Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor

LagoonWhat a weird book. This is one of the many books that ended up on my TBR list because the internets told me it would be good, and I read it because I saw it at the library and remembered that I thought it would be good. Maybe that’s not the best way to go into reading this book, because it is super weird and you need to be prepared. I can help!

Okay, so. This book. How to describe it. Besides weird. Which it is. Hmm.

Let’s start broad. This book is set in Lagos, Nigeria, in I think roughly the present day. A lot of the tension and interestingness in the novel come from this setting, particularly in the way that the people of Lagos treat magic and religion and how those interact with science and logic. I was very glad to have recently read Half of a Yellow Sun, which helped me sometimes to figure out what was “a Nigeria thing” and what was actually weird in this novel. Sometimes.

What really intrigued me in this book is that the main protagonist is a woman of science, fighting against her husband’s belief in the goodness of his religion and the badness of the magic he believes she has, but then also the book is full of actual magic and also aliens and so the fight isn’t between science and religion or logic and magic but between the people who don’t see them interact in quite the same way. This caught me off guard, but in a good way, I suppose, and I kind of want to go back through the book and know this from the beginning and see how it changes my reading.

If those overarching themes hadn’t already had my brain working overtime, the story itself would have done it quite nicely. It’s a deceptively simple story: what would happen if aliens showed up in Nigeria? But when you throw in lots of narrators and characters and points of view (including POVs of fish and, um, roads) and wade through all of the baggage that all of these characters carry, getting a shape-shifting alien an audience with the Prime Minister of Nigeria is really difficult.

I didn’t read this book especially quickly, partly because I was constantly wondering if I should even keep reading because I clearly had no idea what was going on, but I’m not sure it’s a book you should or can read quickly. If I had been prescient, I would have picked this for one of my book clubs so that I could have all the people to talk about all the things with. There’s still time, I suppose…. Until then, I do have this fancy comment section if anyone wants to help me figure out what’s up with those poisonous oceans!

Recommendation: For people with time for thinky-thought-thinking and those who love magical realism and aliens.

Weekend Shorts: Book Club Re-Reads

I don’t re-read books terribly often, but when I do, it’s for book club. This year is probably going to be seeing more than its fair share of re-reads as I’ve been tasked with putting the book list together for my in-person book club, which means several very popular or much-requested books but also some books I know we can talk a lot about — the re-reads!

Of course, re-reading a book doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will…

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name VerityOh, man. I picked this book for my book club for several reasons, including that it’s short-ish and we were short on time, I remember loving the heck out of it, and it had been a while since we read a WWII book. It seemed like a winner.

What I didn’t remember from my first reading is the fact that the first half is slow as molasses in winter. It’s slow, it’s kinda boring, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for what’s happening, the narrator’s kinda weird… it’s bad. About half of the people who showed up for book club hadn’t made it past this part, and they were like, we are here to determine what you were smoking when you chose this book. The other half had finished it, with the redirect and the new narrator and the Actual Plot, and while they didn’t all love it they at least understood what I was going for!

True story, even I only just finished the first half before going to book club, so it was kind of hard to convince everyone else they should finish. But finish I did, and yes, again, the second half was much better, though I didn’t find myself shedding a single tear at the end of it where a few years ago I was ugly crying in public. I’m not sure if this is a function of reading it soooooo slowwwwly this time, or the conversation with people who didn’t like it right in the middle of my re-read, or just the fact that I knew what terrible things were going to happen. But it was just… an ending.

Recommendation: Absolutely yes you should read this. Maybe don’t read it twice.

Lock In, by John Scalzi
Lock InLet’s be honest, and TOTALLY SPOILERIFFIC IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. I mostly wanted my book club to read this to see how many of them thought Chris Shane was a lady. I had Shane in my head as, like, robot first, dude second; my husband totally thought she was a badass chick. There weren’t a lot of book clubbers at this meeting because apparently sci-fi-based procedural crime stories are not my club’s jam, but of the handful who were there it was a mostly dude-Chris consensus, and in fact a sizable white-Chris minority who had missed the “angry black guy with a shotgun” line about Chris’s father.

