Earlier this Spring Sarah had to go to Amsterdam and London on business and so I tagged along, spending some time working out of the ILM London offices. It was a great combination of personal and professional adventure! Read more here.
Omar El Akkad is an Egyptian-Canadian journalist who has covered various terrorism-triggered conflicts around the world, as well as the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. He clearly brings that experience to his debut novel, a story about a hypothetical second US Civil War, occurring towards the end of the 21st century.
In this plausible future the coastal areas of the country have been ravaged by rising oceans (Florida is gone and the nation's capital has been moved to Columbus, Ohio) and attempts to curtail fossil fuel usage have triggered the secession of several of the southern states. States that bristle at any infringement on freedoms despite the disproportionate effects of climate change on their territories. Secession escalates to a twenty year civil war. Drone strikes are common and terrifying, and foreign governments attempt to influence the course of the war for geopolitical advantage.
The story follows Sarat, a girl from the south born into poverty, forced into refugee camps, and ultimately recruited into service in the fight against the north. The evolution and radicalization of her character is well detailed by the author. It's interesting but also deeply disturbing because her thoughts and views are believable and understandable.
Summarized, this all sounds like a too conveniently plotted turn-of-the-tables for the United States with regard to its historical foreign policies, but it actually flows well in the story. The events successfully remind one that the distance between the supposedly "civilized" western world and the war-torn countries of the Middle East and Africa is much smaller than we'd like to think.
The book is quite gripping but definitely not spirit-lifting. Given the current political climate it hits a little too close to home. But I guess that is what makes it so good.
I've enjoyed Saga so far so I thought I'd check out another highly-rated graphic novel by Vaughan, the complete "Y: The Last Man" (I love when series are already finished). This one follows the exploits of Yorick Brown, the last man left on the planet after a mysterious plague instantly and simultaneously wipes out every mammal with a Y chromosome -- except him and his pet monkey Ampersand.
The books follow his journey with some badass women as they try to figure out what happened to all the men and how they can possibly save humanity. Yorick also spends a lot of time trying to reunite with his fiancée who was in Australia at the time of the incident.
The ultimate moral of the story is not exactly clear (at least to me), but I found the world (re)building interesting. In the early volumes chaos and violence are everywhere. Vaughan does not presume that a world without men would be a peaceful utopia. As the years pass the chaos subsides slowly as the women still alive work to bring back some semblance of civilization. The new world is different, but still has many of the same problems of the old. The worse aspects of humanity (greed, jealousy, nationalism, etc.) remain to greater and lesser degrees in the survivors.
I read the entire series in eBook format (borrowed from the SF library). This worked well for me, especially since I read most of it while traveling in Europe. Overall I enjoyed the series, but I think I maybe like Saga better.
This is the first book I've ever read in "eBook" format. No, I'm not a luddite, why do you ask? I read it on my phone, which was fine from a technical and readability point of view, but I think it damaged the sense of immersion I normally get from reading. A dedicated e-reader might have been better for that. Holding my phone to read constantly poked the bits of my brain that engage with all the other things my phone does, never allowing me to fully engage with the story.
So I'm not sure if my impressions of this book are fair. I enjoyed the setting and the concept and I definitely wanted to find out what happened next, but I found the actual writing and story structure to be somewhat lacking. I was regularly confused on key points or feeling like I had missed something. Again, perhaps reading on my phone messed with my brain, but I'm not sure.
The book is a speculative fiction piece set on an oil rig in eastern Canada where almost everyone has some level of cybernetic enhancement. However the main character, Hwa, is a "pure organic" and as such is seen as an asset for the job of bodyguard for the teenage boy who will inherit the ownership of the rig from his father. Because Hwa has no implants she can't be hacked or monitored by malicious actors. Then the author adds some time-travel and the book gets weird. It's all really interesting from a conceptual point of view though, and the commentary on what it means to be un-augmented in an augmented world seems particularly relevant for the future of the real world.
I finished the last book of the "Silo Trilogy" quickly, using up the book faster than was optimal given that I was stuck on an airplane for 10 hours. It was a satisfying end to the series though and I'm pleased to have read it. I won't say any more to avoid spoilers for those who may be interested.
I read and enjoyed the first book of the Silo Trilogy almost two years ago. Now I've finally read the second book (Shift) and I'm about to start the third (Dust). The most I can say about "Shift" without spoiling the story is that it is a prequel explaining how the world came to destruction and how the major characters of "Wool" reached the positions they have in that book. Again I was impressed with the careful planning and construction that Howey has put into the story and I'm eager to polish off the series.
I saw Logan, possibly the best X-Men movie to date, on opening night. Later I picked up a used copy of the graphic novel on which it was (loosely) based and read it in an evening. It was also good, but almost nothing like the movie.
Instead of mysteriously disappearing like in the movie, almost all of the mutants were wiped out by the coordinated effort of all of the super-villains. Those villains then divided up America for themselves, resulting in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which Wolverine (Logan) is simply trying to live with his family in peace. The Hulk family rules the part of the world he lives in, and when Logan can't make the rent he's forced accompany a very old and very blind Hawkeye as a mercenary on a quest across the country to make a quick buck.
The journey is mostly an excuse to show off the fate of all the characters in the Marvel universe in this alternate, dystopian timeline. It's bonkers and a lot of fun.
Some people find Franzen's writing intolerable and hacky, others call him one of the best contemporary American writers. I'm not sure I can pass judgment either way, but I enjoy his stories.
I can't quite say what Purity, his latest novel, is about but it definitely entertained me. The characters are interesting and provide convenient excuses to explore a variety of times and places: cold-war-era East Berlin and Pennsylvania; the rain forests of Bolivia; present-day Oakland, Denver, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. One of the major themes is the ability of the Internet to increase the transparency of governments and corporations via Wikileaks-like organizations, and how that compares to "legitimate journalism." But more important is the book's slow reveal of the connections between a disparate collection of people and how it affects them.
If you're interested in Franzen check out his best, "The Corrections," first and if you like it then come back to this one.
Sarah and Michal recently attended the San Francisco version of the Tony-award winning Broadway musical Fun Home and they enjoyed it quite a bit. So when one of our friends offered to loan us the graphic novel that forms the basis for the musical I was very interested. The story documents the author's childhood in rural Pennsylvania; her realization of being, and coming out as, a lesbian; her father's closeted homosexuality, dalliances with his male students and his eventual, apparent suicide; and the strangeness attendant with growing up in a Funeral Home (i.e. "Fun Home").
The art is great (the author took photos of herself as each character in each pose to use as reference for drawing) and the text is dense and cerebral (as an English teacher, Bechdel's father instilled a love of literature into her so the story is full of allusion). The book itself has won extensive critical praise and better yet has inspired a few campaigns to get it banned from schools and public libraries (always a good sign).
Although I did not spend a lot of time trying to understand every literary reference I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
This book is regularly ranked in the top ten of English-language novels of the 20th century so I picked it up at a used book store last year. Unfortunately I found it to be way less accessible and enjoyable than Of Human Bondage, the other "high quality" book I picked up at the same time.
It's not that "The Sound and the Fury" is a bad book, but it is a rather challenging read. Much of it is written in the "stream-of-consciousness" style and other sections jump back and forth between two perspectives, sometimes in mid-sentence. Additionally the entire book suffers from an extreme lack of chronology.
I'm sure under analysis and dissection the novel has incredible merit, but I don't think it is great for a casual read.