This is part two of a series of books I took on as my summer reading project. As I sit here watching the season's first snow fall outside my window, I'm dumbfounded by how quickly summer passed. For more timely updates on what I'm reading, listen to the That's What She Read podcast or add me on Goodreads!
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville - This might be my favorite of the books I read during this project. This one would be the Winchester Mansion of world creation if it weren't for the fact that Mieville knows exactly where he's taking you with his twists and turns. Literary, challenging and again, not what I would typically read. I realize I dabble in sci-fi/fantasy with my apocalyptic, vampire bullshit, but so much in this book was foreign and just so completely fantastical that my mind struggled to wrap itself around it at first.
The book immediately drops us into the city of New Crobuzon where humans interact with a whole host of weird creatures, insects that talk (and date humans), flying beasts, Remades who've had their bodies altered into other things. His description of slake moth sex (work with me here) was just...something else and called to mind ecological concepts of mutualism and community assembly. This book is an entomologists wet dream. It was weird, so weird that I wasn't surprised to discover that Mieville has essentially considered a new take on the genre called "weird fiction" or "new weird". And, by the time I got to the end, I was so down with this book and what Mieville has created.
Several times I paused to wonder whether Mieville hadn't studied urban planning because he created such a layered, multi-faceted New Crobuzon.
Dracula by Bram Stoker - I was hesitant to read this book because I really thought I knew the story of Dracula and was pre-bored. While I know I don't have to summarize the plot, it's worth marveling about how much of our modern vampire pop culture has roots in this story. Quite the legacy. I can only imagine how spine-tingling this must have been to read back in the day.
I enjoyed the book and was pleasantly surprised to find it written in the form of letters and diary entries. However, I doubt the book will be one I remember very far into the future. Even now, my only real takeaway from this book is that I need to examine used books I purchase a little more closely. The book I picked up ended up having about 50 pages ripped out of the middle.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin - Yeine, our protagonist, has spent her whole life among an outcast warrior tribe of women after her mother was banished from the city of Sky by her father, the king. Now, years later, her mother is dead, and she has been summoned to the city by her grandfather. He's to pick an heir to rule, and Yeine is join her cousins in vying for the role.
Perhaps my favorite part of the world Jemisin has created are the gods whom roam Sky as servants. They quickly become Yeine's friend, lover and perhaps her ultimate undoing. Regardless, for me, they imbue the book with most of its personality and help flesh out caste system.
Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler - Lilith's Brood is actually the compilation of the three books in her Xenogenesis series -- Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. Humans have destroyed the earth with nuclear bombs and only pockets of humanity are left alive. Aliens swoop in and rescue the remaining humans, working to salvage usable bits from the earth. These rescued humans include Lilith. She is the first to be woken and soon learns that she is intended to lead the group of rescued humans in learning a new way of life.
This alien species, Oankali, are traders, whose own biological imperative must continue to trade cellular and other information with other species in order to continue to evolve. In exchange for saving the humans and creating a habitable area on earth, they wish to bond and breed (though not through traditional sexual manner) with humans in order to create a new, higher hybrid species. Throughout these books, we follow Lilith and her progeny as they grow and struggle with what it means to be human or of a specific race (alien, in this case).
Writers like Octavia Butler excel in arenas where so many other authors can only dream of being. She creates a story and a world that's entertaining, albeit weird, and draws you into the lives of the characters until, by the end of book three, you're left sitting back, reflecting on a narrative journey that delved into things like the human condition and the notion of free will and destiny, biological imperative, all without hitting you over the head with it. Where some authors bludgeon you with, "I WANT YOU TO LEARN A LESSON", those like Butler lull you into following them until, suddenly, you're like, "Hey! I just read some deep-ass shit."
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - This was the next to the last book in my reading project, and at this point, I was really ready to leave alien worlds behind. If you consider the metaverse a largely earth-bound construct, then Snow Crash fulfilled that need.
Snow Crash follows Hiro Protagonist, a pizza delivery person cum hacker who created a virtual reality platform known as the metaverse. In the real world, delivering pizza now requires university, is crazy technical, and delivering late is punishable by death, and while in the metaverse, Hiro is considered a warrior prince. The book flits between reality in what used to be the western United States and the virtual reality of the metaverse. A new virus/drug called Snow Crash has emerged on the scene and threatens to bring about an infopocalypse. As the lines between reality and this virtual world start to blur, Hiro teams up with YT, a young skateboard delivery person, in an attempt to stop the U.S. from devolving into greater chaos.
This was the first Stephenson book I finished (was reading Reamde around the same time), and it quickly became clear that he is basically a hacker/video game cum virtual reality fan girl's wet dream. Have you seen the episode of Criminal Minds where Penelope has to get back in touch with her hacker roots? Stephenson's novels are rooted there...except years or decades in the future.
Stephenson also appears in love with the Sumerian theology/philosophy and tries to use that to bind and drive his whole plot. While I can dig tying a story to this kind of big picture thinking, this is a terrible case of telling, not showing. He uses a Virtual librarian in the metaverse to essentially lecture us and fill in all the plot gaps. It was tiring. In general, I was left feeling largely meh by the end of this book.
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The final two books in this project were V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Let's skip talking about those because (1) I read The Hunger Games a few years ago and (2) this post is already incredibly long.