Crosstalk, by Connie Willis

CrosstalkI have been searching for a couple of years for a cute, quirky romance story as good as Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, with varying results. I have also been meaning to read more Connie Willis since I read To Say Nothing of the Dog even longer ago. So when I saw that Connie Willis wrote a cute, quirky romance story involving technology and telepathy? SOLD.

The slightly convoluted premise of this story is that in a world full of smartphones and social media, new technology has been created that allows, with a bit of surgery, couples who are emotionally bonded metaphorically to become literally emotionally bonded, with the technology allowing each person to feel the other’s emotions. This is… great?, in that it means you’ll always know if your partner loves you and how they’re feeling whether they want to tell you or not, but of course it’s awful for ALL SORTS of reasons. Our protagonist, Briddey, who does some sort of important job for a smartphone-related company, is asked by her boyfriend, Trent, who does some slightly more important job for the same company, to undergo this procedure, and she’s like, sure. But after she wakes up from the anesthesia, she discovers she’s not emotionally connected to Trent but rather telepathically connected to her sub-basement-dwelling coworker, C.B., who can hear all of her thoughts and who has a decidedly told-you-so attitude about this surgery.

Got that? Good, because things only get crazier from there.

I loved so much of this novel largely because Connie Willis speaks my humor language, writing sentences like, “And when she looked through the door’s glass-and-wire mesh window into the lab, C.B. was wearing a pea coat, a wool muffler, and fingerless gloves. And cargo shorts and flip-flops.” And “I’ve got just the thing. An app that translates what you say into what people want to hear. I text you, ‘You’re an idiot to be having brain surgery for any reason, let alone for some infantile notion that it’ll bring you true love,’ and the phone sends it as ‘Wow! Trent asked you to get an EED! How romantic!'”

And Willis does this amazing thing with her sentences that makes them feel rushed, like you have to read them as fast as you can before Briddey’s crazy Irish family shows up on your doorstep to tell you all about their every crisis, real or imagined. It’s a really neat trick and a clever commentary on the age of social media and all the information we’re asked to take in, but it’s also great because this book flies by.

Well, the first half or so does, anyway. Once we get out of the “Holy Mae Jemison what is even going on why am I telepathic what is Trent going to think oh god I can hear all the voices” bit and into the “Hey, this is how telepathy works and how you can make it work for you” bit the going is sooooo sloooooooow. Yes, it’s interesting that you thought this through, Connie Willis, but if we could get back to the flirting and the cuteness THAT WOULD BE GREAT.

The flirting and cuteness bits are also only pretty good, and the pacing of the romance storyline is like that of most such storylines, which is to say completely unrealistic, which makes this not the match for Attachments that I was hoping for.

I think if maybe Willis had given herself 300 pages to work with instead of 500, I would have liked this better — less explanation, more telepathy and cuteness. But, to be fair, I would not cut a single word of crazy Irish family banter because that is the best.

If you’re more forgiving of a romance storyline than I am, or if you have an author-crush on Connie Willis, I think you’ll enjoy this book just fine.

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (1 June)

I got this Hugo-nominated novel for free from Doctorow’s site, you should, too! Right now. Go do it.

Without an e-book reader, I was stuck staring at my computer for HOURS reading the book in .pdf form. I took a couple of breaks to check e-mail and whatnot, but otherwise I destroyed my eyesight in the name of this novel. This is probably fitting, as the story is about some computer-hacking kids who get in a weensy bit of trouble with the law.

No, no, I guess weensy isn’t the right word for it. Marcus (aka w1n5t0n) and three of his friends are out on an ARG adventure (while skipping school, of course) when a terrorist attack hits the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. This is bad, obviously, but worse is that the friends are caught outside after the event and taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security, where they are all sorts of interrogated. Of the four kids, only three make it back out of jail, where they are threatened into silence about where they’ve been the past few days. Marcus returns home, keeping his silence, but when he finds his laptop (left at home all this time) bugged, he decides to take some underground action against the DHS and what they stand for.

The best part of this book is that Doctorow explains interesting things about hacking computers and the history of protesters and how his not-so-distant future rules and technology work without making you feel stupid about it. I was kind of glad to be reading it on a computer, eyeballs be damned, because I could verify his facts on Wikipedia (and then, of course, other sites) without leaving the story for too long. There’s also a bibliography at the end for those eager to learn more.

Also, Doctorow dedicates each chapter to a bookstore, giving me interesting places to go in my travels!

Rating: 9/10