Book Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #33) 2005.

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Review #51

Moist Von Lipwig is dead. Sort of. At least, his alias is dead, hanged for committing crimes against the city of Ankh-Morpork. Yet somehow he finds himself alive and working in the government as Postmaster General. He finds the post office covered with pigeon droppings and undelivered mail. To make matter worse, he must compete against the Grand Trunks, which have a monopoly on communication in the city. And he thinks there may be someone trying to kill him. And there’s a possibility that he is hearing whispers coming from the abandoned letters piled up in the post office.

This month’s pick in my book club, Going Postal was my first foray into Terry Pratchett’s insanely popular Discworld series. Normally jumping into a series in the thirty-third installment would make me insufferably cringy, but I consoled myself that this novel is the first one centered around Moist Von Lipwig. Thankfully, this book takes place in a self-contained world, and I had no trouble adjusting to the world of Pratchett’s creation.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the city of Ankh-Morpork a a kind of Wild West outpost on the brink of becoming a civilized city. One rather amusing scene involves the protagonist in a rough and tumble bar, allotting points to the various patrons as they escalate their violent acts throughout the night. Central to the plot is the Grand Trunk company, which control a communication system known as the “clacks”. It took me quite awhile to visualize how these clacks work, but eventually I began to see it as a kind of telegraph system that uses light instead of cables to transmit messages across long distances. Pratchett uses the clacks and the greedy people who own it to illustrate the dangers of unchecked technological advancement. Published in 2005, this novel could easily be seen as a parallel to the rampant growth of the internet and the burgeoning “dot-com” bubble that would inevitably crash and leave many in dire straits.

It is obvious that Pratchett is a great lover of the written word. The idea that words have a certain power of their own, and that they can only fulfill their destiny by being read, is a running current that underlines Going Postal. As a great lover of the written word myself, I loved the scene when von Lipwig delivers a letter after fifty years to a surprising and heartwarming conclusion.

Many readers have compared Terry Pratchett’s works to those of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. I must say that I definitely agree with this opinion. Pratchett writes with a wild irreverence and wit that reminded me of Hitchhiker’s Guide. He also has a similar tendency to using absolutely ridiculous names for his characters. The protagonist, Moist Von Lipwig, is just the tip of that particular iceberg. Also present are Adora Bella Dearheart, Devious Collabone, Greenyham, and countless others.

Pratchett’s particular breed of satire isn’t for everyone. I truly enjoyed parts of this novel, but overall I found myself struggling to care about the fates of these characters. It was all just a bit too silly for my taste.

My rating: 3/5

You can find Going Postal here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

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Review #46

 

For nearly three decades, the mysterious region known as Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world. Abandoned by civilization, it has been reclaimed by isolated forms of nature that many scientists are eager to study. Several expeditions have been led into this region, with some reporting back a lush and verdant paradise and others being driven to suicide and murder for unknown reasons. The twelfth expedition, a team comprised of four women from different specialized fields, has just arrived.

This first installment in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy starts off with an ominous tone and creeping suspense. The four women in the twelfth expedition are identified only by their job descriptions. The surveyor is ex-military and edgy about what they may find in Area X. The anthropologist is fearful and wary of making big decisions. The psychologist is manipulative and well trained in hypnotic suggestions. And the biologist, who narrates the story, is eager to find out what happened to her husband, a member of the eleventh expedition who returned home a completely different man before shortly succumbing to cancer along with every other member of his team.

The four women are working towards conflicting ends, and these different agendas begin to clash when they discover a deep pit descending into the Earth. The other women refer to the pit as a “tunnel”, but the biologist feels compelled to call it a “tower”. While the Tower is nearby the designated campsite used by previous expeditions, it does not appear in any of the maps or field journals recorded by the other scientists. As the members of the twelfth expedition descend into this pit, they uncover a dangerous secret which threatens their sanity and their lives.

The first half of this relatively short novel does a great job of building and maintaining a discomforting sense of dread. Since none of the women are given personal names, the reader feels a kind of detached fascination as they venture into unknown and possibly threatening territory. The biologists interjects the primary narrative with details from her past which show her struggling relationship with her husband and her passion for observing living things. As they descend into the black depths of the Tower, the tension continues to mount as they begin to encounter things that defy the laws of nature.

