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A Temporary Matter (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 28 May 2017 00:00

hoba and Shukumar are a young Indian couple living somewhere in the west on their quiet street with their quiet lives, she an editor, he still a student. And in the mail comes an announcement that following the last snowstorm the power company wants to firm up their repairs so for the next five nights service will be cut from eight to nine PM.

Sounds innocent enough. The couple continues on their lives, with reflections provided by Shukumar as he considers, without enthusiasm, the state of their marriage. It turns out that some time before Shoba had been pregnant with their first child yet lost it while Shukumar was away on student matters in Boston. By the time he'd returned, he had only to pick up his wife from the hospital. And now their marriage, once vibrant and new as young marriages go, is cold and lifeless now.

But nothing gets discussed. Shukumar locates birthday candles and prepares dinner. At 8am, the power goes out. They sit in the dark. And Shoba proposes a game (since she grew up in India with its blackouts (he did not)). They will tell each other something they'd never told before, something new.

And this, as the reader might suppose (or ever hope) will force the couple to focus on their marriage. And it does seem to help; they admit to small crimes, lies and such, opening to each other in the expressionless dark as they never had. And they move towards reconciliation of sorts, painfully digging their way out of the hole they'd dug, the grave of their marriage. And as readers, I suppose we root for them, hoping for the moment they rediscover their love.

The fifth night of outage. The final night. Yet they receive a notice that repairs are complete, that power will remain on. When Shoba comes down, her husband says that they could still "play their game" with the lights off. But no, she replies, she wants the lights on so their faces will be visible for the final round of truths.

And what gets said? Do they recover? Does it all come crashing down?

This is the first story, a wonderful exercise in storytelling, from Jhumpa Lahiri in her collection Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories for which she received the Pulitzer. You'll have to get it yourself if you want to find out how it all turns out. Me, I'm eagerly seeing what further delights Ms. Lahiri has in store for me in her book. The opener has been wonderful. I can only hope she holds this pace throughout. So, at this point, a strong recommendation. More to follow...


Last Updated on Sunday, 28 May 2017 09:47
Biketopia (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:14

ver since I became some sort of public bike advocate (hey, I just like to gush about riding them to and from work) everyone forwards me articles and stories about bikes. Well, Biketopia was a small collection of short stories combining alarming futures, feminism and bikes a friend sent me. I looked forward to seeing what they could do with the topic.

Not much, I'm afraid.

Maybe it was just me, but the stories all looked like tales put together by people who saw the call-for-submissions stuck to the bulletin board of the local coffee house. Yes, they talked about dystopian futures, and yes, there was some bikes and some angry women in them, but really nobody seemed to capture the flavor of the idea. Bikes and feminism is a freeing human activity, one that breaks us from a male dominating culture (in either sense). And grim tomorrows - it’s a man-made and car-made disaster anyway, so that should have been easy.

But the bikes and feminism - it really wasn't there. It was just angry women in a nasty world with an occasional bike featured.

A couple of the stories did shine. There was Shelter by Cynthia Marts that nailed it. By the time I was done, I was an angry feminist myself. And bikes didn't just show up, they were part of the grand answer themselves. It was a fantastic story, so hats off to her for catching the power of writing. Also, Signal Lost by Gretchin Liar touched on how protective a society can become, how codling it is when you look at something like bikes. How many people blanch when I say I ride a bike in commuter traffic - this catches that feeling perfectly. And Maaike's Aquatic Center for Bicycles raised by Fishes, an effort by Jessie Kwak, that was just funny in a bikey sort of way.

Look, I'm not saying that you shouldn't support small presses and shouldn't buy this. Just be warned that, in my opinion, it could have been a little tighter-on-topic. Freedom of self - either through controlling your body or transporting yourself under your own power - that's the point that should have been made here.


Last Updated on Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:33
Cloud Atlas (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 14 May 2017 08:42

loud Altas - it's not one book, it's six!

Actually, it is only one book, a set of six stories told from differing human epochs. All the characters share a distinctive birthmark, a blemish in the shape of a comet on their shoulder. And all their stories link together very distantly, but, like instruments in an orchestra, all of them taken together produce a message to the reader. And the message can be bittersweet, yes, but uplifting too.

So, we have...

ADAM EWING - A San Francisco attorney who, in 1849, is on his return journey to his home from the far side of the Pacific, where he passes through various cultures and various barbarities, while suffering a brain parasite that might just kill him...

ROBERT FROBISER - A young composer and homosexual in the 1930s, who is forced to assist an aging maestro while crating his own magnificent piece, the musical perfection he will call Cloud Atlas. His story is told to us in letters to his once-lover, Rufus Sixsmith. Interestingly, he is reading Adan Ewing's Pacific account...

