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Book Review: UnSouled by Neal Shusterman (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

February 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: UnSouled by Neal Shusterman (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
Connor and Lev are on the run from the Juvenile Authority but for once they’re running to something. Or rather, someone. They’re looking for a woman Proactive Citizenry has tried to erase from history, hoping she’ll have some answers about just how the world got to be the way it is.  Meanwhile, Cam, the rewound boy, is plotting to take Proactive Citizenry down in the hopes of winning the heart of Risa.

Review:
This entry in the series really fizzled for me with the far-fetched ideas and shaky execution of a complex plot finally becoming too much for me to really enjoy the story.

On the one hand, this book is more of the same. There’s multiple characters in vastly different situations who will clearly all come together at some point in a convergence that should read like fate but oftentimes just reads as too convenient. On the other hand, the action this time is interspersed with some flashbacks to the scientist who discovered unwinding, and how it went from something to be used to save lives to something to keep adolescents in line. This plot was interesting, but its reveal was awkwardly handled. The flashbacks are from the perspectives of the scientists, just as we switch around among the perspectives of the teens in the story, rather than letting them naturally discover what happened.  It’s a change that could have been used to build up more tension and excitement but instead just makes the pace awkward and changes the feel of the story from one told primarily by teens to one routinely interfered with by adult perspective.

The big reveal of how unwinding came to be failed to really strike a chord with me, and I believe this is partially because it’s still a bit unclear to me as to who exactly the big bad is. I do think it’s interesting that basically unwinding came to be because big business was trying to protect their investment in health care. I appreciate the angle of how health care needs to be more than just a business. However, I question the supposed solution for unwinding offered at the end of the book. I feel it is just more big business.

Overall, this book continued the issues with the second book, only more so. Too many plots that conveniently intersect and confusion over what exactly is going on in the world.  Additionally, the far-fetched elements that challenged my ability to suspend disbelief in the first two books become at the center of the big overarching plot of the series. Given both of these issues, I will not be continuing reading the series, although I am glad that I read the first book, as it is an interesting and unique dystopian YA world. It’s just one that went off the rails a bit.  This entry is recommended to those readers who simply must know how unwinding came to be and how the characters plan to stop it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Unwind, review
UnWholly, review

Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (Series, #2)

January 26, 2016 4 comments

cover_childrenSummary:
Father Sandoz, the only person from the humanity’s first mission to Rakhat to return to Earth, has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Jesuits asks him to assist in preparing the second team. Reticent to assist anyone to go to Rakhat but enjoying the use of the languages again, he agrees.

Meanwhile, one survivor of the mission joins forces with the Runa and a rogue Jana’ata to bring about justice. What world will the second mission find when they return? It certainly won’t be the one previously held in a tenuous working balance between predator and prey.

Review:
The Sparrow really touched me, and I was eager to return to Rakhat, not to mention to see how Sandoz handled his recovery. What I found was a mixed bag. A creative expansion on the world of Rakhat but a message and character development that moved in directions that left me feeling very little.

The presence of humans upset the delicate balance between the Jana’ata and the Runa. The humans demonstrated to the Runa that they didn’t need the Jana’ata, and thus a revolution was born.  The thing is though this culture is just so truly alien that it’s hard to root for the Runa or the Jana’ata.

The Jana’ata have a depraved world, yes, but they are also truly predators who evolved from predators. It’s hard to hate on them when they’re basically cats walking around in medieval clothes. Well, of course they’re acting barbaric. They’re cats! And the thing is, they’re not just cruel to the Runa, they’re cruel to each other as well.

The one real disjointed bit of the narrative is that this culture reads as a developing one, as if they are from the 1200s or 1300s on Earth. Yet they somehow have enough technology that they could broadcast music to Earth? It makes no sense that they would be so backwards and yet simultaneously so advanced in science.

Similarly, the Runa are a people with a culture but they also are a prey species. They reproduce like mad when they have enough food, and they act like herd animals.  Yakking constantly and with no real art or science developing. It is easy to see how these two cultures came to co-exist, as well as the fact that they need each other. Put another way, everyone thinks deer are cute, and they are. But if they exist in a world with no natural predators, they soon over-run the place until they have too much population for the land to support, and they start to starve. Yes, the co-existence between the Jana’ata and the Runa could be handled better (certainly with more clarity and more maturity) but the Runa and Jana’ata need each other. They co-evolved.My perspective on the Runa and Jana’ata impacts how I feel about the rest of the book.

