I have to admit that I’m blown away. This is how you do a middle book in a series! I had a few misgivings about The Collapsing Empire (and some of ScaI have to admit that I’m blown away. This is how you do a middle book in a series! I had a few misgivings about The Collapsing Empire (and some of Scalzi’s earlier novels), but he has completely outdone himself with this second Interdependency book. It’s fun to see his writing get better and better as he goes. The pacing is tighter, the story flows with more fluidity, the characters are much more distinct from one another now, the prose is drastically improved over the last one, and the payoff is massive. I may have actually thrown the book down and said “Yes! Wow, that was satisfying.” when I finished it.
I’ve mentioned before that, thematically speaking at least, the Interdependency series is Scalzi’s Dune. That still rings true, but The Consuming Fire also feels as dense and conspiratorial as A Song of Ice and Fire, or like a solid espionage thriller. It tells a compelling story while also blowing the worldbuilding wide open and fleshing out some of the concepts that were underdeveloped in The Collapsing Empire. All of this and it does a fantastic job of catching the reader up with effortless exposition, in case it’s been a little while since you read the first in the series. I went back and reread the first book in the series just before starting this one in an effort to refresh my mind on the events thus far, but honestly, I think you could pick up The Consuming Fire as your first read in this series without really missing much. After 20-30 pages you’re all caught up and good to go. It’s impressively handled. ...more
“The totality of human endeavor is nothing when set against the stars.”
Sometimes the best way to experience a novel is going in completely blind. I found The Gone World at my local library bookshop and had no idea what I was getting myself into, in the best way. Reading it split my head clean open. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled. After finishing the novel, it left me in this kind of fugue state that I haven’t been able to escape. It completely blindsided me. Usually I dislike the phrase “compulsively readable” but it definitely applies here. I couldn’t put it down, I had to know what was going on in this story.
The Gone World is a bit of a genre-bender, so I’m going to back up and talk about genre a little. Several years ago the visual artist Ward Shelley created a piece chronicling the history of science fiction. He began with the roots of the genre: Fear and Wonder, Speculation and Observation, and traced them down through Philosophy and Cultural Criticism all the way to our current moment, marking notable works along the way. Forgive my oversimplification of this magnificent piece of art (you really should check it out for yourself, it’s quite a thing), but there’s a moment along the visual line where a branch occurs, Science and eventually Science Fiction coming through The Enlightenment, the Gothic Novel and eventually Horror following from the Counter-Enlightenment/Anti-Rational thread. These disparate lineages, one born of Fear, the other of Wonder, branch out into genres and sub-genres, staying mostly separate. What The Gone World does so expertly is marry the pre-horror Gothic novel “fear” back together with Science Fiction's “wonder” in perfectly equal measure.
Usually I’ve found Science fiction suspense thrillers to be a little ham fisted. There’s often a solid idea but the execution is clumsy, or the SF aspects are merely genre tropes. Sometimes the mystery is a little too obvious, or the characters are as translucent as the paper in a cheap paperback. Worst of all is when the story gets bogged down by the science and it becomes more of a textbook than a novel. This isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of “hard” sci-fi, but story and character need to come first. The Gone World doesn’t succumb to any of these traps. It works surprisingly well as both science fiction and a modern mainstream suspense thriller. The SF aspects help the story to avoid the tropes of suspense thrillers and vice versa, each genre serving to make up for the possible shortcomings of the other.
The Gone World’s prologue begins with a hell of a hook. I haven’t been hooked like this in the first few pages of a novel in a long time. This is a disturbing and unique take on time travel and alternate worlds that’s unlike anything I’ve read. Think the horrific existential dread of Lovecraft or Robert Chambers, that so obviously inspired the first season of True Detective, filtered through Arthur C. Clarke’s grand ideas, all told as an incredibly tight mainstream suspense thriller with a terrific protagonist. Throw in a dash of Minority Report, and a pinch of the complexity of Primer and you’ve got a good idea what you’re getting yourself into. Mysteries in mysteries in mysteries, and they all resolve pretty well.
I little googling revealed that both of Tom Sweterlitsch’s novels have been optioned for film adaptations, and that The Gone World is set to be written/directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). In addition to this, Sweterlitsch co-wrote several of those incredible Oats Studios short films that Blomkamp directed last year. If you haven’t seen them yet, check them out. They’re terrific. It's been recently announced that Blomkamp's next film will be a direct sequel to the original Robocop, which makes me worried his adaptation of The Gone World may be on the back burner for now. Only time will tell.
The Gone World gut-punched my head over and over again, which is enough to solidify my interest in everything that Sweterlitsch does from here on out....more
Describing Gnomon is a challenge, because it’s simultaneously many different things: A cautionary tale about our modern moment’s convergence of technoDescribing Gnomon is a challenge, because it’s simultaneously many different things: A cautionary tale about our modern moment’s convergence of technology, surveillance, and human hubris. A matryoshkian novel, as narratively complex as it is straightforward and readable, that is itself ultimately all about storytelling, narrative, and books. A satisfyingly self-aware postmodern book that wants access to your mind as a tool to self-propagate. A beautifully designed physical book (Chip Kidd doesn’t mess around). A book that teaches you how to read it as you read it.
Gnomon is also staggeringly vast in its scope and ambition: It’s about math, immigration, surveillance, sharks, encryption, ancient Rome, video games, economics, hive minds, the near future, the far future, liberty and security, mirrors and parallels, disconnection, right angles, mythology, time travel, social manipulation, the human connectome, steganography, racism, intertextuality, detective novels, religion, castouts, manipulation, our ever changing definition of reality, interrogation, torture, and so many, many other things.
