I finished this book some time ago, at first though I had trouble articulating my feelings on it. Like a good stew I had to let my thoughts simmer.
I p...moreI finished this book some time ago, at first though I had trouble articulating my feelings on it. Like a good stew I had to let my thoughts simmer.
I picked this book off the library shelf as an afterthought, for no other reason than I like the title. I had never read anything by Bellow and was given the impression that it was the story of a down-on-his-luck man going through a mid-life crisis by the librarian who checked out the book for me. And when I began reading the book on the subway trip home an older gentleman made some comments to me about the book, saying it was, "the most Russian America novel he ever read."
Normally that would have stopped me dead in my tracks as I am not really that keen on the overly symbolic tales about redemption through suffering and unsuccessful love affairs. But the length of the book as well as the first few pages I had finished prior to being interrupted drew me back and for that I am grateful.
For Seize the Day, which is such a thin book, was chock-full of literary gold. Its examination of American ideals and the internal grappling of the human soul hit me like a quick jab to the chin. There was just so much happening on various levels in this story it was truly astonishing.
Tommy, the protagonist, spends the day with us as he muses over his life and worrying over his future and despite the book being over 50 years old everything he was going through felt fresh and true!
It's obvious that Bellow’s talent lies, not in the believability of his dialogue but in the effortless pace at which the story unfolds. We are given so much complexity - financial loss, capitalist economics, morality, marriage, psychology, identity development, family dynamics - and all in the span of a little over a hundred pages.
Can Tommy come to terms with his life and his culture? Can he get over the hurdles that life and living have set before him? Can he get out of his own way or will he be his own worst enemy? And most importantly can he stop caring so much what others think of him and begin to see the world through his own eyes not others?
This was a very interesting and slightly wondrous read. It made me think about the world around me as much as my own hurdles. I would recommend it to anyone who's spent a little too much time in their own head because it gives excellent perspective on living for now.
’Bringing people into the Here-and-Now. The real universe. That’s the present moment. The past is no good to us. The future is full of anxiety. Only the present is real – the here-and-now. Seize the day.’(less)
This is the fourth Alastair Reynolds book I've read, it is also hands-down the best!
Come, have a few pisco sours and meet a combat veteran who uses o...more This is the fourth Alastair Reynolds book I've read, it is also hands-down the best!
Come, have a few pisco sours and meet a combat veteran who uses only the right amount of force needed for the task and no more... A tall sexy physically altered 'posthuman' named Zebra who, along with other 'posthuman' elitists bored with life are now ready to risk anything for a true feeling... A man who fancies himself a great composer... A nurse from a religious order who needs some lessons in self-defense and you might just find yourself taken away to Chasm City!
I first hear of Alastair Reynolds a few years back when he was part of a talk given in Boston about the idea of the Singularity in the context of the end of human life as we know it. The definition of the word singularity is simply: a point in time beyond which events cannot be predicted. The widely known gravitational or spacetime singularities have been motif's in SF for years while the end of humanity because of events outside of the control or understanding of humanity has only recently become popular.
Reynolds had worked at the European Space Agency prior to becoming a SF writer and after listening to him I was impressed enough to pick up Revelation Space. While I enjoyed it and it's immediate sequel I found the last book in that series to be unsatisfying and was more then a little bit annoyed after giving so much time to the series. Still, I enjoyed his writing style, his ideas of the future and his characters. A few friends suggested Chasm City and as it was part of the RevSpace Universe, though not a continuation of the series, I was interested enough to take it out of the library.
As numerous descriptions of the book point out, it focuses on the unusual societal and physical structure of Chasm City, the main settlement of Yellowstone, after an alien virus known as the Melding Plague has wreaked havoc. Tanner Mirabel has come to Yellowstone from Sky's Edge chasing the man who killed his friend and the love of his life. This chase has required fifteen years of interstellar travel, causing them both to have ridden across the void in cryosleep chambers. Now on the nightmarishly reshaped main settlement of Yellowstone, Chasm City, Tanner chases leads on the 'postmortal' noble, Argent Reivich, in hopes to catching up to him and making him regret having left Tanner alive.
Tanner is not one of the elite however, he's just a private security man and as he leaves Idlewild recuperation habitat many are his problems: First he suffers from amnesia, which is an occasional side effect of cryogenic freezing, so he must piece together what drives him. He also seems to be suffering from dreams caused by an engineered virus used by a cult for indoctrination. On-top-of-which he is now in a system new to him, one which has suffered the release of virus pushing back much of this once bright culture to that below the one he had know all his life.
Chasm City is an intricately plotted SF novel with strong elements of Noir Pulp Detective stories, space pioneering stories, war stories and the manifest destiny of technological superiority as well as themes ranging from identity, memory and immortality to consciousness and rationalization of behavior. What makes Chasm City stand out from other Crime Noir SF like Altered Carbon is the intricate web Reynolds can spin, merging seemingly desperate elements together to build a tangibly epic world around the reader.
