Jul 30, 2013

Into the Beautiful North, By Luis Alberto Urrea

It's amazing to find an author of remarkable talent who can use that talent in very different ways. Urrea's first novel, "The Hummingbird's Daughter," was lyrical and haunting, and incredibly beautiful. "Into the Beautiful North" is hilarious, a satire of Mexico, America, the Border Patrol, and teenaged girls. It is a powerful condemnation of the way Mexicans treat other Mexicans, while also poignantly drawing notice to the agricultural disaster that has spurred Mexico's economic hardships. Urrea also deftly points out the often overlooked fact that many illegal immigrants in the US don't want to be here - they miss their homes and families, their language and culture. And though it's frequently laugh-out-loud funny, "Into the Beautiful North" has many moments that delight the reader with Urrea's wonderful use of language. Urrea is truly a gifted author, and I hope there is much more fiction from him in the future.

Jul 27, 2013

Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

This is the middle book of Robinson's epic trilogy about the colonization and terraforming of Mars, and I found it just as challenging and interesting as the first. There is a LOT of science in this book, though a bit less than the first, as it focuses more on the growing pains of Martian civilization. I once again found Robinson's insight to be impressive, as he deals with politics on both a very small and very large scale. Partway through, it occurred to me that this is more than just a story about Mars and colonization; it's also a frank evaluation of the dangers of corporatism. Robinson's Earth has become consumed in constant crisis due to the overwhelming financial power of its companies, called transnationals or metanationals. These companies have essentially taken over entire countries, thereby rendering world governance ineffectual and subject to the whim of capitalism. I appreciate Robinson's efforts to broaden the scope of an already detailed story, and though it was a challenge to work though, I look forward to concluding the trilogy.

Jul 9, 2013

The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

I had high hopes for this novel since the former buyer of a bookstore I worked for, a woman of impeccable taste and instinct, loved it. I am, instead, disappointed. Duncan does his best to revitalize a genre that has been made utterly ridiculous and inane by the likes of Twilight, while still acknowledging that ridiculousness is rather inevitable. But it feels like he tried too hard, and if I had hoped for an occult novel that dealt with the topic differently, and at least somewhat seriously, my hopes were unfulfilled. Partly I think it was the excessive amount of sex, which, yes, I understand is a nod to the whole "beast inside" reality of every human - this is, of course, what the werewolf and vampire mythos is about, the inner creature whose only animal instincts lead it to, in Duncan's words, "fuck kill eat" - but it's too much. The graphic sex turns it into a trashy romance novel, where it could have been, with Duncan's considerable authorial skill, so much more. Plus there were little things, like his inability to simulate American English. For example, an American woman would NEVER, unless it be for ultimate shock value, call her vagina her "cunt." EVER. That word has much stronger connotations for Americans than it does for Brits, so when his lead male (British) character says it, it works; definitely not for Talulla. Little mistakes like that make me uninterested in reading the second book in this series, since Duncan wrote it from Talulla's perspective. The intrigue aspects (i.e. the plot) were great, and more focus on that would have made this a much better novel.

Jul 6, 2013

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

This is Gladwell's second book, written after his incredibly successful "The Tipping Point." I haven't read that one, but I'm sure it's just as interesting and fun to read as "Blink." Gladwell is clearly fascinated by the deep inner workings of the human brain, how we function with so much going on even in just our daily lives. "Blink" is about intuition and gut instinct versus careful and orderly analysis. His conclusion (and I'm not ruining the book by doing this, you'll definitely want to find out the reason why it is so) is that when it comes to minor decisions, we're better off considering things deliberately; but major decisions, like deciding whether a patient is having a heart attack or if a museum piece is authentic, are best left to instinct, albeit instinct honed by experience and practice. Gladwell is a fun writer, whose fascination is contagious, and I can see why his books are so widely read. He's also rather endearing, because he wants his work to be used toward the greater good, to help, for example, police officers shoot their guns less. I hope the thousands of people reading his book will react with more than just interest and start putting his theories to work.

Jul 3, 2013

A World Out of Time, by Larry Niven

I can't help it. I just love everything Niven writes! Granted, it may be that, as the first science fiction author I ever read, he will forever hold a special place in my reader's heart. But I also think his writing is just flat out incredible. Niven is firmly a hard sci fi writer, but his characters hold so much more life than many hard sci fi authors can seem to muster. Perhaps it's his slightly British sense of humor, or the way he explains complex physics in ways that even I, someone who can barely add two numbers in her head, can understand, but he's also a fantastic storyteller. His books are engaging to the point where it's amazing if it takes me longer than a couple of days to read one. The ideas are highly original, something I value only slightly less than writing talent. This novel in particular reminds me of Wells' "The Time Machine," with the sense of voyeurism the reader experiences upon being granted a glimpse of our possible future. Coming back to Niven is like breathing fresh air after a long time underground. Tolstoy and Eggers are great, but I'll take Larry Niven any day of the week.