I remember a friend telling me years ago that romantic love was an illusion. Of course, it also has a lot to do with our biology. Musician Joni Mitchell has called romance a “trick of nature, fueled by anxiety and insecurity… to get us to procreate.” In order for romantic love to be successful, both parties must be under the influence of this biological trick; or as my friend would put it, both people have to buy into the illusion.
All of that sounds pretty darn cynical. After all, romantic love is powerful stuff—so powerful that the creative among us often devote their artistic lives to consider it, analyze it, and dissect it in paintings, sculpture, song, plays and film. And in books.
I finished Haruki Murakami‘s 1Q84 six weeks ago. I’ve been reading like a house on fire, but I just haven’t set aside time to blog about my recent reads. The space between finishing Murakami’s latest and this blog post has given me a chance to consider just what this book says to me, and I think I can put it into words now.
1Q84 is about the magical, mystical and illusory journey that romantic love inspires, and about the biological, sexual, and emotional journey that nature demands. It’s also about the danger of falling in love, whether because we put ourselves in an overwhelmingly vulnerable position, or because the path to our loved one is fraught with antagonistic obstacles and trap doors. So powerful is this love, we can put our very life on the line to achieve both the ecstasy and the contentment promised by the union with our loved one.
It’s a Barnum and Baily world, just as phony as it can be, but it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.”—It’s Only a Paper Moon by Billy Rose and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg
Our protagonists, Aomame and Tengo, could not seem more different when the novel begins. She is the product of parents who practice an unforgiving fundamentalist religion, while Tengo is the son of an obsessively insistent television-fee collector. In the present (1984 Japan), Aomame is a physical fitness trainer and self-defense instructor who sidelines as a serial killer, offing men who have cruelly presided over the destruction of the women in their lives. Tengo is a math instructor and aspiring writer.
Through their memories of growing up, we discover that both have little if any love from their family. We also discover that they knew of each other as children, and that they shared a magical moment of connection when they were ten years old. The memory of this connection eventually propels them to try to find each other, as they both realize that they have entered an alternate reality—a world that has two moons in the sky, and a world that is being influenced by an other-worldly force that is intent on taking control. (Aomame refers to this world as 1Q84, with “Q” for “question mark.” In my mind, I pronounced it q-teen-eighty-four.)
They each take different paths to the alternate reality—Aomame through an unconventional exit from a highway, and Tengo through the editing and polishing of a fantastical tale that introduces the “little people,” the outside force that is attempting to emerge into our world—but they ultimately find themselves at the same intersection, a point where they have come to believe in themselves and each other and in the power of love.
I could go into more of the story, for there is much to this story: the religious cult that provides an opening for the little people, Aomame’s path to vengeance, Tengo’s mysterious memory of his mother, the confounding teenage girl Fuka-Eri, the short story “Town of Cats,” the surprising pregnancy, and the ugly-beyond-ugly private investigator. I suppose literary critics could have a lot of fun discussing how the various elements relate to Aomame’s and Tengo’s great love story. But I’ll leave that to experts more adept at literary analysis.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this: Murakami’s story is not over when the two lovers find each other. Now they must find out if they can escape 1Q84 and return to their 1984. Just like lovers in real life, who have entered the emotional and spiritual place where romance is born and cemented, they must now incorporate their union into everyday life. Can Aomame retrace her steps along the highway to return herself and Tengo to the world they remember, or does another reality await them?
When I finished the novel, I wondered if Murakami really needed 925 pages to tell his story. Now I’m wondering if that’s a metaphor as well: It may take a long time to get there, but the journey may be fun, and the destination may be worth it.
The site is big and bold, filled with enough information to make any sci-fi/fantasy fan drool. The book reviews are thoughtful and professional, and there are exclusive interviews with authors in the field. Spotlights is a feature which focuses on notable books coming out each month, although it appears they lost interest in including graphic novels a few years back. Upcoming Releases is a detailed listing of titles that are heading our way. (It’s like the biggest buffet ever!)
Or, you may want to start with their substantial Best of Lists, produced by Fantasy Book Critic’s contributors. The feature includes End of the Year Best of Lists, Best of Genres, Best of Upcoming Releases, and any other Best of Lists.
As with many weblogs, the search function isn’t up to par with the best search functions on traditional websites, but that shouldn’t keep you from exploring this great site. It gets a Literary Kitty stamp of approval. Meow!
While Kitty is getting through the heat by turning up the AC and losing herself in a cozy mystery, my reading habits have been all over the place since Memorial Day weekend. I’ve been to the Nursery Crimes police division in Reading, England (alternative universe England, that is), on an Aussie football field in Melbourne, and in a sick generational ship in outer space. (I told you I read weird stuff!) Here are some quick reviews of my latest reads…
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde.
