Milwaukee, WI USA | Member Since 2007
With great imagination, Atwood creates a world that is scarily recognizable as an all-too-possible future. Drug companies that seed their products with maladies to which only they control the remedies . . . fast food that is no longer recognizable as anything grown from the earth . . . leading to the growth of "fanatic" vegetarian cults . . . Yet, the overall effect of the book was somewhat tedious. The author did not employ her wry humor often enough, and the sections describing life before the "dry flood" felt too long. Disclaimer: I have not read Oryx and Crake, which I now realize is a prequel to this book.
Funny and scifi seldom go together, but when they do and it works, it is a wonderful thing. “The Humans” managed to make me laugh out loud, many times. The observations about the human condition were often spot-on, going beyond the trite to really make me think in a few cases. Overall, an enjoyable read that I think is particularly accessible to people who wouldn’t normally read scifi.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Mark Meadows, who did a fantastic job. I think this is a case in which listening would be better than reading the book, because Mr. Meadows’ delivery added a lot to the droll nature of the humor.]
Maybe I have read too many dystopian sci-fi novels, but this book just did not capture my interest. However, after listening to my book club discuss it, I realize that for people who do not spend a lot of time thinking about the “dark side” of technology and social media, “The Circle” can be a real revelation. What I thought was trite and hackneyed, most of the people in my book club thought was brilliant, revelatory and scary. One person came up to me after the meeting and said “I never knew science fiction could be like this! I want to read more!” If that was your reaction to this book, I would recommend you pick up “The Traveler” by John Twelve Hawks. And if you already love science fiction and were disappointed by “the Circle,” go ahead and pick up “The Traveler,” because it will restore your faith in the ability of scifi to warn us about dangers ahead without hitting us over the head with a sledge hammer.
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Dion Graham. As has happened before when I listen to a book for my book club that most others read in hard copy, my experience of the book was significantly different. I don’t attribute that entirely to the performance, but I did question the decision to have a man read a book in which the main character is a young woman in her early 20’s, as are many of the other characters. On top of that, the narrator made all these millennials, including the male characters, sound like valley girls—everything they said came out like questions. It was all pretty annoying and diminished my enjoyment of the novel.]
I decided after the first hour that I just didn’t care about the characters in this novel. The first warning sign was when I had to listen to the prologue three times. The first two times, when I got to the end of the chapter, I realized my attention had wandered so much that I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know who was who, who was telling the story about who, what the time frames of the different stories were. I don’t think my confusion was due to anything particularly complex about the story. It’s just that all the people were so bland I couldn’t tell them apart. The characters have the names “Jim” and “Bob” and “Sue” and “Margaret” and “Helen.” Someone has had multiple marriages. Someone has a son that suffered a mysterious tragedy. Or maybe it’s the whole family that has suffered a mysterious tragedy. At the end of the prologue, you are supposed to care enough about these individuals to want to listen to another 13 hours. It reminded me a little bit of the setup in the fabulous “The Dinner” by Herman Koch but without the hilarious snarkiness and unshakeable sense of impending disaster. I don’t know if it was the performance or the book or both, but I simply couldn’t muster up enough interest in the Burgess family to want to know what happened to them.
Another very enjoyable “listen” from Sedaris. I love listening to his essays on long car rides; this book was everything I have come to expect from him, generating lots of chuckles and several laugh-out-loud moments. The only part I was disappointed in was the last couple of stories. He introduces them by saying he can’t understand why kids in forensics use his stories, because he doesn’t think they’re “performable.” Huh? This from a guy who makes a tidy living performing his essays out loud? As if that weren’t confusing enough, he then says he wrote the rest of the essays just for the kids in forensics, and goes on to read some of the absolute worst, most un-funny stories I have ever heard from him. I knocked this down to three stars because of these weird and inappropriate stories at the end.