Russell presents the idea that it’s ok for the Runa to become the dominant culture so long as they “allow” the “good” Jana’ata (the ones who have sworn off eating Runa and struggle along eating the eggs of some other creature that can barely sustain them. Truly barely. One character has multiple problem pregnancies due to malnutrition). Positing the idea that the Jana’ata are bad because they are predators, and the Runa are good because they are herbivores (with some outliers in both groups of course) is just hard to swallow. Bad and good is much more nuanced than that. Is a shark bad because it eats a seal because it’s hungry? No. But if a shark kills a seal because it’s fun to kill a seal and then swims off without eating it? Then one could argue that’s a bad shark with a bad nature. This level of nuance is just something I felt was missing from the book and the world.

I also found Sandoz’s path back to god to be a bit irritating, as well as the repeatedly presented idea that we can all have different interpretations of the one god, but there is definitely one. A whole alien planet with two sentient species, and no one can even entertain the idea that there might be more than one god? People are allowed to think there’s not one at all, although the book does present this as a shortcoming of those people’s natures. Basically, if they were a bit more willing to open they could at least be agnostic about the idea. The ultimate “proof” of the existence of god in the book is something that made me laugh. I won’t reveal what is found but suffice to say that if you’ve heard the argument about a watch proving there’s a watchmaker, it’s very similar to that one. After the insight and the gray areas allowed in the first book with regards to faith, I was disappointed.

If my review seems a bit mixed and all over the place that’s because that’s how this book read to me. There were chapters of beauty and then others that made me sigh and still others that made me scratch my head. It’s a mixed bag of content set in a complicated world with an ending that some readers would definitely find satisfying but I do not. I still enjoyed the read overall simply because I love visiting the world of Rakhat. But would I want to visit it again? Given the direction it was going, probably not. Although I would gladly visit the future Earth that gets to meet a Jana’ata or a Runa on our own turf.

Overall, readers of the first book who enjoyed it for Rakhat will enjoy getting to know more about both the Runa and the Jana’ata culture will enjoy the sequel, whereas those who appreciated it for its nuance and exploration of gray areas and difficult topics will be less satisfied.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
The Sparrow, review

Counts For:
miabadge
Illness(es) featured: Autism Spectrum Disorder

2016’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 8, 2016 2 comments

Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I accept submissions of review copies via a form between February and December.  The books I accept will then be reviewed the following year.  So, the books accepted for review here in 2016 were submitted in 2015.  You can view more about my review process here.  You may view the accepted review copies post for 2014 and 2015 by clicking on the years.  For 2016, I decided to require authors to submit an excerpt along with their request, and I for the first time ever did not give a set number I would accept.  Instead I accepted only those books that sparked my interest. Books I would have picked up anyway browsing in a bookstore or library, a thing that is difficult for indie authors to have happen.  I basically view the submissions I receive as my own mini-bookstore of indie books.

This year there were 62 submissions. I accepted 7 books. This means I only accepted 11% of submitted books (down 5% from last year).  Put another way, each book only had a 11% chance of being accepted.

I actively pursue submissions from women and GLBTQA authors, as well as books with GLBTQA content.

Gender

As you can see, 38.7% of authors submitting to me were women.  I am disappointed to say this was not an increase from last year, in spite of my promotion efforts. Of the 7 books I accepted, 6 (86%) are written by women authors.  Now, I do not preferentially choose books by women authors. My one rule is that I must not accept more books by male than female authors. This means the male authors submitting to me really failed to wow me, as I could have accepted 6 of them but ultimately only 1 appealed to me out of 38.

GLBTQA

24.2% of authors submitting to me self-identify as GLBTQA. This is up from only 14% last year, a fact I am very happy about. Of the books I accepted, 4 (57%) were by GLBTQA authors. The GLBTQA authors really impressed me, you guys.

GLBTQA Content

Interestingly, 29% of the books submitted to me have GLBTQA content. Again, this means cis-heterosexual authors are also writing about GLBTQA issues, which I appreciate. Of the books I accepted, 4 (57%) have GLBTQA content, and no, they are not the exact same 4 that have GLBTQA authors. Authors of all gender and sexual orientations write about people of all gender and sexual orientations, and this is definitely reflected in what was submitted to me.

