July 2016 Round-up

VonG: Another late post (oops) and my excuse this time is that I was busy enjoying the suffocating humid heat of the great state of Virginia, drinking sweet tea and swatting mosquitoes. Real talk: people who live in humid areas scare me because I am weak and spent all my time sitting about two feet from an air conditioner complaining. For us desert residing folk, states where the majority of plants are green is always a novelty, so I also spent a lot of time walking around barefoot on actual living, plush grass. Remarkable.

In order to make up for my slacking last month, I outdid myself and read a whole 27 books in the summer heat. Doing nothing but sitting in front of the air conditioner probably helped the cause as well.

Nothing beats reading a trashy romance novel on the beach though, and I’m glad I was able to achieve my summer dreams. Other than that, it was a lot of YA this month! I have a friend pressuring me to read historical fiction, which I’m a little bleh on, but the sub-genre of “historical fiction focusing on woman’s right with a flavor of fantasy” is actually pretty alright (shout out to The Cure for Dreaming). I’m actually coming completely around on non-fiction, which is one of the biggest shocks of my life, but both Gulp and Rabid played perfectly into my interest in science and culture so it looks like I’ll be reading more than just one non-fiction per month as planned. My family did not enjoy being regaled with tales of the digestive system or the effects of rabies, unfortunately.

Best of July:  The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

How do you pick one book out of 27 for this? There are lot of close runner-ups, but I am so in love with this book that I have to give the place of honor to it. I’ve been a fan of Ness ever since I stayed up until 3 AM to finish The Knife of Never Letting Go and this latest book has the perfect combination of elements that makes Ness so appealing to me as an author. All of the characters are genuine, both in their flaws and their hopes. Ness treats teenagers with respect and it shows in the characterization–they never come off as vapid or ridiculous. The beginning of each chapter, which is a short blurb on the “indie” kids who are busy saving the world while the rest of the cast is just trying to get by are delightful. While they satirize YA fantasy, it isn’t mocking and Ness’ ability to play on the tropes he jokes about can only come from someone who enjoys the genre. This book includes the sentence “his lips taste of honey and vegan patchouli” so you know it’s going to be good. The story focuses on friendship, which I’m always weak for, not just romance and has a diverse cast.

Worst of July: Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell

I have a lot of feelings in regards to Greek Life. I will leave my soapbox alone, but I will say that I have had less than a stellar experience with them. Dirty Rush is sort of presented with the pretense that you’ll understand better the bonds of Greek Life by reading it but it sort of just confirmed all of my bad feelings towards the culture. To be clear, I’m not trying to drag any and all Greek houses through the mud. Maybe there are places across the country where a campus exists free of Greek-related hazing, harassment, and tragedy. I’m not sure. But until the vestiges of degradation and misogyny are purged from the culture, I can’t be behind it. So this whole book made me uncomfortable (I read it for a book club but otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it.)

June 2015 Round-up

Von G: The delay on this post can fully be blamed on holiday living, by which I mean I spent most of my time either consuming food or in a food coma. The good news is that a good old American hamburger from the grill is just as tasty as I remember. We still served Bratwurst with Sauerkraut though because who am I kidding.

The temperatures soared during June, meaning my hiding in the basement could be labeled as “staying cool” instead of “avoiding human contact.” Haha. Parameters. Playing 5 hours of Fallout 4 a day and having an out of state guest staying with me could hardly dampen my reading pace (it did though, my numbers are dismal), so here’s a review of the fantabulous books I read during the heat wave.

It was a month of great variation since it includes a book of Hungarian poetry I bought whilst in Budapest (I’m so glad I’m the type of person that can type that sentence, fight me) to some alternative historical fiction that I would have never read if it weren’t for that book club I’m in. I continued my journey with classic sci-fi with Hyperion  and I’ll never be the same. I don’t know what kind of guy Dan Simmons is, but his weirdo mind had one of his characters accidentally getting intimate with an alien metal death monster, so I’m with him.

