Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On the Camino

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On the Camino is Jason's autobiographical graphic novel about walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  He completed the 500-mile journey from Bayonne to Santiago on foot in 2015.  It's actually funny because I've read everything Jason has published in English at least once, but I realized that I didn't know much about Jason, the man.  He apparently suffers from some form of shyness/social anxiety, and the book begins with him agonizing over talking to other pilgrims.  He just has trouble saying, "hello."

This is a deeply personal work and a departure from other graphic novels, which are fiction.  A typical Jason story is two people falling in love and having a tumultuous relationship only to come together at the end following an invasion of giant beetles.  Jason does work with source material, but he's mostly at home spinning fantastic yarns about alien queens and bank heists gone awry.  He uses his trademark artistic style, line drawings of anthropomorphic animals taking the place of humans.  It is not colored, which some people actually prefer, as the colorization is done by a secondary artist.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Color Purple

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The Color Purple nearly made me cry.  I generally don't bring politics into my book reviews, but I share something in common with Donald Trump.  I haven't cried since childhood.  When Trump came forward with this, pundits said it was a weakness and posted pictures of Obama in tears.  I'm also bipolar.  It's controlled by medication, but I've been awake pretty much since 10:30 PM last night, I'm talking to three people, I'm listening to an audiobook, and I'm writing this review.  Can you spell "hypomanic episode?"

The last time I genuinely thought I was going to cry was when I was in India in 1995.  I was 22, unmedicated, and just beginning to suffer bipolar disorder.  I won't go into what made me so sad, but I was walking down a street in Orissa, and I felt the overwhelming need to cry.  Thinking that people would stare at me for walking down a street and crying, I decided to wait until I got to my hotel room to let the tears flow.  When I got to the hotel room, I simply giggled a little while my eyes got a teensy bit wet, not to the point of tears.

Anyway, that's what this book was like.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Love in the Time of Cholera


Love in the Time of Cholera is one of the many fantastic novels I've been reading; I finished it a day or two ago but didn't have the time to write a review.  Reviewing a book like Love in the Time of Cholera is more daunting a task than reading it.  Where do I start?  It's a series of love stories set in Latin America, starting in the 19th century and developing well into the 20th century.  It is guessed that it takes place in Colombia, but the novel has the feeling of both a river city or an island nation..  The main characters are Florentino Ariza and Fermina Gaza.  Although Love in the Time of Cholera has elements of a short story collection, where the short stories are about the various denizens of the unnamed island/river city, the most attention and thus (according to Kim Stanley Robinson in Aurora) the most love is given to those two characters.

I drive for Lyft every night from midnight to 5:00 AM, and although I only read Love in the Time of Cholera for three nights (between rides), I had several riders comment on the novel which popped up in the touchscreen of my 2017 Chevy Spark.  One rider even requested we listen to it together.  She started laughing uncontrollably at the dark humor of the novel, and pretty soon I was giggling, myself.  This novel really touched me in a way the other books I'm reading haven't, and I'll never forget that five-minute ride with the girl who wanted to listen to it with me.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the first work by Leo Tolstoy I've read, aside from a short story or two.  Barely a novella itself, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is just over 100 pages long, running just over two hours on Audible.  It tells the story of the illness, suffering, and death of a high-court judge in Tsarist Russia.  Although the bulk of the story takes place in the three weeks leading up to the main character's death, it also gives the background of Ilyich's ascendancy to the magistracy and his unhappy marriage to Praskovya Fedorovna Golovin and the minor fall that leads to his illness and eventual death.

What makes this a great novella is the way it portrays the trappings of bourgeois life and how quickly it can all be taken away.  At one point, Ilyich muses that falling awkwardly while hanging curtains ends his life as surely as if he had died storming a fortress.  Reading Tolstoy can be intimidating, with his works running thousands ot pages, but I found The Death of Ivan Ilyich to be fascinating and engaging.  Recommended.