I had actually tried very hard to get myself into chick-Chris mode, going so far as to use my free Audible trial to obtain the audio version of this book narrated by Amber Benson (you can also get one narrated by Wil Wheaton). It was a very weird experience. Sometimes my initial read of the book, and Benson’s not-super-feminine voice, kept me thinking Shane was a dude. After a while at each listen, I could get into chick mode, but only if I imagined that Amber Benson was Eliza Dushku instead. I would totally watch this movie with Dushku (or her voice, whatever) as the lead, by the way. And with Joss Whedon somewhere at the helm. Hollywood, make this happen!

Outside of all that, though, the book was just as weird and twisty as it was the first time, enough that I couldn’t exactly remember what was going to happen and all the big reveals were still pretty much intact. My book club was not a big fan of all the intrigue and subterfuge, which of course I loved, but they all agreed it was at least interesting.

Recommendation: Totally pick up the audio book in whichever narrator you didn’t expect the first time. It’s weird and fun.

Weekend Shorts: Volume 1 Edition

Comics are weird. You can read them in single issues, or you can wait until a bunch of them are collected in volumes, and it can be hard to tell by any one issue, or even any one volume, what that series is really going to be like. (See: The wild difference between early and late volumes of The Unwritten.)

This is definitely the case for both of the volume ones below. I’m not sure about either of them as a long-term comic relationship, but I’m definitely going to have to check out their second volumes and see if things go any differently than I expect.

Shutter, Vol. 1: “Wanderlost”, by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca
Shutter, Vol. 1I pretty much picked this one up because of the cover, which has a girl with a camera (like!) and a Felix-looking cat thing (weird?). I’m not sure if I’d’ve picked up this book if I had looked at the back cover, though, which is more indicative of the insides with its giant-gun-wielding suited lion and giant-sword-wielding armored… fox? Yeah.

The opening pages had me hooked, though, with a dad and his daughter hanging out on the moon (the MOON!) and hints of other wild adventures to come. Fast-forward to the future and we meet our protagonist, Kate Kristopher, a 27-year-old whose best years seem to be behind her. She’s a popular novelist but hasn’t written anything in ages, and she’s spending her birthday at her dad’s gravesite, as you do.

Don’t worry, though, things get interesting very quickly when some ghost ninjas show up to kidnap Kate, and then some mobster lions get in on that action, and they all seem to want to lead Kate to siblings she didn’t even know she had. There is lots of running and jumping and climbing trees and whatnot, and narrow escapes, and non-escapes that later become escapes, and it’s basically nonstop crazypants.

Which is awesome, and I loved reading this volume, but it’s also tiring. There are like a million things that happen here, but I can’t remember any of them with clarity because they are all rolled up into a ball of crazy in my brain. I am super intrigued by the “girl is thrown headfirst into a pool of family secrets” plotline, but I am moderately annoyed by the “how many crazy anthropomorphic animals and robots and ghosts and shit can we draw into this panel?” business that surrounds it. I’m hoping that’s all just sort of exposition and that the second volume will get to the good stuff, but I’m already resigning myself to the fact that it won’t.

Black Science, Vol. 1: “How to Fall Forever”, by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera
Black Science, Vol. 1I had almost the exact opposite experience with this book. I had heard great things about it and actually bought it from my local comic shop and dove in ready for some crazy time-and-space-travelling goodness.

The conceit here is kind of like that show Sliders that I watched a lot of as a kid — a group of scientists have a machine that takes them to parallel/alternate universes and it’s super awesome until it breaks and starts sending them to random universes for random amounts of time. Some of the random universes are very dangerous and some are relatively safe, but none are terribly helpful for fixing the machine and bringing everyone back to their original universe.

That kind of plot is basically catnip to me, but unfortunately this volume starts off not doing a lot with it. I mean, yeah, they’re jumping around universes and stuff, but there’s far more focus on the fact that the protagonist dude has been cheating on his wife with a coworker (with whom he and his kids are trapped in these other universes, DRAMA) in the first few issues and I was like, come on, get to the pseudoscience!