Genre

You can see that the overwhelming majority of the books submitted to me were a scifi (37.1%) or thriller (32.3%) with horror a close third (22.6%). At the other end of the spectrum, nonfiction GLBTQA, nonfiction health and fitness, and nonfiction cookbook all had zero submissions.  For fiction, cozies had the fewest submissions (3.2%), followed by a tie between paranormal or western romance and historical fiction with 6.5% each. Keep in mind that I let authors check off more than one genre, if their book fits in more than one.

Of the 7 accepted books, 3 are scifi, 2 urban fantasy, and 2 paranormal or western romance, along with 1 fantasy, 1 cozy, and 1 thriller.  This means that only 5% (1 out of 20) of thrillers was accepted, whereas 50% (2 out of 4) of paranormal or western romance was.

I provide these stats for two reasons.  First to give everyone an idea of the competition the accepted books were up against.  It’s an accomplishment to be accepted for review here!  Second, I want those considering submitting to me this year to look at these stats and take them into consideration when submitting.  Consider the fact that I don’t want to read only scifi all year.  If you have a nonfiction or a romance waiting to be reviewed, it has a higher chance of being accepted.  But enough stats!  It’s time to get to the accepted review copies!

The review copies are listed below in alphabetical order by title. Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon, since I have yet to read them myself and so cannot write my own.  These books will be read and reviewed here in 2016, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

cover_blackmagic

Black Magic and Mojitos
By: A.A. Chamberlynn
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
Zyan Star’s latest job is turning into a real Nightmare. Actually, a whole herd of them.

When supernatural bounty hunter Zyan Star jets down to Rio to meet a prospective client, everything goes as planned initially. That is, until she finds out the person hiring her is Raoul Cabrera, the half demon/half faery supernatural overlord of Brazil, who rubs elbows with Lucifer himself. And that he’s hired another bounty hunter, Donovan McGregor, to work with her.

Their target is a herd of Nightmares, horse spirits that torment people with visions of their worst fears before devouring their flesh. Zy and Donovan head out on the hunt, but it quickly becomes apparent that their client hasn’t given them all the facts. There’s a pissed-off, powerful witch summoning the Nightmares, and she’s out to exact some serious revenge on Raoul. Zy soon realizes she’s caught in the middle of a lover’s spat between two immensely powerful supernaturals, and it’s not clear whose side she should stand on. As if that weren’t enough, pulling off this job is going to require her to relive her worst fears and summon her own long-suppressed magical powers.

Let the supernatural Carnival begin.

Why I Accepted It:
It’s urban fantasy with evil horse spirits set in Brazil. Just typing that sentence gives me chills of excitement. And the excerpt I was given blew me away. And can I just say that cover (which I didn’t see when going through my submissions) is dynamite.

cover_cityofroses

City of Roses Season One: Autumn Into Winter
By: Kip Manley
Genre: Paranormal or Western Romance, Urban Fantasy
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
City of Roses is a serialized epic very firmly set in Portland, Oregon–an urban fantasy mixing magical realism with gonzo noirish prose, where sinister high-rise riverfront condos are fought by a sprawling tea-house constructed from scrap lumber and old windows, and ancient sea-gods retire to close-in Southeast apartments with lovely views. It’s the story of Jo Maguire, a highly strung, underemployed telemarketer, and what happens when she meets Ysabel, a princess of unspecified pedigree. Jo rather unexpectedly becomes Ysabel’s guardian and caretaker, and now must make a place for herself among Ysabel’s decidedly unusual family and friends–which involves rather more sword-play than most of us are used to.

This omnibus ebook collects the full first season of the critically acclaimed serial, chapters 1 – 22, also available in volume 1, “Wake up…” , and volume 2, The Dazzle of Day.

Why I Accepted It:
It just seemed so quirky. Much like Portland. And the excerpt, again, was great.

cover_crowbox

The Crow Box (Not released yet)
By: Nikki Rae
Genre: Paranormal or Western Romance
Summary:
The small wooden box is dirty, the size of a human fist, and sealed with wax. When Corbin takes it upon herself to clean it and break the seal, a voice she has tried to ignore gathers strength. Shadows play on the walls at night, and with a family history of mental illness, Corbin fears the worst. But the voice tells her it is real. That its name is Six and it will prove it in time.
Drawn to this mysterious entity, Corbin isn’t sure what to believe and the line between reality and her imagination blurs more every day.
Some doors should not be opened; can this one be closed?