Best of JuneHyperion by Dan Simmons

It’s 2016 and not only have I read and enjoyed Walt Whitman, I’m saying a book that has a structure reflective of The Canterbury Tales is my favorite read of the month.(Side note: *** The Canterbury Tales, it’s a crime that high school students are forced to read a book that ISN’T FUNNY because it’s so incredibly ARCHAIC that the teacher has to stop the class every five minutes to explain the references. How is that a fun reading experience? ****) I was worried that Hyperion would be too convoluted to follow since it dives headfirst into the story, but after I persevered through my initial confusion, I fell in love. Each pilgrim has a distinctive voice (the film noir section was my favorite) and story that weaves together into the overall mystery of the demonic, unforgiving, inexplicable Shrike. Short stories aren’t really my thing, but the knowledge I had going into each story that it would wind back around to the rest of the pilgrims and the purpose of their journey created a rope that pulled me through the whole book. It’s an achievement of style and structure, and I can’t stop talking about it. Too bad about that CLIFFHANGER THOUGH. (I bought the second book. Dan Simmons doesn’t care about me or my wallet.)

 

Worst of June: Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovitch

I honestly feel like I’m punching myself in the stomach here, that’s how much I love Janet Evanovitch. Stephanie Plum is a personal hero for me and, before now, Evanovitch never failed to fill those books with memorable, hilarious, and endearing side characters, a plot that was grim but nevertheless riotous, and because of that, pretty much earned herself a place on the shelf of authors I worship. I can honestly say I have never laughed so embarrassingly loud in public as when I read Stephanie Plum books. So you can imagine my excitement going into this series. AND IT WAS A COMPLETE LET DOWN. The characters (aside from Glo, she’s exempt because I relate to her) are underdeveloped and too vague to be interesting, the humor wasn’t funny (????) and the plot was weak and uninteresting. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe you can just never reach the pinnacle of creative humor that was Stephanie Plum. I know I would have been scared to try.

S/O to the beautiful covers this month, esp Wolf by Wolf and Jackaby

Book Haul–Dagon Edition

dagon6

Full disclosure: I love Ben Templesmith. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I had the joyous opportunity to meet him in Chicago and get my copy of Fell signed (and also take a dopey picture with him). I backed his Kickstarter campaign for his illustrated version of Dagon, a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. This is the first time I’ve backed one of Templesmith’s Kickstarters, but I figured I should let everyone know that I did before I get into the meat of this book haul.

 

dagon1

Look at this gorgeous book

Needless to say, I was pretty hyped to get my Kickstarter rewards package, which included a copy of Dagon as well as some previous work by Templesmith. Unfortunately, since I was in Austria busy making a pay check and being merciless by mocking the youths under the pretense of “teaching,” I didn’t get my grubby little hands on the books until recently.

And boy, are these books beautiful.

The Squidder is a book Templesmith created on a previous Kickstarter campaign. The other two books are collections including other artists, with Menton3 being the other artist I’m familiar with (I also met him and got some incredible prints in Chicago.)

Part of the appeal of Templesmith’s art for me is the way he combines digital and traditional medias, conveying the texture of real life drawings under the smooth color. Templesmith’s art oscillates between gritty, slashing inked lines and the beautiful glow of delicate details, often highlighted with saturated colors. It’s a style that suits the strange, something the artist pursues in his work (and tentacles. Lots of tentacles.)

Included photos of both the front and back covers of Lust because they both have me feeling some kinds of ways.

I haven’t read Dagon before, so I’m looking forward to diving into the creepy, dark waters of the story and all of these books make beautiful additions to my collection. As an artist, adding a book to my shelves that includes both story and illustration is something I never stop looking forward to.

All I have to say is, Fell vol 2 when??? WHEN?

May 2016 Round-Up

So May was a damn, damn good reading month for me – 39 books in 31 days. How did I not learn about audiobooks before this month? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Did you know that you could read while you combed your hair or buttered your bagel? Because you can and it’s magical. What did I even do prior to audiobooks – just sit in silence while I brushed my teeth and drove to work? What a plebeian.

Anyway, this month was overall  a good month – I think most of the books I read were a three-star or higher. But boy, did one anticipated read come up and bite me in the ass hard.