I also felt a little let down by the art, which is very pretty on the page level, but a) has a lot of two-page spreads that are hard to see in the trade paperback binding and that led to me being very baffled until I figured it out on each spread, and b) is kind of FBP-esque with the people drawing and it can be hard to tell all those big noses apart.

However, the art was still pretty and the last couple of issues make up for the early lack of action plot with some veeery interesting pseudosciencey turns of events and a pretty decent cliffhanger that left me wishing I had the second volume at the ready. I will definitely be back for more.

End-of-the-Year Comics Roundup: Superpower Edition

I just can’t even with this December, guys. I have started three novels and finished only one, and it’s not that I don’t want to finish the other two, it’s just that that feels like it requires, like, effort. And I just don’t wanna.

Thank goodness for my backlog of comics and the fact that I am apparently all for reading words that are accompanied by pretty pictures. I’ve read lots of comics this month and they’ve all been pretty awesome.

Today, let’s talk about the ones that will scratch your superhero itch.

S.H.I.E.L.D., Vol. 1: “Perfect Bullets”, by Mark Waid and various artists
S.H.I.E.L.D., Vol. 1When I read Ms. Marvel, Volume 3, there was a super awesome bonus issue from a crossover with S.H.I.E.L.D., and I was like, yeah, I’m probably going to go read that now.

So I did! And I liked it a lot! This is a series made for the single issue, as the story in each issue is almost entirely separate from the stories in the other issues, with a different fight and a different main character each time. There’s a Coulson backstory issue, the wonderful Ms. Marvel issue, an issue with Spiderman (who I always forget is an Avenger), a kind of terrible and manipulative Sue Storm issue, and a two-parter with the whole Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team, which is weird but I like having the whole gang together so that’s fine.

It’s a little weird reading this and watching the TV show, as I can’t quite place the comic in the timeline of the show and it quite possibly doesn’t have a place in it. Things are just off enough to be confusing, but also enough that I’m curious anew about how things might go. Win! This isn’t going on my “A plus plus will read while walking home” list, but I will probably be picking up the next trade volume when it comes out in a couple months.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: “Last Days”, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4Speaking of Ms. Marvel… things are not going well for her in this volume. Her former crush object is a real a-hole, for one, and as she won’t stop telling people, but then also there’s this, like, giant planet coming in for a landing on top of Manhattan. I’m sure that has something to do with important Marvel Universe things, but I can’t be arsed to look it up. The upshot is, Kamala finds herself running all over Jersey City trying to protect her family and community from the bad things that are going to happen and the bad things that ARE happening thanks to a certain former crush object. This is exhausting me just to think about it. I will never be a superhero.

Awesome things in this volume include a visit from Carol Danvers, which would be whatever except that Kamala’s insane squeeing is absolutely adorable (it’s the meeting with Wolverine times a thousand), an unexpected “be true to yourself” speech, and some serious truth bombs about love and responsibility. There’s also another crossover event included here, two issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but I’m just not that into Spidey so I don’t think this one’s going to get me to buy more comics.

We Can Never Go Home, by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood
My copy of the trade paperback says “Volume One” on it, but I’m pretty sure this is a one-off miniseries. I’m not sure what they would do if they made more of these. But I’d probably be interested in finding out.

This is not a superhero story, but it does have a girl with a superpower in it: the power of glowy eyes and super-strength with the Hulk-like limitation of having to be anxious for it to show up. Our girl, Madison, is a football-player-dating popular-kid at her high school until one day, she’s not, having shown her superpower to her jerk boyfriend when he deserved it. However, she also showed her superpower to a loner classmate at the same time, and this completely changes Madison’s life, and not really for the better.

It’s a short series, so I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say the writer did some super interesting things with the “girl discovers her place in the world with the help of a cute boy” story as well as with the concepts of heroes and villains and self-determination and all that good stuff. Some of it is a little anvil-y because, well, five issues of a comic does not give you much time or space to work with, but some of the characterizations are surprisingly subtle. I’m not sure I loved this as a complete work, but there are definitely parts of it that are really awesome.