Why I Accepted It:
The combination of the eerie foreboding nature of the summary with the author’s identifying it as a paranormal or western romance intrigued me. Plus the mental illness aspect fits right in with my ongoing Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge.

cover_fairfoul.jpg

The Fair & Foul
By: Allie Potts
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Juliane has a supercomputer for a brain and she isn’t afraid to use it. Perhaps she should be.

Juliane Faris is a brilliant programmer determined to change the world through scientific and technical advancement. Blinded by ambition, she will do whatever it takes to secure her legacy including agreeing to participate in an experimental procedure. The procedure grants her unprecedented knowledge and cellular control over her body but threatens everything she holds dear including her sanity. When others undergo the same modifications it becomes apparent that not everyone can afford the price that this technology demands

Set in the not too distant future, The Fair & Foul is earth-based science fiction dealing with the next era of human evolution. The line between humanity and technology is blurring, and what seems like magic is only a scientific discovery away.

Why I Accepted It:
I’m a sucker for anything transhumanism, and this one stars a woman.

cover_harvestfigs

A Harvest of Ripe Figs
By: Shira Glassman
Genre: Cozy, Fantasy
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
Esther of the Singing Hands is Perach’s Sweetheart, a young and beautiful musician with a Girl Next Door image. When her violin is stolen after a concert in the capital city, she doesn’t expect the queen herself to show up, intent upon solving the mystery.

But Queen Shulamit–lesbian, intellectual, and mother of the six month old crown princess–loves to play detective. With the help of her legendary bodyguard Rivka and her dragon, and with the support of her partner Aviva the Chef, Shulamit turns her mind toward the solution–which she quickly begins to suspect involves the use of illegal magic that could threaten the safety of her citizens.

Why I Accepted It:
It’s a cozy starring a happily partnered lesbian plus it has a dragon. I mean, how could I not?

cover_lifefirst

Life First
By: RJ Crayton
Genre: Scifi, Thriller
Summary:
Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.

In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world’s population, life is valued above all else. The government of “Life First” requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told.

Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.

Why I Accepted It:
It hits on a lot of issues I like seeing looked at in scifi — organ donation, mental illness, and reproductive rights and issues.

cover_rymellan1disobedience

Rymellan 1: Disobediece Means Death
By: Sarah Ettritch
Genre: Scifi
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
Lesley and Mo can’t imagine life without each other. If it were up to them, they’d settle down, raise daughters, and lead happy, fulfilled lives. But they live on the planet Rymel, in a strict society that selects life-mates for its citizens and executes those who violate their life-bonds. Girlfriends since their teens, Lesley and Mo know they should break up but can’t let each other go. They dread the day the state summons them to meet their selected mates. Meet Lesley and Mo when they’re young adults in love and follow them until their time together runs out. Will they do what their society expects of them, or will they sacrifice their lives for their love?

Why I Accepted It:
The blurb and excerpt were just so cute, I couldn’t resist!

 

2015’s 5 Star Reads!

January 1, 2016 2 comments

Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoy assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.  You may view the 5 star reads for 2011, 2012, 2013 , and 2014 by clicking on the years.

With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2015!

cover_dreamsnake

Dreamsnake
By: Vonda N. McIntyre
Publication Date: 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Genre: Scifi, Post-apocalyptic
Themes: Healing, Prejudices, Adoption, Hubris
Summary:
In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth, all medical aid is brought by healers.  The healers use a trio of snakes to bring this healing.  One newly-minted healer first visits the desert people, but mistakes lead to the loss of her dreamsnake, the only snake that can bring pain relief to the dying.  She enters a journey to attempt to find a new dreamsnake.
Current Thoughts:
My full review of this book has yet to come, so I’ll keep my current thoughts short.  A 1970s work of scifi by a woman that intrigued me due to many reviews mentioning the positive depiction of snakes.  It wowed me. I read it via my Audible subscription, and I really am going to have to get a vintage paper copy for my female scifi collection.
Full review still to come.