The Gist: Nursery Rhyme characters are real! (And so are Greek gods, and aliens.) Humpty Dumpty has a great fall and the Nursery Crimes Division, headed by DCI Jack Spratt and assisted by DI Mary Mary, is called in. Turns out Mr. Dumpty didn’t just fall. He was shot! It was murder!
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: A
Strength of Writing: B
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B (It helps to have access to Mother Goose Rhymes as a reference. Fun!)
Social Relevance: Uh… er… OK! C+
General Reaction: You already know I love Jasper Fforde if you read my reviews of The Eyre Affair and Shades of Grey. While reading this first Nursery Crimes mystery, I often thought that Fforde was trying to hit the reader with too much weirdness. But weirdness is what Fforde is all about. The Greek gods and aliens don’t add anything to the main plot, but they do make for some great laugh-out-loud moments. Despite the gimmick-taken-to-extreme nature of the book, the mystery itself is solid, and just when you think it’s all solved, there’s the weirdest last reveal you could imagine. Priceless Fforde.
Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy
The Gist: Gay romance centering on the outing of a Australian Football player. Oh, and… boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back; the basic formula, except this time with rainbows.
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: B
Strength of Writing: C (You know there may be a problem when the writer has the football-crazy protagonist ask why an injured player has to travel with the team. For team support, doofus! Even I knew that.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: C (Well, it did inspire me to learn a bit about Aussie Football.)
Social Relevance: A (Lots of talk right now about gay athletes in pro sports, so, yeah, it was pretty relevant.)
General Reaction: I’ve read plenty of gay novels, but I had never read a gay romance. It’s interesting to see this variation of the classic romance formula. See if you recognize it: Protagonist is sarcastic and a loner, thinking he doesn’t need love, but he really does. Meets Mr. Wonderful. Mr. Wonderful pushes all the right buttons but seems too good to be true. Personalities clash during a crisis. Mr. Wonderful has faults! Love is slipping away. The idea of love lost puts the crisis in perspective. Love is reaffirmed. Fireworks. Happy ending.
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
The Gist: Mystery and terror on a generational space ship. Our narrator is awakened from a deep sleep to find himself naked and freezing inside a giant spaceship. He is having trouble recovering his memories, and some of the monstrous creatures around him want him dead.
Status: Three-quarters of the way through!
Summer Escapism: B
Strength of Writing: B (This book is turning out to be a fast read, but it takes a bit too long to really get started, despite the intriguing set-up.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A
Social Relevance: B (Poses the intellectual, ethical and moral questions you expect from good Sci-Fi.)
General Reaction: I’ve never reviewed a Bear novel on Okie Reads, but his Blood Music is a favorite Sci-Fi classic of mine. Although I’m still reading Hull Zero Three, I can tell you that the revelations to the mystery thus far are as big, strong and provocative as you would expect from this master of the genre. Three-quarters of the way through, I’m very pleased with this book. I’ll certainly let you know if it falls apart for me in the end.
OK, that’s what I’ve been reading. What have you been reading during this late spring/early summer heat wave?
The latest Fforde novel, Shades of Grey, is the first in a series of books about a future world known as Chromatacia. If you’ve seen my review of his first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, or if you’re a fan of the author, you already know that fantasist Fforde writes some of the most intriguing speculative fiction around today.
Science Fiction and Fantasy often takes us to bizarre and strange worlds—there’s nothing new about that—but few fictional landscapes are as strangely original, weird and screwball as Fforde’s settings. In so many ways, they are far removed from the conventions and notions of previous speculative writings.
I’ve decided the best way to give you a taste of this novel, is present some of the “what if” questions Fforde had to mull over as he was concocting this delightful work. Here we go…
What if humanity was divided into a hierarchy based on what color individuals could perceive? Protagonist Eddie sees only shades of red, and is classified as a “Red.” Heroine Jane is a “Grey.”
What if your standing in society was based on the level of color perception you have? If you see more purple than other Purples in your community, you become a governing prefect. See more green than other Greens? You’re a Green Prefect.
What if your job was determined by your color perception? You wouldn’t want to be a Grey, since you would work long hours performing sometimes back-breaking duties.
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.”
What if viewing certain colors could heal, or inebriate, or even kill? You don’t call the doctor in this world, you send for the Swatchman.
What if genetic engineering had made humans night blind? Our pupils would be much smaller, for one thing. (And what if other genetic modifications unfortunately led to the far-to-often loss of ears, eyebrows, and fingers?)
What if society was based on a rule book that governs virtually every aspect of life, from what two colors can legally marry, to when you can drink Ovaltine, to what objects can be manufactured.
What if the rule book accidentally left out the manufacture of spoons? Spoons would become some of the most prized objects in the world!
What if some horrible catastrophe had happened hundreds of years in the past that led to this color-centric world?