That’s all I’ve got for now — what other awesome superhero/superpower stories should I pick up next?

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer PrinceI meant to read this book back when it came out, but somehow I just never got around to it. First there were other books, then there was a mild internet controversy over how well the race/ethnicity portion of the book came off, then there were other books again. But this month has been a really weird month of reading for me and I needed a book that was fun, interesting, and, most importantly, short, and this fit the bill.

In the world of The Summer Prince, bad things have happened to the Earth and the people who have survived them have largely moved to the Equatorial regions where there are seasons instead of the perpetual winter you find everywhere else. At the same time, humans have been developing gene therapies or something that keeps them living much longer, to where 250 years old is the new 90.

This story takes place in Palmares Tres, a big shiny glass building of a city in Brazil, run by “Aunties” and a queen who has ruled for decades. In this matriarchal society, kings are elected every five years to rule for one year, doing really not much ruling but instead preparing to sacrifice themselves at the end of the year to choose the new queen. In this particular election year, an 18-year-old called Enki is elected, to the delight of our hero, June, but it becomes quickly obvious that he is not intending to rule quietly. Instead, June and Enki take art to the streets to protest pretty much all the things that make Palmares Tres the city that June loves.

So, it definitely hits that “interesting” mark dead on. I really liked the worldbuilding in this story, from the physical style of the city to its struggles with age, class, race, technology, isolationism… it’s really cool. I don’t remember that mild internet controversy well enough to really discuss it, but I thought Johnson did a good job with all of the prejudices that mix in this novel.

It also hit the “fun” mark pretty well, as the beginning of the book is filled with June’s graffiti art escapades and the impropriety of Enki as summer king. But eventually things turn serious, and the implications of June’s actions and Enki’s shenanigans become dangerous, and it’s still pretty cool but it loses a lot of the fun. There are long passages of lecture on morality and some anvil-subtle scenes that drive home those struggles I mentioned above.

Luckily it was a short book, so even though I kind of wanted to set it aside when it got serious I was almost done and I saw it through. I’m glad I did finish it, even if the ending was terribly predictable, and overall I did enjoy my time with it. If you’re in my same reading slump boat, though, don’t mistake this for the brain candy I thought it was!

Recommendation: For lovers of quasi-dystopian futures and near-future worldbuilding.

Rating: 6/10

Weekend Shorts: All the Single Issues

Well, okay, obviously not all of them, because I have just too many for the fact that I “only buy in trades.” Except for cool mini-series, and intriguing #1s, and shiny things… whatever. If you’re a single issue reader, here are some you should check out!

Back to the Future, Issues 1 and 2, by Bob Gale and various artists
Back to the Future 1Cool mini-series, check. I want to say issue 1 came out in time for Back to the Future day back in October, and as soon as I heard about it I was like, yes, please, stick that on my pull list. It looks like there will be five total of these, and I’m guessing I’ll be left wanting more!

Back to the Future 2The best part about this series is that the issues contain two standalone stories (just like the best Saturday morning cartoon shows), so if you just find one lying around you won’t have missed anything. In issue 1 we have “The Doc Who Never Was”, which details the time the US government came to recruit Doc Brown and his prototype time machine (no Delorean yet!) and “Science Project”, a cute little thing in which Marty’s got a science project due and Doc Brown offers up all the doodads in his shop. Issue 2 brings “When Marty Met Emmet”, which, well, I think you know what that’s about, and “Looking for a Few Good Scientists”, in which Doc Brown as college professor tries to get in on the Manhattan Project.

Also cool is that each issue is illustrated by a different artist. Seeing so many different takes on Doc and Marty is super neat and it gives the stories a completely different feel even though they share the same author. If you’re a fan of Back to the Future, this is definitely a series to look for.

