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review 2018-06-25 14:39
"Illuminae - The Illuminae Files #1" by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - highly recommended
Illuminae - Jay Kristoff,Amie Kaufman

"Illuminae" is an engaging, exciting, and fundamentally original Science Fiction Must-Read novel. Alternatively, it's a Must-Listen-To full-cast audiobook, which changes the novel into an engrossing radio play. 

 

"Illuminae" is the story of an attack by a rival corporation on a rival's illegal mining colony the is interrupted by a navy warship and the aftermath, when thousands of survivors, crammed onto two civilian ships and the, now crippled, navy warship, make a month's long run for safety, pursued a Corporate Dreadnaught that is determined to eliminate all witnesses to the attack.

 

The story is presented as a series of reports, recording conversations and analysis security video footage with no prose binding them together. This may sound tedious but it's done with such skill and with such a clever structure that I believe the authors have produced a novel form that is fundamentally disruptive.  It's like the leap from "Tristram Shandy" to "Pride and Prejudice" in terms of form. This is the bloom of an almost post-literate generation that has freed itself from linear text and the straight-jacket of grammar that keeps writing on the ground and has taken to swinging through the trees with the confidence of those who've grown up comfortable with Kanji/Emoli/Gif ideography.

 

"Illuminae" is categorised as a Young Adult novel, perhaps because two of the main characters are teenagers, but this makes it no more of soft, easy read than "Hunger Games". The action is graphic and sometimes deeply disturbing. The emotional impact is high but not immature. The portrayal of the damaged-but-trying AI is first-rate. There are strong edge-of-your-seat thriller aspects to this book. It kept me caring and guessing right to the end.

 

I was so engaged with "Illuminae" that I posted my reactions on booklikes.com as I went along (something goodreads.com doesn't give me the space to do. In the spirit of the novel form used in "Illuminas", I've included the unedited posts below to give you a flavour of my reading experience.

 

After those posts, you'll find an extract from the audiobook so you can hear for yourself what the performance is like.

 

"Illuminae" is the first book of a trilogy, so, if you like this, there's plenty more to come.

 

Source: Unedited Posts from Mike Finn's Booklikes account from the evening of 16th to early morning of 21st June 2018

 

Time: 6:15 pm 16 June 2018

Subject: Reading progress update: I've read 11%. and I'm worried about how sustainable this narrative approach is

 

This series received a lot of positive reviews in the press and social media so I picked it up even though I've never read either author

 

I'm now a little over an hour in.

 

The good news is that I'm listening to the audiobook which is an all cast production. The actors are good. The action and point of view shifts are plentiful. The unknown but suspected falls across the plot like an early morning shadow.

 

The conceit of the book is that the story is told through a series of files, reports and emails compiled by a covert agency and delivered to an as-yet-unnamed client.

In this regard, it reminds me of "Sleeping Giants"

 

My worry is that I ran out of patience for the radio-play with stage instructions read out loud narrative technique of "Sleeping Giants" after about four hours. The book was six hours long.

 

"Illuminae" is more than eleven hours long and is book one of a trilogy.

 

I'm hoping for something clever and engaging that fills the gap left by all the stuff in a novel that isn't dialogue.

 

Date: 11:10 am 18 June 2018

Subject: Reading progress update: I've read 37%. - OK - so the format works if I take it an hour or so at a time

 

I'm more than four hours into this eleven-hour novel, which, in the audiobook version, is a full cast production.

 

When "Sleeping Giants" was presented in the same way, I'd lost patience with it by the four-hour mark.

 

This time, I'm enjoying myself.

 

I put the difference down to the quality of the writing - the characterisation and the emotion in the dialogue / first-person reports are excellent - I found the report on a Marine SNAFU assault quite moving for example.

 

There is also a nice balance between a more personal relationship between the two teen protagonists and the more role-driven interactions between the captains of the military and civilian scientific ship.

 

I find it difficult to listen for more than an hour at a time, but I think that has more to do with the quiet desperation of the story than to the format.

