Bulb

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Bradley Wind and his speculative fiction novel Bulb.

Author’s description of the book:

If light records everything we do, can even shadows hide our secrets?

 

Imagine your entire life is available for review.

 

Imagine each day any event can be watched over and over again – your birth, your first kiss, your recent shower, that private itch – all replayable from any angle. Now imagine these can be viewed by anyone at any time.

 

Is a world where there is far less ego, little crime, and even the smallest moments are recorded and available publicly through the ‘Grand Archive’ a Utopia or a Dystopia? Traumatized by memories he does not want to recall, artist Ben Tinthawin is recruited by the enigmatic, Grand Archive creator Dr. Mamon, who seeks help for his nextgen designs to enhance the world. Ben stumbles across a secret revealing the doctor’s true scheme in all its surreal splendor and questions whether the doctor really is the benevolent soul he claims to be. As the paths of a broken man and a brilliant revolutionary cross, the world shifts and cracks start to appear. Even our most fundamental codes can be encrypted – or corrupted. If the wrong information is discovered, more than Ben’s life will be in danger of total shut down.

 

Prepare yourself for full exposure.

My Review:

In Bulb, Bradley Wind has created an unusual and thought-provoking look into the future. It poses plenty of relevant questions about today and about the choices we’re making.

What I liked best:

1. This is a genuine attempt to describe the future, not a story set in our own world with more rocket ships and robots in the background. The author makes the valid point that if you asked a human from ten thousand years ago to describe the year 2020 they wouldn’t have enough information to even imagine our society. Bradley Wind has tried to make this leap into an unimaginable future, and he has succeeded in creating a disturbing and unexpected world that seems normal and even inevitable to those living in it.

2. His writing packs a punch.

3. This could have been a one-good-idea book. The concept of the archives is so different, and so chilling, that it would carry a fine story. However, Wind is just getting started when he lays out the concept of everyone being able to view everything everyone else has ever done.

What I liked least:

1. The pacing is erratic. I do think the way the book is written has an overall artistic effect, but one has to get through it to appreciate the artistry, and this is not an easy book to finish.

2. Item three above is somewhat of a two-edged sword. This story throws so many radical ideas at the reader that overload is likely. Yes, you can have too much dessert, and too many things to think about in too short a time. I’d recommend reading this novel over a period of several days, if not more.

3. This last part is subjective and I always wonder whether personal preferences should be included. Yet, no matter how well done something is or isn’t, we all have own tastes and they effect our reading experience. So, I’ll be blunt. I didn’t enjoy reading this book.

I’m easily bothered by blood and gore, disturbing rape scenes, disgusting behavior, detailed descriptions of bodily functions, deformities, mutilations and you get the idea. I’m not a good date at a zombie movie and I don’t watch horror flicks. But … Bradley Wind can’t seem to stay off of these topics. His descriptions of the lives of two saints (people who voluntarily stay in a coma to keep the system running) were so over the top they nearly stopped me from finishing the story.

It’s important to note that I’ve read other novels I didn’t enjoy, and yet which I’m glad I read. (Did anyone actually enjoy reading 1984?) The truth is, we don’t only read for fun. We read to understand new points of view. We read to have our imaginations expanded and our empathy increased. We read to think more and to feel more and to grow.

So, I recommend this book to (1) people who enjoy dark and disturbing speculative fiction, and (2) to those willing to read such in order to be exposed to ideas they’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Trust me, this book is full of them.

About the Author:

Bradley Wind was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He is a prolific visual artist whose work has exhibited in the 20th-century wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He worked as a toy designer for K’nex Industries, a manager of IT for Pearl S. Buck International and is currently a director of IT for a child-focused non-profit. He raises chickens and two lovely girls with his wife in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

BULB is his latest novel.

Find him on his website, on Facebook, Instagram, BookBub, Goodreads, or on Twitter. 

Buy Bulb on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Bradley Wind will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops.

