I found it hard to rate this - there's lots of interesting stuff here but the writing is pretty poor and although I kept reading cause the ideas wereI found it hard to rate this - there's lots of interesting stuff here but the writing is pretty poor and although I kept reading cause the ideas were interesting it never really engaged me as a novel. This is a pretty typical problem with science fiction, but it's especially disappointing here given what he sets up.
So the setting is Bay Area USA except in a 1962 where Japan and Germany won the war. Tensions are rising between the two powers (Italy is mentioned but it's considered a joke in universe) with a possible change in Nazi leader, Germany's space colonisation program and their apparent new genocide in Africa (details aren't made explicit, except that it was really really really bad). A popular novel in the Japanese areas, banned in the German control area, depicts a world where the Axis lost and Britain and the USA split up the world between them instead. Race is a big deal - Japanese are above Americans and black people are below both, and obviously the little you hear about German areas is horrifying. Still, the Japanese are reasonably benevolent. There's a large trade in pre-war American "ethnic art". Many of the characters constantly consult the I Ching. It's a very interesting world. The racial aspects are obviously horrible but they're clearly supposed to be - we see things from different perspectives and the racial stereotypes are shown as clearly wrong, with each person having different views. I imagine the spiritual views are kind of Orientalist and wrong so take it with a pinch of salt.
First, the good: the subject of choice and fate comes up a lot, with it never being clear if people involved even have "free will" exactly, with their constant consulting of the I Ching - their reading of it as accurate could easily be just them seeing order in random patterns, but it's never clear. The ending is interesting with regards to this. The nature of reality comes up a lot, with several philosophical perspectives on how the world is and what the Nazis are, particularly stuff like nihilism, ideas of rebirth and struggle, the Nazis representing a force behind the scenes, if there's an alternative. The political situation isn't given in much detail, but it's enough to draw your own conclusions and it's definitely an interesting world. The multiple perspectives is good and does help give more depth to the ideas he talks about. The idea of what "authenticity" even is is talked about quite a bit, which is cool.
However, the writing is a bit bad. The characters generally come across as a bit naff - they're not exactly walking stereotypes but he doesn't give much meat to them so they often may as well be. The one woman character is written about particularly badly - nothing awful happens to her, but what does happen is pretty craply handled, I thought. None of the stories had any real depth past just moving the plot onwards, even though he tried sometimes - they just fell flat a bit. You never get a handle on their motivations. It's typical pulpy writing really. Which is a shame because the ideas definitely deserve better. It's just not engaging and doesn't really reward close reading or anything like that, I think.
If the idea sounds cool to you, then definitely read it because it's short, easy to read, and, although not really focused on the alternate history as such, does a good job building a different world and looking at the ideas behind it. Just don't expect a masterpiece or even much excitement past the great ideas....more
Decent enough mystery story. Not stellar, just OK all round - enjoyable, just nothing that stands out among other books. The denouement doesn't have tDecent enough mystery story. Not stellar, just OK all round - enjoyable, just nothing that stands out among other books. The denouement doesn't have the force it should because there are too many named characters who don't really do anything but you need to be aware of - I honestly didn't really recognise the culprit and I got a couple of place names mixed up. I'm well aware this is more my own fault than the books, but I do feel it could have been pared down.