 

Date 6:45 pm 19 June 2018

Subject: Reading progress update: I've read 54%.just met the AI and...

 

WOW

 

No other word for it.

 

Six hours into something good and suddenly a switch is flipped and I'm six hours into something great.

 

Date 10:52 am 20 June 2018

Reading progress update: I've read 74%. - I've been here before except I REALLY haven't

I'm rationing this book now as I have real life things that I need to do today. So much for, "I' can only take one hour at a time".

 

Right now I'm at a part that ought to be making me yawn. I've seen all the "Resident Evil" movies (now there's a confession). I know all about having a kick-ass heroine shoot her way through rabid used-to-be-people killers in a confined space with alarms sounding in the background, red warning lights flashing and severed high-voltage powerlines arcing.

 

I've so been there,

 

But never like this.

 

Never with a smart brave heroine who cannot bring herself to kill.

 

Never with rabid used-to-be people that I feel deeply sorry for.

 

Never with an understanding that, when this isn't a first-person shooter game but an atrocity in which everyone is the victim, that winning isn't possible because surviving can cost too much.

 

Never with so much damned intensity and not a single line of prose.

In my work life, there's a lot of focus on disruption as something that changes the rules in commerce, opening up new opportunities and challenging established ways of working.

 

The structure of this novel is fundamentally disruptive. It's like the leap from "Tristram Shandy" to "Pride and Prejudice" in terms of form. This is the bloom of an almost post-literate generation that has freed itself from linear text and the straight-jacket of grammar that keeps writing on the ground and has taken to swinging through the trees with the confidence of those who've grown up comfortable with Kanji/Emoli/Gif ideography. To an old guy like me, it's astonishing and wonderful.

 

Date: 12:51 am 21 June 2018 

Subject: Reading progress 100% - wonderful to the very last page

So much for rationing myself. I got my real-world tasks done and then sat on my balcony in the growing dark, listening until nearly midnight.

 

What a ride. So much emotion. Such a cleverly constructed plot that never felt contrived but continued to surprise and delight.

 

I'll write a review when the book has had time to settle.

 

Right now, I'm clear on three things: the audiobook format for this book is a great choice, I have two new authors to follow. I'm so glad the next book has already been published.

 

Extract from Audiobook version of "Illuminae" 

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/263791539" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

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review 2018-06-23 18:33
"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

 

I knew, on finishing "Little Fires Everywhere" that I had enjoyed the book and that it was a first-rate piece of writing, excellently narrated. Yet I wasn't clear enough about what I thought of the book to write a review. So, I've let a few weeks pass, let the ideas and the images settle and gotten a little space from the characters and now I'm starting to see some shapes.

 

I think my inability to see the whole book at once is a consequence of how the book is designed. The authorial voice is used throughout, guiding us through the thoughts and emotions of the characters as they react to the little fires of passion, most of them to related to motherhood, that challenge and or define them. Yet, although I hear the author's voice all the time, by the end of the novel, the author had not given me any unequivocal answers as to whose side she is on. I think this is one of the key strengths of the book. It refuses to be didactic or polarising. It puts forward the views of both sides and asks you to think, to access your emotions. Perhaps to start a little fire of your own.mo

 

The book brings together two families, Mia and her daughter, who live a nomadic life, with Mia working on her art as a photographer while raising her daughter, and the Richardsons, mother, father and four children, raised in the idyllic, safe, solidly upper-middle-class Shaker Heights. Mia rents an apartment from Mrs Richardson. Their children, all in their teens, start to spend time together, Mia starts to work part-time cooking and cleaning for the Richardsons so that she can observe the family her, previously independent and possibly lonely, daughter has fallen under the spell of.

 

This "compare and contrast lifestyles" set-up is used to examine choices on motherhood, different types of mother-daughter relationships, the rights and wrongs of adoption (especially of a Chinese baby by a childless white couple) of abortion, and of surrogacy. It looks at whether families are born or made or both. It contrasts choosing to follow rules with choosing to follow your passion and asks if either choice makes sense.

