Hysterical in many parts . . . great of course to hear Sedaris reading it himself.
Considering the enormous controversy created by her book Silent Spring, this biography seemed to go out of its way to portray Carson as a boring scientist. While Mr. Souder leaves no stone unturned in giving us an account of the process Carson used to write her multiple best-selling books, I can’t help but think that a female biographer would have delved much more into Carson’s personal life. I marveled that she was completely self-reliant, providing for not only herself but also her mother, sister and nephew, while still managing to research and write some of the most celebrated non-fiction of her times. But this part of her life is only mentioned infrequently and its impact on her writing is not really examined in any meaningful way. There are lovely passages in which Souder draws back the veil on Carson’s most intimate relationship, via letters between herself and a female friend, but he shies away from deeply examining the true nature of their relationship. If he could give us tons of background info on the nuclear threat during the years while Carson was writing Silent Spring, surely he could also have gone into some background on the status of homosexuality at the time and put a context for this relationship that was clearly the most important one in Carson’s entire life. Souder also missed an opportunity to examine the continuing impact of Carson’s environmental ideas on our world today, perhaps via conversations with current environmentalists who could speak to her influence. In all, a more modern perspective might have enlivened this book about this truly extraordinary woman.
There are some very cool ideas in this third installment in the METAtropolis short story collection, but the authors got less disciplined here and there are some stories that seem to be phoned in. On top of that, the very famous scifi actors who narrated the first two installments have been replaced by some sub-par narrators who were almost annoying to listen to. I would recommend this collection only to the hard-core scifi readers who are here for the ideas, for there are some extremely cool ideas here despite the mediocre plots, same-old characters and confusing story arcs.
I’ll review each story separately. Here there be (minor) spoilers . . .
Rock of Ages, by Jay Lake. Narrators: Mark Boyette, Dion Graham, Robin Miles. As the METAtropolis franchise moves farther and farther into its imagined future, it would be nice if Jay Lake would also move forward. The explanation for extending Bashar’s life (he is around 150 years old in this story) is complicated and does not really fit in with the rest of the METAtropolis mythos. I could get over that, if there were some really good reason to keep Bashar around, but I don’t think there is. It’s like the author couldn’t be bothered to come up with a new character. Stretching the reader’s credulity further, the author makes the super-centenarian Bashar the hero of a ridiculous James-Bond-type escapade. The only cool thing in this whole story was the forest that had been legally incorporated as an entity and that could speak via the Internet. To my utter disbelief, the door was left open for Bashar to survive riding an asteroid down from high earth orbit and smashing it into Seattle.
Green and Dying, by Elizabeth Bear. Narrator: Jonathan Davis. This story of a group of con men/women running a scam reminded me of an episode of Leverage (not necessarily a bad thing). The scam takes place on a “seastead,” which I imagined like an oil rig only full of condos for rich people. Unfortunately, neither the “seastead” nor the characters were particularly interesting, and the way the story unfolded was too slow. I was actually pretty bored until about halfway through when the story took a turn and seemed like it was going to tie in with some of the plagues that were mentioned in the previous story by Jay Lake, but then that connection wasn’t quite made so I was left more confused than anything else.
The Desire Lines, by Karl Schroeder. Narrator: Sanjiv Jhaveri. Refreshingly, this story was set in a new place—the Amazon rain forests of Peru/Brazil—and featured people of color as the protagonists. And, since it was written by the ever inventive Karl Schroeder, it featured some of the most mind-meltingly awesome futuristic ideas in this entire collection. Again, we are treated to a forest that has a mind of its own, but there are also corporations with really interesting ideas about how to fix a broken environment. One scientist even theorizes that she could revise the ecology so that none of the animals had to kill in order to survive! The narrator was amazing at doing different accents for all the different characters, but for some reason when he was doing straight prose narration, his cadence was so sing-song that it was actually hard to listen to.