5654c4968d9b1-imageBest of May: Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein

I’m still not over this book, so forgive me if I come off a bit twitterpated here. So I love hard science fiction – like please, tell me your course trajectory in detail and explain to me how you’re going to use Jupiter’s gravity to increase your acceleration. The one issue with hard science fiction is that it has a lot of straight white dudes doing the scienceing, but that’s not the case in Saturn Run. Not only are almost all of the main cast women, but they’re women of color and non-heterosexual women. The captain of the ship is a lesbian woman of color who just happens to be considered the best captain the United States has to offer. The lead engineer is a plain, overweight woman who consistently quips that she would murder any man stupid enough to try and belittle her. There is no storyline of these women overcoming adversity to reach these positions, there are no scenes where they struggle with male crew members questioning their competence – they are just the best at what they do and everyone respects them accordingly. Holy. Shit. HOLY SHIT. These are the kinds of characters I want to see in science fiction. It also doesn’t hurt that Sandford and Ctein write a compelling plot with spot-on pacing that allows these women to show just what they can do either. While the ending was a bit mellow for my tastes and I’m surprised that there’s no apparent sequel given that it leaves a few loose ends, Saturn Run is worth it alone to watch these two stomp on the backs of men.

Worst of MayDark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilmandarkorbit

Similarly, I am still not over this book, but for far different reasons. I had heard such good things about Dark Orbit from people whose opinion I respected, but there was hardly anything salvageable here. While I appreciate the initial premise and the story clipped along at a good pace, it all began to dissolve after the first few chapters. So first of all, this is not a science fiction novel. Nothing about this was scientifically feasible at all, even what Gilman was trying to bill as scientific – the amount of processing power it would take to reconstruct a person atom by atom like her interstellar travel system does is unimaginable and she doesn’t even try to explain it. To compensate for this, she dives into the metaphysical by having characters meditate and use the power of the mind to travel
between the stars. No. Stop it. Even if we concede that her science works because whatever-the-fuck, the crux of the book’s tension – the machine that enables said travel breaking down – is just completely unbelievable. I’m sorry, but if you’re traveling almost 60 light years, you’re not leaving without duplicate parts. We don’t even go to our own fucking moon without parts in triplicate. We keep a spare fucking tire in our cars, for the love of God. And you’re trying to tell me the world’s best and brightest forgot to pack a spare for the most crucial part of their transportation system? No.

It also has some implications regarding women and mental illness the churn my stomach. Gilman plops in a needless comment on the threatened rape of one main character and then states that the other main character finds the constant aggression between her and the head of security sexual appealing. She’s both using sexual violence as a cheap source of character development and implying that sexual violence is arousing, which is disgusting. With the mental illness, it’s implied that one of the main character’s is having her destiny and psychic powers denied to her by doctors who are prescribing her anti-psychotic drugs. She is taken off them, realizes her potential, and saves the day. Excuse me, but… what? Did you just imply that it’s a good idea to mistrust doctors and stop taking the incredibly important drugs that stabilizes your mental health? Because it’s not like people stopping their potentially life-saving medication is a problem in the real world or anything.

So done with this book.

May 2016 Round-up

Von G: Summer has officially begun! Because of my sweet gig teaching the youths, the summer months for me are completely free of any real adult responsibility except trying to eat vegetables (putting cucumber in my water counts right? because a. it makes me feel fancy and b. is delicious) and not drop my new phone.

What are my plans for summer? I actually intend to re-enact the scene from Dune when Maud’dib rides the Sand Worm by traveling to Sand Dunes National Park and running down sand dunes screaming about Shai-Hulud and how Fear is the Mind Killer. That’s a perfectly normal summer activity right? Up there with grilling and drinking lemonade.

It should also be said that I have never related to a character more in my life than Mark Watney from The Martian, who handles every horrible disaster in his life with a “fuck it” attitude and potatoes.

But before I do that, here’s a review of all the sweet books I read in May.

Best of May: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

May turned into a month of anticipated sequels for me. A Court of Thorns and Roses was my top book in March and the sequel was probably the most anticipated new release I’ve ever had. Maas did not disappoint. I have no idea exactly how she managed to top one of my favorite books of the year with a book I liked even more. It’s hard for sequels to even match the first book, let alone exceed it. But she did. Mist and Fury continues the story of the first book with elegance, excitement, and a daring twist of perception of the events of Thorns and Roses. I wouldn’t call it a plot twist, rather Maas slowly reveals how understanding can completely reverse the perception of events and their meaning to the person who experienced them. I am honestly blown away by how carefully this reveal was built up and tended to. Maas doesn’t shy away from treating topics like depression and abuse and manages to tend to them with the delicate care they need to not seem like convenient plot devices to motivate character actions. She gives the trauma the time it deserves, when most writers have their characters bouncing back from unbelievable trauma quickly and without emotional scars. I cannot stop singing the praises of this series and the talent of Maas as a writer.

