book review: sleeping giants

I wanted to like Sleeping Giants (by Sylvain Neuvel). It’s about discovering parts of a giant robot that have been buried on earth for 3000 years and putting them together to see what happens. It’s told in the form of a series of reports, mostly interviews with the principals.

At first that format worked out okay and I thought we’d be getting into a cool Arrival or Three-Body Problem-esque story of communicating with aliens in this case through artifacts. But by a third of the way in I realized this was actually trying to be Pacific Rim.

Now, I liked Pacific Rim, but it was an action movie. Trying to tell an action movie type story through the distancing effect of interviews (throughout which the interviewer is a powerful “shadowy figure” who’s supposed to be intriguing but is massively overexposed and unrealistic for that) was a bad fit. And the interviews were too directly “transcripts” instead of the faux-oral history style that lets you get what happened in instead of people telling each other what happened. And then despite the “official reports” veneer the author was satisfied with a ridiculously superficial portrayal of how organizations work. That portrayal would work fine in a big dumb action movie, but it feels like such a mismatch with a slow sci-fi novel with absolutely no showing and all telling.

If those kinds of issues wouldn’t bother you, then it’d be an okay book. It was on the longlist for Canada Reads and I’m glad Company Town, a clearly superior (though still on the fast-paced thriller side of the genre) scifi book, made it to the 2017 shortlist instead.

book review: the break

The Break by Katherena Vermette is a multithreaded novel about a crime that takes place in Winnipeg. A young Native woman is attacked in the February night. There’s a witness who calls the police. So it’s a story about a crime, but it’s definitely not a procedural.

We get to know the family around the incident through a number of different viewpoints, including a couple of outsiders (a girl who’s escaped detention and a police officer). The story mostly takes place over less than a week, but is filled with flashbacks that give it a lot more depth than that.

It was a great book.

I often talk about how for me, the practical reason for reading fiction is to build empathy. If you get into the heads of people who are different from you, you help expand what your world can be, and it makes you better at understanding and helping people with different experiences from you. The Break is totally going to be my go-to example for that. Vermette gets us into heads really deftly and her descriptions were incisive and made me shudder. We feel for the weaknesses and we feel the strengths everyone shows.

It’s great. You should read it.

book review: the utility of boredom

The Utility of Boredom is a collection of essays about baseball by Andrew Forbes (not the one I knew from Winnipeg 20 years ago). He is from Ottawa though, and his MLB team is the Blue Jays so I felt more of a connection with his (Ontario-based) thoughts than if they were all about southern California. It’s good and thoughtful and does some of that romanticizing of the sport that I enjoy so much. If you’re interested in why I like baseball this’d be a good book to read.

book review: the divide

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap is Matt Taibbi’s book about how economic inequality affects the American judicial system. How if you have huge amounts of money you will never go to jail but if you have no money you will be hounded by the police for walking down the sidewalk. It was incredibly depressing, but a good read (especially as a companion to Piketty’s Capital which was talking about how the wealth gap grows).

I don’t have the experience of getting thrown in the back of a police van for walking home from work as part of a commercial fishing approach to policing. I also don’t think that the laws should turn away from companies that steal and commit fraud just because there might be collateral consequences to the economy (which is something the Obama administration argued and has become part of banking prosecutions such as they are in the U.S.).

Part of the most depressing part of this book is that it was written in 2014, so pre-Trump. All the deportations and massive fraud investigations and fuckups that hugely and disproportionately affect poor americans, that was under Democrats. Trump deporting people isn’t new. Obama deported thousands and thousands by letting states use traffic stops to get immigrants into Immigration’s clutches. Yes the jackbooted thugs are ever more fascist, but it’s not like America has been a good place for non-white people before 2017-01-20.

book review: infidel

Years ago I read God’s War by Kameron Hurley and then went a long time before reading anything by her again. Then last year I read The Mirror Empire and was blown away and have become a Hurley fan. Our library doesn’t have her new space opera book yet, but I do have the rest of the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy so I gave Infidel a whirl.

It had been a while since I read God’s War, and I was a little unsure if I’d be able to slide right back into its sequel, but the uniqueness of the setting hooks right into the details you’d thought forgotten and I was right back in it. I love how brutal and gruesome the world of this series is. Nyx is still a ruthless assassin who is hard to kill, but she’s getting old and doesn’t have the kind of team she used to. There’s a lot of action, tonnes of bugs stitching people back together and getting shat out as bloody waste. In Infidel they go to a less war-torn country where the brutality of the characters plays in huge contrast to the polite bourgeois society that’s profiting off the war tearing everywhere else to shreds.

It’s great, pulpy action and I won’t be taking as long before reading the end of the trilogy.

UPDATE: I finished the trilogy with Rapture and yup it was similarly good.

book review: up up and away

I grew up a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. I was the perfect age to see them win back-to-back World Series in 92 and 93 and though I had my bleh years when I paid them less attention, I’ve been back in my childhood fandom for at least a decade. Since getting more into baseball I added the San Francisco Giants as my west coast team since it’s good to have a team to root for that’s in the same timezone as you. I chose the Giants because of Tim Lincecum and the Barry Zito fiasco and having missed all the Barry Bonds amazingness of the early 2000s (I did briefly flirt with Dodgers fandom, but I figured it made more sense to support a team because of onfield actions and players rather than primarily for their amazing play-by-play guy; I could still appreciate Vin Scully calling a game even if I wasn’t rooting for the Dodgers). More importantly, I needed a National League team to follow, and there wasn’t another that was an immediate obvious choice.

All of that is to say I regret not having paid more attention to the Montréal Expos when they existed. Jonah Keri did pay attention and wrote a book called Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montréal Expos. It’s a good summary of some of the team’s history and the stories around the teams that were good and the ownership troubles and the Big Owe and all of that. I quite enjoyed it.

I didn’t realize that the Blue Jays and their assertion of all of southern Ontario as their TV market was so detrimental to the Expos’ finances. Growing up I assumed there was a Québec law that said Expos games had to be in French and that was why we so rarely saw them play on TV. I remember the strike season and how even without watching the games we knew they were great and that it was a crime to not have a World Series. But I didn’t know the background fire-sale that decimated the team for the next season. And I totally didn’t know about the late ’70s early ’80s coke-fuelled party teams.

It’s a good book, written journalistically, with maybe a few too many personal stories of Keri’s games he was a spectator at, but whatevs. I have a better idea of the history of the Canadian MLB team I never knew I’d enjoy rooting for.

book review: absolutely on music

I’m a Haruki Murakami fan. Absolutely on Music is a book of conversations he had with the famous conductor Seiji Ozawa. It’s fine.

I found some parts interesting, but this one would really benefit from listening to the music along with the book. I just don’t have the in-depth knowledge to compare what they were saying with my experience of music. Now I want to listen to multiple performances of Brahms to try and make the sorts of comparisons these two were doing, but I doubt I’ll get there.