book review: the stars are legion

The reason I went back to Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha stories a while back was ’cause I was getting antsy waiting for our library to get copies of her new space opera novel The Stars are Legion. Now I have read it and it was just as gooey and intricate as I’d hoped.

Legion is a group of biological worldships surrounding an artifical sun. There are many layers to these worldships and ruling dynasties for each one. Zan is a soldier who begins the novel being put back together after an attack on a neighbouring world. She has no memory, but a strong attraction to Jayd who tells her that everything is tense but fine. Even the half-memory Zan has of murdering a baby is part of the plan, apparently.

And hoo boy are there plans in this story. Because Zan has no memory she’s piecing together what it’s all about along with the reader (in among the spray-on space-suits and fighter attack runs mounted on spacefaring slugbeasts). After a few chapters we also start following Jayd, who’s working on some crazy manipulative scheme against the ruler of their own worldship. She tells Zan she’s in on the plan but Zan doesn’t remember it and might fuck it all up. Other people have guesses about the plans but they’re keeping Zan in the dark to use her as a weapon (’cause Zan is a brutally effective soldier).

Then as the schemes are unfolding, boom boom boom Zan is killed (in a sudden but inevitable betrayal) and her body is recycled. Spoiler alert: Zan isn’t actually dead and then begins the quest up from the centre of the world back to the surface where all the political machinations we’re just getting used to are happening. This is where I really loved the book because it takes the simple set-up and then shows how big a world is and how surface-based civil wars are kind of just the equivalent of White House cabinet shuffles to get ignored by the people who don’t live that life. It takes it a bit more towards a fantasy-novel quest narrative as Zan comes closer to reclaiming her memories, but by the end we do get back to the worldships hurtling through space, don’t worry.

I tried to explain this book while I was in the middle of it and it was difficult; I got immersed in the details of womb-swapping and blood-drinking bonding rituals and cephalopod guns and not knowing exactly where it was going made it hard to see the big picture. Once you’re done though, it works really well, and what appeared to be chaotic was merely complex.

If you like big scifi stories and can handle technology being mostly biological (which does make for a lot of mucous throughout) I heartily recommend The Stars are Legion.

book review: colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the new novel by Haruki Murakami. It was more in the realm of Sputnik Sweetheart or South of the Border, West of the Sun than it was a 1Q84 or Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Really, that’s probably all the review this needs. I love Murakami novels (even the ones I have issues with) and this is very definitely a Murakami novel.

In this one, the protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is trying to reconnect with his tight group of friends from when they were young. There’d been five of them and he was the only one who didn’t have a colour in his name. He lost contact when they all abruptly cut him off one day, out of nowhere. Tazaki is pushed into this task by a girlfriend and it involves a lot of reflection and listening to Liszt.

It didn’t get very weird. It echoed the dream responsibilities and other worlds of some of his other books, and there’s speculation about what could have happened and Tazaki’s responsibility for what a nonexistent version of himself was capable of.

I liked it. Not set on fire by it, but Murakami is my comfort reading now, so I’m okay with my brain being set aflame elsewhere.

book review: the underwater welder

The Underwater Welder is Jeff Lemire’s story of being scared of becoming a father. It’s so good. The introduction to the book sets it up as “the greatest Twilight Zone episode that was never produced.” I like that conceit but that makes it sound a lot more self-contained than it was.

Jack and Susan are expecting a baby in the next month. Jack keeps running off to his work on the oil rig, as an underwater welder. We know something bad happened between him and his father at Halloween some year, and it’s keeping him attached to the loneliness of solitary work in the ocean instead of the flesh and blood people surrounding him. It’s an ominous and looming kind of story that pushed in on my chest as I read it.

Lemire draws the book with the same kind of scratchy style he used in Essex County, but here it feels different. Maybe it’s just all the water that makes the wobbly lines feel like they’re the distortions of seeing everything through bubbles. The big splash pages work very well, especially the ones with the floods of memories coming in like clouds of angular bubbles.

It’s a beautifully done book. Highly recommended.

book review: how to live safely in a science fictional universe

I loved How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu so much. It’s a story about a time machine repair guy named Charles Yu who’s been living safely off in a null-zone where time doesn’t really pass, thinking about his father who disappeared, the inability to change the past, the trajectory of a life and closed time-like loops. But really it’s about loneliness and memory.

It’s a quiet book, introspective. I think I’d thought it would be funnier, but instead it was just beautiful. Also a good crossover book for people who like literature and aren’t necessarily interested in “science fiction.” There’s lots of stuff tossed in there in technical language, that’s cryptic but decipherable. It encourages study and reading slowly, really settling into the book (which is not long at all).

Definitely one of my new favourites. Yu’s new short story collection, Sorry Please Thank You, is now on my must read list.

book review: open city

I picked up Teju Cole’s Open City because I saw his bit in The Atlantic about the White-Saviour Industrial Complex. This book isn’t really about Africa, but about being a man distanced from the world.

Julius is a Nigerian-born psychiatry resident in New York and the story follows him walking through his city, a trip to Belgium and his memories. There are multiple relationships touched upon, including that of his German mother, an elderly professor and people half-remembered from his childhood.

The book creates this sympathy for a calloused and detached person whose job is to connect with and resolve issues for his patients. It’s very good. Contemplative. A revelation in the end changes how you perceive Julius throughout the book, and that’s probably as close as the book gets to a plot.

book review: the giver

Lois Lowry’s The Giver was in our unit on dystopias, and yes, it fits there. I ended up being unimpressed with it as a book though, mainly because of the “unique snowflake” syndrome it exhibits.

Jonas lives in a society where you’re assigned a job to be trained for when you hit 12 years old. Not exactly 12, because you’re part of a year which all hits these milestones together. The society has a huge number of rules and surveillance to maintain itself. Jonas is understandably excited about his upcoming assignment. But he gets a weird job that sets him apart from the community as a keeper of memory, which is when you learn that no one can see colours or knows what hills or snow are, since the Sameness was instituted to eliminate pain and poor choices.

It’s a good book, as far as it goes. It’s very firm in its support of individual choice as opposed to terrible efficiency (something it shares with A Wrinkle in Time). The problem is how Jonas has to have memories transmitted into him psychically and then the ending is kind of abrupt (though it’s also kind of ambiguous, leaving a few interpretations open until being stomped on by the sequel). The thing that bugs me is how Jonas and the Giver are the only people in the world who aren’t drones that care only about the status quo.

There’s more good than bad to it, though Scott Westerfeld does a better job with similar material in Uglies. Uglies is a bit more YA and this is a bit more childrens’ I guess.

book review: waltz with bashir

I haven’t seen the movie version of Waltz With Bashir, but Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s comic (they also made the animated documentary) is an adaptation of it. It feels that way, more like a tie-in product than something natively created in the comicbook form.

It’s about an Israeli soldier coming to terms with his actions during a massacre in Lebanon in 1982. He starts off not remembering it at all, but travels to some places and talks to some people to figure out what happened and what his dreams about it mean.

Maybe I sound dismissive, but it felt very shallow. It might have worked as a film, but without humans portraying these characters the dialogue felt uninspired. There wasn’t anything for me to really get into. I want more meat to a story like this. I guess I’m just saying this was no Joe Sacco book.