**** “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick
A fascinating alternate history. Dick speculates on a world in which the allies lost WWII-- an America in which it’s only polite to be a Nazi, white people have internalized the belief that they are inherently inferior to the Japanese, and there’s a brisk black-market trade in Americana memorabilia. I honestly don’t remember the plot that well-- some political intrigue thing that was difficult to follow and hardly even gets resolved, if I recall correctly-- but what held me rapt was the moment-to-moment description of the world as it might have been. The author manages to tease out so many social details of our lives and turn them on their heads. Marvelous.
*** “Mother Night” by Kurt Vonnegut
A deeply disturbing tale, told as the memoir of a Nazi war criminal in jail... a man who was recruited to infiltrate and spy on the Nazis but ultimately played his role too well. Vonnegut leaves your sympathies without ground to stand on, and your opinion of the narrator slides around helplessly. Ultimately, the book asks the question: Are we any more or less than what we pretend to be? … and leaves it thoroughly unanswered.
** “Player Piano” by Kurt Vonnegut
I can’t believe I was actually anything less than thrilled by a Vonnegut book, but this one honestly just didn’t impress me. Maybe because Vonnegut steps aside from his usual absurdism and tries to tell a straight story, and maybe because the subject matter is so very dated (and for sci-fi, that’s saying something). This is one of the oldest dystopian tropes around-- a future in which everything is done by machine, leaving the humans, even those in charge, feeling restless, useless, and full of existential angst. Enough already.
*** “Vulcan’s Hammer” by Philip K. Dick
Another sci-fi story that was well-worn by the time I got my hands on it, but it held my interest a little better all the same. Humans finally decided they weren’t rational enough to be in charge of making their own decisions, and built a supercomputer to make decisions for them. But how smart can you make a computer before it starts acting, well, human? And when it comes down to a matter of survival, will the humans be able to outwit their own creation in time? The characters are quite compelling, and the plot, though over-all predictable, still had enough little twists and turns to keep me turning the pages.
** “Distant Worlds: the Story of a Voyage to the Planets” by Friedrich Mader
An interesting novel of early sci-fi (1932), translated from the German. Very reminiscent of Jules Verne and C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. The plot didn’t follow any story arc other than a voyage of exploration-- each chapter more like an episode-- written as though for a teen boys’ periodical magazine. I was intrigued by how little science played into it-- or rather, since much of the science was described in great detail, how different the science used in this novel was from the science used in science fictions today. There was also a very strong religious undercurrent to the book, in that the solar system was very clearly and obviously designed by a Creator, with the result that many things which strike me as highly implausible (such as humanoids on other planets) were presented as simply and unarguably logical. It was very interesting trying to get my head into the right space to read this book-- which was, after all, a good deal of fun, full of beautiful descriptions, and possibly even open-minded for its time. I found myself resorting to the kind of willing suspension of disbelief that one uses in order to enjoy novels written for very young children.
**** "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum
Murakami definitely ranks among my favorite authors these days, which surprises me, because I often have limited tolerance for surrealistic storytelling without definite plot wrap-ups. I won't spoil this book for you with a summary, because half the fun is finding out what's going on... but as usual, the story is unique, beautiful, breath-holdingly intriguing, and somehow written in a style that is incredibly lyrical at the same time as being down-to-earth.
*** "South of the Border, West of the Sun" by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel
This one was a tad bit more melancholy, a tad bit more realistic, than most of Murakami's works. Still loved it, but it isn't my favorite of his works.
** "Survivor" by Octavia Butler
Probably my least favorite Butler so far. Although the concept is strong, I felt that the timing of the story was all wrong, and I kept being distracted by the scientific improbability of humans meeting an alien race that we could interbreed with in the way described. The main character is a young human woman who grew up wild, a scavenger. In her early teens, she was adopted by a missionary group and trained to be a good Christian girl... but part of her wildness never left her. Because of this status as an outsider among humans, she is the only one o the group who comes to understand the aliens on the new world to which her missionary group migrates... understand them well enough to see the threat they pose to the humans. At the same time, feeling almost equally alien among both groups, she is not sure which one to give her loyalty.
