Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Bone Clocks

by David Mitchell
624 pgs

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit this, but it's been quite awhile since I read one of David Mitchell's books. I read Ghostwritten and Number9Dream, his first two novels, over a decade ago, and then I unfortunately let him fall off of my author radar. The Bone Clocks has definitely put him back on it, and now I have some books that I missed and need to go back and read.

The Bone Clocks contains six separate stories, spanning sixty-plus years of one woman's life. The first story takes place in 1984 and introduces Holly Sykes, a fifteen-year-old who runs away from home after falling in love with an older man and infuriating her mother. Towards the end of that story Holly encounters a strange woman on the shores of a lake, whom she has a short, cryptic conversation with, and who introduces a supernatural element into the book.

As the remaining stories unfold, the supernatural aspects of the book increase, and we learn that Holly has become a part of a war that has been fought for thousands of years between two small groups of beings known as "atemporals." One group of these beings prey on children, taking over their bodies and living out that person's life until the body dies and they enter another child's body. The other faction lives forever as well, but does so through a form of reincarnation. As these stories play out, we're taken all over the world, and into a dystopian future world of 2043 as Holly's life repeatedly crosses paths with these atemporals.

Oftentimes when a book is categorized as fantasy, it automatically becomes inferior in the minds of many. They consider it a baser form of literature, not worthy of the same section in the bookstore as the books that they read. The Bone Clocks shines a light on just how ignorant that mentality is. David Mitchell has shown that some fantasy should be categorized in the same group along with the best books in any genre.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Another Man's Moccasins

by Craig Johnson
290 pgs  (Longmire series #4)

Another Man's Moccasins is the fourth book in Craig Johnson's ever-more-popular series featuring Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. I enjoyed all three of the previous books in the series but with this one Johnson really seems to have hit his stride as an author. Its predecessors were all fun and entertaining murder mysteries, but with this one, Johnson adds another layer to his writing style.

Johnson tells two different stories, both mysteries, but separated by decades of Longmire's life in this book. In the present day, Walt is faced with investigating the death of a young Vietnamese girl whose body was dumped along the side of the highway. The prime suspect is an enormous Native American who has been living in a culvert underneath the freeway for several years. Walt discovers a picture on the young woman's body--a picture of himself as a young military inspector in Vietnam during the war. This picture forces Walt to replay in his memories a crime he investigated back in Vietnam in 1968.

As the book progresses, the story switches back and forth between the two times in Walt's life. Both investigations are captivating and the book as a whole is extremely well written, filled with moments of action and close calls. But I think the real accomplishment with this book is the added layer of humanity that Johnson is able to write into his protagonist. I'm a big fan of Johnson's creation, both in the books, and on the TV series, which hopefully will begin again soon. The character, as he's presented in this installment of the series is a major reason why he's so endearing.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

by Patrick Rothfuss
159 pgs

There are two "hands" when it comes to The Slow Regard of Silent Things, the newest offering to Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles. On the one hand, it's Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles, and I think it's safe to say that anyone who has read the first two books in the series has been salivating for this book to come out ever since he first mentioned it. I include myself in that group. On the other hand, this isn't really a book that fits into the series or that moves the story along from where The Wise Man's Fear left off. It's a novella and only has one character in it--Auri, who is only a minor side character in the other two books. Back to the first hand, it's beautifully written, and it gives you a much deeper insight into Auri and her solitary life in the tunnels of the Underthing. On the other hand, reading it was kind of like eating a fantastic appetizer, without ever being given the chance for an entrĂ©e.

In the Author's Note at the end of the book Rothfuss explains the genesis of the story, and how he really never intended for it to be published. He also talks about the fear he had when it was decided that it would be. As he's quick to admit, the book doesn't have any of the things people want to have in a book: dialogue, a plot, action, other characters, etc. And I'll admit that for the first half of the story I kept waiting for something to take place or for Kvothe to make an appearance. But when I finally figured out what it was that Rothfuss had written, even minus everything that I was hoping for when I began reading it, I gained an appreciation for what he had accomplished.