Unfortunately, this level of suspense proves impossible to maintain. The second half of Annihilation veers into confusion and chaos as the team members begin to distrust and doubt one another. The unease of the initial Tower exploration falls apart and is replaced by twists and turns that serve no purpose and to little to further the plot.

There’s nothing wrong with science fiction novels that take a wild detour into weird. However, a book that is weird solely for the sake of being weird comes off as both pretentious and annoying. It’s as if VanderMeer deliberately made his conclusion as difficult to decipher as possible in order to find out who would “get it”. I, at least, didn’t get it, and trying to puzzle out the last thirty or so pages just left me with a headache.

My rating: 2.5/5

You can find Annihilation here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (2017)

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Review #18

 

Thalassophobia: an intense fear of the sea and what lurks beneath.

After her older sister is lost at sea while filming a monster-hunting style show on mermaids, Tory Stewart agrees to ship out with the crew of the Melusine as they travel to the oceans around the Mariana trench. The goal is to dive to the depths of the Challenger Deep to seek out the mermaids that legends say still dwell in the waters. Hopefully they’ll be able to solve the mystery of what happened to the first vessel. Once there, the group of scientists finds out that looking for monsters and finding them are two very different things.

Mira Grant is one of my favorite authors. Her Newsflesh trilogy, about the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, is utterly brilliant. The Parasitology trilogy, about sentient tapeworms taking control of their human hosts, is equally well written. So when I found out that Grant was releasing a stand-alone novel, I was thrilled. My excitement grew when I found out that the plot was going to be centered around the deep ocean.

Being in the deep sea makes me intensely uncomfortable. This might be due to the fact that I grew up in a landlocked state and never saw the sea until I was seventeen. I’m great on boats, and I’m perfectly happy in shallow water. I’ve even tried scuba-diving twice. But the moment that I can no longer see the seabed my heart rate instantly goes through the roof. It’s the same with lakes as well, and it’s a pretty straightforward fear. I don’t know what’s down there. Even worse, I understand enough of marine biology to know what’s down there, and I want no part of it. I went into Mira Grant’s Into The Drowning Deep knowing (and hoping) that it might scare me. Boy was I right.

In the year 2022, humans have polluted the Earth to the point of a mass die-off of both land and marine life. Grant does not try to hide her strong environmental message. Leave the orcas alone, stop dumping things into the oceans and the air. Or don’t be surprised when drought, famine, and fires sweep the planet. The hubris of mankind has brought us low in Grant’s novel, and the main characters are scientists who are just trying to mitigate the damage.

This is a science fiction novel with a strong horror theme. There is one amazing scene where Heather, a young scientist, is taking a personal submersible into the chasm of the Challenger Deep. As the blackness and the pressure mounts, the tension rises to a screaming pitch. It is claustrophobic to the point of being physically uncomfortable. What Heather finds at the bottom of her journey sets in motion the rest of the novel’s action.

The basic plot centers around one simple question. What if the mermaids of our mythology looked, not like this:

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beautiful, nubile, pageant queens of the sea. And more like this:

 

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deep sea nightmare fodder?

Grant’s “mermaids” are carnivorous, intelligent, and, utterly in their element both in and out of the water. The scientists on board the Melusine are so egotistically wrapped up in their new discovery that they never stop to think that the “mermaids” chose to be discovered at the proper moment. Of course, not until it is too late.

One of my favorite things about all of Mira Grant’s books is that she has a very pure idea of science fiction. There is actual science present, but it is accessible to the layman. I always come away from one of her novels feeling as though I’ve learned something; in this case about the Mariana Trench, the Challenger Deep, why the ship is named the Melusine, and more. Her main characters tend to be female, and even better, females in STEM. I love the idea of young women reading this novel and having their imaginations sparked by the pursuit and discovery and danger inherent in the exploration of our world.

I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves suspense, the sea, and the thrill of scientific discovery. I would not, however; recommend it for a trip to the beach. Or on a cruise. Don’t even take it in the bath.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find Into the Drowning Deep here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

P.S. there is a short prequel novel entitled Rolling in the Deep, which centers around the crew of the first crew. I haven’t been able to find it at my library yet, but if I ever find it I’ll let you know what I think!

 

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir (2017)

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Review #1

Jazz Bashara is the premier smuggler working on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon. When she is offered bigger money for a more dangerous job, Jazz finds herself in way over her head.