The structure of the book may not be unique but it is smartly done, as the strands of flashback sequences are woven through the main revenge story arc. Don't worry if the revenge motif sounds a little shallow, before it becomes trite Reynolds directly addresses it and things begin to fall into place with all three narratives. In lesser hands this sort of skipping about the timelines could cause confusion but the pacing and structure of Chasm City display a clarity of structure, even without using chapter breaks for transition. As a result the reader is never confused.
In spite of the aspects of Crime Fiction influencing this stories narrative the Science or Speculative Fiction elements remains strong. Reynolds knows his science, he is imaginative and clever at fusing cultures together in intuitive ways. He also cares about creating believable and interesting characters with real motivations. His prose are accessible without coming off as having been dumbed down and he seamlessly slips in the occasional bit of humor or ironic dialogue.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good Crime Noir story and can drink deeply from the well of SF. Basically YOU, after all you must have read this whole review for a reason?!(less)
The momentum of this book builds to freight train like speeds until running the reader over with it's tight thought-provoking ending. I would recomme...more The momentum of this book builds to freight train like speeds until running the reader over with it's tight thought-provoking ending. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in humanity and an open mind. Though I would have to warn them that it might not be like anything they've ever read and may just touch them on a level past art and reason but not to fear it's just magic!
In this story of a could-have-been world we see Germany and the Axis carved up the earth after World War II. Here the Mediterranean Sea had been drained to make way for farmland, a rocket was just sent to Mars and Africa is a barren wasteland. Here Japan holds the West Coast of what was once the USA and the I Ching is a daily part of everyone's life.
Cultural change, lost souls and people just looking for a connection or purpose populate this book who's themes are as varied as the wild world Dick saw before him in 1962. With all this it texture to it, The Man in the High Castle strongly impresses on us that chance, or fate, will have its way and what we may choose might be as important as what we dismiss.
In San Francisco we visit the store and life of a white man, a seller of antiquities to the occupying Japanese. We live with a secretly Jewish craftsman and his obsession with the I Ching, an obsession which rivals that of a powerful man in the Japanese Government. Here we see petty men are petty men where ever they are and whatever they achieve. We meet different factions within the German regime, lean of spies and plots and life here until a change in perspectives takes us to Colorado. There we enter life of the aforementioned craftsman's estranged wife...
All these people and more live their lives in this world just as we might live ours until a new book calls their perspective into question. This book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is a "What if" story, asking questions about what the world would be like had the Allies won World War II.
Yet that fiction within fiction is not our world.
I read a review on this book that started, "I think this book broke my brain." What a great and apt beginning to a review of this, and actually many of Phil K. Dick's work. I felt that exact feeling the first time I read Do Androids Dream... I remember a moment when I walked out of the LIRR so distracted by the chapter where Deckard is being convinced that he's an andy that I stepped out into a section of the station I hadn't been to before. For a moment there I wasn't sure what was real, I wasn't sure I was real.
It was one of the scariest and at the same time most exciting feeling I ever had, and it was all because of books. It was all because of reading Phil K. Dick. I was young and it was my first book of his. I say this not as an excuse, for I do not fell silly about what happened, on the contrary I feel honored. At that moment more than most I felt the magic that Carl Sagan talked about when he so eloquently talked about books. I was lucky, I was privileged to be taken away from my world and placed in another, even for he briefest of moments, after having thought I had put that magic away as a child.
Like so many of Dick's works, The Man in the High Castle was submersive, the difference here was not that I was unsure where I was, it was I was unsure where Dick was when he wrote this Alt-History masterpiece. It almost seemed like he couldn't have been in our world, perhaps he wasn't. Perhaps he somehow was able to transport his mind to a world where Germany and Japan had won the Second World War with the magic of the book he used to write this one. Yes it's true, Dick did not write this book alone, he had help in the form of a character from the book. A piece of magic that lives in our reality, the I Ching.
"Crazy," you think? Not for Philip K. Dick! For every time a character in The Man in the High Castle consult the I Ching, so did Dick! He used the resulting hexagrams not only in the book (you saw what the character and Dick saw) but to shape the narrative itself. I cannot begin to explain this in a way it could make sense, after all how can anyone believe that a cohesive plot be structured around interpretations of randomly picked trigram figures all with origins in the 2nd millennium BCE?!
Believe it, don't believe it; either way Dick reportedly was so effected by the process of writing this story he suffered a breakdown. Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, Man in the High Castle won the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Novel garnering praised by his peers and fans alike. Comments written of this powerful work sight it as master-stroke of suspense, action, art, philosophy, plot and character development.
A meditation on what could have been, what we can never imagine and how none could truly tell the difference. It's experimental and literary attributes balance on it's sense of truth. On what Dick builds for his readers so well, a sense of reality.