If you like books by Borges, Neal Stephenson, Cherise Wolas, David Mitchell, David Foster Wallace or Ted Chiang, this is one I think you will immensely enjoy....more
This novel was really something special, definitely a new favorite and a book that I’ll be coming back to often in the future.Posted at Heradas Review
This novel was really something special, definitely a new favorite and a book that I’ll be coming back to often in the future. It’s undeniably clever, darkly humorous, and highly self-aware. It’s cerebral and incredibly well written. It rewards the reader, and sends them down and through a rabbit hole of literature. I found myself torn between wanting to read it slowly, savoring the prose and unique deconstruction of language, and wanting to quickly arrive at the resolution because the story was so engaging. I ended up reading the first half over three or four days, and slamming the second half all in one sitting.
Growth's main character Bburke is a relatively uneducated fellow, living a simple life, rooted in the present. His primary pursuits are his artistic passion toward landscaping, and consuming a comically large but sadly plausible quantity of cheap beer. He’s never learned how to properly probe the depths of his lack of self-awareness. Ambrose Bierce’s highly cynical early twentieth century lexical masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, said it best when it defined Education as: “That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.” The question is: To which camp does Bburke belong? Is he wise or foolish?
Sometimes blissful ignorance may be preferable to a better understanding, especially when that better understanding holds the power to make us painfully aware of the sad state of our affairs. Enter S.A. and Dickie T, Bburke’s “well-read” recently higher educated hired helpers at his landscaping company. Bburke is about to receive an education of sorts, whether he’d like to or not.
I loved the unique structure used to frame the story. Different literary forms and styles are stacked and layered, like a cake that at first glance has six layers, but on closer inspection actually contains three sublayers inside each macro one. Hopping from style to style kept things fresh, but throughout all of this was a taut narrative thread, tightly connecting events and creating a barreling momentum. The result was a highly engaging, fun, character based tale that never sacrificed quality prose or form in pursuit of being fun and engaging.
It’s safe to say this is a book written for book lovers. Those familiar with the works of Camus, David Foster Wallace, Mary Shelley, Mark Twain and others will be pleasantly surprised. A lot of the main story revolved around the ways in which steeping oneself in literature can change a person, for better and worse. Reading a book is often said to be like having a conversation with the author, and Growth utilized a fun, postmodern take on that saying to illustrate the method in which Bburke internalizes what he reads. He is a non-traditional learner, and he reads in unconventional ways. Have I mentioned how fun this novel is yet? It’s very fun.
Growth actively comments on itself throughout. This is a living breathing thing. The narrator calls out obvious macguffins in the plot and marks future ones as such, the legitimacy of thin characters is called into question, and Bburke himself occasionally seems right on the cusp of realizing that he might exist only as a character in a novel. I’m a sucker for anything that continues in-line with that terrific Cervantes tradition.
The way that Dickie T and S.A.’s dialogue was handled is so perfect. They read like two halves of the same theoretical person, and their banter felt straight out of a DeLillo or DFW novel. Since they are the two characters who are readers, it seems most likely that S.A and Dickie T are familiar with those writers, wish they existed in their novels, and choose to speak as if they do. So much is revealed about them just through the form of their banter. Basically, they’ve read some books, and they think oh so highly of themselves for it. Writing their dialogue, and only their dialogue in this style shows fantastic restraint on Smith’s part. The form itself served the characters and story.
I’m not particularly well-read when it comes to the classics, but I could see Growth rewarding those who are. I wouldn’t say being well-read is a prerequisite for enjoying it, but I think there’s another layer of entertainment available to those who are. I think this works on many different levels for many different readers. Be forewarned though, it will instill in you a desire to revisit some classics, or maybe even approach them for the first time. There are definitely a few more books on my TBR because of this one.
I don’t want to say any more or comment on any vital story points, because I think this is probably best experienced with unspoiled eyes. Check it out, it’s fantastic....more
I’m thirty-four years old and have only just now read a Chuck Klosterman book—or a Chuck Klosterman anything to be more precise. Posted at Heradas.com
I’m thirty-four years old and have only just now read a Chuck Klosterman book—or a Chuck Klosterman anything to be more precise. He’s been on my radar for about a decade, and I’ve had a copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs
on my shelf for almost as many years, but I've never even cracked the spine. I never felt traditionally cool enough to read Klosterman. I’ll be the first to admit that none of this was based on anything remotely resembling an informed decision. Looking back at my motivations for never reading him, now with a little bit of hindsight, I think it was an entirely prejudiced, subconscious decision based mostly on myself not identifying with the group of people I had imagined to be fans of Klosterman’s work. I was trapped by my perception of his audience. It sounds completely ridiculous writing those words, but there they are. That isn’t who I aspire to be, but we often fall short of our aspirations don’t we.
The covers and overall consistent visual style of his books with their simultaneously over and under-designed aesthetic both did and didn’t work for me. I loved the visual simplicity and unified design, but something about these books always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe they looked like they were trying too hard. Like they were so desperate to project an easy sense of ironic detachment that it backfired, leaving me with an instinctive distrust of the authenticity of their content. I always assumed Chuck Klosterman books were things you read in your early twenties, and never stopped extolling, without ever reevaluating the merits that informed your opinion later in life as a more experienced reader. I saw them as the kind of books read mostly by people who didn’t read anything else. I put them in the same category as Chuck Palahniuk[image] novels, which I myself had read in my early twenties and couldn’t shut up about back then. Back when I never really read anything else.
Maybe I didn’t feel like I had much in common with my friends that read Klosterman, and even less with those who had only read Klosterman. I see now that I was trying to distance myself from the person I perceived myself to be back when I would’ve read Chuck Klosterman, if I didn’t only read Chuck Palahniuk. Wait, how many of my reasons for equating these two writers are based solely on them sharing the same first name? Am I that unknowingly surface level? Basically, I was being an asshole, and was completely wrong about Klosterman. It is entirely unfair to judge something based on our perception of its targeted audience, but we still do it all the time, or at least I do. It’s just one of the many, many ways in which we are often very wrong about most things.
Snapping back to the present moment, having now read this Chuck Klosterman book, I am realizing how off I have been on a lot of my assumptions about his writing. Which really is the point of But What If We're Wrong. Human beings are wrong at a near constant level. We are so riddled with cognitive biases, irrational behavior, and misperceptions, not to mention our notoriously bad ability to predict future events based on present variables or our own current efforts. This is the entire reason that balloon payments are a thing. All of it adds up to make us terribly inaccurate and more often than not, dead wrong.