Also I feel it's important to note the way race is handled in this book is... dodgy. I can buy that the use of the n-word by several southern sheriffs is intended as character rather than endorsing the use of it, but the way Wolfe treats the black characters in the book is at best pretty patronising although it's clearly intended to be a "non-racist" contrast. In addition, "blacking up" is a plot point. It's not down-right awful, but it's definitely not very good....more
Cool stuff - The story hangs together OK and doesn't leave anything hanging - The atmosphere is pretty good once you get into it - It's a pretty rollickiCool stuff - The story hangs together OK and doesn't leave anything hanging - The atmosphere is pretty good once you get into it - It's a pretty rollicking adventure and the second half of the book has a pretty neat flow
Bad stuff - It's written in the first person, yet we never really see much of the main character as a person, and it still sort of pulls an idea out the blue near the very end (although it's not bad) - The one thing we DO learn is that the main character is a massive asshole. He says a few nice things but primarily we learn he's anti-semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, and just all round a nasty guy. I honestly assumed the talk about "fags" was referring to something else, it was so ridiculous. He slaps women and thinks it's totally justified and clearly thinks women are idiots. - Yet despite this, he is a kind of wish fulfilment character. All the women instantly fall head over heels in love with him, even in the most ridiculous circumstances (although he's such a strong man he can resist their advances if he wants), he makes instant correct assessments of the situation, the local police hate him but can't do anything about him and he's in with the government, vague suggestions of poverty yet no actual sign of it and makes grandiose gestures with money, unbearably smug such that anyone in real life would hate him, probably other stuff not coming to mind. He was awful. I get that this is probably a kind of noir thing but it's crap. - Too many descriptions. It picks up in the second half but there are a lot of descriptions of single rooms that aren't visited again and my eyes glaze over. Doesn't help that he uses terms that are completely useless for establishing a mental image (I have no idea what woods from different places look like). I thought the descriptions weren't very good anyway. - This is obviously a kind of unfair thing but there are quite a few terms used that I didn't understand at all
Ultimately I see why people like this and I don't regret reading it or anything but it wasn't for me and I'm definitely not interested in reading any more stories with the same character...more
An amazing collection of surreal short stories that tread the border between normal and supernatural, generally on the topic of what's real and our deAn amazing collection of surreal short stories that tread the border between normal and supernatural, generally on the topic of what's real and our desires. Only one or two have explicitly supernatural elements but they all have something that feels close to it - you're never sure if it's something that could actually happen or if it's fantasy. I shelved it as "horror" even though it's not really because it comes close a lot - it reminds me a bit of someone like Ligotti, with far fewer horror elements but with similar topics, questioning our hold on reality and how solid our attachment society really is. His writing style reminds me of Kafka a bit with the way the sentences are structured.
Lots of good stories. His descriptions of things are great and highly imaginative so even the stories which are mostly description and don't really have a climax - Paradise Park and The Dream of the Consortium - are fascinating and make you think a lot on the idea behind them (a huge sophisticated amusement park and a giant department store, respectively). Maybe the highlight is "Kaspar Hauser Speaks", a short speech from the historical figure (although from a time after he'd died in real life) which contains a section which I felt perfectly encapsulated the feeling of being different in a way that forcefully separates you from others.
Other people have mentioned that he recycles themes a bit and I wouldn't disagree - some of the stories are similar to the others. But he brings a lot of new imagery and ideas to each one and personally they're themes that fascinate me so I didn't mind at all, although it'd maybe pall over multiple books.
A great collection if you're at all interested in surreal short fiction. ...more
The good: I appreciate his writing style. Every so often he hits upon a phrase or paragraph that reflects humans. His ideas of situations are sometimeThe good: I appreciate his writing style. Every so often he hits upon a phrase or paragraph that reflects humans. His ideas of situations are sometimes interesting, even though they aren't reflective of reality.
The bad: first thing, the ridiculous setting. It feels like 90% of what's referred to as "great American" works or on those top 100 lists is set in some rural, pastoral town which feels like a complete fantasy. I cannot believe for one second this town exists. I feel kind of stupid saying this, given he was born and presumably grew up in such a town, but what's shown is not a town. He describes random houses and random people. Nobody wants for money, even if they're poor. There is no town past a few houses where characters live. Characters that should exist don't. There are no consequences. Nothing makes sense. This is what killed the book for me. I'm so sick of these utopian, rural towns, the conception of which is incredibly reactionary. Maybe this is unfair on the book itself but ugh. Nobody in the town has a life, except for what's described in each person's story. It's frustrating. The artificiality of the book shone through - ostensibly it's a reflection of reality yet it feels like fantasy.
Every character's story is a sort of melancholy. The first chapter warns us that every character is going to be a "grotesque," but it's ridiculous. Everybody has some sort of obvious but ridiculous and unlikely problem and ridiculous thoughts. They don't do anything except for the one event described by the story. A sad thing happens but although it defines their life for us the events don't change how they think or how they live. Apparently nobody can get over anything. Everything is static, even when it describes an incredibly long period of time. Nobody reacts to what happens.
There feels a strong divide between the description of what people do and how they think/what they are/what's going on. One character is described as having serious trouble speaking and apparently having serious, debilitating delusions yet he has a whole load of friends and a wife. It doesn't match at all. One character apparently goes through being walked home by a dude for 2 years (!) with nothing else happening - not even inviting him in to her house - and then suddenly decides she doesn't like it. Ok sure whatever. I can't think of many specific examples, just a general pervasive sense that the characters aren't real and what we're being told once doesn't fit what we're told later.
What made me give up on the book is incredibly minor but was the straw that broke the camel's back. A minor character is called "Sugars McNutts." The rest of the book is deadly serious. Come on.