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting For You
By:
Dorothy Bryant
Publication Date: 1971
Publisher: Evan Press
Genre: Scifi
Themes: Redemption, Self-Actualization, Healing, Mindfulness, Community
Summary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.
Current Thoughts:
This is a book I know I will revisit. The parable for self-actualization and the journey of mindfulness is something that rang so strongly with me.  When I think about it, I remember it as a beautiful, touching book.
Full review

cover_twentiesgirl

Twenties Girl
By:
Sophie Kinsella
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Bantam Press
Genre: Chick Lit
Themes: Living Fully, Living Authentically
Summary:
Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie–a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance–mysteriously appears, she has one last request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, and Sadie cannot rest without it. Lara, on the other hand, has a number of ongoing distractions. Her best friend and business partner has run off to Goa, her start-up company is floundering, and she’s just been dumped by the “perfect” man.  Sadie isn’t having any of it. And soon the question winds up being, who is really helping who?
Current Thoughts:
A book that really shows how great chick lit can be.  What starts out light and ridiculous eventually hands over some real thought-provoking lessons about a life lived versus a life lived well.  It was just the light, humorous take on life and death I needed when I picked it up. Also, I actually laughed out loud while reading it.  A real complement.
Full review still to come.

Nonfiction November: Fiction and Nonfiction Book Pairings

November 10, 2015 11 comments

I was looking forward to this week’s theme of Nonfiction November the most, because one of my favorite parts of being a librarian is “reader’s advisory.”  Reader’s advisory is when you chat to a person about what they enjoy reading, what they’re interested in, what they’re looking for, and recommend a few books to them as books they might enjoy reading.  (I don’t get to do this a ton as an academic medical librarian, but it does still come up sometimes).  I view this as a book blogger version of that.

For this, I thought I would select out a few of my favorite fiction books and seek out nonfiction books that would pair well with them.  If you read and enjoyed the fiction, consider checking out the nonfiction.  Of course it will also work the other way around!  If you’ve read the nonfiction book and enjoyed it, consider checking out the fiction.

First Pairing: Sled Dogs

Wolf howling at moon.The Call of the Wild
by:

Jack London
Fiction
Blurb:
Buck is a spoiled southern dog enjoying a posh life when one of the family’s servants steals him and sells him away to be a sled dog for the Alaska gold rush.  Buck soon goes from an easy life to one of trials and tribulations as the result of humans fawning over a golden metal, but it might not be all bad for him in the wild Alaskan north.

covergoldrushGold Rush Dogs
By:
Jane G. Haigh
Nonfiction
Blurb:
Dog lovers and history buffs will delight in this collection celebrating the beloved canines that offered companionship, protection, and hard work to their masters in the Far North.
Why pair it?
Buck, the main character (and dog) in The Call of the Wild is trained to be a sled dog for the gold rush (not the Iditarod).  This nonfiction book is about the gold rush dogs.

Second Pairing: Women in Ancient Japanese Court Life

A Japanese warrior woman's face has the shadow of cat ears behind her. The book's title and author name are over this picture.Fudoki
By:
Kij Johnson
Fiction
Blurb:
An aging empress decides to fill her empty notebooks before she must get rid of them along with all of her belongings to retire to the convent, as is expected of her.  She ends up telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a tortoiseshell cat who loses her cat family in a fire and is turned into a woman by the kami, the god of the road.

coverdiaryDiary of Lady Murasaki
By:
Murasaki Shikibu
Nonfiction
Blurb:
The Diary recorded by Lady Murasaki (c. 973 c. 1020), author of The Tale of Genji, is an intimate picture of her life as tutor and companion to the young Empress Shoshi. Told in a series of vignettes, it offers revealing glimpses of the Japanese imperial palace the auspicious birth of a prince, rivalries between the Emperor’s consorts, with sharp criticism of Murasaki’s fellow ladies-in-waiting and drunken courtiers, and telling remarks about the timid Empress and her powerful father, Michinaga. The Diary is also a work of great subtlety and intense personal reflection, as Murasaki makes penetrating insights into human psychology her pragmatic observations always balanced by an exquisite and pensive melancholy.
Why pair it?
Fudoki features tales being told by an aging empress that illuminate women’s lives in ancient Japan.  This nonfiction period piece is a diary by a real woman with an insider’s view of the same court life.  Although not written by an empress, she was an empress’s companion.