I found this novella mostly incomprehensible. Oh, there is clearly a critique of imperialism, as many reviewers point out. But it seems to me, the critique is not that the colonizers (in this case, Belgians) are raping Africa of its natural resources (ivory) and enslaving its people. Rather, the book seems to be lamenting that good, white Europeans become tainted upon encountering Africa. The Africans are all depicted as sub-human, and the continent as a malevolent entity. I understand that attitudes were far different when Conrad wrote this in 1898 than they are today. Reading novels from other time periods allows one to better understand how thinking has changed . . . or not changed. However, I fail to understand the attention this novella has attracted . . . most of what happens just makes no sense at all. Reviews from readers who appear to be deeper thinkers than myself indicate that Kurtz is somehow the embodiment of Evil, but whatever it is he did is never explained. Characters go on and on about how eloquent he is, how smart he is, how he has a Grand Plan . . . but we are never shown any evidence that these things are the case. The viewpoint character, Marlow, alternates between admiration of the evil Kurtz, and abhorrence of . . . whatever horrible unnamed thing Kurtz has done. The most overrated 200 pages I have ever read. The only thing that made me finish it was the fact that I was listening to it as an audiobook performed by Kenneth Branagh, and I just didn’t want to turn off his fabulous voice.
For those of us who were just the right age when the first astronauts stepped onto the moon, who have never stopped being spellbound by the thought of setting foot on other worlds, who still believe humanity will make it to the stars . . . this book is for us.
Bova is at his best when describing the scientific and technological aspects of a lunar colony, such as nanotechnology and the very real dangers of living on an atmosphereless rock. But he can also wax poetic when describing the lunar landscape, the hard-edged horizon, the Earth hanging overhead, the scoured rock below.
The characters and plot lines were a bit thin, and if you want a really compelling take on lunar survival, I would recommend “The Martian” by Andy Weir, but hard-core sci-fi readers will want to add Moonrise to their reading list.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Stefan Rudnicki. I love Rudnicki’s voice, but I am glad I followed the advice of other listeners—I listened at 1.5 speed and that felt perfect.]
This is the first book I have ever read about Pakistan, and so it was fascinating to get some insight into the history of this country that has loomed so large in the news ever since 9/11. There are brief touches of the colonial era, such as when Malala tells the story of her namesake, Malalai, a young Afghan girl who died in the war her country fought against the British in the late 1800s.
But mainly, the book focuses on the recent history of Pakistan. Anyone deeply interested in Pakistani history will want to find a more academic source, but for the average American reader who doesn’t know much about this part of the world (like me) there is just enough detail here to contextualize Malala’s personal experience.
Of course, the most interesting parts of the book are when Malala describes her own feelings about what it was like to live under the Taliban. Because she was extremely young--in her early teens—during the events she describes, her life revolved around school and family. Therefore it is through these lenses that the reader experiences her struggle, the struggle to keep schooling open and available for girls.
I guess that is the thing I liked most about the book, that it is revolution and resistance told through a young woman’s story. Whether she knew it at the time or not, Malala was using nonviolent methods to defy the Taliban, who were (and are) some of the most violent sects of Islam. They tried to shut her down by killing her, but she survived. I am glad I read Malala’s story. Hopefully, she will continue to work for equal education and other basic human rights for women and girls for decades to come.
[I listened to this as an audio book narrated by Archie Panjabi. There is a short introduction in Malala’s own voice, which is nice to hear, but she does have a pretty strong accent. The narrator is recognizably Pakistani but completely clear and understandable. The reading was a bit slow for my taste; by speeding my player up to 1.25 speed, it felt just right.]
Merely by writing the story of the 460 days she spent in captivity in Somalia, Amanda Lindhout exhibits the strength that allowed her to live through the ordeal. As I read, I quickly lost track of the number of times I caught myself thinking how hard it must have been for her to dwell on those memories in order to get them on paper. She does not make herself out to be a hero, rather the opposite. Beginning with her life pre-kidnapping, she reveals herself as a somewhat vapid twenty-something who did not believe anything bad could ever happen to her. She does not paint a pretty picture of herself, yet beneath the cluelessness, her yearning to expand her horizons and improve her lot in life helped me sympathize with her and understand why she traveled to such a dangerous place as Somalia. It’s really a case of “there but for the grace of God . . .” Readers who want to blame Lindhout for going to Somalia are either people who have never taken a risk in their lives, or haven’t got the good sense to realize that everyone is vulnerable.