Midway Bells & Dying Breeds, by Seanan McGuire. Narrator: Jennifer Van Dyck. The protagonist of this story has grown up as part of a very large, extended family that runs a travelling circus, a remnant of an earlier time that has survived into this high-tech future. Her main job is to steer a huge dinosaur (created like they were in Jurassic Park) to which the circus tethers its floating (?) ferris wheel. Okay, I’ll admit I’m a little fuzzy on what the dino was actually doing. Mostly, we are treated to descriptions of how it oh-so-slow-ly munches its way through the forest. The story could be read as an examination of what happens when things live on past their original expiration date, but rather than taking this opportunity to have the characters debate the merits of resurrecting long-extinct species or the need to continue old traditions, the plot degenerated into the protagonist and the Big Boss of the circus whining about their personal love-hate relationship like adolescents rather than two adults discussing different world views. The “resolution” of their differences was definitely the kind of half-baked, impulsive solution that a teenager would come up with, leaving me disgusted and dissatisfied. The weakest story in the bunch, this seemed like it was originally written for some other reason and then gerrymandered (I’ll add some high-tech circus tents that pack and unpack themselves!) to fit into this collection.
Tensegrity, by Tobias S. Brickell. Narrator: Scott Brick. The possibilities of future tech and social advances were the highlights of this story. A giant, three-mile-in-circumference, concrete city floats into the stratosphere. AIs “govern” small city-states automagically, making most of the pesky day-to-day decisions and leaving us humans to pursue our passions. “Murder” is redefined. I liked that this story tied in better with the rest of the METAtropolis world and the overall story arc. Scott Brick, always amazing!
Forest of Memories, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Narrator: Allyson Johnson. This was my favorite of the bunch, mainly because it was written with a unique point-of-view. The protagonist is telling her story to someone else who has evidently paid her to tell it. In this future where nearly everyone and everything is wired 24-7, for a crucial several days, the protagonist’s connectivity was cut. Of course something mysterious and untoward happened to her during that time, and now she has only her memories and no independent verification of the facts. Wonderfully read by Allyson Johnson.
Let Me Hide Myself in Thee, by Ken Scholes. Narrators: Dion Graham, Robin Miles. This story felt like an obligatory “let’s tie up the loose ends with a nice bow” kind of thing. I give the author an “A” for effort, but could have done with a few less hand-wavium moments. (Oh! I need an action heroine! I’ll conveniently give this person who has been a desk-hugging fiscal researcher her whole life a backstory in which her unconventional parents forced her to learn to be a sniper! And she will miraculously remember this skill 20 years later!)
This is one of those books I try to read every ten years or so. It contains so many of the seminal ideas of science fiction that even today, more than a century later, there is scarcely a science fiction book that does not riff on several of the same concepts. All the tropes are here: alien invaders, weird new technology, government forces valiantly attempting to protect Earth, the last man standing. But there is so much more. The protagonist is the epitome of Joseph Campbell’s “everyman” hero going to hell and back. On the journey, he ruminates about everything from germs to the place of humans in the cosmos. I love the way Wells describes everything in perfect detail, not just everyday things like how the English countryside looked after the Martians ravaged it, but also how Mars looked through the telescopes. I imagine how he would have taken particular care to describe such a sight, which ordinary readers of the time might never have seen. We take for granted the abundant photos of space that we are exposed to every day on our computer monitors, television sets and in movies. But in the late 1800’s, I suppose it was much less common to see such images. Wells’ descriptions are much more potent than most writing I pick up today. Even after so many adaptations have been done, on radio and in movies, the scariest Martians are still those that attack us from his printed page. (On this occasion, I listened to the book via my smartphone. The reader, Simon Vance, did an excellent job.)
The sci-fi premise of the book seemed promising: suddenly and with no apparent cause, people start being born who are off-the-charts brilliant at an astonishing rate. Think of it like the "autism epidemic" only with geniuses. At a very young age, the geniuses are taken away from their parents and put in boarding schools where they are placed in competition with one another (reminiscent of Ender's Game). They are taught not to trust other brilliants and to bond only to their teachers, who are not brilliants. These are really interesting ideas.
Unfortunately, the story is encumbered with a one-dimensional protagonist. The main character--a "Brilliant" who has chosen to use his special talents as a sort of special ops guy who tracks down other brilliants for the government--has just one reaction to everything. His special talent is to be able to read people's body language and know just what they are going to do next. This gives him a great advantage in a fight. His backstory adds in the tidbit that he was bullied on the playground when he was a kid. And there you have this "fascinating" (NOT) character whose only reaction to any given situation is to want to fight, hit, push, crush, and otherwise physically assault people. He has this reaction constantly, whether the person he is talking to is a threat or not. If your only tool is a hammer . . .