Invisible Murder

Invisible Murder is the second "Nina Borg" novel, about a Danish nurse who endangers her entire family by getting involved in international intrigue.  In this novel, she is busy helping out Hungarian Roma refugees when she notices that a lot of them are mysteriously ill due to radioactive cesium poisoning.  Who is after the cesium and what they intend to use it for isn't clear until the final pages, but it is hinted that the mysterious antagonist is interested at using the cesium to make a dirty bomb.  A dirty bomb is a powerful explosive made even more dangerous by affixing a powerful isotope to the explosives.

I definitely didn't like Invisible Murder as much as I did the first book in the series, The Boy in the Suitcase, but I do think that it's an important novel in the development of the Nina Borg character.  Plus, it's a little different from the typical Nordic noir novel, which usually centers around a haggard detective and a brutal series of crimes in a small town near the Arctic Circle.  The Nina Borg series is much more urban, much more international.  The reason why I'll probably continue reading "Nina Borg" once a year is twofold; I like the genre, and I like the main character.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Three-Body Problem


The Three-Body Problem is a 2006 Chinese science-fiction novel translated into English in 2014, along with the second and third books of the "Remembrance of Earth's Past" trilogy.  It won the Hugo Award in 2015, and it is the most popular sci-fi book in China, due to be adapted into a movie this year.  In it, an advanced civilization called the Trisolarans make contact with Earth during China's Cultural Revolution.  The Three-Body Problem fully explores the Lysenkoism of modern physics which led to several top scientists being imprisoned and even killed.

The daughter of one of these physicists is one of the main characters.  She helps the Trisolarans find Earth, leading to the Trisolarans interfering with the progress of science on Earth.  This is the main thrust of the novel.  Under the guidance of the Trisolarans, humans create an immersive video game about the Trisolaran world, about its history and its people.  The highlight of this game is the creation of a human computer using flags to do extensive computations.  Two figures I admire - Kim Stanley Robinson and Barack Obama - praised the book, and I can't help doing the same.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Funny in Farsi

Funny in Farsi was the Audible "Daily Deal" for $1.99 yesterday.  Very few of such deals pique my curiosity, but this memoir did because I've enjoyed the graphic novels about Iran and the Middle East by Marjane Sartrapi and Riad Sattouf and because well, you can't exactly read graphic novels while driving six to eight hours a day.  At just over five hours long, with me reading it between rides with Lyft and while driving my son around, it took me a day to finish.  It is the memoir of Firoozeh Dumas, an Iranian immigrant who moves to the United States in 1969, at the age of seven.

It's funny, short, and easy to read, but it tries a little too hard to be funny at times.  I did laugh, I did enjoy it, but I'm just not a memoir person.  Nothing pleases me more than a novelist at the height of their powers putting a whole life's experience into a novel about space elevators or alcoholic robots.  I do enjoy memoirs, though.  Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton: A Memoir remains one of my favorite of his books in part because he lived such an exciting life.  I do believe that Firoozeh Dumas's life is worth documenting, and I would read more of her novels.  If they go on sale.  That's the problem with a lot of these series I read; the first book is always cheap, the second and third, not so much.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is a 1959 translation of the 1956 book; it was originally given to me by my sister, Erin.  I don't know if she read it for school or pleasure, or if she read it at all.  I always meant to read it, but earlier this week, I saw it on Audible and gave it a listen.  Based roughly on the arson of the Reliquary of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan by a schizophrenic initiate of the Zen Buddhist order, it tells the story of Mizoguchi, who lives in abject poverty as an initiate while the Master of the Rectory spends millions of yen on cigarettes, prostitutes, and high living.

Told from Mizoguchi's point of view, the story is episodic, beginning with his childhood obsession with a neighborhood girl who dies at the hand of her lover, a soldier who has deserted from the Japanese army.  His obsession with beauty grows as he eyes the ultimate prize, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.  At first, he wishes to be the Master of the Rectory, but he is disillusioned by the current Master's decadent life.

