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Search tags: dystopian-post-apoc
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review 2018-05-18 00:52
Good Morning, Midnight
Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel - Lily Brooks-Dalton

I'm sure there are plenty of people who will find this a beautiful and meditative read about the nature of loneliness and connectivity. I was not one of those people. Not by a long shot.

Maybe it's the result of years of studying literature and writing, but I could not stand the way this book was written. I know a lot of people enjoyed the prose, but again I was not one of them. There was no developed voice, and the style of the writing feels very much like the product of a writing program rather than an author developing a distinct voice. The metaphors were often tortured and the language repetitive and rote. More damning, I found the characters unbelievable, especially the astronauts (and cosmonauts). I did not believe these people and I did not like them. And the twists? I called them Very Early in the book (maybe page 20?), and they were aggravatingly pat. Perhaps I've read too many stories in workshop, or too many books in general, but I found the story laughably trite and predictable.

Here's the thing: I feel like Brooks-Dalton wanted to write a story about the nature of loneliness and the human condition. Which is great. The mistake is that she decided to shoehorn this story into a sci-fi genre and she totally dropped the ball. You can write literary sci-fi, but it's a tricky beast. You need to understand both literary trappings and genre trappings, and make them work in tandem. In this book they were fighting against each other. For example, the book kept pointing at science, and trying to make it a core part of the story, without ever understanding it. Science isn't a magic system you can just slot into your story to make it more interesting. It became evident that the research done was only very surface level, and the discrepancies became distracting. (Don't even get me started on all the errors made in regards to space and the space program.)

Not a science nerd? Maybe it won't bother you. Then again, an awful lot of people are going to enter into this book expecting at least some answers to basic questions set up by the premise, like what caused the apocalypse, and those questions are not answered. There really isn't much plot to speak of, and there is absolutely no world building. These are things many folks appreciate and expect in their narratives.

Look, here's the thing, if you're intrigued by the idea of a post-apocalyptic narrative, or you're interested in a duel narrative where a scientist and an astronaut work to solve a problem, this will disappoint you. It is neither of those things. This book is about isolated people navel gazing about how they came to a point in their life where they are alone. That's it. And a lot of people will enjoy that. Which is totally fine. Unfortunately I for one found it insufferable.

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review 2018-04-11 00:17
Memory of Water: Lyrical but not Deep
Memory of Water: A Novel - Emmi Itäranta

The writing in this book is absolutely lovely. It's lyrical, almost meditative, and really pulled me into a sense of place and tone. I could feel the heat pushing down on me, and the bugs buzzing in the air. The descriptions were lush and evocative, especially when describing the tea ceremony. It is easily one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've read in quite some time. While I was reading I was absolutely engrossed and transported. Whenever I set the book down, however, things would niggle at me. And now that a little time has passed since I finished the book I find I've cooled on it even more.

 

The actions of the main character, the science, the way the world operates, it all just fails to make sense upon inspection. And this book wants you to inspect. It pulls you close, and very clearly wants you to think about the messages and themes it presents. I can't remember the last time I read a book that had such lovely prose, but at its core such uneven storytelling. The main character was so naive it went beyond the point where I would have disliked her, and instead went into territory where I could no longer suspend disbelief in her. There were points where I actually found myself exclaiming aloud at her poor decisions. It didn't feel like the actions of a dumb girl - it felt like the author manipulating the flow of the story to reach a certain conclusion. Since the story toys with being a character study this is pretty damning.

 

In the end I'm torn on this one. I enjoyed reading it, and I loved the prose, but I'm left frustrated. There are just too many plot holes and story crafting issues for this to be the sort of read I can solidly say I love. That said, I very much want to read more of Itäranta's work in the future. I think she could become brilliant if her storytelling can catch up to her writing skills.

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review 2018-03-22 01:55
The Gate to Women's Country
The Gate to Women's Country - Sheri S. Tepper

If I had read this when it was first published, in the 80s, I think I would have really liked this book. Alas, I read it now and it mostly made me angry.