I read Andy Weir’s first novel, The Martian, during a camping trip last year, and I remember wishing for an internet connection while I was reading. It would have helped me to understand the complex descriptions of mathematics and physics that were completely outside my field of knowledge. As it was, I enjoyed the book but it was a rare instance where I thought that the movie was superior, partially just for its fantastic disco soundtrack.

I approached Weir’s second novel, Artemis, with a certain amount of trepidation. And, as expected, it helps if you have a basic working knowledge of physics and engineering while reading this book. However, Weir did seem to rein himself a bit. I never got the feeling that I was reading a textbook, as I sometimes felt with The Martian. Some of the action sequences can be a bit hard to follow if you don’t understand the finer points of welding or robotics, but this is first and foremost a “caper” novel, and it unravels with gleeful abandon once it gets off its feet.

The first two-thirds of the novel are fast-paced and fun. We are introduced to Jazz Bashara, a girl who has grown up on the world’s first lunar colony. The descriptions of the city of Artemis allow us to draw a concrete visual of an area that exists in the vertical as much as it does the horizontal. Each “bubble” consists of at least as many stories below ground as it does above ground. The passages that outline how the residents of Artemis deal with the constant influx of extraordinarily rich tourists are a treat. Even on the moon, the almighty dollar reigns supreme.

Jazz knows this better than most. Confined to a “coffin” apartment underground (picture the capsule hotels of Tokyo) Jazz dreams of earning enough money for her own bathroom. When she is approached by one of the extraordinarily rich billionaires with the potential for a million dollar job, how can she refuse?

Jazz is a very fun character. She is sarcastic and self-reliant. She is, however; a  bit of an asshole. I couldn’t figure out why there were so many people willing to stick their necks out to help her. The sarcastic assholes of the world do not generally inspire such loyalty. I also became annoyed by her “witty” interjections towards the end of the novel. For instance, take this quote:

“Dale handed me my jumpsuit. I put it on faster than I’d ever put on clothes before. Well…second fastest (my high school boyfriend’s parent’s came home earlier than expected one day).”

In a life-and-death situation, this kind of sarcastic quip comes off as inappropriate. It’s almost as if Weir was trying to emulate the kind of irreverence popularized by the Avenger films. The world’s in danger! Time for jokes! It works for awhile, but wears thin towards the end.

Overall, I found Artemis far easier to follow than The Martian. The idea of Jason Bourne running around on a lunar colony is a fun one, and Weir manages to sell us on all the enjoyable possibilities of a heist on the moon.

My Rating: 3.5/5

You can find Artemis here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy Reading Everyone!

 

 

Book Reviews: Wayward (Wayward Pines #2) by Blake Crouch (2013)

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After an auto accident that occurs while conducting a search for his missing ex-partner, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke wakes up in the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. His ID, wallet, and phone are all missing. No calls can be made out of the town. The roads are seem to lead back to the same location. And a thirty foot high electric fence surrounds the area. When people begin turning up dead, Ethan must work to discover the secret behind the sleepy town of Wayward Pines.

That’s a quick synopsis from the first book in this series, Pines. It seemed unfair to potentially spoil anything from the previous novel, as it is so much fun and I encourage anyone who loves a good thriller to go pick it up immediately.

First off, let me just commend this novel for making me almost-kinda-sorta-want to visit Idaho. Crouch describes it as a strikingly beautiful area filled with aspen trees, starry skies, and forbidding mountains. You can almost taste the fresh mountain air. Reading this novel was one of the first time I had ever stopped to really consider the geography of the state of Idaho. No offense, Idahoans. I also grew up in a highly overlooked state. I feel you.

“For every perfect little town, there’s something ugly underneath. No dream without the nightmare”

Wayward is an entertaining, uncomplicated read that still manages to raise important questions, as all good science fiction must do. What begins as a relatively straightforward murder-mystery quickly evolves into a debate on societal security versus personal freedom. At what point do we need to stop sacrificing for the greater good? What price is too high to pay for safety?

Blake Crouch is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors. His writing style is  fast-paced and compelling, yet accessible. It’s science fiction in a Star Trek sense, a irresistible mix of thrills and sentiment, with a dash of science thrown on for flavor.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Wayward Pines has been adapted into a TV show that is currently in its second season on Fox. The third novel in the trilogy, The Last Town, was released in 2014.

Find the books here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!