These short stories are some of Bacigalupi's earlier work, including two stories from the same world as the Windup Girl. They are almost all near-future dystopian, and while most were quite good individually, I found the collection as a whole felt a bit redundant after the first half. The variety of narrator voices made it a little more entertaining,and I found all the narrators to be pretty good.
Nick Reding's style is fine and readable, and the narration is fine. The book was interesting but frankly didn't really bring that much insight to the table. Okay, meth is bad, we all know that. And drug addiction is horrible, drug cartels are evil and dangerous, and poverty tends to breed despair and thus drug use. These are all well-known facts and true of every addictive drug and every drug "epidemic." But color me skeptical when I'm told that this generation's drug is yet another incarnation of the WORST DRUG EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND!
Reding goes into the history of meth and traces the rise of meth as a small town drug that is symbolic of the woes of Middle America by tying it to one town in particular: Oelwein, Iowa. He takes a sample of individual real-life characters -- the optimistic but beleaguered mayor, the pragmatic and cynical prosecutor, the alcoholic doctor, and of course, various dealers and addicts -- to personalize the effects of meth on this town. The stories are interesting but nothing we haven't heard before. Likewise, the rise of the Mexican Mafia is just a reprise of the Colombian cocaine cartels in the 80s. Once again, ham-handed legislation tainted by lobbyist influence managed only to strengthen the hold that organized crime has on the trade.
The connection to globalization and poverty is there, but I think it's a weaker part of Reding's narrative, particularly when he veers into agribusiness consolidation. This represents a whole host of problems afflicting the American heartland, and meth is just one piece of it, more a side effect than a root cause.
It seemed like there was quite a bit of filler to pad it out to a full-length book. The Oelwein sections themselves were only part of the book.
This isn't a bad book or even a particularly flawed one, and certainly it increases understanding of the specifics of the drug methamphetamine. But I didn't find it to be ground-breaking, nor wholly convincing in its thesis.
This is a retelling of the Beowulf epic from Grendel's point of view. Grendel, as represented by Gardner, is an interesting character -- sometimes petulant and childish, sometimes witty and droll, sometimes a raging monster, sometimes an earnest seeker of enlightenment. There are parts that become a bit tedious (Grendel whines A LOT), but it's certainly a new way to look at the ancient tale, and Gardner, who was a noted literary author, does not even try to mimic the style of the original. The narration by George Guidall was good; I especially liked the dragon.
If you liked Stephen King's "The Stand," you'll probably like this book, which shares many of The Stand's qualities and flaws. The Passage is a big summer read/listen, meandering in places and with some notable plot holes, but none of this really detracted from my enjoyment of the story. It spans two eras, the modern world (a slightly alternate near-future America), and then the post-apocalypse world a hundred years hence. I thought the second part was better, as part one is mostly just leading up to the real story in part two, and most of the characters in part one are just bit players whom you know are doomed to die. But if you like grand epics with big casts of characters and a story that just goes on and on, this is an enjoyable book. Be warned, though, that it's part one of a planned trilogy, as the ending makes very clear.
This is a great story and the narrator captures Robert Neville's mood shifts splendidly. Surprisingly for a novel written in 1954, very little seems dated. Far more entertaining than the movie, much more thoughtful, and it's easy to see why it influenced a generation of horror and sci-fi writers. A short listen that's well worth the time.
This story of the lives of several ordinary North Korean citizens, put together from interviews over a period of several years with defectors who made it to South Korea, gives a grim and fascinating look at what it's really like inside this isolated, almost hermetically-sealed dictatorship. Although much of it is what you'd expect from the little we can see from outside -- the cult of personality around the "Dear Leader," the bankrupt economy that pumps money into nuclear weapons and the military while the citizens starve -- you really cannot appreciate just how impoverished the people of North Korea are until you read these stories. Particularly heartbreaking is the story of the famine that killed millions in the 1990s. Every person interviewed for this book was literally watching friends and family drop dead of starvation all around them, while the government continued denying a problem and forbidding them even to grow gardens. The book covers the time period up until late 2009, when Kim Jong Il is still in power, could easily live for decades yet, and there is no telling just how much longer this regime can continue. For North Koreans, the future seems bleak no matter what.
Despite being fantasy instead of SF, this novella echoes Bacigalupi's other works with familiar themes: magic is something that makes life easier at the cost of environmental catastrophe and eventual destruction, and while some greedily seek to control it all for themselves, others fanatically destroy anyone who uses it at all. The novella is actually two short stories set in the same world. "The Alchemist" is about a man who devises a solution to the destructive Brambles threatening to swallow civilization, only to learn that their rulers don't really want the Brambles destroyed. "The Executioness" starts out as a story of a woman trying to recover her lost children, but she becomes a warrior, and then a legend. All the characters are complex and there are no simple resolutions; these are two great tales.
Fleming's writing is lush and detailed, and each of these stories is a quick, fun listen. The proper British narrator sounds perfect, except when he's reading lines from American and Canadian characters, when they sound like they're talking while trying to swallow a lump of chewing tobacco. The stories have very little to do with the movies, and being written almost fifty years ago, keep in mind that they're pretty dated, and blatantly sexist.
This book deserves its Nebula. Set in Thailand in a post-petroleum future where Western "calorie companies" unleash genetically engineered plagues to force the rest of the world to buy their seeds, The Windup Girl tells the story of Thailand's struggle to remain free of the grasp of greedy farang (foreigners), from the POV of several characters. Although the multiple POvs are sometimes annoying (especially since most of the characters aren't very likeable), each one has a compelling story in the end. The narrator does an excellent job of giving each character a distinct voice and pronouncing the Thai words which are unfamiliar to most English-speakers' ears.
This is a story for lovers of finely-crafted literary prose: unfortunately, I'm a lover of finely-crafted stories, and this is just a long meandering journey across a post-apocalyptic landscape with repetitive dialogs between a man and his son (who sounds particularly whiny as read by this narrator). I know I'm judging what's really a finely written book harshly, but I found myself listening to the end just to get through it - at no point did I really care about the characters or wonder what was going to happen next. I appreciated the prose, but it wasn't enough to wow me.
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