These days when I read something, I make every effort to build my opinions solely on the words on the page, attempting to judge the book based on whether or not it achieved what was intended. This is impossible of course, as I can’t help but be influenced by other aspects of a book, themselves sometimes only marginally related to the actual work itself. My perception of the readers of a certain writer for example. Also, how exactly am I supposed to know what a book was intended to be? How am I supposed to compare my subjective opinion of what it is, against something unknowable? Reading a book with the intent to write about it, is itself a creative process, because I have to imagine all of these things. There’s a weird, blurry line that separates fiction from non-fiction. There is so much fiction in real life, and so much real life stuffed into, and elaborated through what we read in fictional novels and stories. The more I think about it, the more that division begins to blur into something nearly non-existent. I blame David Shields[image] for breaking my head by pointing out this added layer of our post-modernity.
Being wrong is important. As Klosterman notes in this book, certainty can often be paralyzing. It locks us into paths that may not be preferable, and takes us in directions we may not want to go. When we base our opinions on bad information, it is often only years later that we might realize we have been wrong about something from the start. A lot of Trump voters, for example are only just now, slowly, starting to admit not only that their God Emperor has no clothes, but is in fact not a god at all. Many will never allow themselves to be that wrong. It becomes gradually harder and harder to change our minds the more we have built up our lives on the certainty of bad information. The Sunk Cost fallacy is a prime example of this. As is the old adage, improperly attributed to Mark Twain: "It is easier to fool someone than convince them they have been fooled". For this reason, your oldest opinions are often the most important to reexamine, as well as the hardest to change.
Thinking about the present as if it were the past is such a novel idea. Not only novel, but fun, incredibly useful and addictive. What are we wrong about right now? Our view of the past is always flavored by the values of our present. In much the same way that all good fiction is a statement about some aspect of the present in which it was conceived, it follows that our current values are blinding our judgement about current events, opinions, and ideas. What sort of values will future societies interpret our current events through? Which events will even be remembered as these future societies flatten our time period into a handful of individuals, stories, and pieces of media?
“History is a creative process (or as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “a set of lies agreed upon”). The world happens as it happens, but we construct what we remember and what we forget. And people will eventually do that to us, too.”
Great stories are always about something other than the surface level plot they contain—something that Klosterman touches on quite a bit in the chapters about literature and media in this book. These chapters—which were the most aligned with my personal interests—were my favorites of the whole book. Klosterman uses this process of thinking about the present as if it were the past in an attempt to find the great contemporary pieces of literature, television, and film that will be elevated to the status of classic or important in an unknowable future with unknowable values. Of course, this attempt is doomed to fail, but using what we know about past classic or important works, he is able to at least narrow down what likely won’t be thought of as important in the future.
It is a fascinating thought experiment and a brave new way to approach one’s own relationship with history, opinion, belief, and the value of doubt. And that oh so recognizable black and white design aesthetic that didn’t quite work for me back in my early twenties? Here it is, turned up to eleven with this upside down cover. I'm glad to say that It works for me now. It really, really works for me.
But what if We’re Wrong? is one of the short list of books that I consider essential reading if you are trying to make sense of, or cope with, the insanity of the last few years. It provided me with some much needed distance from the twenty-four hour news cycle and the pre-apocalyptic feeling of our current events. I highly recommend this book....more
This is my first Alastair Reynolds standalone novel. Having previously absorbed everything remotely related to his Revelation Space series over the last few years, I wanted to dip my toes into some of his one-off writing before digging into his newer series work. For some reason this book has been out of print in the US for a few years, making a physical copy a little tedious to come by, but I did eventually find one. Come on ACE, it’s time for a reprint!
Coming from the RS camp, I was surprised with the linearity of this story. The whole thing is written in first person, with two main point of view characters in alternating chapters. Every 6-7 chapters brings a flashback interjection that slowly reveals details and moves everything forward. I suppose adding unnecessary linear complexity to a story that already has so many strange new concepts in it, might’ve been overkill on the reader. As a result, the story flows nicely and was easier to follow than Revelation Space. I’d say this would be a terrific jumping in point if you were interested in checking out Reynolds’ work.
House of Suns is epic in every way the word can be defined. The scale of some of the conceptual elements was so broad that I initially had some difficulty finding a handhold to comprehend them. I felt like it stretched my mind a little bit just reaching for a way to relate. The best Science Fiction always does this for me in some way. It exists in that sweet spot directly between what you currently understand, and what you are capable of understanding. The best stories can be a linchpin, connecting you to your future, slightly more experienced self. I suppose this is true of all fiction, but I find it particularly so with the genres of Speculative Fiction, which are after all, more interested in investigating the “other” than fiction firmly rooted in the realm of realism often is.
The amount of mind-bending concepts Reynolds managed to pack into this novel while maintaining a coherent story is impressive: Star dams, ring worlds, causality, time dilation, artificial intelligence, solar system relocation, ancient technology, the nature of memory, longevity, cloning, wormholes, civilizational “turnover”, etc. It’s simply exploding with these huge ideas, but the story is never sacrificed in favor of them. It churns along, always moving forward.
Reynolds occasionally gets some slack for his character development or lack thereof, each character’s voice tending to just be the author’s voice, etc. So, when I realized that most of the characters in House of Suns were literal clones of the same character, I rolled my eyes a little and thought “Well, I guess that’s one way to get around the criticism.” But, it actually worked very well here.
These clone characters are “shatterlings” with indefinitely long lifespans that have drifted from their source individual, and each other, for 6 million years (epic scale!) and are essentially unique individuals as a result of their differing life experiences. Because they are clones, instead of noticing their similarities, you’re drawn toward their differences. The ways in which they are similar just reinforce the fact that they started from a near identical point. It’s a brilliant way to reframe the reader’s perception regarding character work without actually changing the writer’s approach to characterization. It feels very self-aware, and it’s clever as hell. It’s almost like he’s acknowledging his critics, but saying “See, it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just how you look at it”. Personally, the character work in Reynolds’ books has never bothered me, but if it bothered you, I think you’ll find this one has a refreshingly different take.