If all you've read doesn't scare you, you'd like to see the day your brain could break, or you just can't believe anything could be this strange you should read this book!(less)
Have you ever had to take a drug and was told, "there would be a delay before you felt it kick-it" and it seemed like forever before you realized you...moreHave you ever had to take a drug and was told, "there would be a delay before you felt it kick-it" and it seemed like forever before you realized you were feeling the effects?!
This books had that exact sort of delayed effect on me... I read it and thought Walter Miller did a good job with it. The book was written in that classic straightforward SF story way that made Heinlein so popular. And while, at first, I was bothered by the time-jumps Miller used to break the book into sections I realize I just wanted to spend some more time in each of these eras.
I rated it a 3 and thought that would be it, then I started to realize that when my mind would wander (which is something it does often) it kept resting on A Canticle. I would think, how this bit of history or this interaction would remind me of the book. I read other books or watched television programs and would be reminded of Miller's book. I began to wonder why this dark and paranoid story felt so uplifting despite itself. I began to go over it all in my mind and realized I needed to know more about Miller.
I learned that Miller was an Air Force engineer during WWII and had been involved in the destruction of a monastery. I learned that Miller converted to Catholicism, wrote several short works, this book and a sort of sequel, and eventually he committed suicide.
I cannot claim to understand the complexities of life in war or the hardships generations past. On an intellectual level I see these things, but I have no personal context that would connect me to those hardships. Intellectual I know that and engineer wants to create. I know that my world hasn't been the world of Walter Miller, Jr. Yet once I read of his life I felt I could see within the pages of this books an attempt to pass on those experiences as well as the fears those experiences created in Miller.
That truth in fiction is one of the reasons I love reading, still I was not prepared for the passion of this seemingly subtle story was told in. It was a sort of calm of madness, not the madness of Miller or the story but the madness of the world. I could not stop thinking about the story... for days, for weeks, this story had a hold of me. I needed to talk about it and having been born a Catholic I knew that a Canticle was a song of praise, so here I am singing the praise of this remarkable work!
A Canticle for Leibowitz is based on three short stories Miller contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and the only novel published during Miller's lifetime (Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman would be published posthumously in 1997). In 1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz won a Hugo Award for Best Novel. While it featured the brethren of a Catholic order it's focus seemed more questioning of the spirituality of humans than any sort of acknowledgment of religion.
This quietly epic millennium-spanning story addresses the cycle of self-destruction, barbarism, renaissance, and self-destruction mankind has established in the world. Most of the tale takes place within the walls of a monastery, in what was once a western state of the Union. It's been several centuries since nuclear war ravaged the planet and the monks of Saint Leibowitz attempted to salvage and keep save humanity's collected knowledge through book-burnings and strife until the time when it can help build a new planet.
A Canticle is divided into three sections, each section chronicles a different step from "the time of the Flame Deluge" to a reclaimed world and so each section is almost separate story in its own right.
1. Let There Be Man
-Taking place several centuries within the dark age the populous is made up of a few city-states, nomad tribes, and the church. The monks of the Order of Leibowitz copying and preserving writings for future generations, firmly believing someday mankind will once benefit from the old knowledge.
Through the eyes of 17 year-old novice, Brother Francis Gerard, we are introduced to this world and it's inhabitants. Young Francis begins the story on vigil in the desert where he comes across an ancient fallout shelter that the thinks may have some connection to the holy Leibowitz?
2. Let There Be Light
-The world is abuzz with a new renaissance, culture and science being to spread again and again men make plans. It is 3174 and the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz is still preserving half-understood knowledge when a prominent scholar visits the abbey and is astounded at the wealth of knowledge housed there.
Brother Kornhoer has just finished work on a generator to power while outside the monastery a war is beginning between burgeoning empires. The only question is, will the church caught in the middle?
3. Let Thy Will Be Done
-Mankind has finally reached the technological maturity of pre-deluge days with rockets, robots and nuclear bombs as hallmarks of advancement. Once again world superpowers have been embroiled in a cold war which doesn't bode well for the future of humanity. Can the Leibowitzan Order's mission of preserving knowledge continue?
Sighted in books like "American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film" and the basis for Doctor David N. Samuelson thesis, A Canticle is has affected mainstream thinking since it's publication and has been favorably compared with the works of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Walker Percy.
This meditative yet dark tale touches on themes of religion, short-sightedness, greed, recurrence, the meaning of suffering and church versus state... yet the story has a over-all humility and self-derisive humor that cause the pages to fly by. Not written for Christians, Muslims or Hebrews but for people this ofttimes bleak and beautiful story is as much about preserving the tree of knowledge as it is the irony of this group of monks whose patriarch is a Jewish man who converted because of the monastery's potential midst a world bent on embracing ignorance.
I would recommend this book to readers philosophers, anthropologists and historians as it is a thought-provoking, slow-moving, Cold War Era apocalyptic vision is truer than people wish to believe. (less)