** "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels" by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by John Nathan
This was May's book-club book, and I found it very hard to get into but ultimately wound up enjoying it a fair bit, even though the storytelling style was difficult to follow at times. The author, as a child, lived through Japan's defeat in WWII, and the national shame and confusion and mental re-ordering that followed in the wake is evident in the way his characters act and think and experience the world. Similar story pieces come up again and again, making me suspect that the stories are at least half auto-biographical. One line stood out to me in particular-- “...the passive affinity two people have for one another when the same gloom is gripping them” (257, from the story “Aghwee the Sky Monster”)
*** "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffeneger
So, the buzz has finally died down enough for me to give this one a try. Again, I found it somewhat confusing at first-- the story is told in turns, and out of chronological order, by a man who involuntarily vanishes at moments and shows up at other points in his own life, and by his wife, whom he first meets when he is older and she is a young girl-- but I eventually became entranced as the different story-lines began to fall into place with one another. In the end, very satisfying, if a bit trite at some moments and difficult to keep track of at others. I think I'll skip the movie, though-- apparently, the time traveling makes our hero sick to his stomach nearly every time, and I have no desire to see that on film!
Epic Fantasy Author (and yes, I do mean that /he/ is epic) Pat Rothfuss is allergic to cats. And I thought I was the only person in the entirety of fantasy fandom who didn't own a cat!
Saw Pat Rothfuss speak on Saturday!! As usual, he told stories that blew my mind. I swear, he could make a fortune just as a speaker. Mysterious Galaxy Books was full to overflowing with fans. Some of them wore fake beards. One had baked a cake with an icing beard (yes, I have pictures) Some had driven here from AZ.... folks, this guy is only on his second novel. No one gets this kind of crowd on their second book! The man is amazing.
I didn't stay to get a book signed, since there was a line about 250 people long for that (not kidding-- I saw the numbers). But I did finally catch a 10-second break in the line in where I could sneak up to the table long enough to say "Hi! So nice to see you again... I don't know if you remember me..." and he said he did!! He could have just been being polite, of course, but I think he's cooler than that, and I certainly wouldn't have minded a "you look familiar but I can't place you..." at which point I would have mentioned that I was dressed as Zatana last time I saw him, which I'm pretty sure he would recall. I do kinda wish I'd been able to get a copy of the book for the SF&F library here at school... but seeing him speak was the real treat. I mock the silly people who missed out.
I also had a total spaz attack on account of being in a bookstore (and a Genre Bookstore) at that after several months away from one (as you may know, Borders declared bankruptcy recently, and while they promise not to vanish completely, they have already shut down several stores... including the one I worked at. It may still actually be open, in the final throes of death clearance... but I can't bear to go see the carnage, not even with the promise of clearance-priced books. It hurts too much. That store was my baby.)
Anyway, at MGB, I discovered that way too many of my favorite authors have new books. Way too many. I was very good, and did not Buy Them All.
I also went around straightening displays. Yes, I need help.
Also, a very few people came in to actually, you know, bookshop. One was a woman who really wanted a new mystery novel that had come out. Said novel was in a bookshelf that had been squished up to another bookshelf to make room for more Pat fans. There was perhaps a foot of space between the two shelving units. And the book was on the bottom shelf, in the middle. So of course I offered to go fetch it for her. And did so. My boobs, small as they are, did give me a moment of trouble between the shelf ends, but I managed, and returned triumphant. Her smile was reward enough, but she also insisted on buying me a book in thanks!! So, after a few moments ditherspazzing over who I most desperately wanted to support (Anne Bishop? Terry Pratchett? Trudi Canavan? Kat Richardson? Seannan McGuire? Any of my other dear favorites?) I realized that I really needed to own a copy of Cartherine Jinks' "Evil Genius." And now I do. YAY!
My only beef with MGB is that they don't carry Spider Robinson. Because, apparently, he doesn't sell. To their credit, the manager I spoke with said they've tried, really they have. The good news, he tells me, is that Robinson's older works have apparently started to make enough of a comeback in the ebook market that publishers are considering bringing them out in paper again!! I guess ebooks have their uses after all :) Support your local genius, folks-- the Earth needs people like Spider.
Ok, the rest of my weekend stories will have to go in another post.