 

Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (3 of 3)

Because I’m an introvert who sucks at social obligations (see the two posts mentioned below) I’m looking into ways I, too, can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the third of these three.

A Problem:

Like most (maybe all?) people driven to write novels, I grew up reading dozens of novels a year for fun. College classes slowed me down a little, but not much. Likewise, marriage, children and a full-time job only put a dent in my addiction of choice.

It took writing books myself to bring my favorite pass time to a complete halt. And I’m still sad about it. Turns out I can do almost anything and read all I want, except write.

I’ve already written about how I use (and enjoy) flash fiction to stay current in my genre. And I’ve written about how I follow a limited number of blogs and online groups, trying to be supportive of them while refraining from comments.  I make an effort to stay away from others all together.

Today, I’m considering the rare times I do read a novel these days, and why.

A Solution:

Most of my reading today is done for blog tours, providing reviews for others like me, trying to gain attention for their self-published or small indie press published works. I’m sympathetic to their aims and I try to be positive in my reviews, while still being honest. Often the books aren’t chosen because I’d choose them off a shelf, but rather because they are available for review.

I’ve discovered there are genres I need to avoid.  I already knew I lacked the gene to appreciate true horror novels, or anything grisly or gross. Now I know not to sign up for anything with the word romance in the description. (I’ve nothing against romance in real life, I just prefer my plots to be less predictable.) Recently I’ve learned to be careful choosing YA novels too. I’ve enjoyed some, but they need to be pretty special before I get emotionally involved in teenage troubles.

“Then what do you read?” you may ask. Good question, as I’ve just eliminated a lot of  what’s written. I do like crime novels, science fictions, and most fantasy. (It can get too dark and grim for me out on the edges.) If I stick to this, I find I generally enjoy any reasonably well-constructed story and can say something good about it. That’s nice for me. It means I got to read a book. And it’s nice for the author. They got one more positive review.

The Problem with the Solution:

To be honest, reading to write reviews doesn’t feed my addition. It doesn’t fill some longing deep in my brain. Why?

I read these book the way I used to read assignments in school. I skim and I skip and I barely touch down, just enough to render a fair review, the way I used to do when I had to produce an adequate paper.  Yes, I often enjoy the story, but not the same way I enjoy a leisurely immersion in another world.

And, the truth is, these are often authors still early in their own learning curves. Even though they’ve accomplished the remarkable feat of producing a full-length, coherent novel, they often have habits I want to avoid, not emulate.

To write better, I decided I needed to read better as well.

Recently I’ve started allowing myself to take short vacations from writing, to read a carefully selected novel. I’m turning to award winners, to those books highly recommend by friends and to stories whose descriptions call to me for one reason or another.

I have two rules as I read these books. Well, actually three. The first is to take my time and enjoy the book. The second is to keep my eye out for ways I can grow as a writer. (No, the two tasks don’t seem to be mutually exclusive.) The third is to write a review of these books as well. Even acclaimed authors can use a little a more praise.

Next up for me? Recursion by Blake Crouch and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow.

I know I’m not the greatest literary citizen with these few techniques, and I never will be, but I am managing to produce my own fiction while no longer groaning every time someone mentions being “a good literary citizen.” I’m willing to call it achieving a balance.

 

The Tears We Never Cried

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Ryshia Kennie and her novel The Tears We Never Cried.

Author’s description of the book:

A mother’s tragic diagnosis.
A daughter’s life on hold.
An ending and a new beginning …

Cassandra McDowall’s mother has been forgetful for a while, but she never anticipated rapid-onset Alzheimer’s to come out of nowhere and shake their world to its very core.

As Cassie puts her already-lackluster life on hold, her mom’s indomitable will and spirit of adventure prove to be a handful.

And as her mother fades, the two embark on one last adventure—a journey that reveals secrets on the brink of being lost, the joy of foreign sunsets, and love where she hadn’t thought it possible.