 

It does all this without turning into an ethics essay. It stays focused on the people, the choices that have made them who they are and the potential that they have for changing and or for becoming even more deeply that people that they have already become.

 

The issues the characters deal with are controversial, have a high potential for conflict and speak deeply to core beliefs. So how do I get to the end of a novel told in the authorial voice and not know what the author's answer is?

 

Well, I needed to step back. I think Celeste Ng didn't set out to take sides on the issues. She wants us to understand that there are no simple answers. If there were, these little passion-fed fires wouldn't break out everywhere. 

 

The message I took from the book was that little fires are both inevitable and necessary. If we're lucky, they give us the passage to find an answer that is right for us. Yet the fires are dangerous, They can get out of control. So we are all faced with a choice on what to do with the fires? Do we damp them down, avoiding risk by starving them of oxygen? Do we spread the flame to others? Do we limit the damage? our passions, cutting off their oxygen to avoid risks?

 

Good questions. In "Little Fires Everywhere" Celeste Ng shows us all of those choices but leaves us to decide which to take for ourselves. Along the way, she builds up some memorable characters that start to feel like family.

 

To give you a flavour of the prose and the use of metaphor, I've quoted a section from the middle of the book, where the author shares Mrs Richardson's thoughts on passion and rules. 

"All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks lept like flees and spread as rapidly. A breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic Torch. Or perhaps to tend it carefully like like an Eternal Flame A reminder of light and goodness that would never, could never, set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled, Domesticated. Happy in captivity.  The key she thought was to avoid conflagration."

 

"Rules existed for a reason. If you followed them, you would succeed. If you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground."

If this appeals to you, I recommend the audiobook version. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of Jennifer Lim's narration.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/349277108" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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review 2018-06-23 05:54
Dear Committee Members - awesome chocolate disguised as Hershey's
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

I'm stuck in this weird position where I can't move for the last 12 hours. I can basically use the computer and reach the giant stack of books my friend dragged into the room when she set me up (and thankfully fed the cat - who has knocked over the books...) Anyway, I finished Owen Meany which is a nice thick book and wanted a little diversion, but I keep falling asleep to TV, and it was too early for sleep, lest I wake up at 3 am.

 

This seemed like the ticket: an epistolary novel set in academia at the mediocre "Payne U", featuring the hapless-but-tenured Professor Jason Fitger. The building is crumbling and all the other departments have been evacuated, but English is staying while the unnamed "particulate matter" covers the place. Prof Fitger is sick of writing LORs and really wishes people like me would be more careful with apostrophes. (Time out: sometimes, despite knowing the rule since maybe birth, I find myself making that mistake anyway, Jason, and I still have to recite "i before e except after c or in sounding like ay as in neighbor or weigh" because nobody told me that if I studied German their completely conflicting rules would mix me up forever. And yes, I know I could just think German and do the opposite for English, but English was supposedly my first language and it gets to be a bit much when google insists my profession doesn't exist - at least the way we spell it -and that I MUST put an apostrophe in precisely the wrong place all the time. All this backwards thinking has ruined finely worn neural paths, creating chaos! OK back to the quick funny book where I can laugh at neurotic academia......)

 

So yeah, funny novel, takes maybe an hour to read -- laughter and joy will abound. Prof Fitger will make punny jokes and quotable quotes about college and students (oh, students *shaking my head*), repeatedly relive his tangled love life (about which he wrote at least one poorly concealed novel) and unfortunate reply all situations, apologize to everyone as he sends out constant LORs, and try to keep the creative writing/English department alive by getting his advisee's novel published -- or at least getting said advisee to finish the novel so it can be published, preferably in one of those nice writer-spending-money-to-write retreat sorts of places (known as rehab to those of us who aren't writers) and maybe he can get some prestigious grants for the unfinished advisee in the meantime, which will bring fame (or at least continued existence) to Jason's department. (Google really wants me to change nearly every apostrophe, but NO google - Jason just straightened my spine on this issue for at least the next eight hours until I'm too lazy to reject your horrific spelling and grammar advice.)