The story concludes satisfactorily, but leaves some things open for more. I would absolutely love another novel set in this universe, and the point at which this novel arrives could be seen as a great widening of that universe’s potential scope. It’s ripe for more tales, and I hope we get them. Reynolds has said: “I would like to return to this universe but I have no fixed plans for when that will happen.” Fingers crossed that those plans will materialize soon!...more
A fantastic movie art book that contains a lot more than just art. It is of course filled with stunning concept art, drawings, and on-set photography,A fantastic movie art book that contains a lot more than just art. It is of course filled with stunning concept art, drawings, and on-set photography, but there is also a surprising amount of text: interview excerpts, background information on filming, practical effect work, miniatures, digital effect work, script info, etc.
It's also huge, like massively huge. Almost too physically large to be easily read, but this wide format is a great way to present the artwork from the movie.
Like everything related to Blade Runner, this book sent me down a rabbit hole when it mentioned that the initial scene with Sapper Morton was written for the 1982 film, and was adapted into a short story by screenwriter Hampton Fancher. I tracked the story down and found that it reveals K's actual name, and reading it has completely changed the way I'll watch this movie on future viewings.
Highly recommended for any fan of Blade Runner or 2049. Lots of great background info in this. Now we just need a "Dangerous Days 2049" four hour documentary. Hopefully we won't have to wait 25 years for it!
“...voices that insist on being heard, stories that demand to be told, writers who are compelled to show us something new.” isPosted at Heradas Review
“...voices that insist on being heard, stories that demand to be told, writers who are compelled to show us something new.” is how FSG Originals describes the books they publish, and I would absolutely describe Samantha Hunt’s writing in this way. Her stories are brutal yet beautiful, magical but grounded, sincere, horrific, and essential. Her characters have such unique perspectives on their lives and the events surrounding them; a lot of the time these were perspectives that I’d never fully considered, but instantly empathized with once exposed to them.
These are stories I obviously needed to read. Stories about women and men of all walks of life passing through stages of the fantastic and the mundane, learning about themselves and the world(s) around them. While reading this book I was reminded of that old saying about how reading someone’s book is like having a conversation with them, or getting to know them a little better. With Hunt’s writing, it felt like getting to know several different women at the same time. It’s extraordinarily powerful stuff. Seeing things from these many new perspectives was fascinating for me.
There isn’t a bad story in the bunch, but the standouts for me were: The Story Of, All Hands, Love Machine, Wampum, & The Story Of Of. Her prose is tight and expressive. She manages to say so much in so few words, and her writing often dips into the magically realistic, with postmodern sensibilities.
I think it’s past due time for me to pick up her novels, and I’m kicking myself for not paying attention when friends were telling me that I should. Oh well, better late than never!
P.S. I need to sing a few praises for this cover as well. Book designers have really been outdoing themselves this year, and this one is no exception. This cover fully subverted my pattern recognition engine by using it against itself, that is until I plopped it down on my coffee table absentmindedly and accidentally saw it from a different angle as it lay there sideways, smirking at me. Clever clever....more
"Howie is right: if we're all going to get whacked, what matters is who is standing beside you when the universe speaks your nPosted at Heradas Review
"Howie is right: if we're all going to get whacked, what matters is who is standing beside you when the universe speaks your name. And it matters that you stand with them."
You simply must read this memoir. It was fantastic, and genuinely one of my favorite reads of the year. It’s endearing and thought-provoking, and a great conversation about the differing degrees of honesty and openness required in different relationships.
Being a child of the mid eighties, and growing up in a tiny little (population ~2000) tourist trap meets hippie haven town in Northwest Arkansas in the nineties, I knew nothing of late seventies Salem, MA when I cracked the spine on this. My ignorance of the time period and the area, mixed with a killer synopsis established my initial intrigue, and the universal coming-of-age themes present in the narrative sucked me the rest of the way in. I ended up absorbing the book in a couple sittings.
The cast of characters in the Cove family and extended family -- as well as Lou’s childhood friends -- are odd, vibrant and alive. Louis’ family and upbringing could not be more different than my own, but there are some things that are universal to all childhoods. As each event occurs in the story, I found myself comparing the reactions that my family would have had with the ones that Louis’ did. It’s great to read about people so different from myself and those I’m familiar with, but so similar in other ways.
A handful of times throughout the book, late nineteen-seventies Salem is compared to the Salem of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s day by way of some quotes from him regarding the city he loathed, and characters mentioning him and his works. What a brilliant way to contrast the seventies conservative crackdown on “smut” that was sweeping the area (and the country) at the time, with the narrative witch hunt of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, as well as the more literal witch hunt that is nearly eponymously associated with the word Salem.
It reads a like a first person novel, written from the perspective of a boy in his twelfth year. There is a tiny bit of unreliable narrator going on here as well, since a large portion of the story is about the goings on of the adults in Louis’s life, but told from a perspective that doesn’t quite yet understand that adult world. The hinting at the reality of each situation is handled with skill and finesse.
Ultimately, it’s a story about Louis having an adventure, growing up, or rather being forced to confront the adult world and coming out the other side a changed person....more
5/6/18 edit: Heads up, this is available in paperback now.
Finishing this magnificent novel was a bittersweet affair. Sweet becPosted at Heradas Review
5/6/18 edit: Heads up, this is available in paperback now.
Finishing this magnificent novel was a bittersweet affair. Sweet because it was a powerful joy to read; experiencing what a writer that possesses such a mastery of her craft can do with words, continually in awe at the bravery of this story, and how she approached it. Bitter because I’ve lived with her character Joan Ashby these past couple weeks, judged her a little unfairly at times, learned as she did, gotten to know her well as she grew and adapted, and now we are forced to part ways because the book is done. She’s such an interesting creation, and I want to keep her around a little longer. Most especially, I want to read the rest of her stories, and novels that she wrote during her life inside of this book. I’d be 100% okay if Wolas chose to write and publish them eventually.