Third Pairing: We’re Living in the Future the 1800s Scifi Imagined

Simple cover image containing a broad off-white background on the top third of the cover and a red background on the bottom two thirds. The book's title and author are printed on the background.The Time Machine
By:
H.G. Wells
Fiction
Blurb:
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time.  But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.

cover_inthebeginningIn the Beginning…Was the Command Line
By:
Neal Stephenson
Nonfiction
Blurb:
This is “the Word” — one man’s word, certainly — about the art (and artifice) of the state of our computer-centric existence. And considering that the “one man” is Neal Stephenson, “the hacker Hemingway” (Newsweek) — acclaimed novelist, pragmatist, seer, nerd-friendly philosopher, and nationally bestselling author of groundbreaking literary works (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, etc., etc.) — the word is well worth hearing. Mostly well-reasoned examination and partial rant, Stephenson’s In the Beginning… was the Command Line is a thoughtful, irreverent, hilarious treatise on the cyber-culture past and present; on operating system tyrannies and downloaded popular revolutions; on the Internet, Disney World, Big Bangs, not to mention the meaning of life itself.
Why this pairing?
Wells and Stephenson are both considered masters of the scifi genre.  In this nonfiction piece, Stephenson explicitly draws comparisons between modern culture and the one envisioned by Wells in The Time Machine.

Fourth Pairing: Scandinavia Is Perfect….Or Is It?!

Silhouette of a person standing in a white hall.The Unit
By:
Ninni Holmqvist
Fiction
Blurb:
In the Sweden of the near future women who reach the age of 50 and men who reach the age of 60 without having successfully acquired a partner or had children are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live in “a unit.”  These units appear at first glance to be like a high-class retirement home, and indeed they have all the amenities.  The residents, however, are required both to participate in medical experiments and to donate various organs and body parts up until their “final donation” of their heart anywhere from a year or a few years after their arrival in the unit.  Dorrit arrives at the unit depressed, but accepting of her fate as the result of her independent nature, but when she falls in love, she starts to question everything.

fixedcoverThe Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
By:
Michael Booth
Nonfiction
Blurb:
The whole world wants to learn the secrets of Nordic exceptionalism: why are the Danes the happiest people in the world, despite having the highest taxes? If the Finns really have the best education system, how come they still think all Swedish men are gay? Are the Icelanders really feral? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastical oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes?
Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off, for over ten years, perplexed by their many strange paradoxes and character traits and equally bemused by the unquestioning enthusiasm for all things Nordic that has engulfed the rest of the world, whether it be for their food, television, social systems or chunky knitwear.
In this timely book he leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success and, most intriguing of all, what they think of each other. Along the way a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterised by suffocating parochialism and populated by extremists of various shades.
They may very well be almost nearly perfect, but it isn’t easy being Scandinavian.
Why this pairing?
The Unit is a unique dystopia in that it is set in Sweden and takes various aspects of Swedish culture to their dystopic extremes.  Since Scandinavia often comes across as idealistic, it was interesting to see a dystopia set there.  This nonfiction work takes a long tough look at Scandinavia and exposes the minuses (in addition to the pluses) of living there. 

That’s it for my pairings! I hope you all enjoyed them.  I know that I certainly found a few new books for my wishlist!

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

November 6, 2015 3 comments

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philp K. DickSummary:
Earth is overcrowded and overheated but people still don’t want to become colonists to other planets.  The colonies on the other planets are so boring and depressing that the colonists spend all of their money on Can-D — a drug that lets them imagine themselves living in an idealistic version of Earth.  The only trick is they have to set up dioramas of Earth first.  The drug is illegal on Earth but the diorama parts are still created by a company there.  When the famous Palmer Eldritch returns from the far-flung reaches of space, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z, that doesn’t require the dioramas.  What the people don’t know, but one of the manager of the Can-D company soon finds out, is that Chew-Z sends those who take it into an alternate illusion controlled by Palmer Eldritch.

Review:
I love Philip K. Dick, and I have since first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? So whenever I see his books come up on sale in ebook format, I snatch them up.  I picked this up a while ago for this reason, and then randomly selected it as my airplane read on my honeymoon.  Like many Dick novels the world of this book is insane, difficult to explain, and yet fun to visit and thought-provoking.