Other characters seem like they were cut-and-pasted from a bad detective noir novel. The protagonist's side-kick detective is also heavy with the street fighter mentality. Even the women in the book have an aggressive, male vibe--one of them says something like "Whose ball sack do I have to hold in order to get a drink around here?" No one talks like that. The constant aggressive nature of the protagonist and the terrible dialog was so off-putting that I only listened to about 1-1/2 hours of this novel.
That's too bad, because I liked the narrator. Luke Daniels did an amazing job switching voices for each character. He was equally good at doing the male and the female characters.
I have got to agree with the other reviewers who expressed disappointment in this collection. A title like "Dangerous Women" certainly implies that the main characters of the stories will be women; instead many of the stories are told from the point of view of men. I expected smart stories about women who could take care of themselves; instead several of the stories featured misogynistic, sexist attitudes about women that I haven't seen in a book I've read in years. I was looking for more stories with a scifi flavor; instead there is tons of fantasy and the two of the three scifi stories were full of the sexist crap mentioned above. It's not often that I don't finish a book and I'm even more inclined to finish short stories because they're, well, short. But I was only able to completely finish four of the twenty-one stories. And two of those I finished because they were being narrated by actors I like a lot (I was listening to this as an audio book). One comment I have for many of these authors: It's a SHORT story. After 20 minutes of listening, I should have some idea what the story is about. A lot of you just took too long to get up some steam.
I am going to review each story individually below. There are some minor spoilers, so be warned . . .
1- “Some Desperado” by Joe Abercrombie - A Red Country story read by Stana Katic
Western. The protagonist had spunk but there wasn’t much of a story. The reader gave it a bit of a Firefly flavor that I liked.
2- “My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott read by Jake Weber. Couple whose child is abducted. Effective examination of some of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways life can change when tragedy strikes. Best story so far, compelling characters.
3- “Nora’s Song” by Cecelia Holland read by Harriet Walter. Historical fiction – Britain 1100s King Henry II. Despite having read all of Shakespeare’s history plays, I still have trouble distinguishing one British from another, so this story just made me feel stupid for not knowing who all these royal personages were so I gave up about halfway through.
4- “The Hands That Are Not There” by Melinda Snodgrass read by Jonathan Frakes – The best thing about this story was Jonathan Frakes. Silly me, I expected an anthology about dangerous women to feature enlightened ideas about women. Instead I had to listen to this totally male-centered wet dream about human-alien sex with a woman who was genetically part cat and . . . wait for it . . . is also a pole dancer. Blech.
5- “Bombshells” by Jim Butcher - A Harry Dresden story – read by Emily Rankin. Wizards and Faeries and vampires and werewolves, all wrapped up in a Sam Spade package. I’m just not that into detective fiction and since I have never read any Harry Dresden stories, this one about a female wizard who apparently worshipped him through a dozen books (until he was killed off in the last one) just couldn’t capture my interest. I quit about ¼ of the way through.
6- “Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn read by Inna Korobkina. Another story I just couldn’t see through to the end. This entry in the alternate history category was uneven, unmotivated and incredibly derivative. Uneven because scenes of the young heroine being jealous of another girl in her fighter squadron who is prettier and more successful were juxtaposed with scenes of said girls piloting Russian aircraft in WWII, trying their damnedest to shoot down enough Germans to become Flying Aces. Unmotivated because absolutely no explanation was given as to why there was an entire unit of Russian girl fighter pilots in WWII—I like my alt hist to have at least some raison d’être. Derivative because I felt like the plot was lifted from some “B” Hollywood movie of the 1940’s, dialog intact, the only thing changed being the sex of the characters.
7- “Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale read by Scott Brick. Two fist fights in the first ten minutes, all between men. I stopped listening, even though the fantastic Scott Brick was reading.
8- “Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm read by Lee Meriwether. This author is more commonly known as Robin Hobbs. It grabbed me right from the start. The female protagonist is, refreshingly, not a 24-year-old babe, but rather a woman who is elderly. The story is about growing old, losing yourself, time (or the lack thereof), and much more. There is an element of the fantastical, but it is a pretty straightforward story, and the best in the book. Lee Meriwether did a nice job narrating.