 

This book channels second wave feminism pretty heartily, and unfortunately it also falls into some of the movement's pitfalls. Powerfully negative attitudes towards men lie the foundation for this story - an idea that men are innately violent and aggressive, and women are not, is the true dividing line. This book pretends that personality is based purely on nature with nurture making little difference. Bodily autonomy and emotional connectivity fall to the wayside in favor of eugenics and manipulation. And to make it even worse the lack of gender non-conforming or non-heterosexual individuals in this world is not an oversight - the book flat out states that queer characters were bred out (see page 76 in my edition). To say that the story is misandrist, gender essentialist, and aggressively heteronormative would not be inaccurate nor unfair.

 

As much as I wanted to throw this book across my room at times, or to give it a half star rating, I will give it some credit where credit is due. This book is of its time, and it came from an angry place. And I get that. I've felt that. A lot of people have. It is interesting to use science fiction to play around with thought experiments, and our book club had an excellent discussion about this one. Tepper quite obviously put a lot of thought into her world, and the world-building was fairly intricate. The characters were drawn well enough that I truly hated many of them, and some mirrored individuals I've known in my past. There are some really excellent insights in here, and even passages that I reread because they struck a chord with me. However, I just couldn't get past the politics. It's a great book to talk about and critique, but it is not a book I feel I can recommend outside of that capacity.

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review 2018-01-16 22:44
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1) - Meg Elison

This book hit just the right note with me at just the right time. It was one of those rare books that made me want to drop everything I was doing just so I could read - in fact, I finished this book in my car after work because I couldn't wait until I got home to read the last ten pages. So yeah, it was that kind of a read for me. That said I can see this book not being to everyone's liking. It has the same sort of grim and violent outlook you find in something like the Walking Dead, which will put a lot of people off. This is not a feel good story. There is a lot of graphic sexual violence depicted, so know that going in.

 

At its core I read this as a book about gender roles and sexuality. With the world's population drastically reduced, women a rarity, and pregnancy a dangerous and fruitless prospect, how does that effect the way we behave? How does this free people, sometimes in very dark ways, and how does it bind them? With a cultural breakdown, and women so vastly outnumbered, humans become sexually "liberated" in the way other mammals are liberated - with no social constructs this changes the dynamic. Some men use this as an excuse to rape and hold women as property. Some women use this as a way to collect harems, trading sex for protection. Some people feel free to choose their partners as they see fit without the societal judgement they might have previously experienced. Some people hide their gender in order to walk through the world unhindered. It's an interesting meditation on how the human animal might adjust gender roles, sexuality, and morality if society, balance, and pregnancy are removed from the equation.

 

In addition to having some interesting themes to chew on I quite liked the character and world building. All the characters felt distinct from one another, and their voices felt unique. The representation of bisexuality was some of the best I've ever read, and I really appreciated that as well. The world felt both real and terrifying, the feeling of constant threat looming in every encounter. This book scared me in the same way as White Horse by Alex Adams, or Children of Men. At the same time it had some hope and beauty sprinkled in (sparingly), to offset the horror of the world. For me it was meditative, haunting, frightening, and a little empowering.

 

If you're looking for a great read about the end of the world with a feminist bent this is a rare jewel. If grim futures, violence, or sexual trauma put you off of a read don't pick this one up. For me the food for thought far outweighed any of the ugliness.

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review 2017-08-08 23:09
The End We Start From: Or, a meditation on motherhood and loss
The End We Start From - Megan Hunter

This novella was a lovely surprise. I was initially drawn in by the stunning cover, and I'm so glad I gave it a chance. Written in a spare and poetic style reading this story is more like following a wandering stream than being tossed into the roaring ocean which features heavily in the narrative. The events of the plot are often suggested more than they are described as you meander through the main character's interior landscape just as much as you do the exterior world. If you're unaccustomed to reading poetry then Hunter's prose may stretch your comfort levels, but it will be worth the effort.

 

This is an elegy. Filled with a sort of wistfulness that feels earned rather than melodramatic. These are observations about the small moments that could so easily get lost in the din, the tiny things that ultimately matter even if the world is ending. It is unflinchingly human. And while the plot takes its cues from science fiction, at its core this is a meditation on motherhood and loss. Simply put: it is beautiful.

 

Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to read an advanced copy. The End We Start From will be released in November.

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