Paper Girls, Issue 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls 1I didn’t really know much about this book going in besides “Brian K. Vaughan” and “paper delivery girls”, but if you know me you know that’s enough to shell out three bucks for. If nothing else, the packaging is great — high-quality paper for the bright yellow cover, fantastic art and colors on the inside, yes please!

But it’s Brian K. Vaughan, so the story’s high-quality, too. We meet our paper girls the morning after Hallowe’en as they navigate the very very dark streets of “Stony Stream”, Ohio (I get that reference!) and fend off jerky teenagers and equally jerky cops. I would have been perfectly happy if that were the whole story, honestly, but it gets even better with the addition of ALIENS. I am very intrigued and will definitely be picking up the trade to read the rest.

Rocket Girl, Issue 6, by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder
Rocket Girl 6And… shinies. I bought a couple of issues of this when it first came out, before I gave up and went to trades, but the first trade volume is one of my favorite things. I hadn’t seen any issues of this in ages, so when I spotted #6 hanging out on the shelves of my comic shop I bought it immediately to make sure they’d make more for a volume 2. Fingers crossed!

This issue doesn’t have terribly much to do with what I think is the cool part of the story, with the time travel and the Quintum Mechanics intrigue and the weird world of the future that is our past that is… oh, time travel. Mostly this issue is about Rocket Girl’s personal issues, including apparently some mommy issues that I am very intrigued to see play out.

That’s all for this round of comics… what great things are you reading this week?

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary MercyBefore we start, let me say that this is the last book of a trilogy and as such I am probably going to spoil important plot points for the first two books. If you haven’t read any of these books but are interested in the phrase “person who used to be a space ship”, go back and read the first book, Ancillary Justice, and I’ll see you when you’ve caught up to this one. For those who have read the series, or those who just like to read my ramblings, let’s talk about this last book!

I mentioned when I read the second book, Ancillary Sword, that I loved the first book’s intrigue and subterfuge and fast-moving plot but preferred the second book’s lazier attitude toward the whole gender-as-a-language-construct thing. Interestingly, this book goes back to the high-stakes adventure but also falls back into close scrutiny, not of language this time but of the relationship between a Ship as an entity and its ancillaries or faux ancillaries, leading to a lot of “Kalr Five said, no, Ship said” remarks that are largely unnecessary. So, ups and downs.

We keep the intrigue and subterfuge bits, picking up more or less where the second book left off with the rebuilding of the Undergarden and the political process of smoothing all appropriate feathers to just allow the same people who lived there before to live there again. Ah, the sweet smell of gentrification.

The action part in this novel is driven by the arrival on Athoek Station of Anaander Mianaai, or, you know, part of her or whatever, and Breq’s (our person who used to be a spaceship) desire to have all parts of her dead. To get this done Breq undoes most of the damage that Anaander has done to the various Ship and Station AIs and sort of… liberates them in the process.

That liberation leads to the moral crux of the novel, which is whether artificial intelligence is sort of the same as regular intelligence and how we treat ships (and, say, people) that we view as part of the furniture and the casual, uh, ship-ism?, that all humans participate in whether they realize it or have realization forced upon them.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book, nearly as much as I did the first installment. The balance between action and thinkyness is nearly perfect, save for the repetitive bits and a little bit at the end when everything wraps up (-ish), and of course I could probably read about Breq reading the phone book and find it absolutely fascinating. She’s a person! Who used to be a spaceship! Who used to be a person! Aaaah, I love the conceit of this series.

Ahem. If you’ve read and liked the other books, and especially if you were a little down on the second one for being a bit slow, you will definitely enjoy this book. If you haven’t read the other books, what are you waiting for (besides the library to open)?

Recommendation: For fans of this series, thinky space dramas, and books about human faults sneakily disguised as SCIENCE!

Rating: 9/10 (with partial bonus points for being an awesome series)

Weekend Shorts: Awesome Ladies in Comics

Yep, it’s time to talk about ladies again! These ladies, the fictional ones and the real ones who invented them, are all super awesometastic, but these books are very very different. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them both to you at the same time, but hey, I liked them a lot, so you might, too!