This is Cherise Wolas’ debut as a novelist, but it is so well formed you would never think it her first published novel. It has none of the usual shortcomings that early efforts often do. I’m thinking she has always written. She is obviously very practiced, and a remarkably skilled storyteller to have put together something this comprehensive. If this book doesn’t get shortlisted for several big awards next year, I’d be shocked at the injustice. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins more than a few of them.
Her prose is beautiful and flowing, and her characters contain multitudes, especially Ashby as we get to see her create her own characters (some of them writers as well) and bring them to life with flowing prose. Wolas’ ability to write as herself, as her characters, and as her characters’ characters is just breathtaking. The subtle shifts in style as the novel dips into and back out of Ashby’s writing, were handled with grace, and they added some postmodern flair to the whole thing. It’s like a novel that contains a short story collection, and reminds me of reading both at the same time, breaking up the main story with little miniature ones that interject here and there, never taking away from the momentum. It just works.
My favorite part of this is seeing how Ashby learns about herself, and deals with events in her own life through her fiction; through the characters that take on some of the traits of those around her; never directly putting her own life, events, and acquaintances directly into her work, but borrowing bits here and there and reconfiguring them into new dramatic events and characters. It’s refreshing to see the creative process stripped bare and represented accurately like this. Everything is a remix of our influences, and our lives, blown apart and amalgamated. In the latter half of the book, we even start to get a small glimpse into one possible future direction for Ashby, through the fiction that she creates. It’s subtly done and I love it. We see her working things out, coming to terms with traumatic events, and coming out the other side, all part of her process of creation and renewal.
Our world has never been more filled with incoherent clutter masquerading as information. It’s present in every corner of our Posted at Heradas Review
Our world has never been more filled with incoherent clutter masquerading as information. It’s present in every corner of our lives today; tomorrow it’ll likely be even worse. The data pool has been so polluted with gibberish that in 2017 we have politicians who can’t seem to agree on what exactly constitutes a fact. Vapid internet-meme culture teaches us to repeat slightly modified nothings to each other, over and over again for internet points redeemable for exactly the same – nothing. We are bombarded with huge amounts of junk data every single day of our lives, and sorting through it to get to the morsels of useful information is becoming a necessary life skill.
How often do you read a headline, skip the article, and read the most popular comment to learn what your opinion should be? I’m guilty of doing that, big time, and I wasn’t even aware of it until someone pointed it out. There is just so much information available to us from every outlet, all competing for our attention – most of it trying to sell us something – that we don’t have near enough time to read it all. So, what do we do? Let’s circle back to that in a sec.
As defined in this book, Cruft is any text in a work of fiction that doesn’t particularly add anything to that work. You could call it “junk text”. When you hear someone complaining about a particular page-count heavy novel as “meandering” or “painfully boring”, they’re most likely complaining about the Cruft of that novel. Instead of merely being extraneous fat that should’ve been trimmed by a more talented editor, Letzler argues that Cruft may have a specific, useful purpose in these mega-novels, and he has well thought-out, very persuasive arguments to back up his thinking.
The gist of the argument is this: Cruft isn’t necessarily bad. It can be viewed as a tool to help us learn to modulate our attentional faculties. He argues that by reading Cruft containing mega-novels we learn the valuable skill of how to sift pertinent information from the non-important, and this skill can be applied to other areas of our lives; learning when to skim and when to pay attention. After all, mega-novels so often hide bits of useful information buried in a pile of red herrings. If you read enough novels like this, you’re bound to improve picking the useful bits through the clutter. This line of thinking redefines boredom and confusion as features of mega-novels, instead of pejorative descriptors. He also argues that these descriptors often say a lot more about the person doing the describing than the actual novel itself.
I tend to agree, and I love this argument. It’s something I’ve been dancing around for a while, but never really put into words. If you’re a fan of huge, “boring” novels (like I am), then you’ll undoubtedly adore this academic literary criticism deconstructing the inherent value of the most boring parts of those novels. I had to laugh at myself a little while reading it, because there’s something so deliciously postmodern about reading a book all about the most boring parts of boring books. It was always interesting, and to its credit, contained no Cruft of its own. Something that I consider a huge achievement, given the subject matter.
Of course, the argument is not without its own issues, the least of which being that it’s a tad self-serving for a fan of mega-novels to find a way to praise even the most boring parts of them, but Letzler does a wonderful job illustrating these counter arguments right off the bat. I love a good academic approach like this, because when it’s done correctly, the author will spend a good portion of their writing laying out all of the problems with their main thesis, and then work backward from there in order to argue their point more effectively. It adds so much solidity if you can show that you’re already aware of the detractions against your view. He pulls it off marvelously here, and covers absolutely every angle of the concept.
Each chapter is categorically organized according to the different types of extant Cruft commonly found in mega-novels. There are numerous examples and case studies from novels like Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, 2666, House of Leaves, J R, and lots of others that are notoriously Cruft heavy. It’s all very well illustrated and argued, and the sections covering the handful of novels discussed that I haven’t read, were often more interesting to me than the ones covering the novels that I have. I’ve always thought that good non-fiction books should introduce the reader to several more books to read, and this one is no exception. My TBR pile has grown, yet again.
So the next time you feel your attention wandering, try to approach your boredom as a feature rather than a failure. Focus in on it and see what it’s telling you. Instead of just reading that headline and skipping to the comments, read the whole article, but try skimming through it; pull the interesting bits forward from the Cruft. You just might be able to train yourself to be a more effective reader....more
“What was consciousness other than the surface of the soul’s ocean?”