 

The LORs are priceless. I really hope that Ms. Schumacher (or is it professor?) has used these in her real life. The one for the plagiarist made my year. The "I'm writing this letter of rec b/c I was asked to" letters are real art.

 

And all the while, the advisee is not getting responses from the most prized literary residency, but Jay/Jason never gives up, working his way down the literary line to the bitter end and moving on to...I can't spoil it. You can read this novel - it's 53 minutes of belly-laughing funny.

 

Then Julie Schumacher tricked me for the last 7, maybe 8, minutes. I wanted to laugh raucously at you silly English professor types with your wit and sharp knives for anyone who crosses you, but this novel -- specifically Professor Jason Fitger -- got really serious and full of heart and even honest (not extremely honest, but much more honest than I expected.) This novel is like a perfect dark chocolate truffle wrapped in a Hershey's label. You think it's going to be just sweet, but there's a richness that you never could have expected given the wrapping.

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review 2018-06-22 03:09
Dear Fahrenheit 451 - librarians and their loves
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks - Annie Spence

This was SO different than I'd imagined. I keep a BoB - so I'd imagined it would be more like "Life with BOB" (but somehow better - sight unseen I decided this was better based, I'm guessing, on the title.)

 

I started to read it like a regular old plotted book and decided NO! Then I actually kept reading, but what it really should be is more of a reference book about books you might love or want to buy for your nephew or something. 

 

To that end, ideally this book would have a great index of both titles and genres at least. It doesn't, but I decided to keep it because it may be better at conveying why I love The Virgin Suicides than I've ever been (nobody has ever read that book on my ridiculous recommendation, and everyone should!) It's also the most random collection of titles in the world. This woman has no shame. She admits to doing the goofy calculator tricks we all did long before there were things called "computers." Someone who does that clearly has no worries about what we think of her favorite books. 

 

There is a certain glee to her takedown of the 50 Shades books, but best of all are her observations on the people who take home the books - the introduction. Hopefully she'll write the next book of letters to all of us who hang out at the library. People like that woman who pretends she's only getting that book for her husband (then prays they don't look up vital statistics which show her husband has been dead for longer than I've lived in this library's neighborhood...) 

 

Here's to all the librarians, their love of books and lack of judgment on readers.

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text 2018-06-20 09:52
Reading progress update: I've read 74%. - I've been here before except I REALLY haven't
Illuminae - Jay Kristoff,Amie Kaufman

I'm rationing this book now as I have real life things that I need to do today. So much for, "I' can only take one hour at a time".

 

Right now I'm at a part that ought to be making me yawn. I've seen all the "Resident Evil" movies (now there's a confession). I know all about having a kick-ass heroine shoot her way through rabid used-to-be-people killers in a confined spaces with alarms sounding in the background, red warning lights flashing and severed high-voltage powerlines arcing. 

 

I've so been there,

 

But never like this.

 

Never with a smart brave heroine who cannot bring herself to kill.

 

Never with rabid used-to-be people that I feel deeply sorry for.

 

Never with an understanding that, when this isn't a first-person shooter game but an atrocity in which everyone is the victim, that winning isn't possible because surviving can cost too much.

 

Never with so much damned intensity and not a single line of prose.

 

In my work life, there's a lot of focus on disruption as something that changes the rules in commerce, opening up new opportunities and challenging established ways of working.

 

The structure of this novel is fundamentally disruptive. It's like the leap from "Tristram Shandy" to "Pride and Prejudice" in terms of form. This is the bloom of an almost post-literate generation that has freed itself from linear text and the straight-jacket of grammar that keeps writing on the ground and has taken to swinging through the trees with the confidence of those who've grown up comfortable with Kanji/Emoli/Gif ideography. To an old guy like me, it's astronishing and wonderful.

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