/brother/frenemy" - "make out with your SO" - "dramatic violent scene" - REPEAT. Too many times. So much of it forced urgency that by the time it got to the truly dramatic and emotional parts I was weary of the entire thing - the world, the characters, the story.
And this could have been the most interesting book. (view spoiler)[The Divergent rebellion has led some to discover the world outside. There are major players here and discoveries of horrific things like the death serum, memory resets, and the people living in the fringe. But somehow the writing and droning on and on of this book deflates these core elements. And I had seen enough reviews to anticipate what might happen in the end. (hide spoiler)]
I'll probably still watch the last two movies (since for some reason, filmmakers always need to make the final book in a sci-fi YA series into two films) because I have always felt this series worked better on screen than on the page. This is likely because when you only have two hours, the story gets much tighter.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Hugh Howey's bio includes this sentence: "A theme in my books is the celebration of overcoming odds and of not allowing the cruelty of the universe toHugh Howey's bio includes this sentence: "A theme in my books is the celebration of overcoming odds and of not allowing the cruelty of the universe to change who you are in the process."
The cruelty of the universe was clear in Wool Omnibus (Silo, #1), where humanity was several (hundred) years into living in a silo, the only people left alive on earth as far as they knew. Isolated, yet somehow sustainable if only the riots and coups could be held at bay. The silo enforced systematic cruelty as well, with the Cleanings removing people who had violated the social code, and the engineers with access to more than they were sharing. That's about all I can say without a spoiler.
Then came Shift, the backstory to Wool. I didn't review it very highly because I decided that giving me specifics didn't end up satisfying me as a reader, in fact part of the horror that made Wool so successful was not being sure where anything had come from or how long it had been there, and if there was any hope. We don't really get hope from Shift, but it fills in the gaps up to the beginning of Wool. I admit that I went back and upped the star by one after seeing how it all ended up.
In Dust, Howey twines the stories of Wool and Shift together in a satisfying way. The facts we never knew while reading Wool become integral to what happens after. I can't say anything at all about the story without spoiling the other two books, but I was surprised by who became the two main characters.
I also include Howey's biographical quote for a inexplicable reason (just read it), but I do think this hidden optimism has an impact on where he takes the story.
I listened to the audiobook, and read other books in between. I took breaks between the major sections. Tim Gerard Reynolds is a good narrator for these books, but I can't speed him up to 2x like I can with most readers. Even 1.5x felt too fast at times. That isn't a complaint, just an observation; the book took longer to listen to than others have!...more