Book five details Karl Ove’s life from around age nineteen to thirty-three, but in a lot of ways it feels like the closing chapter of My Struggle. Of course there is still one more book coming in the pipeline; whose english translation I hear has been delayed again, this time until “Fall 2018” due to it being twelve-hundred pages and requiring an additional translator in order to handle the extra page load. According to Knausgaard, the forthcoming sixth volume is supposed to be more about his friend’s and family’s reception to their portrayal in the first five books. That should be very interesting.
This wouldn’t be a review of a My Struggle book if I didn’t mention how fascinatingly readable the prose was. I say fascinatingly readable because I have no idea why it is. I really can’t explain it, but his writing gets inside of me and latches onto something. He does such a fantastic job of relating the deep rooted sense of isolation we experience from, and along with the rest of humanity. We seem to keep two groups in our minds: the self (Us), and everyone else (Them). We are always alone even in company, because we can never truly verify that anyone else really exists.
More than any of the others this book is all about Karl Ove coming to terms with the realities of being a writer. At 19-20 he is in love with the mythology of writing, but not so much with the actual act of writing. He loves the idea but not the reality. He takes criticism of his work very poorly, very personally. He sees himself as not having the depth of soul to truly write like his influences. He feels that there is a chasm between him and others; that he is living a duplicitous life; that he is an imposter and everyone else the genuine article. I think that this ties deeply into his ultimate reason for writing My Struggle: I think he’s trying to demolish the barrier between his private and public life in a way so destructive, it cannot be undone. I think he needs that barrier to break down.
He states several times that he feels he is a separate person internally than who he is perceived to be externally. He’s able to alleviate this somewhat through heavy drinking, but heavy drinking causes him insurmountable other issues. When he drinks too much, he’s finally comfortable, but he does all kinds of things that bring him shame, and this adds to his compartmentalization of his true self from his public self. In writing this 3600 page, six volume highly personal memoir novel, he is forcing his internal and external, depth and surface selves to intermingle and become one. Since he feels trapped in this situation, to me it seems like a way for him to force himself out.
The character of Karl Ove - I say character because he says over and over that he doesn’t remember much from the periods of time he’s covering, therefore there is definitely a percentage of events and memories that are invented - is the perfect anti-hero. He is often very abrasive to those around him, doing things that are terrible to those he loves, but we’re given so much of his internal thought process that we relate with the reasons for his actions. In a way, it’s more that he’s just very honest about his faults and shortcomings as well as his achievements. Usually when we tell our own stories, we leave out all of the rough edges, and paint ourselves in a much better light. Instead, he seems to be making an effort at self-mythologizing as objectively as he can. Worts and all.
Really, we are all anti-heroes in our own stories when we’re honest about both the bad and the good that we’ve done. I think this is why the concept of an anti-hero is so broadly appealing in stories; it’s really just a well developed character. If a character doesn’t have a little darkness inside of them, they don’t feel real to us.
In conclusion, I loved this book. It wove together the disparate threads from the previous four books very tightly. It was also the first to move almost entirely in a linear fashion, which was a big departure from the others. Finishing it makes me want to go back and reread book two, which was previously my least favorite, but I think the additional insight and perspective gained from reading five would make it much more interesting. The main narrative of book two chronologically lands right after the events of book five. I think that book five could be read before book two, and might even be best experienced in that order.
I’m notoriously picky, and it’s hard to find something that checks every one of my boxes: worldbuilding, prose, characters, anPosted at Heradas Review
I’m notoriously picky, and it’s hard to find something that checks every one of my boxes: worldbuilding, prose, characters, and story. Usually I’ll find something that hits 2 or 3 of them; a great story, written well, but with weak worldbuilding or characters. Or a top notch world, with vivid characters, but only serviceably written. Void Star nails them all. It’s true literary Speculative Fiction, and a rare find.
It not only has that famous sense of wonder that only SF can do so well, but also elegant prose evidencing an author well acquainted with the great works of literary fiction, solid worldbuilding, an engaging story, and well developed characters that feel like they’ve genuinely lived their lives. It’s a novel of ideas, a hugely ambitious narrative, and a character novel all rolled into one. If elements of Neuromancer and The Diamond Age merged with an epic mythology poem and in the process became more than the sum of their parts, you would have Void Star. I’d call it post-cyberpunk, minus the noir element. There is a mystery present, but no tropey, down on his luck detective piecing it all together while chewing the scenery.
Instead we have three main POVs, which build the narrative like three avalanches, accelerating as they accumulate, eventually converging violently and spiraling out in interesting and unexpected directions. The chapters are very short, often only five or six pages, seventy-seven chapters total in just under four hundred pages, which makes it really approachable. I would often sit down with not much time, intent on only reading a chapter or two, but the short chapters gave it a forward momentum that made it difficult to put down. The conclusion satisfies immensely, and I have a strong feeling that it’s even better on subsequent readings. If I didn’t have a few novels and novellas I still need to read before the Hugo vote this year, I would reread this one right now. I’m considering it a strong contender for the Hugo or Nebula awards next year. I do think it’s a little better suited for the Nebula though, as that award usually embodies novels with terrific prose.
Mason’s prose has an inherent beauty to it, and is a joy to read. It is poetically descriptive in a clever, nebulous way. He describes only just enough to jumpstart your imagination, leaving the hard-edged details for the reader to incorporate into the world themselves. You meet the novel halfway. It makes it highly engaging. It’s an approach that can backfire if handled by a less steady hand, but it’s wonderfully executed here. To me it’s a little reminiscent of Jeff VanderMeer’s prose.
The worldbuilding is so thorough: favelas that are nearly alive with their continually evolving construction by drone, layers of society and culture, poverty and wealth all clashing at their intersections, powerful corporations pulling strings, artificial intelligences that are as distant from us as we are to bacteria. It’s near(ish) far future, but the tech isn’t all state of the art. It’s presented in a much more realistic way; the way things have always been. You might have some tech that is cutting edge (your phone, or tablet, etc), but you still interact with other bits of technology that are nearing their obsolescence (maybe you drive an old carbureted pickup truck, or an antique motorcycle, maybe you use an ancient fax machine at work). In this world there is tech that is still far in the future for us, but to the characters using it, it’s a bit obsolete. This small detail makes all the difference in my suspension of disbelief as a reader, and makes this world that much more comprehensively thought out and impressive.