The world Dick has imagined is hilarious, although I’m not sure it was intended to be.  Presciently, Dick sets up a future suffering from overpopulation and global warming, given that this was published in 1965, I find it particularly interesting that his mind went to a planet that gets too hot.  Even though the planet is unbearably warm (people can only go outside at night and dusk/dawn), they still don’t want to colonize other planets.  Colonizing the other planets is just that bad.  So there’s a selective service by the UN, only instead of soldiers, those randomly selected are sent to be colonists.  The wealthy can generally get out of it by faking mental illness, as the mentally ill can’t be sent away.  This particular aspect of the book definitely reflects its era, as the 1960s was when the Vietnam War draft was so controversially going on.

I don’t think it’s going out on much a limb to say that drugs had a heavy influence on this book.  Much of the plot centers around two warring drugs, and how altered perceptions of reality impact our real lives.  One of the main characters starts out on Earth hearing about how the poor colonists have such a depressing environment that they have to turn to drugs to keep from committing suicide.  But when he later is sent to Mars himself as a colonists, his impression is that in fact the colony is this downtrodden because no one tries very hard because they’re so much more focused on getting their next hit of Can-D.  The Can-D has caused the lack of success on the planet, not the other way around.  Whether or not he is accurate in this impression is left up to the reader.

Then of course there’s the much more major plot revolving around the new drug, Chew-Z.  Without giving too much away, people think Chew-Z is a much better alternative to Can-D, but it turns out chewing it puts you under the control of Palmer Eldritch for the duration of your high, and if you overdose, you lose the ability to tell the difference between illusion and reality.  The main character (and others who help him) thus must try to convince the humans that Chew-Z is bad for them before they ever even chew it.  The main character has another side mission of getting people off of Can-D.

It sounds like a very anti-drugs book when summarized this way, but it felt like much more than that.  People chewing Chew-Z can come to have an experience that sounds religious – seeing the three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (a stigmata in Christian tradition is when God shows his favor on someone by giving them the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion.  In this book, the three stigmata are three bodily aspects of Palmer that are unique to him).  However, the experience of seeing the stigmata is in fact terrifying, not enlightening.  The drugs thus represent more than drugs. They represent the idea that we could possibly know exactly what a higher power is thinking, and perhaps that it might be better to just go along as best we can, guessing, rather than asserting certainty.

All of this said, a few weaknesses of the 1960s are seen.  I can’t recall a non-white character off the top of my head.  Women characters exist, thank goodness, but they’re all secondary to the male ones, and they are divided pretty clearly into the virgin/whore dichotomy.  They are either self-centered, back-stabbing career women, or a demure missionary, or a stay-at-home wife who makes pots and does whatever her husband asks.  For the 1960s, this isn’t too bad. Women in the future are at least acknowledged and most of them work, but characterizations like this still do interfere with my ability to be able to 100% enjoy the read.  Also, let’s not forget the Nazi-like German scientist conducting experiments he probably shouldn’t.  For a book so forward-thinking on things like colonizing Mars and the weather, these remnants of its own time period were a bit disappointing.

Overall, though, this is a complex book that deals with human perception and ability.  Are we alone in space? Can we ever really be certain that what we are seeing is in fact reality? How do we live a good life? Is escapism ever justified? Is there a higher power and if there is how can we ever really know what they want from us?  A lot of big questions are asked but in the context of a mad-cap, drug-fueled dash around a scifi future full of an overheated planet and downtrodden Mars colonies.  It’s fun and thought-provoking in the best way possible.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

October 30, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy BryantSummary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.

Review:
I can’t recall exactly how this ended up in my tbr but I am certain it had something to do with it being older feminist scifi/fantasy, which I collect and read as much as possible.  What I was expecting, particularly from a book from the 1970s, was a wishful book about an impossible utopia.  What I got instead was a spiritual parable that left me breathless, surprised, and craving more–not out of the book but out of life.

The book starts slowly.  The entire first chapter has the main character driving angrily down a road just after committing a murder during a fit of rage.  He is not a character with which you can particularly empathize at this point, and it is confusing as to just when the titular Kin of Ata will show up.  I admit that the first chapter moved so slowly and was so difficult to relate to that I was expecting the book to be a slog, but I persevered on, and in retrospect I appreciate the first chapter quite a bit.  I’ll discuss why at the end of my review.