After he sets the Reliquary on fire, Mizoguchi plans to kill himself.  Having bought arsenic and a pocket knife, he throws these things away and lights a cigarette, deciding to live.  Yukio Mishima, the author of this novel, decided to die in 1972, when he committed ritual suicide by stabbing his abdomen while an appointed second cut off his head.  His reasons for doing so are too complex to discuss here, but his death sent shock waves through Japan and the literary world.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Men Without Women

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Men Without Women is the new short-story collection by Haruki Murakami, consisting of seven stories.  I bought it on Audible, where it runs just over seven hours.  The seven stories are all about - you guessed it - men who have either lost a woman or who have trouble in love.  The main characters range from an older and successful plastic surgeon to a cockroach who finds himself turning into Gregor Samsa.

Anyone can write weird.  What makes Murakami so special is that his characters are haunting and memorable while throwing in the occasional giant frog, disappearing elephant, or sheep-man.  I've read everything he's written that's been translated into English, minus one or two of his non-fiction books, and I eagerly await each new work that comes out.  This collection is a very good introduction to Murakami to anyone who hasn't read him; it's a lot of fun, and I might even re-read it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Columbus Day

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Columbus Day is the first "Expeditionary Forces" book and a sci-fi book that does just about everything right.  I rarely gush over sci-fi series, but I've read a couple of good ones lately.  Columbus Day, the "Bobiverse" novels, the "Bruna Husky" novels, and even the "Destroyermen" series have all seriously caught my eye in the past six months.  The "Expeditionary Forces" series is the story of Joe Bishop, a specialist in the Army who has a unique career during the invasion of the Earth by the Ruhar and Earth's involvement in a galactic war.

The first half of this book was good enough, but the introduction of a new character, the all-powerful "Skippy" in the second half.  Skippy provides some much-needed comic relief to the novel and makes the human race capable of being more than just low-rent foot soldiers.  I love the hierarchical organization of the different species involved in the war, the different levels of technology, and the novel approach to faster-than-light travel.  Fun stuff.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What Is a Glacier?

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What Is a Glacier? is the first comic I've read in some time.  'Been working, 'been unfocused, 'been busy.  The comic, along with Shit and Piss, is the last of my Retrofit 2016 subscription.  It came with a hand-signed note from Box Brown about a kickstarter for Retrofit's Spring 2017 line, which I'll definitely support once my next paycheck comes in early this week.

What Is a Glacier? is the story of a trip to Iceland, the story of a breakup, the story of grief, and the story of global warming.  Sophie Yanow brings up some interesting contradictions.  She loves her visit to Iceland but hates the effects tourism has had on Iceland.  The story of the main character's year-earlier breakup with her girlfriend is projected on her life and her trip.  I can only assume it's autobiographical, as Sophie Yanow lives in Vermont, as does the main character.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

For We Are Many

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For We Are Many is the second "Bobiverse" novel, about the adventures of a gaggle of 22nd-century computer programs based on the 21st-century human, Bob.  In We Are Legion, Bob was killed in a car accident, frozen, and woken up as a computer program controlling a Von Neumann probe just before the Earth descended into nuclear war.  In the two novels, Bob and his "replicants" help out humanity and a pair of extraterrestrial races, the Pavs and the Deltans.

The "Bobiverse" is a new series that I'm very excited about.  If Dennis E. Taylor writes 10 more books in this series of roughly equal quality, I'll read all 10.  Each replicant of Bob has its own personality, and there are a number of stories going on at once, the most pressing of which is the presence of the Others, a race of beings building a Dyson sphere by raiding all nearby systems for food and metals.

For We Are Many presents a unique answer to the Fermi Paradox, which states that there is a high probability of extraterrestrial life but no evidence of it.  That answer takes the form of a communication from the Others regarding how they follow radio signals to find planets with life on them: "food announces itself."