Worst of May: Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

On the other hand, my anticipation for the sequel to Red Queen was met with something that kind of resembled lukewarm, congealed oatmeal without brown sugar to my palate. Aveyard went the completely wrong direction in this sequel, and I’m not sure what happened except the possibility that she watched X-men First Class and decided that was what her book really needed as a plot. Not the cool parts of X-men First Class, mind you (like Fassbender’s beautiful face), but the part where they jet around collecting mutants. Glass Sword dragged—and jetting around picking up new X-men New Bloods, just wasn’t thrilling enough. Add to that the main character’s hard swerve into brutality that wasn’t supported by enough of a catalyst, making it jarring, and the whole book was a confused mess tonally. It’s really too bad, because I thought Red Queen had a lot of promise (and far better character development).

 

Why I sobbed like a b*** reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

My relationship with Leaves of Grass was turbulent from the beginning. I’m not really well-read in poetry, nor have I ever been particularly enamored with it as a genre, and Leaves of Grass  is a commitment both in language and length.

I did feel some comradery with Whitman based solely on our mutual love of the parenthetical, but I wasn’t sure it would be enough to make it through the book.

It doesn’t help that Leaves of Grass is front-loaded with some of Walt Whitman’s incredibly long, rambling poems about boats and dock workers. He also apparently was on a quest to name drop every State and landmark of those states, not to mention important rivers. It is not an easy volume of poetry to get emotionally involved with, and the volume is long.

But after spending three months with Walt Whitman, my feelings towards him and his poetry changed. It was gradual, I still wanted to rip the pages out whenever I saw the word “ship” or “boat,” but Whitman caught me somehow. At some point I was entangled in his feverish dream of humanity.

Walt Whitman has an equal love for humanity in all its forms, across races, across countries, even for those who we see as the worst of us. He professed a love of the weak, not just the bold, that the crippling self-doubt and self-hatred we fall victim to makes us no less loveable as human beings. The man was so capable of boundless love that he saw beauty and sanctity in death, just as much and if not more than life.

After the Union was restored, Whitman saw a chance for previously unachieved equality in America. Racism, borders, all of the barriers of prejudice and racism would dwindle in a new age of brotherhood and travel. For, in travel, Whitman saw only the possibly that by knowing each other, we could only love each other more for we would understand how we are all the same.

Whitman as a writer is a voice of the spirit of this country. His poetry is distinctively American in both its ideology and the romanticism of the American life. He captures the fiery devotion to liberty and freedom and the rugged individualism that is iconic of our culture.

Comparing the America Whitman envisioned, and perhaps experienced, compared to the one I have experienced was painful. In the past few years I have felt abject despair at America’s path, in its continuing inability to respect the dignity of persons within its borders and outside.

Following the news, I feel utter defeat as a woman, faced with an institution that seems determined to deny me my personhood, an level playing field in my chosen career, equal pay if I do achieve my dream job despite the incredible harshness of the sexism in my chosen field, and inevitable criticism if I choose to be unmarried, childless, and devoted to my work.

And that is just what is relevant to my life, and nothing of the institutional racism that is deadly in my country, or the institutional mishandling of justice in law.

Currents events, endlessly horrific, are enough to make me despair not just about my country but about this whole world. What would Whitman think of us? For a man who imagined such a dream of unity and indiscriminate love, how could he understand where we went?

Recently politicians have been throwing around this phrase “making America great again.” It’s tempting, for any society, when in a bad position of strife to look backwards and try to identify a better time. The problem with looking backwards is that America was never great. What country can claim to have been truly great?

When you look backwards, it’s easy to focus on the bright spotlights of the good and relegate the bad to the dark periphery. Point to me a time in American history where things were great for all peoples. It can’t be before slavery was illegal. It can’t be before women had the right to vote. It can’t be when that same America created Internment camps for Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. It can’t even be before marriage rights were given the chance to be equal, and that only happened so very recently.

