A dystopia and a doorstop

I recently finished two books, both for the Read Harder ’18 challenge. I picked Divergent as it fitted two categories – a scifi written by a woman with a female lead and a new-to-you young adult series. Well, I didn’t like Divergent at all. Something niggled me about it 13335038and when I reached the end to a postscript by the author, I read  … ‘thank you god etc etc etc’ … and well. I didn’t read all the postscript, but I realised what was bothering me about the story – it is a crusade against unbelievers story. The intelligent are schemers and therefore evil and the good are the obedient and believers. Other than that, the characters are wooden, unbelievable maturity is seen in the main character (who is like that at 15?), and the whole lifestyle is pointless. I also thought that the food the characters were eating would not condition them to become physically adept.

The doorstop was Tara Road by Maeve Binchy for the Oprah Bookclub category. I like Maeve Binchy novels – she has a way of sucking you into the story and you cease to notice the size of the novel. The story could go on after she ends them. The characters are so real and believable and you get to like them or loathe them. but want to keep reading about their lives. When I picked up the novel to read, I’d not notice time go by, That is the 845782case for me with all the Binchy novels I’ve read so far. I wouldn’t call them cosy, but they are friendly and like a friend, you want to sit down with them with a cup of tea. Tara Road is a story of a group of friends who live near each other on Tara Road in Dublin. I really enjoyed the story about the renovation, the dramas, all set in Ireland’s economic boom and then the stirrings of the bust. The description about the book makes you think that the house swap is the main story, and it isn’t. Everything that leads up to the swap is the bulk of the story and then the actual swap is close to the end, and I guess is used to bring the end of the novel to its conclusion. Binchy’s characterisations are brilliant and you wonder about how many different sorts of people she met during her life. The story of Gertie and her alcoholic husband and scared children was close to home and an uncomfortable read, though my Dad was never physically abusive, just verbal. Rosemary is a wonderful character and Ria is too, and how clever Maeve was with how Ria fell into living in a dream world, divorced from reality. How many of us are living such a life?!

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Wayward by Blake Crouch

17920175I seem to be in the habit of reading books that are midway or the last of a series. However, it didn’t matter that much to me for this one. Wayward is a page turner, but there were some things that annoyed me about it. Firstly, there was a lot of short sharp sentences  like this:
xxx
xxx
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that were designed to build tension. They worked initially but then they started to appear too often which meant the tension evaporated. Secondly, evolution doesn’t work that fast. 2000 years into the future and humans will probably be the same (if we haven’t destroyed the earth by then). The creatures made me think of polar bears. They also reminded me of the Eloi from The Time Machine (so many time travel stories echo the HG Wells classic – I guess it can’t be escaped). Humans are also very hard to control – just look at any news story. The creepiest control story I’ve read so far is 1984, and this is because it is so close to contemporary authoritarianism (totalitarianism / fascism) that it is totally believable. But control only lasts for so long as so this story proves. The question I was always asking myself about this was what was the big man getting out of all this? I couldn’t see any benefits or pluses or… Plus, the big man’s surname was always distracting me because that is the surname of the systems guy at the department where I work. That sort of affected the tension for me too.

The ending leaves you on a cliff-hanger and the edition I got from my local library had a small sneak peek at the opening of the final installment. It didn’t grab me enough to want to find out what happens.

Frankenstein: lost souls – Dean Koontz

6914139I draw the line at Christmas cowboy romance. Who knew there were so many of them? I didn’t! So my options for Montana were slim. I went with a Koontz story – first time I’ve read his stuff. And it will be the last! I always had an impression his stuff was pulp airport trash and this read confirmed it. Who knows if I was just unlucky to start with this one? This is part of a series – slap bang in the middle and it can’t be read as a stand alone. I have no desire to read the rest of the series. I thought about how I was going to start this review while I was reading it. One was ‘tropes to the left of me, tropes to the right!’ A criminal called Chang? Check! A sexy librarian? Check! Battle-hardened ex cop PIs? Check! Sigh! I didn’t really appreciate the use of deformed and intellectually challenged creatures as vehicles for humour either. I recently watched Terminator for the first time (I know!) and this book is a very badly told Terminator story crossed with a Frankenstein tale. I am very reluctant to rate books 1 star in Goodreads but there are so many 1 stars for this. I think I will change my review to 1 star. Koontz should have left the Frankenstein story alone.

The Martian – Andy Weir

Reading this was like alternatively reading a screenplay and a technical manual. The actions of 25852860the main character are too ‘then he did this and then he did that’ and ‘doing this would result in this’ and ‘when this happens it enables this other thing to happen’. All of the characters are empty shells waiting for real people to be slotted in. There is no character development. The main character shows no insight or psychological trauma. He is too cocky by half. There is no emotion  – there are some words that try to demonstrate emotion but there is nothing there. What this  demonstrates is no knowledge of human behaviour whatsoever. There are some moments where the tension is heightened but then, although something potentially life threatening happens, there is no follow through. The reader is left hanging with unresolved tension. This edition that I read shows sloppy copy editing towards the end (mostly grammatical mistakes). It probably works better as a movie but this novel doesn’t make me want to rush out to see it.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick

612963This classic science fiction novel by Philip K Dick is sad. It is a dystopian vision of what the world would be like post WW3. Absolute desolation. I think this is also a study about how humans relate to other creatures and machines once slaves but now independent. There is no indication that the androids were actually harmful to humans, just that they had broken free from slavery and now were uncontrolled. The humans live a very disconnected life from one another and show no empathy at all towards others  who are more badly effected by fallout. Yet humans need the empathy boxes to remind themselves they are human and better than the android slaves and dimwits. So what is Dick saying? Is he saying that humans are not humane and no better than other animals? That AI is in fact, being developed for a life of slavery? Dick mixes two genres which sort of work in this novel – the noir detective novel with scifi. There is the housewife, the mousey secretary and the femme fatale. There are lighthearted moments like televisions still needing antennae in Do Androids Dream but on the whole, this novel paints a damning picture of human destructiveness and selfishness.

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