book review: usurper of the sun

Usurper of the Sun is a science fiction novel by 野尻 抱介 (Housuke Nojiri). A blurb on the cover said it was a “blend of Arthur C Clarke and Haruki Murakami” which made me grab it off the shelf in the library. Let me warn you: the only similarity with a Murakami novel is that both authors come from the same island nation. Happily, it is very much like an Arthur C Clarke novel, which was enough for me to like it.

Aki is a young girl in high school who is the first person to notice a giant structure on Mercury that will eventually block out the sun. She dedicates her life to science to understand it and find out who built it, why and what can be done to communicate with the Builders all while ensuring human survival in our solar system.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in the book. It’s a good first contact story dealing with communicating with aliens that are entirely different from ourselves, and the assumptions humans bring to communication.

The characterization is pretty terrible. Maybe it’s just the translation, but everything is very declarative about loneliness and how much things mean to the different characters, and it all feels very clumsy and amateurish. But the characters were clear and you could see how better word choices could make it feel less sterile. Maybe it was trying to emulate those old science fiction stories where characters were standins to carry science around. In that case it worked. It felt very classic in its approach.

The ideas were interesting and if it seemed a little simplistic in places, well, there are worse things in the world.

book review: mercury

Mercury is a comic by Hope Larson that takes place in Nova Scotia in two timelines. In 2009, Tara is new to Grade 10 in the town she grew up in. Her mother is off in Alberta working in the tar sands. She meets a boy who looks just like her and they go looking for buried treasure. In 1859 Josie’s farming family (Tara’s ancestors) take in a young prospector who Josie’s mother thinks is shady and up to no good. The intersection between the stories comes in the form of a quicksilver filled pendant.

It’s a very cleanly drawn book and the similarity in appearance between Tara and Ben works well. I liked the jumps between the timelines, but on the whole it felt like the story needed something more. It wasn’t quite understated enough to play that as a strength but not enough happened. I do feel we got to know Tara well, but Josie much less so.

But yeah. It wasn’t bad. Good Canadian content and all, but nothing I’d be rushing to put in people’s hands.

book review: the sirens of titan

I think Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan is the most old-school science fictional of his books I’ve read. It’s kind of like Stranger in a Strange Land, with its messianic outerspace weirdo, though in Sirens of Titan he was a human space explorer who got caught in an anomaly that spread him out and made him much less situated in space and time. He also starts a war between Mars and Earth for a very convoluted reason. The entire thing is convoluted really (though I figured out how they could escape the labyrinthine tunnels of Mercury long before the characters did).

It’s about luck and the way things seem to work out. And about the stupidity of the military. And war and religion. And the point of all human existence is revealed in the book, so that’s something.