What if this colortocracy, and these genetic modifications, and all of these rules had one goal: to keep human society in stasis, and to keep the true rulers in charge?
And what if you asked too many questions?
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.
Have you read Shades of Grey or other Jasper Fforde novels? Let us know what you think about his one-of-kind creations.
A number of interesting literary items to report as we enter the homestretch to the weekend.
First up: A podcast from three Oklahoma young adult librarians that’s just perfect for Halloween. Adrienne, Emily and Karl review the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalesiter. We like the quote from the Booklist review on the Amazon.com site:
Can the chatter of the YA nerdosphere launch a successful book? This imaginative collection answers with a resounding yes. Beginning in February 2007, editors Black and Larbalestier debated zombies’ and unicorns’ strengths and weaknesses on Larbalestier’s blog, and the resulting interest roped in stories from a number of impressive authors…”
Only young adult authors and librarians could come up with this kind of stuff, and you have to admit that it’s pretty much beyond kewl!
Speaking of Zombies, AMC launches it’s new series The Walking Dead this Sunday. It’s based on Robert Kirkman‘s monthly comic book series, which is also beyond kewl! Go here for an Interview with Kirkman on the adaptation of his work to the small screen.
The Oklahoma Library Association held their biennial Mildred Laughlin Festival of Books for Young People yesterday in Midwest City. More than 100 Oklahoma youth librarians attended the event at the Tom Steed Center at Rose State College. Special guests were children’s author and illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger, chilidren’s author Stephen Krensky, and Tamora Pierce, author of fantasy literature for young adults. I have to tell you, I was completely blown away by Seeger’s talent, and I’m going to be getting her Lemons are not Red and One Boy books for my grandniece, Brooklyn. Also loved Krensky’s What Do You See? and I picked up a copy of that. Pierce is a big, popular talent with young people, and two of her teenage fans trekked from southeastern Oklahoma to meet their favorite author. ‘Twas a good day!
…we leave you with a slide show from The Huffington Post Blog on Nine Non-Writers Who Influenced Literary History. Who knew? You do now.
Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.”
Thus begins Justin Cronin‘s epic, The Passage. Epic at 766 pages. Epic in the scope of the story. Epic, as in: expect some sequels to this modern vampire tale. This is the Stephen King story you’ve been waiting for all these years.
OK, I’m sure there could be people who will be upset by that King comparison. Maybe they would be upset because King Rules! Or maybe they would be upset because they believe Cronin writes on a higher level. After all, Cronin is a literary darling who has picked up a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Stephen Crane Prize, and the Whiting Writer’s Award; while King is the book world’s undisputed, uhh… king of horror and suspense.
I’m not insulting either writer. I employ the comparison for simply one reason: I haven’t felt this way about a horror novel since King’s The Stand. It’s that intense. It’s that good.
Science gone wrong leads to a post-apocalyptic world in both novels, but King’s work is firmly rooted in the ancient supernatural struggle between good (God) and evil (The Devil), while Cronin is content to imply that any seemingly supernatural goings-on (telepathy, blood-lust, near immortality) are qualities of our genes that have perhaps lain dormant for millennia—qualities that have been activated by a scientific experiment to extend the human lifespan. (To say this experiment has military implications isn’t surprising, given the stereotypes of the genre, and it isn’t giving anything away.)
Little Amy is the only subject of this experiment to retain her human identity; the other, older guinea pigs are transformed into creatures that can only be described as vampires. These creatures escape the lab and the world falls around Amy, but she continues to live, aging at a much slower rate. The savage beasts recognize her as one of them, so they do not attack her; and they recognize her as someone who can answer the question their minds continually ask: “What am I?”
Following our introduction to Amy and her transformation into a near immortal, we travel almost 100 years into the future to meet a struggling community of surviving humans. Amy eventually joins the survivors, and travels with them as they seek a way to save their haven. Ultimately she confronts one of the original 12 vampires that were created prior to Amy’s transformation, and events are set in motion that will continue in Cronin’s next two books, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors.
Like in King’s The Stand, the ultimate payoff in Cronin’s work lies in watching the creation of a new, loving family in a harsh and unforgiving world. If you ask me, you couldn’t ask for anything better after the apocalypse.
And there’s gonna be a movie.
One, I just finished reading The God Engines by John Scalzi, up for a Hugo Award for Best Novella. Second, the Hugo awards will be presented on September 5th (my birthday) at the AussieCon. Sounds like an omen to me.
This book or novella, whatever, is considered a fantasy, not sure why it’s not science fiction but smarter people than me make up these distinctions, so just go along with it. This small work really packs a big punch.
Story: Captain Tephe has his hands full with an angry god who has been enslaved to power his spaceship. He has a reluctant crew who have barely survived a recent hostile encounter with insurgents. Many souls in the universe do not believe Tephe’s Lord is their Lord. And he’s being sent on a conversion mission to claim new souls for his true god as directed by the powerful Bishopry Militant.