9- “I Know How to Pick ’Em” by Lawrence Block read by Jake Weber – This was so full of clichés I thought I was listening to an episode of “Guy Noir” on A Prairie Home Companion. It started out with two guys getting into a bar fight over a gorgeous woman, bad enough, but then got even worse when the “winner” took the woman to his car in the parking lot, fantasizing all the way about how he wanted to throw her down between the cars and do her right there on the gravel. This was presented as a totally normal thing for the guy to be thinking. Maybe if the woman had been psychic and she had kicked him in the balls right there, I would have kept reading. But this was not a scifi story so . . . stopped listening and moved on to the next story.
10- “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson read by Claudia Black
This was my second-favorite story in the collection, and Claudia Black (Farscape and Stargate) gave a fantastic performance. Despite the contrived title and fantasy setting, I found myself immediately drawn in. The world was extremely interesting, as was the protagonist, a woman who is past her prime, but still able to use her well-honed skills and hard-won wisdom to protect what is hers. This was the first thing I’d ever read by Sanderson, although several friends have been telling me I need to read his books. I will definitely be picking one up very soon!
11- “A Queen in Exile” by Sharon Kay Penman read by Harriet Walter – Germany, 1189
By this point in the book, I must admit, my attention span was lagging badly. I’m just not interested in historical fiction, so I simply skipped this one.
12- “The Girl in the Mirror” by Lev Grossman - A Magicians story read by Sophie Turner
When I realized this was a follow-up to an existing fantasy series I had not read and never plan on reading, I decided to skip right over this one, too.
13- “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress read by Janis Ian. The premise was promising: in about the year 2016, a virus swept the world that rendered nearly all of the women infertile (okay, stolen from Handmaid’s Tale, but still interesting). The story is set some 50 or more years in the future, and describes a new society that has emerged in which girls are precious and fertile women are fiercely protected by their clans. This all by itself would have made for an interesting story, but then the plot takes a weird turn to the left when these hunter-gatherers stumble into Lincoln Center. Yes, the one in New York City. And they (miracle of miracles!) find a working VCR and monitor, which (yet another miracle!) still functions because there’s some kind of generator WITH GAS (for those of you who are counting, that’s miracle number three in as many minutes). So they are able to watch a couple of videos of ballet dancers in action. And in the blink of an eye, one of the boys, who by all accounts has spent his entire life traipsing through ruined cities and scavenging the detritus of a civilization he could barely comprehend, decides to defy every one of his clan’s rules because he “HAS to dance.” HUH?? I found this reaction so completely unlikely that the rest of the story just seemed silly to me. And he seemed like the dangerous one, the one to defy authority, as opposed to the women. So, in my mind a rather unsuccessful story in the end.
14- “City Lazarus” by Diana Rowland read by Scott Brick. I have read all of Rowland’s Zombie books and loved them. Scott Brick is one of my favorite narrators. But twenty minutes into this story, I couldn’t really figure out what it was about (other than being set in a post-global warming New Orleans). Add to that the fact that all the women were described like they were sex kittens and the main characters were all men, and the result was disappointing. I expected more out of Rowland, whose female protagonist in her New-Orleans based zombie series could have been the cover girl for a book called Dangerous Women. Sorry, Diana, I just couldn’t finish this story.
15- “Virgins” by Diana Gabaldon - An Outlander story read by Alan Scott Douglas. France, 1740
Another historical fiction story. Based on a set of books of which I actually have read two or three. But that was a long time ago. Decided to skip this one.
16- “Hell Hath No Fury” by Sherilynn Kenyon read by Jenna Lamia. In the author bio that preceded the story, it said Ms. Kenyon had written a 22-volume paranormal romance series. Still, I gave it a chance. The writing wasn’t bad, but it turned out to be a ghost story about a Native American woman who had cursed a town. It was feeling like an episode of Ghost Hunters. Please, I need more in a story than people arguing about whether to stay in a haunted forest or leave. I stopped listening at about the 18 minute mark when the characters were still arguing.
17- “Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling - An Emberverse story read by Stana Katic. I have read “Dies the Fire,” the original book in the Emberverse series, and while it was not a bad book, I had no desire to return to that alternate history. Still, since it was sort of scifi, I waded in. Yet another clan doing its nomadic gathering thing, but they are forced to pause in order to execute a man who has done Something Bad. The clan leader is a woman, which seemed promising, but then there was this lame description of all these people wearing kilt-like getups made out of blankets they scavenged from a department store and I just couldn’t go on. For the record, that was around the 20 minute mark.
