I picked up The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi because I loved his award winning 2009 novel, The Windup Girl. Both have to do with a dystopian future where resources are scarce and hoarded by the few.
In the case of The Water Knife, the south-western United States is going through an incredible and destructive water shortage. To make matters worse, water is being hoarded by corporations who claim water rights on rivers and lakes, thereby owning the water and making it difficult for the majority of the population to access unless they are willing to pay large sums of money for it. The novel focuses on three characters; Angel, a mercenary-type character who works for the corporation running Nevada’s water supply, Lucy, a journalist that takes on the plight of the people, and Maria, a poor woman who is looking to escape the Phoenix “thirst” she has grown up in.
While it had many elements that I enjoyed in reading The Windup Girl, I had difficulty in becoming as immersed in the world he was creating. I found the description of the setting minimal and, perhaps because I have never been to that area of the world, found understanding the geography that made water so hard to come by outside of my grasp. Continue reading
I have to say that I could not think of a more timely book than The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah.
Set in Australia, Abdel-Fattah looks at the impact that the political opinions of adults have on the lives of teens. The narrative alternates between Michael and Mina, schoolmates at a prestigious high school. Any relationship between them is stressed due to the opinions of Michael’s family, who lead an organization that protests refugees and queue jumpers that come into Australia and “put strain on the system” and, as it happens, Mina, from Afghanistan, falls into the first category. Continue reading
The Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen was, admittedly, my first step into young adult fiction in quite a while. I purposely picked something up from the comedy genre to see if I could relate to it in any way and due to my time as a librarian.
I have to admit, Knudsen does a very good job at taking the subjects of friendship, young romance and teen drama, setting them against the background of a demonic invasion, and maintaining a readability throughout the book. While some would descend into an over the top, campy story, Evil Librarian remains lighthearted and a page-turner, while celebrating the teenage years. Continue reading
This is the second of The Laundry Files series of Charles Stross’s I have read, as it is the second book and I am a bit of a stickler for reading series in order, which I am sure is some sort of residual effect of years of comic collecting. I enjoyed his first, The Atrocity Archives, so plunged into the second.
Stross introduced a great protagonist, Bob Howard, as someone who is able to battle the horrors of Lovecraftian inspired Elder Gods with brains and an understanding of technology. Bob proved to be a hero as understated as his name, giving the distinct impression that he was a man whom things happened to and not the guy who inspired things to happen. This is one of the the elements of Stross’ writing that I enjoyed most, the presentation of a less-than-super super-spy. Bob found himself in all kinds of horrific situations, saving the world due to his ability to keep his wits and genuinely surprised when it happened again. Continue reading
I have managed to avoid The Great Gatsby since I was sixteen, even though it has been on the reading list at every high school I have ever taught at. It was also the only book that I only read once during my high school years, which brings the next statement as little surprise: I hated it sooooo much, as much as anything could be hated from the core of a 16-year-old’s being.
I think that I was a typical idealizing teen, anxious to label things and place them according to easily understood dichotomies. Having things agree to be right/wrong, white/black, night/day, bad/good, fascist/totalitarian brings comfort to most people, especially teens that have not had a chance to see or participate in all of the greys the world has to offer.
The one area that I could not or would not divide into two distinct camps applied to books and literature. I hesitated greatly to stomp on other people’s opinions and sentiments when applied to writing, whether it was their own or in what they read. Writing, I guess, has always been something that has not come easily to me and I appreciated anyone who could get published and read, even from my teen years. [The irony is that now, older and more willing to accept the greys (hair and otherwise) I am also more willing to call some books junk.] The best I could do was say that I did not understand something, or deferred judgment on what made literature good to someone else, more studied, more well-read, perhaps more refined.
I recently commented on the macho, mysoginistic writings of Lee Child in my foray into the world of Jack Reacher. I have been delaying on this post a bit because I have been trying to reason out what makes the protagonist of The Broken Empire series so different and why I find myself liking him, even though he is arrogant, power hungry, violent and woman using.
I had been lead to an interview with Ian Tregillis done by Charles Stross a while back, where Tregillis was speaking about the development of his Milkweed series and the comparisons that had been made with Stross’s own work. Having appreciated Stross’s The Laundry Series and the writing therein, I was eager to find Tregillis’s work and have a look.
What was especially appealing and, I assume, was the basis of comparison between these two writers was that a parallel reality, or speculative fiction, was being played with. Where Stross was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and created a governmental agency that deterred the entrance of the Elder Gods from entering and taking over the world, Tregillis is playing a bit more with the mad sciencey and that there is something bigger in the universe than us piddly humans that has more hands in how the show is run.
A good friend recommended this novel through Goodreads, so I thought I should give it a shot. It has been a while since paying attention to awards and The Windup Girl holds two of the big ones; the 2009 Nebula Award and 2010 Hugo Award, as well as a few others.
It was bleak, illustrating some of the more undesirable traits of humankind during a time that really needs them, but that made the writing imaginative and different from anything that I had read in a while. Where apocalyptic science fiction has fallen on the standard tropes of zombies and plagues, The Windup Girl examines our potential future in a different way, one of unsustainable development and greed.
There are two things that I found myself having particular affinities to while reading this book. The first, I have been in Thailand and loved it, and that is where the book is set. The Thai language creeps into the dialogue, creating a sense of realism due to the differences and particularities of the Thai people and those who are not from that country.
As slow and painful as it was getting through this book, I managed to finish it just so that I could enter into discussions and debates with an understanding about what this was all about. By the end of it, I wanted to be on the killing floor to be put out of my misery, horrible.
I have to also admit a certain level of embarrassment according to my gender while I was reading this book. Ultimately, Child presents a testosterone driven, Call of Duty obsessed, teenage male fantasy. The main character, Jack Reacher, fires off a dozen different weapons, all of which he has an encyclopedic knowledge of, kills many, many people in near every which way imaginable, survives a prison scene that steps of the pages of some sort of script of stereotypes, and sleeps with the “hot female” cop after simply smiling at her.
The classic, a must-read of the hard-boiled detective genre. Something missed by other reviewers is that Philip Marlowe, the main character, is the original fast-talking detective that was an important shift in protagonists, introducing elements of the anti-hero and someone who had to operate outside of the establishment so that proper justice could be done. Also important is the narrative; while first person, Marlowe is retelling the events to the audience in perfect chronological sequence, he does not expose all of his thoughts to the reader, leaving gaps that are fully explained when Marlowe is ready to explain them, both to his audience and other characters. This is a technique that is rarely done well and Raymond Chandler, as well as Dashiel Hammet, remain the tops and should be thanked for their contribution to the detective, noire and spy genres of fiction.