I think my strong dislike of this book is influenced by how I'm feeling right now and is pretty over the top but my frustrations are real and all too typical of this sort of book. One star is maybe too little but what I liked about it was constantly overshadowed by the problems. It quickly felt like a chore to read. I didn't feel like I was reading about humans or anything that happens in real life.
later note: As I said I think my review is probably unfair. It's at least a little better than I make out, it just hit a lot of my pet peeves...more
Had a dreamy quality that I enjoyed. The atmosphere was kind of beautiful and the descriptions were great and the scenes felt real. I liked it.
Weird/bHad a dreamy quality that I enjoyed. The atmosphere was kind of beautiful and the descriptions were great and the scenes felt real. I liked it.
Weird/bad points: there was pretty much no conflict involved in the book even though quite a bit was set up, which was bizarre. For example, there are constant references to Troy's seeming unsuitability as a husband but nothing comes of it - and there's not really much explanation of WHY people talk about him as unsuitable. (view spoiler)[Near the end, Shelley witnesses him apparently shooting a black worker who's threatening him with a knife. The scene lasts maybe a page and she says it shows some sort of extreme unsuitability, but the event is never referenced again and Shelley makes no further comments about Troy, in thought or otherwise. The event itself is incredibly confusing and I have no idea what went on. Weird. (hide spoiler)] There are a couple other similar scenes, which presumably have deeper implications or ones which aren't the obvious but aren't referenced again and don't seem to have an impact - (view spoiler)[George talking about "sleeping with" the vagrant girl Ellen finds in the woods - Ellen seems shocked but again nothing else happens, it doesn't affect their relationship and the girl is referenced once again in an ambiguous context. (hide spoiler)] There are several times the author seems to be describing some sort of romantic tension between George and other people but maybe I'm reading too much into it. Every character is prone to going into deep reflection at every opportunity, which is pretty ridiculous but adds to the dream like quality of the book and really wasn't bad. There are a lot of named characters that it's impossible to keep track of and don't really have a point.
Bigger things: I note an event re: violence above - violence is treated as tainting someone in this one case. Yet Battle beating children happens often and is treated incredibly casually. He also threatens extreme violence casually and the one reference to this plays it off as a "oh haha our Battle!!" thing. None of the Fairchilds are ever shown engaging in any work. Yet at the end of the book several describe how "draining" and "tiring" the wedding has been. The disconnect between words and experience is noticeable. The only reason I can see Troy being unsuitable, in fact, is in his job as an overseer - in doing their work, the work of the plantation owner running their lands, he's somehow "unclean". His presence impinges on the "paradise" of the Fairchilds' life - they have no experience of the reality of where their (obviously absolutely massive) income comes from. The thing is, this theme is hardly developed and shows mostly in omission, making me curious how the author felt about this. The black workers have very little presence, even though they should be a constant presence around the house as domestic servants. The scenes that feature them show them as personality-less - they just obey orders happily - with 2 exceptions. Right at the end of the book, one says they don't like roses. This upsets Ellen, although we're not given much more than that. One character is visited at her house to ask about something lost and the Fairchilds who visited treat her vaguely dramatic searching as malicious - the one example of personality is shunned and considered bad. In fact, I could think of only two other instances of things being treated as malicious or wrong in the book - the first is the mentally disabled preteen Maureen (who is referred to in rude terms) and the other is George's wife Robbie, who is again considered "unsuitable" but especially for leaving him when she feels hurt. Their real crime seems to be that they disturbed in some way the Fairchilds' untroubled existence. I don't know if my view of the Fairchilds as horrible people who live an incredibly happy life merely by ignoring or shunning things that disturb it is an unreasonable one, but to me it was the only one that made sense and still let me enjoy the book. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Because women so delicate so mysterious Father said. Delicate equilibrium of periodical filth between two moons balanced. Moons he said full and yelloBecause women so delicate so mysterious Father said. Delicate equilibrium of periodical filth between two moons balanced. Moons he said full and yellow as harvest moons her hips thighs ... Liquid putrefaction like drowned things floating like pal rubber flabbily filled getting the odor of honeysuckle all mixed up
Quentin's chapter is beautiful a stunning tumult of ideas and images and memories and feelings that hits you even when you don't understand what's going on and takes hold of your head. The book is often confusing but things become clearer as you read on and there are so many bits of incredible prose like that and yeah I liked it a lot. I'm bad at analysing...more
**spoiler alert** JUST SOME THOUGHTS I'M JOTTING DOWN WHILE I GO ALONG. They're not very coherent, or a real "review", just talking about things that**spoiler alert** JUST SOME THOUGHTS I'M JOTTING DOWN WHILE I GO ALONG. They're not very coherent, or a real "review", just talking about things that stood out to me that I found interesting
The Wide Net: Good story, although I feel I lacked the proper context to fully understand the interactions and what they were doing. Theme of thinking you understand what you don't at all - William believes for certain Hazel has jumped in the river, despite not even reading the entire letter. The boys that take a baby alligator just because they can - also somewhat related to William's relationship with Hazel, where she's described as very pretty but otherwise he seems to have no real interest in her. Doc is a sort of "voice of reason" in both cases.