Let’s start with the happy book:

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: “Friendship to the Max”, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
Lumberjanes, Vol. 2On the one hand, I am really glad that my many years of Girl Scout camp never involved mystical, fantastical, and/or evil creatures. On the other hand, how do I become a Lumberjane because they’re so cooooooool.

In this volume, we get to meet a few more of the Lumberjane campers as they make friendship bracelets and play a very serious game of capture the flag. Some dinosaurs and a nosy bear show up at camp, but they are easily dispatched, though certain secrets form a rift between our favorite cabin-mates. Luckily, they reunite just in time to work together against some meddling Greek gods by solving puzzles and making serious sacrifices. Also, Jen is the best.

Now the less-happy book:

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: “Extraordinary Machine”, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
Bitch Planet, Vol. 1I read the first issue of this series a while back and liked it quite a bit. It’s got amazing art, a fascinating premise, and some serious deep-thinking plot lines.

After that first issue, which sets up the idea of Bitch Planet, a space jail for “non-compliant” ladies, we get into a story line involving some kind of dangerous sportsball game that our prisoner friends are being pressured into playing. It’s a terrible idea, really, but on the jailers’ side it’s easy money and on the prisoners’ side there’s a chance of doing some damage to the system that is holding them. As the team trains up we learn more about the ladies in the jail (including a great issue all about Penny Rolle, the largest and awesomest of the prisoners), about the jailers, and about the business interests that affect both of these groups. It’s a pretty bleak world all around, and it’s interesting to see how various people work to make the best of it. I’m totally in for wherever this series goes next.

And, after that downer, a bonus happy:

Agent Carter #1, by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis
Agent Carter #1I picked this up on a whim at my local comic shop as part of a huge series of one-shot #1s Marvel did for its 50th anniversary. I was like, “Are there any good ones?” and the comic guy was like, “There’s an Agent Carter…” and I was like, “YES. SOLD. PUT IT IN MY HANDS.” And then I read it while walking home.

This is a cute little comic, if fairly predictable. In it, not-yet-agent Peggy Carter is hanging around SHIELD, firing guns and shooting the breeze (and some birds) with Dum Dum Dugan, who tells her that they’re trying out a new SHIELD operative and could Carter offer some assistance? Carter is less than thrilled that the newbie in question is Lady Sif, of Asgard fame, but she gamely hangs out with her anyway and partakes in some delightfully literal banter until all hell breaks loose.

Super fun all around, but really what this comic did best was make me miss the Agent Carter television show. How long ’til that comes back?

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body ProblemI feel almost embarrassed to have waited over six weeks to talk about this book, but, see, here’s the thing: this book is bonkers. And not just bonkers like I usually mean it, where it’s weird and strange and requires a lot of brain power to make it through, although all of those are certainly true. But bonkers like, there was so much going on and the narrative was so all over the place that my brain just went ahead and jettisoned all of my memories of it. I listened to it for 14 hours with my husband on our pilgrimage to Cleveland and honestly the thing I remember most clearly is the narrator saying “REEEEEHYYYYYYYDRAAAAATE” like some kind of health-conscious Dalek.

Obviously, there’s more. The book starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with the government decrying heretical things like physics. There’s a looooooong bit with a physicist being persecuted for SCIENCE and lots of boring talky talk, and I was like, “I swear to god this book is supposed to be about aliens. If I had data signal right now I’d double check that.”

Then there’s more stuff with the physicist’s daughter getting caught up in more anti-Chinese things and getting sent off to do, um, stuff, I have no memory of any of this, and then there’s a dude in the near-future-day taking pictures with weird ghostly time stamps that no one else can see or take a picture of and cue me being like YES ALIENS but no, no aliens yet, just super weird science and shadowy government organizations and a weird video game with dehydrating people and chaotic eras and winter is coming.

When we finally get to the aliens, this does not solve the problem of the book making only 5 percent sense. The aliens are weirdos, the people who like the aliens are weirdos, the people who hate the aliens are weirdos, there are two mysterious protons that have a backstory that is highly amusing if you are a complete nerd (our amusement level: fairly), and I still have no idea what any of that was about.