We can’t make America “great again.” Walt Whitman wasn’t in delirious happiness about the Union being restored after the Civil War because it meant the country would go back to being the way it was. Rather, he believed that now it could move on to be better.

That is what I want, for my country—for it to be better.

The contrast between Walt Whitman’s surety in the beautiful path America must take with the reality here in 2016 left me emotionally exhausted. Every time I picked up Leaves of Grass, Whitman was waiting to erratically espouse his love for men, for women, for anything remotely alive and even in nature what isn’t alive.

“I swear they are all beautiful,

Every one that sleeps is beautiful, everything in the dim light is beautiful,

The wildest and the bloodiest is over, and all is peace.

Peace is always beautiful.”

 

But then I would close the book and the reality of current events would re-assert itself, pressuring me back into pessimism.

When I was nearing the end of Leaves of Grass and I read the poem “So Long!” I didn’t know how much I needed Whitman’s words.

Whitman occasionally “breaks the 4th wall” if it can be called that in a book of poems and addresses the reader. After three months of trying political times—racist hate speech, photos of bombed cities, denial of women the right to their bodies in the case of access to health care through the defunding of planned Parenthood, the list goes on— I was at a breaking point.

And then Whitman steps off the page.

“Comerado, this is no book,

Who touches this touches a man,

(Is it night? Are we here together alone?)

It is I you hold and who holds you,

I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth.

Oh how your fingers drowse me,

You breath falls around me like dew, your pulse lulls the tympans of my ears,

I feel immerged from head to foot,

Delicious, enough…

Dear friend whoever you are take this kiss,

I give it especially to you, do not forget me”

I had been looking into Whitman this whole time, learning his most intimate feelings and dreams. But, as with all books, the author can’t look back. Somehow though, this poem transcended that limitation. Like my sudden bursting into tears would indicate, damned if I didn’t feel looked back at. It felt personal. It felt intimate. It felt like he had heard the apology I so desperately wanted to make regarding the failure of his vision.

I’m sure that presenting this quote out of the context of struggling through three months with a 600 page volume of antiquated poetry does not capture my feelings. I had wished, up until that moment, that Whitman had hired a damn editor to cut some of the poems out of the book. I can never wish that now because without the length, the rambling, the obsession with, yes, boats, I wouldn’t have felt so connected to Whitman.

I had spent three months suffering through this man’s wildly spinning thoughts and now we were, in his words, touching.

It is hard to recommend a book to someone with the promise that it will “change their life.”  Literature affects us differently depending where we are in life. I would never have thought that I would be someone to say that Leaves of Grass is undeniably a part of who I am, based on my brief exposure to selected poems of his I read in school.

But here we are, Leaves of Grass affected me deeply and I cried like a b*** reading Walt Whitman’s poetry.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

tumblr_inline_o56gpn3sfs1s0669x_1280I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a primarily plot-driven reader.I like when there are interstellar wars, mysteries that span across galaxies, and conspiracies that condemn entire planets. I like when things go fast, go far, and/or explode. I like action. So with Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, I was hesitant, which is much more a literary think-piece than a swashbuckling escapade through the solar system. While it certainly doesn’t have the strong plot that I prefer in my novels, it was surprisingly enjoyable – it explored a world that could very well be ours, touching on technologies that don’t lie far from where we are today and gently teasing out the implications of these advances with brilliant characters and imagery.

In Station, a rush to leave earth has left a quarter of a million people clustered around the base of the world’s space station. In this milieu of both human and extraterrestrial diversity, the lines between reality and digitality blur – virtual entities exist outside the realm of physicality, half-human, half-virtual children are raised among Central Station’s families, humans and robotic beings fall in love, and the elderly are incapacitated by mind-plagues.

These characters and their experiences are what bring life to Station. Nobody here is trying to save the world. Nobody here is the chosen one or the messiah or a hero. These are ordinary people trying to live from day to day within a community that is utterly alien even as it lies on Earth’s surface. The experiences they deal with on a daily basis from attending religious services with robotnick rabbis to working within a virtual world are so foreign while also being so knowable – many of what Tidhar explores such as robotic soldiers, enhanced integration into a new digital reality, and the merger of flesh and machine are simply extensions of technologies we already possess. It shows the adaptability and strength of humans as they adjust to these new advances, but also the difficulties this progress creates – physically, emotionally, morally, and above all personally. Central Station is uncanny in its ability to feel both like home and like a country as yet unexplored by humanity.