Old Mr Marblehall: I liked the idea of a double life almost just for the sake of it. Both his families are described negatively and he seems to find fulfilment only in the having of a double life at all. It reminds me of a sort of childish thing to do - children always try and hide things from their parents, even the most mundane stuff - which links both with his having children exactly at the time when he started a double life and with his obsession - and apparently his only real interest, Weird Tales and similar magazines. This also relates to the story as a story - the premise is somewhat absurd, that nobody has noticed or cared, which makes it almost fit for that kind of magazine.
A Worn Path: Pretty stark portrait of desperation. The old woman's path reminded me of a sort of shortened down fairy story of someone's quest to save the princess or whatever, which I guess in a way is kind of what it is
A Still Moment: Some dudes want to kill him for his horse but despite outnumbering him let him go because he can't be shot easily? And then in the next paragraph this is implied to be a bad thing??? What. Whole story absolutely mystified me, I couldn't pin down characters or what was going on or get any kind of feeling out of it, and the tortured syntax was especially noticeable here. Definitely didn't enjoy it
Powerhouse: Opens with several paragraphs of racial stereotypes and racism. Blecchhh. Going to excuse myself from that
complaint: occasional weird syntax? a few sentences were ordered counter to my expectations, confusing me a bit. -The racial descriptions bother me a bit sometimes, more than usual. Black people seem to be *actually* stupid and bad, even outside of the perceptions of the viewpoint characters.
In general I've enjoyed it. Most of the stories are good/great/amazing but there are a couple I disliked and the racism was a bit grating...more
This book was so crap I forgot I'd even read it and then couldn't remember any of the arguments used. Turns out it's mostly just "religious people oftThis book was so crap I forgot I'd even read it and then couldn't remember any of the arguments used. Turns out it's mostly just "religious people often do bad things" (woah, no kidding) with his usual condescension and racism. Awful....more
A dude is on a quest to destroy a spaceship for a stupid reason and apparently becomes superhuman because of this I guess. Not exactly a thrilling pagA dude is on a quest to destroy a spaceship for a stupid reason and apparently becomes superhuman because of this I guess. Not exactly a thrilling page turner in that sense. Full of "oh no something has happened re something I made up! But it's ok a page later because it's resolved with more stuff I made up" crap - these devices aren't used to produce drama, they're straight "situation described, dude's gonna die, oh no he isn't anymore" things. The bane of "hard sci-fi": the plot feeling stupid because something new can always be made up. Conveniently you can't teleport if you don't know where you are (I think?) even though that doesn't really make sense and isn't consistent.
Teleportation is accomplished in several instances - eg in the star chamber - where people can't possibly know exactly where they are. Yet somehow a hospital which everyone knows the location of and the criminal underworld has mapped out can't be teleported out of because it's *dark*? Seriously? It also feels stupid that they don't mention the issue of the planet moving in space at all - not important to plot but a weird omission for this kind of sci-fi. Someone brings up the problem of telefragging on the platforms EVERYONE uses to teleport between but there's no reason given for why it doesn't happen (people materialising in other people). Rich people apparently use normal transport instead of teleporting, which is ass-backward: in modern day society rich people use faster transport, and here the difference is an order of magnitude greater, making rich people waste ridiculous amounts of time.
A few reviews say the main character is unlikable, but it's not even that - he's just a void of character. This is part of the point, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable to follow along. In general the characters are super weak - I don't expect much from sci-fi but the first love interest's relation to the main character is completely incoherent. She wants to get a tattoo off his face and then refuses to pay 1000 more for anasthetic because she wants him to feel pain??? The book offers no explanation. I can't think of one.
