A flu pandemic kills most of the human population, and civilization as we know it ends. Twenty years after the pandemic, humans in Northern America liA flu pandemic kills most of the human population, and civilization as we know it ends. Twenty years after the pandemic, humans in Northern America live isolated lives, at most a few hundred in an area. There is no electricity, running water, antibiotics; most people spend their time just trying to survive. The tale weaves backward and forward in time, from decades before the plague to decades after it, following characters whose lives were all touched in some way by one famous actor, Arthur Leander. One was his best friend, another the child actress who watched him die onstage during King Lear. There's a certain interest in watching various objects or ideas pass through him to other characters: for instance, his ex-wife wrote a graphic novel he passes on to the child actress and to his son, and each takes very different lessons from it. The characters themselves are believable and feel like they have lives of their own, although I didn't actually like them much. Not that I disliked them either, but I just didn't feel particularly interested in what happened to them.
I have two problems with this book. One, I like books with plots, and this one is basically a meditation on civilization, memory, and what is immortal. Although action takes place and characters move from one area to the next, there isn't anything in the way of an actual plot.
Two, I just didn't buy the worldbuilding. I felt like the author chose a pandemic to end the world, but then didn't think through what would happen after the flu passed. Human civilization completely collapses after the flu, and I can't figure out why. Yes, the first few months or even year was undoubtedly difficult, and I understand that living through the deaths of everyone you know has got to be hugely traumatizing. But for civilization to remain at a pre-industrial level for TWENTY YEARS after the pandemic strains my imagination. Character after character bemoaned the lack of food, medicine, technology and knowledge, even though none of those things were actually destroyed by the flu. Why didn't anyone just eat preserved food? With such a tiny percentage of the population left, there would have been plenty to go around. The food supply is only very barely brushed upon, despite it supposedly being a huge concern of all the characters--we get a couple in-passing mentions of people hunting deer and one mention of planting crops near the airport, and that's it. Nothing about the physical changes to people's bodies that must have occurred when they went from a sedentary lifestyle to one of constant physical labor. Nothing about how this changed their way of thinking. Instead, pages and pages of characters remembering the same couple dinner parties with Arthur from different perspectives. Too, I couldn't understand why none of the characters cared at all about recreating the technological marvels they bemoaned the lack of. There are plenty of textbooks and how-to guides available, and every part of our existing infrastructure was still available. And yet no one (until the last few pages) was at all interested in learning medicine from medical textbooks, raiding hospitals or veterinary clinics, or trying to create bicycle or water-powered electrical generators? It was so weird!
If I were a different reader, neither of these issues would bother me at all; I might even think of them as positives. Not everyone wants to read about survival tactics, after all. My priorities as a reader (a world that makes sense, characters I care about, a plot arc) were unsatisfied by this book, but it's well-written and thoughtful, and perhaps that could make other kinds of readers very happy....more
The goddess Athena decides to create a grand experiment to determine how Plato's Republic would function. She plucks philosophers and thinkers from thThe goddess Athena decides to create a grand experiment to determine how Plato's Republic would function. She plucks philosophers and thinkers from throughout time and sets them the task of creating a utopia based on one man's vision. Of course, not everything goes according to plan...
This sequel is told through the eyes of philosopher Maia, the god Apollo (currently in mortal form) and his daughter Arete. The events of The Just City were twenty years ago, and since then multiple republics have been founded, each trying to create a more perfect utopia. Beyond philosophical differences, the cities also war over proper distribution of art. These "art raids" have escalated over time. Apollo makes it his mission to end the raids and remind the philosophers why they sought to create Plato's Republic in the first place.