I love novels that tell a huge, satisfying science fiction story in a relatable world like this. Highly recommended....more
This one was a trip, like a flu induced fever dream. Storywise think early David Cronenberg body horror + Alice in Wonderland Posted at Heradas Review
This one was a trip, like a flu induced fever dream. Storywise think early David Cronenberg body horror + Alice in Wonderland + Saga + The Boondocks + 70s Sexploitation. I’m very surprised this isn’t being published by Image Comics, who are currently in the middle of a creator-owned renaissance of adult themed, fantastic storytelling. This would fit right in over there.
The story starts out with some great Science Fiction intrigue and escalates as the characters learn the darker truth lurking beneath the surface of their hometown and their own personal past. They find themselves in stranger and crazier situations while journeying through realms of reality previously unknown to them. There are some cleverly subtle undertones that highlight the kind of marginalization / abuse of populations that can occur when there’s too much power in the hands of too few. I’d recommend this for fans of Saga, Sex Criminals, and adult themed cosmic horror narratives. I don’t want to be too specific with story details, because that would ruin half the fun of discovering this for yourselves. But be warned, it is definitely a Mature comic with a capital M.
The dialogue can be a little clunky at times, and the characters are fairly one dimensional (albeit, very imaginative and unique) but this does read like the first several issues of an ongoing story, so there’s room for them to grow and become more fully realized as the story continues.
Lanier’s artwork is the real standout here. It’s fantastic, grotesque and disturbing at times, and done in a truly unique style that I haven’t seen before. It modulates effortlessly between hyperreal and a colorful caricaturesque style. I really love it. He plays with the framing a lot, rendering scenes using angles that are so beautifully cinematic, they feel like they’re drawn through virtual camera lenses. There is also a lot of work here that emphasizes what can only be done so well in the graphic novel medium....more
A concise yet comprehensive literary analysis on the works of the late Iain Banks. Kincaid’s writing functions primarily through illustrating and deconstructing the thematic lineage and interplay between Banks’ novels published with and without the M, but also delves into the deeper political and societal backdrop in which Banks’ wrote and lived. The bits of history that Kincaid feels influenced Banks are particularly illuminating for myself, someone who knows little of Scottish or UK life, especially concerning the 70s and 80s.
Not as obviously praising of Banks’ writing as Simone Caroti’s The Culture Series of Iain M. Banks: A Critical Introduction, and in a lot of ways it does feel like a response to it. Caroti called for a need to examine Banks’ entire catalog of writing, not just the M or non-M work as had previously been done. Kincaid’s book takes exactly this approach, but with an emphasis on his science fiction work. It is also a much more balanced examination of the strengths and weaknesses at play in the novels. That being said, the rabid Banks fan inside of me enjoyed Caroti’s book quite a bit more because it more closely aligned with my own reading and interpretation of Banks; which is of course an admittedly subjective, masturbatory reason.
Caroti’s book started a new conversation; addressing the ways in which Banks had been grossly ignored, misunderstood, and misinterpreted in literary circles and criticism over the years. It posited a much better interpretation of Banks’ work than had previously existed. I’m please to see that it appears Caroti’s contribution had it’s desired effect, because this continuation of the conversation seems to have benefited greatly from it. Gone are the misreadings and general sloppy analogies in the pre-Caroti analyses. Of course, as a result, Kincaid is much more objective and more in line with a standard literary analysis, which is more intellectually pleasing, but it remains thoughtful to the corrections and additions that Caroti made previously.
The bulk of this analysis deals with Banks’ writing chronologically, but also takes into account the order in which the novels were written, rewritten and released. Since so many of them -- the Culture novels specifically -- were written very early and then reworked later in Banks’ career before being published, this method helps to trace the evolution of themes and thoughts throughout the novels as they changed and adapted. There are quite a few biographical details and quotes interspersed throughout, which I always welcome, especially considering that there is still no extant proper biography on Banks. The book then comes to a close with an illuminating interview between Banks and Jude Roberts, who received his P.h.d. on The Culture series.
This book is something I’ve been waiting a long, long time for, and I am extremely pleased that Kincaid has not only continued the conversation on Banks’ work and legacy that Caroti jump started, but also added so much to it in the process. This is a fantastic addition to the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series and I look forward to seeing where we go from here. Personally, I feel that Banks’ work needs to endure the test of time, and welcome future writings on him as a subject....more
You’ll usually find this in the literary criticism section of a book shop, and having now read it, I can’t exactly argue with Posted at Heradas Review
You’ll usually find this in the literary criticism section of a book shop, and having now read it, I can’t exactly argue with that placing, but I can say that it would also be right at home in many other sections: cultural anthropology, sociology, memoir, philosophy, history, poetry, or even general fiction (if I’m feeling particularly objective). It’s a lot of things in one, which means that the book itself fully embodies the crux of its own argument, to get all postmodern on you, which simply put is: the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is not as black and white as we think. Or written another way, and quoting directly from the book: “Writing is writing. Every act of composition is an act of fiction.”
I picked this book up and put it back down several times before eventually breaking down and buying it. I kept bumping into it at my favorite used bookshop, thumbing through it and reading little bits here and there, finding myself confused by the format -- was it a book of quotes or a book of random thoughts? -- eventually judging it too odd and putting it back on the shelf. The next time I came back, it would be gone (of course!), and I found myself missing it, getting what I would consider the opposite of buyer’s remorse, wishing that I had taken it home with me when I had the chance. Eventually, of course, another copy would show up on the shelves and I would start the whole process over again. Eventually that Chip Kidd cover won me over and I took it home.