In summary, fails as a character piece, an exploration of teleportation and as a page-turning plot-focused pulp novel. Rubbish....more
I might come back to this later but right now, UGH. I feel I could have made it through and enjoyed more of it if it wasn't for the 3rd story being aI might come back to this later but right now, UGH. I feel I could have made it through and enjoyed more of it if it wasn't for the 3rd story being a dreadful interminable bore of a story about some kind of urban planner (except he wasn't ACTUALLY an urban planner - what was he? not explained) going to an accupuncturist (each time described in detail and the SAME details each time as if they have a meaning yet nothing really coming to light). This story takes up 1/5 of the book. I didn't even reach the end of it. I tried skimming to see if maybe things made more sense after finishing but couldn't even be bothered with that. His language is the only draw for me, but beautiful language doesn't make up for non-existent plots. I'm not expecting some obvious, easy plot, but I want to see something of the character of the characters. Here characters spout many deep statements but they feel inconsistent. By the end they come across as absurdly well educated stereotypes - not because he's a lazy writer who deliberately goes for them, but because I don't feel like I see enough detail to make them unique so I have to resort to applying a template to make them make any sense at all.
I feel stupid criticising a book that's clearly written by a highly intelligent, educated expert at English. The thing is, the language is beautiful. I just feel like nothing happens with it. He narrates events that are neither real enough to be relatable nor fantastical enough to be escapist. His characters don't go through emotional development, and we don't see enough of their mind to care about them. The dense prose works against what is there by making the insights come even slower....more
I don't understand this. At all. I did not like a single aspect of this book. It's racist, misogynist, anti-semitic crap. Some discussion of all thatI don't understand this. At all. I did not like a single aspect of this book. It's racist, misogynist, anti-semitic crap. Some discussion of all that stuff follows.
I finally gave up when he mentioned a "nigger drummer" who had 4 words of dialogue, all of which were written in some kind of absurd parody of African-American dialect, which, added to his racist description of Cohn (constant references to his Jewishness as a bad thing and all his bad features owing to him being a Jew) I found unbearable. The prose is boring - nothing is described much, which I enjoy, but instead they're merely named. Things pop in and out of the background. Locations feel no more than cardboard backgrounds. When he does describe, it's the most boring things - he describes the route a taxi takes through Paris just by listing names, depriving the route of any context or meaning.
I couldn't understand the characters at all. They're less characters, more very vaguely shaped names. I realise that 80 years and a huge economic gap separates me, but nothing these people do seem real. They eat every meal at an expensive restaraunt. Money is never an issue, even though there seems to be no reason for them to have so much. They drink constantly, so much that they should all need liver transplants. They drink while waiting to drink. Nothing they say has any meaning. The most dramatic section was Cohn's wife spending a page just insulting him and the reaction from the narrator was "wow, rude" and pretty much ignoring it, so it was again meaningless. Another time a supposed "friend" who's just suddenly introduced and says nothing at all of any interest attacks Cohn in the narrator's presence - with no provocation - Cohn actually speaks up, and the narrator says he's being funny. It's incoherent and feels completely ridiculous and unbelievable. Very little characterisation is given, but each time it feels contradicted by other things they do and the effect is heavily jarring.
Hemingway also has a frustrating habit of introducing characters as if they've been introduced before, by just mentioning their name. Each time makes me go back through the book just to check that I haven't missed something. I understand this approach, but each time it happens it feels like I *need* the context that I've lost out on by not knowing who this person is. It makes a few paragraphs confusing.
Then there are tiny issues that are still annoying. What kind of a lordship is "Ashley"? Lords are named after places, or at least they should be referred to by a surname. Ashley is a first name, and this actually confused me a few times. A taxi drops our narrator off at somewhere he didn't want to be and apparently the taxis ALWAYS do that in a certain case which is described specifically in a whole sentence. Why did the taxi do that? It didn't matter at all, apparently, because the right cafe was very close by. There's a section where they're about to pour some champagne, they say "wine would be more difficult to cool otherwise we'd have had that" and then the champagne is called wine for the rest of the section. These are all tiny faults, but they serve to completely frustrate any attempt on my part to even skim the book because they're so *pointless*.
Ultimately, it just felt like a book where very little happened to characters I don't care about and who barely exist, written in prose that didn't ever hold my interest....more
Sometimes I found the descriptions of everything around her beautiful, sometimes tedious. Sometimes i appreciated her honesty and frank descriptions oSometimes I found the descriptions of everything around her beautiful, sometimes tedious. Sometimes i appreciated her honesty and frank descriptions of her feelings for other women, sometimes I found them voyeuristic and out of the scope of my understanding.
But ultimately it made me cry a little and when she talks about how much she's looked down upon for being black even past being lesbian it's heartbreaking, even if sometimes it gets obscured by a litany of names I can't connect and descriptions of scenes I can't imagine. It's still beautiful....more