So, like, you know The Martian? You know how it’s got all that awesome science that is super cool because it’s explained in pirate ninjas and whatnot? Okay, take that, but instead of space engineering this has theoretical physics and instead of pirate ninjas this has no useful explanations whatsoever. And you can’t just kind of skim over the science parts, as you can with The Martian, because the whole dang book is science parts.

But the thing of it is, the author and narrator do a great job of telling this story. I may not remember the actual story, but I do remember that I had more than one book downloaded and ready to listen to and Scott and I chose to keep listening to this one. It’s weird and crazy and makes no sense when you’ve had six weeks to forget all of it, but in the moment it’s kind of awesome and fascinating, if you’re into that theoretical physics thing.

There’s two more books in this series, and the second one just came out, and it’s definitely going on my list of road-trip audiobooks because I need to know what’s up with these aliens but I will never find out if I don’t have Scott around to commiserate with when the book inevitably goes completely off the rails. I’ll try to remember that one better, but no guarantees!

Recommendation: For science nerds and wannabe science nerds ONLY. Do not attempt this book without at least a passing interest in theoretical physics.

Rating: 6/10

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastI’ve been having a lot of fun with Margaret Atwood recently, so when I saw she had a new book coming out I snatched it up right quick. I’m not sure I even read the description, actually, but I figured it couldn’t possibly matter, I was going to enjoy it anyway.

And, of course, I did. I don’t think it was one of Atwood’s greater works, but it will definitely fill any Atwood-shaped holes in your heart.

In this iteration of our future, the world has gone into a serious recession, probably larger than our most recent one but not quite Great Recession. Our two main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are living out of their car and on Charmaine’s meager income, so when Charmaine sees a commercial for a community called Positron that promises stable jobs and housing and life in general, she convinces Stan to apply. They are quickly accepted and make a life in Positron, which turns out to be a community where the residents spend half their time as jailers and half as prisoners, ensuring those stable jobs and making life actually pretty nice for the prisoners. But as in all good dystopian communities things aren’t nearly as happy or well-oiled as they seem.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this story at the start, as the main focus after Stan and Charmaine get accepted to Positron is their failing marriage. Stan is lusting after the woman who lives in his house while he’s off being a prisoner, a woman he’s never met, and Charmaine is lusting and more with that woman’s husband, whom she has totally met. Biblically.

That’s kind of strange, and I was like, um, okay, this is a weird marriage thing to be sure but, like, there’s gotta be something going on in that prison. What terrible things befall those prisoners?? What inhumanities are they subjected to? My priorities are clearly in order.

Luckily for me, this whole marriage thing is just one part of the super weird, and sometimes bad, but mostly weird stuff going on in the prison. There’s the matter of the prisoners who used to populate the prison but have gone more or less mysteriously missing, but also the matter of how Positron keeps its coffers full (spoiler: it’s sex robots). Certain people want to expose the worst parts of the project, but that won’t be easy, and in fact might require an Elvis suit.

Did I mention this book is weird? Good. It’s also weird in that I’m not sure that the central scheme of the novel really holds together, like, even considering this potential future world how exactly is this thing that is happening actually happening? Would these people really do this? Is there not a better way?

I think part of that is that for all I expect amazing world-building from Atwood, there is almost none of that in this book. The characters are quickly cut off from the outside world, sure, but even while in Positron the characters almost never talk about the place of it, just the things that are happening in it. It’s all very murky and strange and I never really found my bearings in the world enough to be able to dive in to the equally baffling plot.

But no matter my troubles, I would still read the phone book written by Atwood because the woman writes killer sentences and has fascinating ideas about the human condition. And she throws in little details, like the Blue Man Group getting knockoff groups in other colors and the genetically modified future of our chicken nuggets, that could so very possibly happen and that steady even this wobbly setting into something possible.

Recommendation: For Atwood lovers, but maybe not newbies. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other novels to start with!

Rating: 7/10