I like Arete, but she didn't fully come alive for me. She was too matter-of-fact, and her character voice was very similar to Apollo and Simmea's. (In fact, given a random passage I doubt I'd have been able to distinguish one from the other.) I was glad to see that many of my qualms about The Just City were answered in The Philosopher Kings: they deal with the rapists from the first book, and resolve the future of the Just City. It is this latter consideration that bumped the book from "enjoyable" to "omg yes" for me. (view spoiler)[Plopping a bunch of philosophers into the twenty-fifth century and making them be the forefront of contact with alien races is thrilling! (hide spoiler)] I very much look forward to the last book in this trilogy; I can't wait to see what it's like!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An insipid heroine and a high handed Duke (of course he's a Duke) fall in love after exchanging three sentences worth of dialog, then get married andAn insipid heroine and a high handed Duke (of course he's a Duke) fall in love after exchanging three sentences worth of dialog, then get married and have a baby. This felt written by a rule book; there's no personality, style, or point to it....more
A teenager believes whole heartedly in her preacher's prophecies of the coming apocalypse, but a chance encounter with a cute boy (and the questions hA teenager believes whole heartedly in her preacher's prophecies of the coming apocalypse, but a chance encounter with a cute boy (and the questions he asks) make her reevaluate her world view. solid but forgettable....more
In a tale that begins during the Cultural Revolution and continues into the future, various seemingly random scientists make disturbing discoveries. EIn a tale that begins during the Cultural Revolution and continues into the future, various seemingly random scientists make disturbing discoveries. Eventually it becomes clear that this is all related to (view spoiler)[factions on Earth that are trying to prepare the planet for an alien invasion. The alien fleet (termed Trisolarians because their world suffers through the seemingly chaotic movements of a solar system with three suns) is still four hundred years away, but select misanthropes have convinced themselves that it's best that another force dictates humanity's fate. (hide spoiler)]
Some plot points that made no sense are eventually cleared up--(view spoiler)[for instance, at least one of the scientists' suicides is implied to be a murder instead of an absurd reaction to an unexpected physics experiment result (hide spoiler)]. Some of the illogical decisions can be explained by human fallacy (view spoiler)[, for instance the way the VR game "The Three Body Problem" is truly terribly designed if its intention is to convince humans to welcome aliens, or the silliness of writing countdowns on scientists' retinas (hide spoiler)], but so many poorly thought out plot points add up. The overall plot of warring factions on each planet is just not well developed enough to bear up under these minor points, or the truly terrible writing. The pacing is a real problem--the first three hundred pages are a real slog, with little to no action, and then the last hundred pages is bloody action interspersed with chapters worth of infodumps and characters explaining their entire plans (which is needed, because the plans are generally at-odds with their expected outcomes). No character, save perhaps Ye, comes across as fully realized. The characters are just names that spout dialog (none of it even close to natural speech) and infodumps (often regardless of their ostensible skills or training). Dialog is generally blocks of paragraphs. The action scenes are an odd combination of gory (lots of things happen to organs in this book) and dispassionate and unhurried. The "twists" at the end are the sort that are necessary but also incredibly expected. Altogether, it's just so very clunky that I had a hard time not hating this book.
Flavia de Luce is the youngest member of a large and strange family weathered by tragedy and war. She grew up largely neglected, and so was let run wiFlavia de Luce is the youngest member of a large and strange family weathered by tragedy and war. She grew up largely neglected, and so was let run wild and free though the woods around the family estate and in the ancient chemistry set left behind by one of her many dead relatives. Now age twelve, she is a delightfully unique and macabre creature. Her greatest joys are successfully tormenting her older sisters, chemistry, riding her bicycle, solving murder mysteries, and short quiet conversations with the estate's handyman. At the end of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, most of those joys are taken away from her--she is sent to Miss Bodycote's school to learn the genteel arts...and be surreptitiously trained as a spy.
I would follow Flavia's adventures no matter where she was or what she was doing. Luckily for me, her latest environment is an old timey boarding school filled with rumors of ghosts and acquitted murderers for science professors, and the very first night Flavia arrives, she finds a dead body in the chimney. Exciting stuff! The murder mystery develops well until the end, at which point it's all summed up rather too quickly. Seeing Flavia in a new place could have provided an opportunity to change up the readers' perception or understanding of her a bit, but she deals with suddenly being surrounded by a hundred strange girls in a new country with as much slyly clever panache as she deals with everything else. (view spoiler)[And alas, she is sent away from Miss Bodycote's at the end of the book--I definitely wanted more of that setting and those characters. But then, I love Buckshaw and those characters too, so I'm not truly disappointed. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>...more
At the death of her mother, Liyah is finally given a clue to her absent father's identity: he is Gene Chatsfield, a rich hotelier. Liyah goes to workAt the death of her mother, Liyah is finally given a clue to her absent father's identity: he is Gene Chatsfield, a rich hotelier. Liyah goes to work for him in hopes of meeting him, but after he dismisses her attempt to tell him they're related with immediate claims that she's a lying golddigger, she runs into the arms of a visiting sheikh. After a torrid night of passion, the couple fears that she's gotten pregnant, so he brings her with him to his home country. While there they fall in love, have lots of (completely not described) sex, and eventually get married.
Liyah and Sayed are cute together, with banter and intimacies that are, if not completely naturalistic, at least provide some basis to believe they know each other. But aside from that, this felt very empty, and the ending is rushed. ...more
I thought the title was hilarious, so I checked this out against my better judgment. It's not bad! The eponymous princess is jilted by her suitor forI thought the title was hilarious, so I checked this out against my better judgment. It's not bad! The eponymous princess is jilted by her suitor for being too large, and after he absconds with her silly younger sister she rides to find them. Along the way she and a serving man strike up a romance of their own. It's not bad, but it's very short (~20 pages) and ends with an epilogue that is literally a very quick summary of how the actual romantic plot would go....more
A mysterious man with brilliant blue eyes impregnates most of the fertile women in a little American town. Each of the babies has bat wings, hearty apA mysterious man with brilliant blue eyes impregnates most of the fertile women in a little American town. Each of the babies has bat wings, hearty appetites, and grows rapidly. Eventually the mothers piece together what has happened and huddle together in an old farmhouse in hopes of protecting their strange children.
It could have been a cool remix of the Village of the Damned, but instead it just felt rambling and pointless. Eventually it devolves into surreal nonsense. On the one hand, I liked that Jeffrey's identity and the babies' purpose are never really explained; on the other, this felt far too long with far too little meat to it....more