Once she is in the hands of her kidnappers, the story is riveting. Here again, Lindhout does not paint a picture of herself as valiant, just an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. That she is able to sympathize with her captors has less to do with “Stockholm Syndrome” and more with Lindhout’s own dawning understanding of the immense privileges most Westerners enjoy when compared to the powerlessness of people living in failed countries such as Somalia. As a result, some of the most heartbreaking sections of the book are not those in which Amanda is being tortured, but those in which her captors reveal their small dreams of getting married or going to school, and the realization that the only way they think they can achieve their dreams is by kidnapping Westerners.
The religious aspects of the book were also very compelling, as Lindhout gives the reader a ground-level view of Jihad by describing her captors and her captivity. Improbably, her story does not paint all Muslims as evil, rather, she manages to show the contradictions that exist within and between Muslims.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by the author, something I usually avoid because authors are seldom trained performers. Ms. Lindhout’s reading was serviceable, and I understand the attraction of hearing a memoir in the voice of the person who wrote it, but I do think the story would have benefitted from the use of a voice actor. Increasing the speed of my player to 1.25 speed made the listening more bearable.]
It’s not often that I like a book so much I want to read it over again. With trilogies, it has only happened once before (Lord of the Rings, of course). With really long books, once is always enough (2666). But this Baroque Cycle was simply so astonishingly good, the characters so real, the story so compelling, that I would begin it again tomorrow if I didn’t have two book club books waiting for me and 50 others on my nightstand.
I don’t know how Stephenson managed to sustain the great writing across the nearly 3,000 pages in this series, but he did, right through to the very end. I will mention just two passages that struck me as the best ever in their category: the best sex scene ever, and the best duel ever.
The seduction of Daniel Waterhouse on the Roman chariot in the shadow of the fake volcano is surely the best sex scene ever written. Here is a short excerpt:
“Tilt your pelvis the other way, if you please, sir. There, much better, you’ll admit! Now, leave the rest to me, sir. The balance of this chariot can be a bit tricky. The ride a bit rough.” Indeed, the axle bearings of the chariot of Vulcan presently began to creak as it got to rocking forward and back, forward and back on its wheels. Daniel was old and the ride was correspondingly long but the primo mobile—the body of Miss Barton—was young and as everyone in London agreed, in the most superb condition, and more than equal to the work.
The duel using cannons between Charles White and Dappa, written in Stephenson’s typical hyper-detailed mode, poked a hole the size of a howitzer in the swashbuckling genre and drove right through it. I have seldom laughed so hard while reading. Sheer genius!!
I cannot fail to once again note the SUPERB narration provided by Simon Prebble on the audio book. He gave each character a distinct voice and allowed all the humor to shine through. Listening to Mr. Prebble’s performance is undoubtedly the best way to experience the Baroque Cycle.
It was a real struggle to finish this meandering novel full of annoying characters. Karen Lord set up an interesting premise and then seemed to forget what she was supposed to be writing about. None of the characters, except perhaps Dllenahkh, is compelling enough for the reader to care about. I found the protagonist, Delarua, uninteresting mostly because she was completely devoid of opinions or direction. Most of the book is written from her first-person perspective as she follows along the adventures of a group of aliens who scope out different towns on her planet. It seems each town pulls the author off of her purported thesis as she explores different social problems in each town. It ended up feeling like a series of bad Star Trek episodes, each one with a different ax to grind. But then suddenly and without a reason I could discern, we would get a scene in third person showing how other characters were reacting to whatever the dilemma of the day was. If Lord meant to write an anthropological scifi novel examining what it would be like to integrate a new population of telepaths into an existing social order, she got off track early and never got her groove back.
[I listened to this as an audio book. The reader was not the best, and since I wasn’t enjoying the story much, but had to finish for my book club, I ended up listening at 1.5 speed, which seemed just about right.]
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