I mentioned earlier that it's beautifully written. It's clear that Rothfuss toils over his writing until he gets it exactly like he wants it. And the end result is the reason why so many of us are anxiously waiting for Kvothe's story to continue. In the meantime, this was still a fantastic appetizer.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Unlocked and Lock In

by John Scalzi
93 pgs, 334 pgs

I decided to review both Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome and Lock In by John Scalzi in the same review. The two books are inter-connected and meant to be read together, so it made sense to do so.

Unlocked is a novella that gives an account of a disease that sweeps across the globe sometime in the very near future, killing millions of people. The disease has three distinct stages that can affect people who become infected. The first stage comes with symptoms that are very similar to the flu. In fact, because it's so similar, it is able to spread rampantly when it first hits, because no one recognizes that there is anything unique about this disease, or more deadly than what they have experienced every year with the typical flu. The first stage sickens 2.75 billion people and ends up killing 400 million of them in just a matter of weeks. Some of those who survive stage one later experience stage two, and experience symptoms similar to meningitis, and of those, some progress to stage three--"Lock In."

Millions of people across the world go into "Lock In," a state of complete paralysis but fully aware, trapped in their body with no means of communicating with the rest of the world. When the First Lady goes into stage three, the disease claims its highest profile victim, and the disease gets its name. President Haden makes it the sole mission of his presidency to try to find a cure for Haden's Syndrome and to try to help those who are trapped in their useless bodies. Trillions of dollars are spent researching the brain, mapping it and trying to find a way to reconnect it to the body. They're unable to find a way for the brain to once again control the body, but they do develop an alternative--by implanting an artificial neural network into the brain, they're able to transmit the brain's impulses to artificial bodies that are able to move, talk, and get back out into the world.

Lock In begins 25 years after Haden's Syndrome forever changed the world. Millions of Haden's Syndrome sufferers have returned to the world in the form of highly-sophisticated robots referred to as "Threeps" which is a reference to C-3PO--the human-like robot from Star Wars. But Threeps are not the only new members of society. A very small group of those who contract Haden's, but then recover, experience a change to their brain that allows them "rent out" their bodies for a day to those who are Locked In and would like to once more experience those things that can only be done with a human body.

All that is just the fascinating backstory for the plot of Lock In. Narrated by Chris Shane, a brand-new FBI agent reporting to his first day on the job at the Bureau as the book begins--who just so happens to be a Haden. He and his partner, Agent Vann work for a division in the FBI that investigates crimes involving Hadens. On his very first day on the job they're called on to investigate a murder. On the surface it seems like a pretty straight forward case. But as they investigate the lives of those involved, Shane and Vann soon learn that there are powers at play behind the crime that are trying to once again change the landscape of the entire planet.

Scalzi's story is a fantastic example of what makes science fiction so much fun. It's intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking, and in a time when Ebola is so prevalent in the news, it's more than a little bit eerie.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, November 3, 2014

Packing for Mars

by Mary Roach
321 pgs

In Stiff Mary Roach gave an enlightening and entertaining account of the "life" of cadavers. In Spook it was the afterlife she explored, and in Bonk it was the always-enjoyable process of making life that she reveals more information on than you even thought existed. This time around she focuses her enjoyable research style on mankind's quest for life in space, and once again what results is an informative, humorous, and very enjoyable read.

There is more thought given and more experiments conducted to determine how mankind can exist in the weightless environment of space than most of us could ever get our brains around. What happens in zero gravity if an astronaut throws up in his or her spacesuit? How does zero gravity affect the early warning signs of a full bladder?  And it's not just the various bodily functions and how they're dealt with in no gravity that must be thought of, tested, and accounted for. There are a host of other things that have to be taken into consideration if mankind is going to continue it's quest to go where no one has gone before.

What Mary Roach does so well, in this book and in each of her previous ones, is identifying an aspect of popular science that has universal appeal, and then asking the types of questions about it that few of us would ever think to ask (and to be honest, those of us who would, would probably be too embarrassed to). The books that she writes after she's finished with her research are fascinating, thought-provoking, and laugh-out-loud funny at times.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