Tidhar also does a fantastic job of bringing Central Station and the surrounding city to life. The individuals who narrate help to give shape to the setting in their own right, but Tidhar goes beyond that to make the station its own character. The station itself is cool and almost sterile in its modernity, contrasting with the sense of grit and noise felt as Tidhar describes the living situation of many of the city’s inhabitants. It’s a richly woven world that it stimulates the sense. Readers can almost smell the sweat and oil of a robotnick and hear the forever arriving and departing crowds – even the heat of Central Station makes it feel like your skin is flushed. It’s rare to be immersed so deeply in another world and I reveled in my brief stay there.

My only complaint is that the lack of an easily discernible plot did make the reading experience slower and some portions tended to crawl. While I completely understand Tidhar’s pacing decision based on what the novel was aiming to accomplish, it was still a bit difficult for someone like me who is an impatient reader and used to tearing through novels to get through. If someone pick ups Station, my recommendation is to go in knowing to take it slow – that’s the only way to appreciate it and I think my initial rush made me miss some important elements.

While I don’t plan on swearing off my swashbuckling any time soon, Central Station was a brilliant exposure not only to something new personally, but to something that’s rare in the genre generally. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys literary science fiction, especially authors like Hannu Rajaniemi. I give it four out of five space slug parasites.

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April 2016 Round-Up

VonG: I’m sorry, isn’t February supposed to be the short month? Where did April go? All I have is vague memories of eating gelato, baking in the sun (despite my strict avoidance standards, I was wrangled into “being social” and “getting Vitamin D” and “leaving your room for once in your life”), and watching it blizzard. Yes. That’s right. Blizzard. With lightning and thunder. If that isn’t some end of the world type weather, I don’t know what is. Shout out to Swan Song for coincidentally fitting this weather exactly, even though in the book it’s caused by a nuclear apocalypse.

With T-minus one month to returning to my home country, I’m spending my valuable time here doing what I do best. Reading.

I don’t think I can cleverly summarize my reading patterns in April, except that there’s still kilts involved…save me. I’ve been slacking on my mission to subject myself to poorly written free e-books which is why there’s been a lack of comics on this blog. Soon. I’ll get back to it soon. A good friend of mine told me to read Swan Song approximately 8 years ago so at least I get to check THAT off my list and tell people that I’m good about reading recommendations that are made to me (they don’t need to know about the time delay hahaha…ah).

 

Best of April: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

You know what this book has that I love? Pretty much everything I could ask for. AI. Calling out of the ridiculousness of gender norms. Space. Aliens. A grand story of political intrigue framed by focusing on the relationships of an individual character. AI learning about ~friendship~ and ~love~. Yes, this book has both ALIENS* and AI forming meaningful attachments to people. Ann Leckie, you shouldn’t have. On a deeper note, the subversive use of a society that doesn’t recognize gender to the extreme that there are no male/female pronouns is wonderfully disorientating. Gender is a crutch to our understanding of a character and Leckie denies it to us. This book probably has the fewest male pronouns I’ve ever encountered (as the main character defaults to feminine pronouns) and I LIKE IT. It made me uncomfortable with how much I rely on knowing a character’s gender and it forced me to take on the point of view of the main character in an immersive way. Leckie also manages to write about an AI’s experience through a couple thousand bodies in a way that captures the massive flow of constant information without it being too choppy or confusing. This book ranks easily into the list of my favorite books. I can’t stop thinking about it and I am eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy.

Worst of April: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

I’m using the “worst” category loosely again, because Missoula isn’t a bad book. It’s well written and informative (though Krakauer is far from being unbiased, but with such an emotional topic on personal violation it’s hard to be impartial). I’m placing it in this category because the book was hard for me to read. The reality of the commonality sexual assault, especially on college campuses, is an issue that was brought to my attention in my studies but still has the power to shock me. Krakauer does an excellent job of presenting the mistreatment of victims by the court system (from police officers to lawyers) and focusing on the darkest myth of sexual assault: that it takes place most often between strangers. Growing up, women are taught to be afraid of strangers but the majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances. It’s hard, after finishing this book, to not fall back onto the insecure stance of “trust nobody.” Unfortunately, that also seems to include the justice system.