This is basically the postmodern literary equivalent of building a song out of samples. I was about halfway through before I realized that a huge chunk of this book is sourced from elsewhere, remixed, modified, recombined, and used interstitially between genuine writing done by Shields himself to tie this whole crazy opus together. It’s brilliant and absurd and since it’s sourced from hundreds of different people, it speaks in a lot of contradictory absolutes about art, writing, reality, “reality”, memory, copyright, fiction, identity, persona, subjectivity, the nature of creativity, etc. It contains a lot of things I agree with, a lot that I don’t, and a lot that I’m not so sure about anymore.
Whatever it is, it’s deeply misunderstood. Read a few reviews and you’ll find people who hate it with a passion or ecstatically adore it. You won’t find too many in the middle. Which honestly, is the exact kind of reaction you want something to evoke in others. Otherwise, it’s just mediocre right? Anyway, I think those people with intense opinions on it are thinking way too literally, and might benefit from the practice of trying to hold two opposing opinions in their heads at the same time, and mulling them over. I think what this book really is, is a jumping off point to start a conversation about what is real, what is fake, and why ultimately, maybe it really doesn’t matter that much, and maybe we should stop classifying things and let art be art. Let journalism handle facts, and let both our non-fiction and fiction pieces of art just be.. pieces of art. Maybe we don’t need to worry about which box to put things in anymore. Maybe the process of telling a “true” story injects it with fiction anyway. Or maybe none of that too. Or maybe -- and this is more realistic here -- just some of it. Pick and choose, etc.
It would be a mistake to read this quickly, which is easy to do since it’s so short, and presented in little bite size chunks. There’s just too much going on here to rush through it. It’s a genuine book of ideas. I had to take a lot of breaks -- short and long -- to give myself time to process the concepts. I took a lot of notes to organize my thoughts; trying to get to the bottom of what I was feeling about what was being said. If I came across something that really got my thinking, I threw the book down and went for a walk to mull it over a little. Or maybe I would just put it down for a few days, read something else, and come back to it when I was really interested again in the questions it was posing; when the ideas were pulling me back in.
Paraphrasing, of course, but some of those questions were: What sort of responsibility should a memoirist have to literal facts? Can we actually trust our memory enough to state anything we remember as fact? How much truth is there in fiction? How much fiction do we allow in non-fiction? If fiction uses lies to tell the truth, can memoir be just another literary genre, soaked in the author’s subjective experience, but the truth of that experience used only as a means to illustrate something more important? If the point of memoir is that more important bit, does it actually have to be married to truth at all? Just what is being “created” in creative non-fiction? Who owns ideas? Do we necessarily always need Form and Story and Narrative and the other usual pieces of storytelling? Is the space between truth and fiction actually more interesting anyway?
I don’t really have a conclusion on this. Like I said earlier, the book is a jumping off point, and I’m still kind of lost in all of the ideas it presented. If you’re interested in any of those questions, I’d suggest you check it out, it’s really quite bizarre, and I think you’ll enjoy it a lot....more
The time period is difficult to pin down. 1950s, 1960s? The setting is never explicitly said to be New York City, but it is. TPosted at Heradas Review
The time period is difficult to pin down. 1950s, 1960s? The setting is never explicitly said to be New York City, but it is. There are clues peppered here and there but the whole thing also has a timeless, every-major-city quality to it. This world is exactly like ours, except elevators are a big, big deal. Their creation has shaped the form and structure of cities; buildings with arrangements of floors vertically stacked ad infinitum up into the sky, a concept itself only possible as a result of reliable, mechanical elevation. Those elevators highly utilized only because they are safe, safe only because of the skilled elevator inspectors laying down the law regarding their maintenance, and upkeep.
All of this is true in our world as well, but here it’s more than just a technicality, it’s elemental as a foundation of their entire modern society; an alternate Americana. Elevators and elevator inspectors are given the same level of awe that airplanes and pilots once had in our version of America. Just as the airplane compressed our world’s surface horizontally, elevators compressed theirs vertically, bringing the unrealized potential of the sky down to earth.
Elevators aren’t just a large aspect of the literal plot of the novel, but used as a metaphor for the ongoing racial struggle of black Americans, among other things. It’s handled elegantly, and I don’t want to touch on it all that much for fear of spoiling the experience. Suffice it to say there are several layers to this elevator-as-metaphor aspect, and they have a unique dialogue with one another.
Almost every corner of the novel mirrors, and folds on itself. The narrative is broken into two sections: Down, and Up: a fall from grace, and a rise from the ashes. A literal crashing down of one elevator, and a possible rising of another, perfected model; a “black box”. The dual and dueling, mirrored approaches to elevator inspection, Empiricism and Intuitionism. The former being the familiar method of visually inspecting, and testing components to ensure their reliability, checking them against tolerances and allowances. The latter embodying what you might call a holistic approach; feeling and communicating mentally, or spiritually with the elevator in an effort to understand what issues may be affecting it. The concept of intuitionism is where a lot of the surreal comedy of the novel stems. Can you imagine a sillier approach to checking a mechanical system? It’s all very Pynchonesque.
This book is an exemplary illustration of the power speculative fiction wields as a form of literature. Because of course, intuiting what ails an elevator is completely ridiculous in the real world, but it’s oddly endearing in an America slightly off from our own. Empiricists don’t respect Intuitionists, but they can’t argue with their results, which statistically, are ever so slightly more effective. It’s a slap in the face for those living a life guided by rules and measurements, when “feeling” a system merits slightly better results than doing your best to follow the rigid structure you are trying to impose on the world. Couple this with the double standards governing white America and black America, men and women, and it becomes poetic. This is used to show that there is always more than one way to approach any topic, any reality that you can interact with. That only using our eyes, can sometimes blind us in other ways, to other things. Reality is what we make it, and limiting ourselves to just one sense can be a dangerous practice indeed. You have to be able to fathom change before you can start to affect it, and this novel has a lot to say about where innovation and change originate, and how best to implement them.
The Intuitionist reminded me, in an odd way, of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. I am unsure if it’s the somewhat similar setting, similar themes of an underclass breaking upward into America proper, or the general mystery aspect of the narrative. Both were published in 1999, maybe there’s a similar cultural background at play? Whatever the reason, I find them comparable novels....more