18- “Name the Beast” by Sam Sykes read by Claudia Black. The combo of a new author I had never heard of and Claudia Black’s narration made me very eager to start this story. I don’t know if it was the narration or the writing, but I simply couldn’t figure out what was going on in this story. There was a mother and a father and a daughter, who were part of some sort of jungle tribe. The daughter was on a coming-of-age quest to kill a beast. For a while, it seemed the story was going to have a rather amusing, Ransom-of-Red-Chief quality to it, as the little girl cannot stop talking long enough to stalk her animal prey. But the mother was perpetually mean and dismissive of her own daughter, and there was some back story about the father being from a different tribe, or maybe it was the mother who was a “foreigner” . . . this is where things got confusing for me. The humor ended and I couldn’t follow the reasons for what was happening, so I moved on to the next story.
19- “Caretakers” by Pat Cadigan read by Janis Ian. Two sisters watch lots of reality tv shows about female serial killers. Meanwhile, their mother lays dying in a nursing home. I can see where this is going from miles away and hit the fast-forward button.
20- “Lies My Mother Told Me” by Caroline Spector - A Wild Cards story read by Maggi-Meg Reed. Perhaps by this point I am suffering from extreme story fatigue, because I listen to about 5 minutes and decide I can’t understand what is going on. Looking at some of the other reviews and thinking maybe I need to go back and give this one another listen.
21- “The Princess and the Queen” by George R.R. Martin - A Song of Ice and Fire story read by Iain Glen. I have read and enjoyed some of George R.R. Martin’s scifi, but just could not make myself listen to more than about two minutes of the fake history of the fake war that the bards call the Dance of the Dragon but which should by all rights be called the Slaughter of the Dragon . . . blah blah blah.
I can’t believe I just discovered this in 2014. Produced by Audible in 2008, it’s an anthology based on a future world built by five of today’s best scifi authors. When I realized one of the world-builders was Karl Schroeder I knew I had to get this immediately. This anthology did not disappoint, and the audio version features several well-known scifi television actors whose voices, if not their names, will be immediately recognizable to any scifi fans.
The audio begins with John Scalzi giving a general overview of the project, and Scalzi also introduces each story. The first story is by Jay Lake and read by Michael Hogan. I must admit that I didn’t recognize the name, but as soon as the voice started coming out of my phone, I knew it was Colonel Tigh from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. He has a really recognizable, earthy cadence that suited this story perfectly. I would love to hear him read more audio books. Oh, and the story was fantastic, too. It did a great job of setting the scene for all the stories that follow (particularly all the stories in the follow-up volume, METAtropolis: Cascadia). Both the setting—the rainforests of the American/Canadian Northwest—and the characters—a group of ecology fanatics living in secrecy—were completely different from anything I have ever read before. I definitely want more of this!!
The second story is by Tobias Buckell and narrated by the always fabulous Scott Brick. This story is set in a future Detroit that is a model for the reclamation of all the other cities in North America, all of which have been decimated by a “slow apocalypse.” This is another term I have never heard before, but as the concept is rolled out in each story, it becomes clearer. The basic idea is that capitalism went into a slow decline, and now in the latter half of the 21st century, civilization has broken down into autonomous city-states, each one with a different mechanism for survival. Detroit is being reclaimed through re-use, such as urban farming inside skyscrapers, that allows the residents to produce more food than they need. The story also introduced me to the concept of “turking,” which was like crowdsourcing combined with Craig’s List and extrapolated. Many functions that were formerly taken care of by government, including mail delivery, are randomly distributed to regular citizens, who pick up small jobs to earn small change, and thus the city continues to function. Detroit is a shining beacon of hope for humanity, a sentiment which I found refreshingly positive.
The third story is by Elizabeth Bear and is read by Kandyse McClure is also set in Detroit. Like the previous story, most people get around on bicycles, and people share resources, equipment and living space. Collective living, including child rearing and food production, is now the norm, enabling local communities to produce what they need now that the global marketplace and distribution system has failed.
The fourth story, by John Scalzi, was funny and inventive, describing in more detail how localized food production works in this brave new world. Alessandro Juliani, who played Lt. Gaeta on the new Battlestar Galactica, gave it a great reading. Wil Wheaton, who has performed most if not all of Scalzi’s audiobooks, may have lost his gig.
