All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders 

I finished this book in one big unexpected reading push this morning around 1am. I say unexpected because the first third of the book was a slog and I began wondering if I made the right decision in picking this book up.

All the Birds in the Sky is on a “best books of 2016” and so I thought I’d give it a go, deviate from my typical Pulitzer or Hugo award winning list. I finally came to terms with my finite life and the brutal honesty of never being able to read every and any book, so I really took a chance on this “unvetted” story.

About the time I considered shelving this under the abandoned bookshelf on Goodreads, I read a few book reviews in favor of Anders piece. They talked about how it was weird and intriguing. I clearly hadn’t gotten to that part yet, still slogging through this seemingly incohesive story of two adolescent youth.

Most of the time, I love stories about children, told in the perspective of children. It’s what I love about Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. It’s what I love about Arudhati Roy’s God of Small Things. But for the first time, I found the story and perspective of these children irritating. Their struggles with being outcasts did not garner my sympathy. In fact, they seemed a little insufferable. 

Anders paints the world they grow up in some sort of pseudo future with rockets and 2second time machines presented as normal. But there are only bits and pieces of the outside world in the childhood narrative and I kept wondering what is the point? Finally, the turning point comes approximately 130 pages in and all I could think about after dinner was to get home to continue reading.

Grown up Patricia and Laurence are much more fascinating. Now I understand that Anders tried to show you the significance of their friendship as kids and how it creates an undying bond between them as adults. While all that is going on, Anders tries to break the sci-fi and fantasy mold by smashing them together and how better to do it than through a love story? I think Patricia and Laurence are to represent two sides of the same coin, despite the (very brief) conflict between the two “factions” of science vs. magic.

I appreciated the setting of San Francisco as I spent a few years living there. She captured the trends very well: organic, farm to table, vegan, hipster coffee joints, high end bakeries — and made fun of them as she should have. It’s in the depiction of the San Francisco world that made me feel she was injecting her beliefs into the book Ayn Rand style. You know, who is John Galt? I also found this Milton character to be a fictional adaptation of our very own Elon Musk. 

In the end, I found this book to be amusing. The blending of the science fiction and fantasy worlds provides balance and doesn’t allow a runaway in any direction. Ironically (or purposely?) that is the whole science vs. magic conflict within the plot as well. It is a very timely book and would be interesting to read later down the road to reminisce on where our culture was heading in 2016.

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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

This book is one of the few which I knew the plot twist before picking it up. I tried my best to selectively forget what my coworker once told me a long time ago during a discussion on zombies and zombie movies.
This friend revealed to me that yet another Hollywood movie secretly adapted itself from a book. Only they took extreme liberties on the storyline.

Despite knowing the twist ahead of time, I still enjoyed it. The writing allowed me to understand the struggle of solitude and loneliness Robert Neville struggled with. It also gave much color to his experience of loss, both with his daughter and his wife.

I feel as if the shock of coming in contact with another human being is very abrupt and everything that unfolds in his encounter with Ruth passes by in a frenzy. I love how the connection is about companionship, not about lust.

I greatly appreciate the alternating areas of focus as Neville tries to survive — first it is the daily practicals of housing upkeep, then the study of the bacteria, all while battling his inner demons of survival. The fact that he is constantly self medicating with liquor paints his picture of solitude and suffering more real.

These are interesting internal struggles to me as in many concerns with people on how they would react to the end of the world yielded an explicit acknowledgment they don’t have the will to live and would not put in the effort needed to continue on. Robert Neville is an excellent example of human persistence.

Now to my rant on the movie adaptation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching the movie. I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater with friends and I found the portrayal of “modified rabies to treat cancer” gone wrong so plausible that I dreamed hidden zombies underneath my bed that night. But that’s just it. Hollywood turned it into a zombie movie, but this book is a very clear vampire book. Will Smith plays this badass who is determined and collected. He doesn’t have the internal struggle that is so clearly what Matheson wanted to expose with this post apocalyptic setting.

I now work in the movie world, and still have a great appreciation for the art of film making. With the recent announcement of Oscar nominations, I’m excited to say I’ve watched many of the films up for the big prizes. It is so critical to have a good script because it is the heart of it all. It is glaringly painful when you don’t, and no amount of directing or producing can cover that up. However, books and films are not judged in the same criteria, thank God.

I don’t have an eloquent end to this post and my time on BART is coming to a close. Until next time. A Canticle for Leibowitz is still on its way, but that’s what you get for borrowing books from the library ­čśČ

Ringworld by Larry Niven

Not bad for my first book of 2017. Funny thing was, I was meant to read this in a science fiction grad class and it seems I never quite got around to it. I loved it. It’s very classic science fiction– a great exploration story reminiscent of my experience reading Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

The focus is on the features of the discovery itself, Ringworld. There are some speculations of its origins but the pieces are slowly gathered as the exploration continues. It has the perfect balance of suspense and satisfaction in this way.

Niven does a great job of drawing the reader into the story that at some points, I forgot the delicately crafted backstory that led the motley crew onto Ringworld to begin with, the collapse of the Core. When it is mentioned in the last moments of the book, there is a perceptible “oh yeah!” that runs through my mind.

The one thing I don’t like is the development of the Teela Brown plot line. I think it’s fine that she is explained with the genetic breeding the puppeteers engage in for humanity, but really dislike the use of Teela Brown as some sort of Murphy’s law. The explanation that the entire exploration serves the purpose of her individual benefit seemed… anticlimactic. But now that I think about it, makes sense from a human condition standpoint. Humans do take actions in their own best interest the majority of the time. It is human nature. For Teela and her bred genetic “power,” she does so unconsciously. Imagine that! One could go down a rabbit hole with this particular idea.

I will inevitably want to read the entire series. I’ve already begun the search for book 2, Ringworld’s Engineers. I am sad that the county library does not carry it. Great way to start off my new reading year!

Stay tuned for my next review. I’ll be picking up A Canticle for Leibowitz┬á