This is only the beginning of Faith tested. Is this Scalzi’s indictment of religion? Does the strongest theology endowed with the stongest military force create the true belief? Is there a truth stronger than belief? Is religion only about subjugation of the weak to the beliefs of the strong? Particularly relevant to our time of religion and war.
This 136 page book should ignite a conversation about faith, and belief. Just another reason why the Hugo Awards are so important. The nominees’ works make us think. So pick one, or two and see what affect they have on you.
(Young Bill Young here. I don’t typically read fantasy. I count myself firmly in the sci-fi camp when it comes to speculative fiction. But finding myself at Half-Price Books recently, with a gift card in hand, I stumbled upon this remarkable novel by Steven Brust)
Knowing how a story ends can ruin the reader’s experience, but not when you’re talking about a powerful mythological story like the revolt and fall of the angels. As Joseph Campbell noted, “myths are public dreams.” They are dreams that we revisit, retell, reexamine, and reanalyze to find meaning.
Heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost (and doubtless other retellings of the great fall), Brust’s To Reign in Hell is still remarkably original. In his book, Satan is sympathetic but indecisive, while Yaweh is loving but gullible. These two, and the five other “first born” (Lucifer, Michael, Raphael, Leviathan and Belial) arose from the chaos (cocoastrum) and fought to retain their shape and order (illiastrum). To survive, they created Heaven as a refuge from the chaos. But cocoastrum cannot be denied for long. Subsequent “waves” from the chaos led to the creation of the archangels and the host of angels, as well as the deaths of many angels and new forms for Leviathan (a giant serpent) and Belial (a winged dragon).
When Yaweh concocts a plan to create a new heaven (a globe) that will forever protect the angels from the chaos, the stage for revolt is set. For this plan will also result in the deaths of many angels. Should the angels have the right to decline participation in the new creation? Or should they be forced to work and risk their lives for the great good that will be accomplished? Enter Abdiel, a manipulative, ambitious archangel who uses the controversy to further his own rise at the expense of Heaven.
On his Dream Cafe website, Brust has this to say about To Reign in Hell: “I didn’t have an outline as I was writing it, and I remember getting about 4/5 of the way through it and saying, ‘Geez, Satan is going to win. That’s interesting.’ I shrugged and kept writing to see how it came out.”
We know how this story ends. We’ve known for generations and across the chasm of time. But it’s the telling of the tale that really matters.
Young Bill Young here, filling in for Kitty a few days.
I read lots of science fiction and speculative fiction. Because of that, I really wish I was a teenager right now. The Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) is joining forces with Newspapers in Education at The Oklahoman to sponsor Read Beyond Reality this October, which is Teen Read Month in our great state.
Classroom teachers and school libraries can sign up to participate at Newspapers in Education. Public libraries are participating through ODL. The school and public library whose young participants log the most pages read during the month will each receive $250 worth of new books! Individual readers can win prizes ranging from premium tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game to an iPod Nano. (See why I want to be a teenager right now?)
Even if you’re not a teen, you can have lots of fun and learn more about Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror by visiting this Teen Read Month site. What are you waiting for? There are whole worlds out there for you to discover.
When a first time novelist hits his mark, then it’s one well worth reading, and Gregory hit his mark with Pandemonium. I just read his book and apparently really good reviews have already hit the internet by those lucky first readers. It’s one of those books where I wish I was a lot smarter and could pick up on all this references to “collective unconscious”, Jungian psychology and archetypes, A.E. Van Vogt and everything Philip K. Dick. I do know about Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, Nixon, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and mashups, so I feel I’ve crossed several generational divides in the book.
Del Pierce is “possessed” by a demon. As a young child Del, became possessed by the demon, “Hellion”. Beginning in the 1950′s there began a recurring phenomena that involved certain people being possessed by demons, the demons doing the possessing included; “The Captain”, “The Truth”, the “Little Angel” ,and the “Painter”. Throughout the book you’ll meet these demons up close and personal. Unfortunately Del’s demon attached itself to young male blond haired children and he fit the bill. Subsequent accidents in Del’s life seem to have revived his “demon”.
The story revolves around Del’s ability to deal with his problem, his family’s reactions and interactions with him, the outsiders who apply various measures to “fix the problem”, which range from an attempt to do away with him by the “Human Leaguers” in Harmonia Lake (absolutely not so harmonious), Mother Mariette O’Connell and the “Red Book” clan applying Jungian psychology and hypnosis on him and a final tornadic climax in Kansas.
Hopefully something in this review will stir you to read Pandemonium, you’ll be glad you did.
Gregory recently picked up the very tasty Crawford Award for a new fantasy writer with a first book, presented at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. And best yet has a new book in the works.