Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Native Tongue

Native TongueNative Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dystopia where women are legally inferior to men & the formally educated are useful scapegoats that advance Earth’s territory as interpretors & bargainers. Native Tongue follows the various women of “The Lines” as they attempt to navigate a society that devalues them but still relies heavily on their fertility & their usefulness as housekeepers.

Originally published in the 80s, this book is definitely a sci-fi classic worth revisiting. Not only is the world-building captivating, many of the class & gender fears Haden Elgin outlines are still worryingly real. While the story is not as severe as something like The Handmaid’s Tale, there are plenty of unexpected dark & sad moments. For example, something as innocuous as a crush becomes a lesson in verbal humiliation & degradation. Definitely worth picking up if you come across it.

P.S.: This is totally associative, but the last scene of the book reminds me of the chorus to Matthew Good’s “Fated.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Watership Down

Watership DownWatership Down by Richard Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading this classic this year, after realizing that some of the school kids at my public library were reading it for class. Why not? I figured & picked up a copy myself. Watership Down follows a plucky group of rabbits who leave when Fiver, a more mystical rabbit, receives a presentiment that their burrow is under threat. With his brother Hazel, the group sets off on a trek to find a peaceful home & have many adventures learning about the wide world & how other warrens have survived.

I’m glad to have finally read this & I do wish I had come across it when I was younger. I think it would have made a much more emotional impact. As an adult, I was more interested in the world-building Adams undertakes: the myths of the first rabbit El-ahrairah, the Lapine language. The scenes with Cowslip’s warren are tense & entrancing. But, as a detached reader, I soon picked up that nothing too terrible would happen to any of the named main characters. They might get wounded or change their perspectives but none of them would actually die–and this suspicion was borne out. With the resulting low stakes, reading Down remained more of an intellectual exercise than an absorbing read.

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Off the Shelf: Arcadia, issue #4

Arcadia #4Arcadia #4 by Alex Paknadel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lee Garner takes drastic steps to convince the coder he’s imprisoned with to give up information that the Arcadian government wants in exchange for his & his wife’s freedom. Coral helps lead a rescue mission to save her parents & gets everyone back to the hacker camp. But, the damage is done–the Arcadian powers have root access to the simulation & Lee Pepper finds himself struggling in the analog world to navigate new tides of authority.

There’s something disheartening in being able to measure just how & when your interest in something drops off. For example, the use of current slang in a five-seconds-into-the-future sci-fi story is a personal pet peeve & each time it cropped up in the past 4 issues, I cared a little less about what happened next. But I was willing to let it go because I was still curious about the world. Then, this issue used both “mansplaining” & “Gamergate” within the space of a few pages & any interest I had dropped perilously close to zero. Yeah, millions upon millions of people died hideously & are only being kept “alive” by a perilously thin digital network, but we still care enough about culture-war-speak to use it in everyday conversation. I think there are other things to worry about.

Also, the reveal at the end of Arcadia’s foundational secret was also a non-starter. (Hint: The heart of the digital world is made up of one semi-delusion personality–just like Otherland. Seriously, just go read Otherland.) So, unfortunately, this will be the last issue I read, even though I’ll buy the 5th issue because the collected covers complete a mural & I do love the art. Too bad too, I really did take a shine to Lee Pepper & his scrappy band of survivors.

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Off the Shelf: Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

4 years after the events of Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina is nurturing her fledgling Earthseed community, called Acorn. She tries to figure out what the next steps of her philosophy are & celebrates the ups & downs of life with her people–events that include the birth of her daughter with her husband Bankole. But, the community is ultimately destroyed by evangelical Christians encouraged to hurt & enslave anyone with different beliefs than them & the current United States president. Separated from her child, Lauren & the remnants of Acorn endure the horrors of the labor camp & eventually escape & regroup.

The tension left over from Sower shifts from all-inclusive problems like food shortage, climate change, and persistent conflict to the growing pains of an American society that has decided that only certain people get by while all others can either fall in line or suffer the consequences. Despite some of the drop-off of the action, the timeliness of Butler’s portrayal is still very canny in 2016 & will satisfy those of us readers who were left hanging at the end of the first book. But there is still a lot of story left to be told & we will have to be satisfied with the conflicting voices of Lauren as she tries to rebuild her community & her daughter who reunites with her mother too late to fully understand her purpose. Butler herself calls this book ‘a novel of solutions’ (not all properly planned out) & this may guide readers into a more forgiving perspective toward even the most despicable characters.

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Off the Shelf: The Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lauren Olamina has grown up in a walled neighborhood in Robledo, CA her entire life. As the daughter of the neighborhood preacher & as an empath herself, Lauren struggles between living compassionately & trying to be prepared for any catastrophe that might break through the walls of her neighborhood. The United States are crumbling & the old laws & social conventions are no longer a proper safeguard. Lauren’s journal is her sanctuary as she tries to make the right choices & articulate her blossoming philosophy–an ambitious set of beliefs she calls Earthseed.

3.5 instead of 4 mainly because of the anti-climactic ending. All of Butler’s thematic concerns are here: a burgeoning new belief that strives to marry science to the metaphysical, a driven protagonist with an odd-yet-seductive ability, an environment meant to test & refine her character’s knowledge & remake her. Sower is not just a familiar retread of Butler’s previous tropes, but is also something that still conveys the essence of problems we’re currently facing in 2016. The extreme social division, the struggle to survive against the flux of global changes, even the theatrical yet meaningless rhetoric of the political leadersin the book are just a measure or two away from our current society. Which makes the development of Earthseed in the story a refreshing & inspiring change. The idea that moving forward scientifically or in other ways that would advance human capabilities is not a way to “escape” our problems but a way of pushing the human race forward into a maturity above our petty conflicts. I can now see this book’s influence on The Galaxy Game.

Lauren is a fascinating character & its very easy to be swept up in her ideas. The last few chapters of the book, however, seems to set up much that doesn’t come to immediate fruition. Lauren begins to gather a community around her & they arrive at a stopping place, prepared to create a place for themselves. And then the book just ends. I couldn’t totally believe it when I reached the last page–trials, separations, the beginning of Earthseed’s germination & then. . . ? What happens? Can’t wait for Parable of the Talents!

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