The other unfortunately is that this book will probably be read most by people who are already aware of the problem, when the people who need to read it the most ignore it.

 

*Leckie’s aliens, thankfully, are not space vampires

 

 

Which D-Day Spy Are You?

 

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies was one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. In celebration of the absurdity that was the Double Cross system, here are the D-Day Spies for you to tag yourself as.

“Scoot” aka “Tricycle

-play boy

-sent back pictures of his current gf reclining in front of planes instead of information

-bought an expensive car as part of his ‘role’

-demanded the british government buy him chocolate “for medical reasons”

-good fashion sense

 

Bronx

-“Lesbian” tendancies

-good at being bad at gambling

-no matter how much money she is allowed, manages to spend all her money

 

 

Treasure

-keeps a diary

-said diary is mostly about her dog

-really, really loves her dog

-talks smack about people to her dog in Russian

-almost betrayed the entire operation over not being reunited with her dog

 

Brutus

-got arrested for distributing inflammatory pamphlets

-should have been playing it cool as a spy

-has no chill

-owned 32 cats after the war

 

 

Garbo

-spends most of his time with fictional people of his own creation

-has an overactive imagination

-would be that person in your university class who can write 15 pages for a paper and say absolutely nothing but is praised for it

-has a diploma in chicken farming

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese read like Sherlock Holmes and Philip K. Dick got hitched and Ernest Cline gave the best man’s speech. Taking the traditional detective narrative of Sherlock Holmes and coupling it with the grittiness of Dick’s science fiction noir, Kroese manages to inject it with the light humor found in books like Ready Player One or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A book with so many strong influences could easily have been overwhelmed by them, but Kroese was able to take these elements, harness them in a unique way, and make a undeniably entertaining book.

Set in a crumbling Los Angeles in 2039, Sheep follows Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler as they pursue two cases involving a genetically-altered sheep and the world’s most famous television star, Priya Mistry. As the investigations continue, the duo begins to realize that these two seemingly unrelated cases are intertwined and the conspiracy that connects them indicts some of the city’s most powerful residents.

The set-up will be familiar to anyone who has ever read Sherlock Holmes or watched the TV adaptation – a genius, but socially inept detective (or phenomenological investigator, as Keane prefers to be called) is aided in his investigations by his grounded, unassuming, and often frazzled aide. For something that could have ended up feeling tired and formulaic, though, Sheep manages to take this classic foundation and make it fresh. He brings Sherlock Holmes into the present by centering the novel around bioengineering, cloning, and other sciences that became popular at the turn of the century and utilizing the grittiness of noir scifi popularized by authors such as Philip K. Dick to revitalize and reimagine classic detective fiction. His characters also have their own unique personalities and quirks even as they nod to the famous detective and Watson, making for a well-crafted tribute rather than a clumsy imitation.

Also, if a reader prides themselves on being able to figure out the case before the final reveal, they will be quickly humbled by Sheep. Kroese makes good use of the science fiction element of this book here, using the ethically murky science of dodgy corporations to set up multiple possible outcomes and veil the mystery’s real answer until the last second. The narrative will lead readers down one path, only to quickly take an unexpected turn and leave the reader as frustratingly and intoxicatingly lost as they were in the first chapter.

And while the book’s writing isn’t transcendent, the tone was fitting for the given scenario. The more serious tone of most noir or police procedurals would have felt out of place here because the situations are so often bizarre and ridiculous, so it was smart of Kroese to take a more humorous route and make his writing tongue-in-cheek. Comedical science fiction is a vastly underexploited sub-genre, which makes Sheep stand out among other upcoming releases.

With Sherlock notorious for its long stretches between seasons and greats like Dick and Douglas Adams no longer producing work, The Big Sheep is the perfect remedy – a quick, fun fix for the eccentric investigator fans crave coupled with an appreciated nod to the works it roots itself in. A solid four out of five genetically-modified sheep.

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