About the Author:

The winner of  her city’s writing award, Ryshia Kennie’s novels have taken her characters from the depression era prairies in her first book “From the Dust” to a across the globe and back again. There’s never a lack of places to set a story as the too long prairie winters occasionally find her with travel journal in hand seeking adventure on foreign shores.  While facing off a Monitor Lizard before breakfast or running through the Kasbah chased by an enraged Water Carrier aren’t normal travel experiences and might never find a place in one of her stories, they do make great travel stories.  When not collecting odd memories from around the world, she’s writing mainly romantic suspense and women’s fiction.

Find Ryshia at her website, or on Facebook, on Instagram, or on Twitter.

Purchase her book on Amazon at The Tears We Never Cried

Yes there is a giveaway.

Ryshia Kennie will award a randomly drawn winner a $15 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift certificate.

Enter here to win

My favorite excerpt:

“The car is stolen!”

Mother’s voice sliced through the swirls of sleep.

I leapt out of bed, glanced at the clock and tripped over the unfamiliar flannel sheet. On the wall was a poster of a rock band I’d loved at fifteen. I was back in the room of my childhood.

I’d brought Mother home to live with me for that first night after the Christmas card debacle. One night was about all either of us could tolerate. My apartment was too small. It had taken me only a few days to get my stuff together, notify my landlord and move in with Mother.

“Hang on, Mom.” I fought to catch my breath as I reached for my housecoat.

“Cassie!” Her voice cracked across the layer of frost that collected on the window frame overnight and slammed through the partially open window. I have a penchant for fresh air. Sleeping with a window open even in the midst of winter is normal for me, and made it easy to hear Mother’s shriek outside as it erupted a second time loud enough to roust the neighbors. Her screech had me excited but not panicked. Not until my conscious and my unconscious married those two thoughts together—outside and Mother.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish.

Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

A Personal Note from Me:

I signed up for this tour because I grew up in household affected by Alzheimer’s disease in one of my grandparents. I remember how the pain is most difficult for the one or two people who are closest to the person.

This is a blog about being able to see the future. I think if my own mother could have seen a decade ahead, after the disease had long since taken my grandfather and her life had moved on, it would have helped her. But, of course, we can’t see ahead.

I now have the hindsight of decades, and much more medical knowledge, but I always applaud a book that attempts to handle this difficult topic with sensitivity and understanding.

 

Rich and Gone

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author W. F. Ranew and his novel Rich and Gone.

Author’s description of the book:

PI Red Farlow is on the hunt to find $300 million a Florida insurance executive has bilked out of family and friends.

Woody Cunningham stashed the money in safe havens around the world before disappearing. Has he been done in by one of his enemies? Or did he skip town with his girlfriend to live off the ill-gotten wealth? If that’s the case, where is he?

Farlow must quickly learn how and why people hide their money in offshore accounts if he’s to find out what happened to Cunningham.

When a tough guy from Farlow’s past resurfaces, wanting to settle an old score, Farlow discovers he also has links to the missing man. Clues lead him across Georgia and Florida, and Europe, to find the answers.

Is Woody Cunningham dead, or just rich and gone?

Excerpt:

We straddled barbed wire in a low-slung section of the fence and tramped toward the cabin pitched above the languid, black-water river, stained dark by tannins of vegetation. Along its banks, the sugar loaf knees of cypress trees rose up out of the water. An idyllic spot, if you loved pines, mossy oaks, solitude, and an occasional water moccasin basking on a stump. Lord, it was quiet out here. A quiet broken only by the gently moving stream, birds chirping, and fish jumping. In the distance, a mourning dove sang its song of lamentation.

The dark brown chink-log cabin looked rustic enough. Upon closer inspection, modern accouterments stood out. A roof-mounted satellite dish turned up to the southwestern sky, and a surveillance camera pointed in our direction. A deck had been added at some point and wrapped around the original structure. One section, with a hot tub, hammock, and rocking chairs, extended over the riverbank.

Cunningham owned an expensive collection of shotguns for his frequent hunting trips on the property. Had he kept them in this house? Probably not. He was an insurance executive after all.