LUISA REY - In 1973, she is a feisty reporter investigating the corruption (and outright danger) around a west coast nuclear power plant. She meets the now older, now engineer Rufus Sixsmith in a stalled elevator, recovers his letters from Robert Forbiser after he is killed in a whistleblower attempt, and even while getting driven off a bridge and shot at by a corporate goon, she manages to hear Cloud Atlas in a record store...

TIMOTHY CAVENDISH - A seedy publisher in 2012, who is falsely imprisoned by his own brother in an old-folks home, he eventually escapes and returns to publishing, sparking his career's second wind with Half-lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery. Of course, he also publishes his own struggles as The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, which is made into a movie...

SONMI-451 - A fabricant working in a fast-food restaurant somewhere on the sprawling, polluted Korean coastline of 2144, Sonmi's unthinking, unquestioning routine is changed by the tinkerings of a bored PHD student. Eventually drawn into the political realm by anti-government rebels, she creates Declarations, a thoughtful piece of the rights of all sentients. In many ways, she is influence by an old movie she watched while in hiding, something about some man from long ago, Timothy Cavendish, who was also imprisoned and marginalized with old people. In the end, she is executed by the government.

ZACHRY - An old man in post-holocaust Hawaii, he recounts his own story, how his father and brother were killed by Kona raiders (and how he blames himself). He also talks about a group of high-tech traders who visit these lands. One of them, Meronym, elects to stay with his people for a time. His tribe all worship their goddess Sonmi. In the end, after the Kona overrun everything and enslave his people, Meronym sees him moved to a safer island.

Interestingly, the book progresses from the oldest time to the newest in a series of half-stories, leaving each character at some position in their life before moving onto the next. Zachery's story is the only one told in full, and after his, we resolve our tales in reverse order, until Adam Ewing gives us the book's payoff.

So yes, the stories wend like the ivy of the human spirit across the brick wall of injustice and slavery. You will see humanity at its beastly worse, with Christians enslaving natives, Koreans enslaving clones, and Kona horsemen brutalizing just about everything. In that, the book touches on the questions that any thinking human must ask in their lives - when looking at the world and how shitty it is, why bother? Why be good, why fight the good fight, why attempt to make an effort? And in a way, it answers just these questions (though, still, I have to admit that it is a downer to know that even with all these efforts and small success, the world does seem to be winding down in the end).

But I really liked this one. It held me even though I was in a tough week at work, working non-stop through day and night. While eating at my desk in the late, dark hours, I'd read about Zackery, of Somni, of Ewing and the others and know that even in a world of dark human misery, there are still twinkling stars of goodness.

Anyway, yes, it's a great read. The movie is fun in its own way (though it is a bit frantic in places, a lot more choppy, and takes a pass or two to understand. Further, they jam a happy ending on it (that Meronym's people have established a colony on another planet and lift poor Zackery into its utopia)). But the movie is worth watching, just as the book is worth reading. It's a strong recommendation from me. Have a go at it!


Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:31
Arabella of Mars (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:06

kay, so the Napoleonic Wars are still taking place. There's that.

And there is colonialism. Again, a constant of the British Empire.

But then there is the fact that space isn't, well, space. It's full of air.

And with sailing ships that can lift on massive hot air balloons to low earth orbit, where they can set their sails and move about on interplanetary jet-streams and then, when they get to a planet, deploy heated chutes to come in for landing, yeah, so it's rather a different 1813 than you could imagine.

So young Arabella is a daughter of a rich landowner on Mars, interested in the ways and affairs of the natives (an English colony, of course. Why stop with India?), a pants-wearing tomboy. This latter fact causes her mother to decide that the frontier has made her too wild and packs her (and her sisters) back home. Now a societal prisoner of cold uninteresting England, poor Arabella pines for her native planet. Yet, while visiting relatives, she overhears her cousin Simon hatching a plot to travel to Mars and kill her brother and assume the family fortune. Locked away, it is up to Arabella to utilize her pluck, travel to Mars and stay Simon's assassinating hand.

So she'll be a busy girl.

Arabella of Mars calls on a number of period tropes for its telling, and that's fine. I recognize the bits of a girl shipping as a boy aboard a merchantman, of overhearing mutinous plans, of French space privateers and likely lads and mysterious Indian captains (a.k.a Nemo). And of course, we have the Indian Mutiny (cast with Martians) for the heroine to deal with.

So here's the deal on this book (first of a series, implied): just go with it. Yeah, it's silly and fantastic and difficult to explain to your literary chums, but it's fun. It's pretty much Treasure Island and Kidnapped cast in space, with a dash of steampunk and a gallon of daring-do. I have to admit that I enjoyed it. I think you will too. So go out and get this one. Just get over the air-in-space deal and you'll be fine.

(and this is coming from a guy writing a story about people travelling about the moon on ice-runner boats!)


Last Updated on Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:31

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