The man wakes up to people getting him out of the car and bringing him to a cave.  They then bring him out of the cave to their hut-like homes.  He perceives of them as primitive and judges them harshly.  Gradually over time he comes to better understand them and their ways and to understand that he is not with primitive people hidden in the woods near his home.  He is on an island, and he somehow was spirited there.  I won’t discuss much more of the plot, because it could ruin it, but essentially the man is a stand-in for the reader.  The Kin of Ata have spiritual lessons and teach them to the man, and in turn to the reader.  It comes across much like a parable.

The Kin believe that humans need to remember and respect their dreams (actual dreams we have at night).  They view our sleeping lives as just as important, if not more so, than our waking ones.  They thus design their waking lives to be lived in the right manner so as to elicit the most powerful dreams.  This means things like working but not too hard.  Thus making yourself tired enough to sleep but not so tired that you sleep the sleep of the dead.  It also means discussing your dreams every morning upon awaking.  It means listening to your dreams and choosing daytime activities that suit what they are telling you.  Put another way, the Kin choose daytime activities that fit the callings of their deepest souls.  They essentially live a very mindful life that helps them achieve happiness and a peaceful community.

The main character starts out as a deep blight on the community.  He keeps trying to force his ways upon them. He comes across as an angry cloud.  In addition to being a murderer he also rapes one of the female Kin early on in the book.  I found the depiction of this rape fascinating.  The man sees people having sex with each other in what appears to him to be whenever one person demands it.  In actuality, the people are choosing each other and subtlely letting each other know whether they want to have sex or not.  The man decides he wants to participate and goes after one of the women.  She indicates to him through cultural body language (these people do not speak much) that it is the wrong time.  He does it anyway and she does not resist but she also does not participate.  The whole community judges him as it being a wrong and a rape in spite of the fact that the woman never said no.  The whole community views sex as only consensual if joyous consent is given, not just if the word “no” is not said.  The man is startled and yet also immediately understands their point.  He felt dirty and wrong after the sex and wasn’t sure why but now he understands and doesn’t know why he never thought of it this way before.  He is utterly ashamed of himself.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I struggle with plots that ask us to empathize with a rapist.  It honestly surprised me that this scene didn’t turn me off the book entirely.  Yet this is also a huge turning point for the main character.  He realizes that his way of doing things leads to him feeling bad and wrong and negatively impacts others.  The woman spends several days in a cavelike place, which is basically where the Kin go to meditate.  When she comes out, she forgives the man, because harboring a grudge against him would hurt her own ability to live the right path.  I found the whole event of how the community confronts the man about his wrongdoing, how he responds to this confrontation, and how the woman handles it to be incredibly thought-provoking.  It made me think about how much culture impacts people’s ability to even recognize when they’ve done something wrong.  Also, much as I had heard many times growing up how harboring hate in your own heart poisons yourself and not the one who harmed you, seeing a character fully embrace this after a traumatic experience made it sink in much more for me than just hearing the saying ever did.

This scene also served another purpose.  It reminded me that we’ve all done things we’re ashamed of and showed a path of redemption.  The man starts to pursue living the right way.  He has set-backs and stumbles.  It sometimes takes years for him to see the results of certain actions that he starts doing the right way.  It takes perseverance, unlike living the easy way, like he used to.  It’s a powerful parable for practices such as meditation, for which you often don’t see results right away.

Similarly, again, I don’t want to spoil it, but the book demonstrates how it takes a community living right for a truly peaceful and happy community to exist.  It also demonstrates, though, how one person who is very strong in their commitment to this right path can impact a whole community that is lost.

I promised to touch back on why I came to appreciate the first chapter.  I appreciate it because it shows us the main character living his life following the wrong path within his own original community.  It shows us where he came from before showing us how he develops into a life so much better through his work with the Kin.  It also makes for a powerful bookend with the final chapter, whose surprise I will not reveal.

This is a powerful parable that demonstrates how much impact living mindfully can have, and also how important developing healthy communities is for the happiness and peace of all.  It shows how wrong cultural ideals can lead people astray and hurt even the perpetrators of violence.  Some may struggle with parts of the book, but that is part of the process of learning the lessons in the parable.  I highly recommend this short book to all seeking a thought-provoking read.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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