My Review:

Rich and Gone starts off with a great title and it goes to on tell an interesting and complex who-dun-it story spiced with lots of genuine southern flavor and the occasional bit of big money intrigue.

Things I especially liked:

  1. All the financial sleuthing, and the impressive research behind it.
  2. An older protagonist who trusts his hunches, is tech savvy, and who is finally having a love affair with the woman he’s yearned for, for forty years.
  3. Great descriptions of Florida and Georgia, and even better descriptions of the food and drink of the south

Things I struggled with:

  1. Too much background information about minor characters, especially those introduced late in the story
  2. A graphic sex scene between two minor characters and a graphic murder showing the homophobia involved — both scenes seemed out of place and gratuitous, as they were unnecessary to plot or character development
  3. Several cases of the protagonist figuring something out, or his future self chiming in about finding useful information, and then not telling the reader what the tidbit is

Even though the story didn’t quite fire on all cylinders for me, it’s a well-crafted crime novel with plenty of complexity and surprises. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.

About the Author:

W.F. Ranew is the author of Rich and Gone, a Red Farlow mystery set for publication May 29, 2019, by Tirgearr Publishing. He a former newspaper reporter, editor, and communication executive. He started his journalism career covering sports, police, and city council meetings at his hometown newspaper, The Quitman Free Press. He also worked as a reporter and editor for The Augusta Chronicle, The Florida Times-Union, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he was a news editor.

Ranew has written two previous novels: Schoolhouse Man and Candyman’s Sorrow. He lives in Atlanta and St. Simons Island, Ga.

Find W. F. Ranew at the following places: His website. The Tirgearr book page. His Tirgearr author page. His Goodreads page. His Blog. On Facebook. Also find him on Twitter at @wfranew

W. F. Ranew is giving away a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Nobel Gift card!

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops and find many more ways to enter and to win!

If you are interested in a review from me:

This is a blog devoted to thinking about the future. I review books and movies related to this theme or to those that otherwise have a strong tie to subjects touched upon in Flickers of Fortune, such as mysteries or thrillers related to finance.

I do read the entire book and I write real reviews. I cross post my reviews on Amazon, Good Reads and Library Thing, and will post elsewhere upon request. If you would like to be considered for a review please comment here or contact me at Ariel (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

It Don’t Come Easy

I’ve been thinking about Ringo Starr a lot, mostly because someone just told me he was turning 91, Really? That seemed so hard to believe. With good reason. It isn’t true. He’s turning 79 on Sunday.. Yes, that is still old but ….. it isn’t 91.

A second source confirmed for me it had to be true because Ringo was about ten years older than the other Beatles. Also not true.  Paul McCartney just turned 77. And while we’re at it, over the next week Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac turns 76 and Patrick Stewart (my favorite Star Trek Captain of all time) will turn 79. There is a lot of talent in that late 70’s group …. but that isn’t my point

I’m more interested in why Ringo got dissed so easily. Is it because he’s always been that Beatle. The one we all though was lucky to be there. Could have been any drummer, right? Maybe. I’ll bet it’s not that simple.

Because I’m not a huge Beatles fan, I don’t have strong feeling on the subject. Ringo only wrote one song I like, but I do like it a lot. Lately I’ve been struggling with some things of my own. Publishing my sixth book next week and getting push back that it’s not that good. A couple of bad reviews of my other books. No, not just bad, snotty. I don’t mind a bad review.  I do mind a snotty one.

I’ve been asking why in the world I’m bothering to put my writing and myself out there so people can shoot me down and make me feel like shit. Am I masochistic? No. Desperate for attention. I don’t think so. Bored. No, I’ve plenty else to do.

The only answer I can come up with is I believe in my writing and in myself. I wonder if Ringo believed in himself through all the snide jokes about how he didn’t matter. I’m just curious.