The last story, by Karl Schroeder, was the best of all. The reader, Stefan Rudnicki, sounds just like Michael Ansara, his deep bass perfectly portraying the Russian protagonist’s phlegmatic reaction to the James Bond-like situations in which he finds himself in this thriller of a tale. In between the harrowing escapes and dangerous dilemnas, Schroeder introduces more new future city concepts than all the previous authors combined. Much of the action takes place in a virtual world, where people use avatars to produce real wealth. This was somewhat reminiscent of the plot of Reamde, but with much more detail about the virtual world and how it works. The concepts put forth by Schroeder are so new and interesting, I think I have to listen to this story again to fully grasp what he is describing.
This collection was so great that I immediately downloaded the next two books in the series: METAtropolis: Cacadia and METAtropolis: Green Space.
This is the second anthology in a series that began with METAtropolis: the Dawn of Uncivilization. This collection riffs off the first story in that anthology, taking place in a transnational entity that includes the geographical areas formerly known as British Columbia, Washington and Orgeon states. The stories are set around the year 2070 in post-industrial, post-capitalist, post-national world and are all read by actors from various incarnations of Star Trek.
The first story, written by Jay Lake and read by Rene Auberjonois (immediately recognizable as Odo from Deep Space Nine) details a very old, very rich man’s final days as he searches for the answers to an event that occurred forty years earlier. I really enjoyed this story and the chance to revisit some of the characters from the original METAtropolis.
The second story was written by Mary Robinette Kowal and narrated by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway of Voyager). This was probably my least favorite of all the stories so far. It was mostly a love letter to the art of wine making that could have been set in any era and lacked a clear connection to the rest of the stories in these anthologies. For instance, as soon as I realized it was going to be about wine, I anticipated an explanation of a concept that has come up in a few of the other stories, where instead of money, some people have currency called ”winos.” But the term never even gets mentioned in this story . . . did Ms. Kowal miss the world-building sessions??
The third story was written by Tobias S. Buckell and read by Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of The Next Generation). The setting for this story presented another cool idea that was new to me. The main character is part of a crew whose job it is to de-construct expressways and empty suburban housing tracts. Having grown up in one of these anonymous suburbs (and escaped as soon as I could to a densely populated downtown neighborhood) I have to admit that I loved the scenes where the bulldozers crashed through the paperboard houses. If that’s not a big enough hint, other parts of the narrative extoll the virtues of cities, such as that more patents are produced by city-dwellers and city dwellers use less energy, particularly if you can figure out a way to grow food nearby. Like the stories in the first METAtropolis, this one has an extremely positive view of the future of cities, which is not all that common in post-apocalyptic literature.
The next story was by Elizabeth Bear and read by Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher in The Next Generation). This is a bit of a more conventional scifi story involving genetic engineering, combined with a murder mystery plot. The twist at the end is foreshadowed pretty heavily and so was really no shock.
Karl Schroeder once again takes the prize for most cool ideas in one story with his entry here, read by Jonathan Frakes (Comander Riker of The Next Generation). It begins with the protagonist wearing something like Google Glasses. Since he is a visitor to Cascadia without proper paperwork, he is mandated to wear them whenever he is out in public, and the glasses are programmed by the authorities to restrict what he sees. It’s a frightening vision of how state censorship could be implemented on a person-by-person basis in the future, just by using technology. And that’s just a side thought. The overall plot asks how will we recognize when computers and machines become self-aware, and mixes in questions about the rights of corporations . . . and others . . . to be treated as individuals in certain situations. It’s a complex plot that only a master like Schroeder can pull off.
The final story in this collection was by Ken Scholes and narrated by LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge of The Next Generation). This one takes on home-grown terrorism, religious fanatics, and questions of faith in a post-apocalyptic era. A mediocre story that was significantly uplifted by Burton’s fantastic reading.
Seldom have I been so moved by a book that I have yelled at it out loud, but that is precisely what I found myself doing—on more than one occasion—as I read The 19th Wife. This novel reads much more like nonfiction than fiction, and tells the story of the beginnings of the Mormon church and how polygamy figures prominently in that history. The author does a good job of bringing that history into the present day by juxtaposing the true story of Brigham Young’s 19th wife with the fictional account of a current-day offshoot of Mormonism. This Warren Jeffs-like cult still practices polygamy, brainwashing its adherents into thinking that only through plural marriage can they be assured of a place in heaven.