Today, Ringo does appears to be a healthy and happy 78 year old. Money isn’t everything, but according to Wealthy Gorilla  his net worth  as of 2019 is $350 million dollars.  I think that can buy a lot of solace for people thinking he’s turning 91.

Anyway, enjoy my favorite Ringo song.  I’m singing it in my head a lot these days.

Review: Little Computer People

I’m a geek by training and by disposition. When I read the description of Little Computer People I couldn’t resist signing up to review it.

Review summary: Galen Surlak-Ramsey has written a book that is great fun to read, and certain to delight those with an understanding of computers. Details are below.

About this book: When Gabe created the world’s first sentient program, Pi, he thought things couldn’t get better. Now he’s pretty sure things couldn’t get worse.

After a colossal error on Gabe’s part, Pi turns into a binary monster along the lines of HAL, GLaDOS, and SHODAN. As she goes on the rampage, the only thing rendering her mostly harmless is the fact that she doesn’t fully understand the physical world…yet.

But she’s learning.

And unless Gabe quickly finds a way to rein her in or shut her down, the next time Pi starts a fire, it won’t just be his empty house that goes up in flames.

About the author: When not writing, Galen Surlak-Ramsey has been known to throw himself out of an airplane, teach others how to throw themselves out of an airplane, take pictures of the deep space, and wrangle his four children somewhere in Southwest Florida.

He also manages to pay the bills as a chaplain for a local hospice.

Drop by his website https://galensurlak.com/ to see what other books he has out, what’s coming soon, and check out the newsletter (well, sign up for the newsletter and get access to awesome goodies, contests, exclusive content, etc.)

Buy the book at Amazon.

Giveaway: Galen Surlak-Ramsey will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Nobel gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more, and register to win.

My full review: I became a fan as soon as I read “there are 10 kinds of people” and realized the author was using binary (where 10 = 2). Brilliant!

This is a niche book, but a well done one. I give it a 3.9/5

What I liked best: 

  1. The overall tone of the book is fun, funny and self-deprecating. The narrator/main character has a shrewd self-awareness that keeps him from becoming obnoxious, even when he does outrageous things like compare himself to God.
  2. His AI creation Pi has all the venom of an angry 14 year old. Her behavior is humorous, but her world view has interesting things to say about humans as well.
  3. I’m not enough of an expert to pick apart the technical details, but the author’s rudimentary understanding of computers adds a nice level of authenticity.
  4. I always like a book when the main character grows and opts for behaving as his best self at the end.

What I liked least:

  1. A lone guy in his living room creating something so phenomenal from scratch in such a short time does push credibility.
  2. That the man most likely to buy Pi has a smart, gorgeous and unattached daughter pushes credibility more, and the fact that she falls for the main character in a matter of days takes a pretty large a leap of faith.
  3. I would had liked to have seen more loose ends tied up at the end.

Those minor complaints aside, I’m glad I read this, and I will seek out more by this author. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humorous speculative fiction.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions. Visit Goddess Fish on Facebook  and on Twitter.

Read more reviews of Little Computer People at:

July 12: Long and Short Reviews
July 19: Let me tell you a story
July 26: Fabulous and Brunette
July 26: Kit ‘N Kabookle

My favorite excerpt: The first program I ever wrote was called Pussy Cat Divides. It was six lines of Basic goodness I wrote on my Apple IIe that allowed the user to input two numbers and the computer would then divide them, spit out the answer, and say, “How do you like that, Pussy Cat?” Yes, it was a glorified calculator, but since I was five, I was so in awe at what I had done I might as well have parted the Red Sea. From there I went on to program anything and everything I could dream up. Text adventures. Submarine games. Flight sims. You name it. I made it. And I managed to squeeze all of those programming gems in between elementary school, soccer practice, and developing a budding, but dangerous, understanding of chemistry thanks to my PhD-wielding father.