I knew before I picked it up that this book would not be a flattering portrayal of Mormonism, but I was still unprepared for the completely misogynistic nature of the origins of this belief system. It was fascinating to read the real-life story of Ann Eliza Young and realize everything she had to go through, until she finally spoke to members of Congress and President Grant, resulting in anti-polygamy laws being passed. There were passages in the book, both in the historical section and in the present-day section, that convinced me these women are literally slaves who are completely subjugated to the will of their “prophet/husband.” Those were the sections that made me actually shout out loud, I simply could not hold back my disgust. That the US government still allows polygamous cults to exist today in the name of freedom of religion is unconscionable.
I listened to this as an audio book read by several different actors. I thought they were all quite good, except the man who read the part of the present-day protagonist, Jordan. His voice was simply not very expressive, and when he was reading dialog between two people it was hard tell which person was talking. Still, I would recommend this audio book to anyone, particularly to those interested in the place of women in society.
This book was described to me as telling the story of a young African girl’s immigration to the United States and her struggles to become an American. So I was a bit surprised when about one-half of the book was spent describing her childhood in Africa. As it turned out, this was by far the best part of the book. Perhaps because I myself was born and bred in the United States, I found her descriptions of everyday life in Africa much more interesting than those of life in America.
What I did find utterly convincing was the way Bulawayo inhabited her child protagonist, and then later in the book, the teenager. The author has a very unique way of showing the thought processes going on in the heads of her characters, such as the child’s delight in playing simple games, her obsession with food, and her occasional defiance of adult authority. Each scene unfolds from the child’s point-of-view, more often than not revealing her incomplete understanding of what is going on in the larger world around her. This is incredibly effective in several scenes in the first part of the book when the protagonist and her friends either witness or (nearly) perpetrate incredible cruelty without actually understanding or being affected by it.
The author skips a few years in the protagonist’s life and presents her as a young teenager already living in America. The transition was awkward and left me wondering why there was little to no explanation of how the girl ended up living in Michigan. The descriptions of difficulties with the simplest things-like making oneself understood over the telephone, or answering misguided questions about one’s country—were well done and were undoubtedly drawn from real life. So, too, the short sections in which she deals with the angst of the exile, a fascinating combination of exhilarating triumph (look at me! I have a home of my own, children who are Americans!) and deep sadness (never being able to return home, watching one’s children ignore or belittle traditions from the homeland). There are also some telling critiques of American society, but overall this entire half of the book felt more preachy than enlightened. Long passages about teenaged girls’ obsession with clothes and porn seemed to serve little narrative purpose, and the ending was strangely difficult to understand.
So I am glad I read this but for a more compelling—and nonfiction—take on Africans in exile in America, I would highly recommend Rescuing Regina by Josephe Marie Flynn.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Robin Miles. She did a fantastic job of doing all kinds of different accents, very nuanced, wonderful performance.]
I picked this up after reading “The 19th Wife” to get more information about the modern-day fundamentalist Mormon sects that continue to practice polygamy today. There are a variety of books to choose from, but I picked this one because I was particularly interested in finding out what had become of the fundamentalist compound in Texas that was investigated by the FBI in 2008. About all I could recall from the episode was dozens of women in prairie-style dresses, along with hundreds of children, being taken into state custody because of alleged child abuse at the fundamentalist compound.
This book more than delivered what I was looking for. Brower is a private investigator and a Mormon who was working in Utah when he heard about a family, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), who had been kicked out of their home by their “prophet,” Warren Jeffs. Thus began Brower’s involvement in multiple investigations into the crimes perpetrated by this psychopath in the name of God. Brower had a ringside seat investigating and helping prosecute those responsible for these crimes, which include not only child abuse, rape and underage marriage but also racketeering, defrauding the US Government via entitlement schemes, and much more.
This book is not for the faint of heart. I was shocked at how cavalierly many government officials, including law enforcement, treated the crimes that were occurring under their noses. The ultimate fate of all those children we saw on television? Every single one was returned to the cult, where the girls will be forced to wed men three times their age and the boys will be abandoned (too many boys=too much competition for young brides). At least Warren Jeffs, a pedophile and megalomaniac, is serving a life sentence, but he still has followers, and that is what makes the whole thing so disturbing.
I listened to this as an audio book read by Jonah Cummings. About halfway through, I decided to speed up and turned my player to 1.5 speed. I am glad I did so. The book was gripping, but Cummings’ delivery was just too slow.
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