One sunny, summer afternoon, the garage caught fire. As I stood there watching the firemen pour untold gallons of water on the smoldering remains of our house, I had an epiphany. I realized that while I could easily test the stickiness of homemade napalm on the surfaces of garage ceilings, I could not, whatsoever, control the subsequent fire. And that wouldn’t have been too horrible if I could’ve at least erased the results of that minor oversight and kept my little sister, Courtney, quiet. But alas, that too was beyond my powers (and I’ll be damned if the fire marshal wasn’t a better investigator than I’d anticipated). So I had to admit that I didn’t actually own the universe in which I lived. I couldn’t shape its laws or make it conform to my will. I couldn’t add snippets of code to ensure things went my way, or hit that wonderful backspace key to correct a typo, stray pointer, or bug-ridden function call.

But I could do all of that with a computer. Anything I programmed had to obey me, had to follow the laws I set forth. I could make a world where gravity was non-existent and watch virtual objects float about. Or if I felt malicious, I could design a virus that went on its merry way and multiplied like a dozen cocaine-snorting, Viagra-popping rabbits. And if I could do all of that, I could create Life, the Universe, and Everything. All I needed to do was convince my parents not to kill me outright so I could hammer at the keyboard until my fingers bled.

A personal note: I am a writer myself and therefore come to all reviews with biases born not only of my personal preferences but also of my own writing style. This particular author writes in the vein of so many authors who influenced me years ago, so it may have been inevitable I would enjoy this book.

I also received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

If you are interested in a review from me:  I am willing to review both non-fiction and fiction. Please do not ask me to review dystopian novels involving zombies, romance novels of any kind, or stories which promote any particular religion. If you would like to be considered for a review please comment here or contact me at Ariel (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Please understand. I write real reviews. I read your entire book, although I skim parts I don’t enjoy. I tell you and others what I liked best about it, liked least, and to whom I would recommend it. I try to be generous, and I avoid snark that would entertain others at the expense of insulting you. However, if I don’t like something, I say so.

I rate the book on a scale of 1 to 5 and I use decimals because I need a lot more bandwidth. If the rating is 2.4 or lower I will not post it in conjunction with a blog tour but will add it later. If the rating is 2.5 (or anything point five) I will round up on other sites. I cross post my reviews on Amazon, Good Reads and Library Thing, and will post elsewhere upon request.

I am also open to doing an occasional feature of a relevant book without a review.

 

Review: The City and The City

Summary: I’m in awe of this book, and I like to think that I don’t awe easily. It has stuck with me since I finished it; the surest sign of an effective story. I give it a 4.8/5, the highest rating I’ve given since I started this decimal point thing.

What I liked least:

  1. The quotes and reviews on the cover and at the front. That may seem an odd complaint, but this book was given to me as a gift a couple of years ago and I put off reading it because everyone made it sound so depressing. Anything billed as a Kafka-meets-noir-crime-novel doesn’t go to the beach with me, yet this book could have and should have. I wish I’d read it years ago.
  2. The end. I might as well get it out here at the start. I’ll say no more about it, but there were so many ways for this story to go and while I can think of much worse endings, the one that happened wasn’t one of the possibilities I wanted. So it goes.
Author China Mielville

What I liked best:

  1. Everything else, but I’ll try to be more specific.
  2. The author takes an absolutely ridiculous premise, answers your every objection to it while telling the story, and leaves you accepting an alternate history wherein two independent city states exist in the same geographical place, each refusing to see the other.
  3. Once you make that leap, you start to realize how believable the premise is because it touches on ways real humans behave. Then you start to find examples of unseeing all around you and I don’t know how long that goes on for because it’s been a week now and I’m still doing it. I may never stop.
  4. The book is not depressing, at least to me. The reason is that many if not most of the characters have a shred of human decency in them and the main ones hide kind hearts under their tough and expletive laden exteriors. Yes, the overall style is crime novel noir, with a touch of cold war spy and splashes of absurdity, but any time we actually get good guys and gals trying to do what’s right, I’m willing to stand up and cheer.
  5. Main characters are well fleshed out given the author’s sparse strokes. Inspector Tyador Borlu of the City of Beszel’s Extreme Crime Squad, the book’s protagonist and narrator, won my sympathy during the opening scene as he looks out for the young drug dealers who come forward when they find a body. He cemented my high regard when he met the dead girl’s parents and noted how “Grief made them look stupid. It was cruel.”
  6. When Borlu is forced to meet and work with his counterpart, senior detective Qussim Dhatt of the ignored city Ul Qoma, one sees through Borlu’s eyes and is lead to think the man is a jerk. We discover, along with Borlu, how much the two detectives have in common.
  7. I’m female, and I judge how a writer handles his or her women characters. Mr. Mieville treats them all as people, a refreshing delight. In particular, constable Lizbyet Corwi is a tough capable detective, no less female for not being some man’s love interest.
  8. The book is a mix of ingredients one would never expect to work as well together as they do. There is humor, as residents of each city joke about how their weather is better and visit their local Starbucks, which of course has shops in both cities. There is mystery and suspense, some of which surrounds a 2000 year old archaeological dig that may hold the secret to the origin of this bizarre arrangement. Some things are never solved or explained, others reach a satisfying conclusion.
  9. Finally, this author won me over with his dedication. It’s to his mother, which is common enough, but he adds that he “wanted to write a book that my mother would have loved.” Wow. I wish I could have met his mother.

I often get asked to name the writers who inspired me as an author, and I have trouble coming up with a list. Part of the reason is I tend to be inspired by specific books, rather than bodies of work, and the other is the degree to which the list has morphed as I’ve aged.

My approach is to keep a short list of books I can point to and say “I’m trying to write that well.” The City and the City has placed itself at the top of my list.

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I received this book as a gift from someone who knows me well and shares my tastes in science fiction. He kept eagerly asking if I’d started it yet, but something about the book held me back. It’s big, it’s translated from Chinese, and has physics and geometry all over the cover. “I’ll read it next,” I kept saying.

Next finally came, and I loved this book. I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

What I liked best (besides all of the above):

  1. I’m not so big on historical fiction, but the window into China’s cultural revolution of the 60’s was fascinating, and it shows some chilling parallels to the wave of populism currently sweeping the west.
  2. The author allows this tale to develop at it’s own pace. He tells it in a non-linear fashion, going back and forth in time more than once, letting the reader learn more with each visit. This worked well for me and I appreciated the lack of gimmicks often used by other authors to grab and hold the attention of a reader. Cixin Liu has a tale worth telling and he knows it.
  3. The science is amazing, and to the best of my limited knowledge, accurate.
  4. The number of women scientists in this story is unusual and refreshing. I wonder: does this reflect reality in China, or the needs of the story, or the  desire of the author? Why-ever, it was a pleasant plus for me.
  5. I had little appreciation for the challenges of translating such a story, bridging not only the gulf between vastly different languages, but between different perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge of history. The translator, Ken Liu, does an excellent job with subtle, short footnotes intended to provide just enough context to the western reader.
  6. Most significantly, just when I thought there could not possibly be a significantly new variation on a first contact story, this came along. I feel like blurbs on this book already give away too much of the story, so I will only say I’m impressed with the originality of Liu’s approach. It will leave you thinking.

What I didn’t like so much:

  1. Liu doesn’t spend a lot of time inside his character’s heads, showing the reader the emotional motivation for their behavior. This sparseness works, for the most part, but a little more would have been nice.
  2. I said the science is amazing, and it is, but some narrative devices used at the very end pushed my limits of credibility.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories that inform while they entertain, and/or books that encourage them to think.

Two personal notes:

  1. Having written d4, a book of my own about the survival of the human race and how our behavior now could impact our fate in a few hundred years, I felt something of a connection with this tale and it probably resulted in my liking this book even more.
  2. I was impressed by both the author and the translator’s postscripts for the American edition at the end of the book. Both were insightful, but this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Yeah. What he said.

After I read the passage above, I would have liked any book the man had written.