Aftershocks – 3/5 Stars
This is a novel that begins a new trilogy by Marko Kloos (author of the Terms of Enlistment series, which I haven’t read). I bought it from Audible one day on sale for like $3, and while I am not entirely sure I am going to seek out further books in the series, I found that to be a pretty good deal.
It’s structured similar to the Expanse series or Game of Thrones, in that there are several main characters, from different angles in the novel, all told in close third person. The writing is solid, and the story compelling, and the story and world-building, a least perfunctory.
We meet Aden at the end of a compulsory prison sentence after a multi-planet war in which he was on the losing side. It was a bitter and close-fought war, but his side lost, and the losers, as they say, don’t get to write the history books. The book doesn’t dwell on this, as this is decidedly not Star Wars or even Serenity, almost more like a look at post-war 20th century societies in Europe and Asia. There’s bitterness plenty, but there’s also an attempt to move forward from the conflict. Anyway, he’s being released and we find out that he’s an intelligence and language specialist, not a combat soldier. So while he was in the war effort, he wasn’t specifically involved in the fighting. This complicates things for him as he’s not traumatized by warfare, but more so by prison. He’s also go some money in his pockets from accrued prison wages, and no real past or future. So he’s a bit lost.
We also follow several other figures. A combat specialist from “the other side” or the war who is leading a squad that is ambushed, and an officer on a naval vessel in a similar vein. Lastly, we have Solveig, the daughter of an important political figure, shipping off on her own mission. All of this folds together in those kinds of enfilading chapters. This book is almost entirely exposition, which is fine, almost to the point that I can’t actually imagine this will only be a three book series. It feels too big already for that.
The Instrument – 3/5 Stars
This is one of the final novels from John O’Hara, most famous for BUtterfield 8, North Frederick 10, and his first novel Appointment at Samarra. I have previously read that first novel, which is really good, published in 1929, and his collected stories, which are a mixed bag.
This novel is from 1967, and more or less takes place at the same time, though at times this is hard to pin down for two reasons. One, there’s almost zero references to time in this whole novel–no news, no cultural references to speak of mostly–and two, the writing feels out of date and not up to the task of accounting for the 1960s. That’s not to say that the writing is bad (though at times it is) or always out of date, but it’s not always capable of asking its own questions it feels. Only the reference to a character buying a Ferrari, do we get any kind of meaningful timestamp, though still a little vague.
The novel begins with the neighbor of our protagonist walking into his apartment building, smelling gas, and bursting into Yank Lucas’s (our guy) gas-filled apartment and finding him passed out on the floor. He turns off the gas, opens the windows, and revives. We come to understand that this was not a suicide attempt. Instead, he fell asleep making pasta (it was late) and the water boiled over and doused the flame, and the gas ensued. But we also understand that it was suicide adjacent, because his carelessness was part some kind of chaotic emotional time in his life. The event spurs him to complete writing a play, get it sold, and begin production (the maybe suicide is central to the play’s plot). From here, he becomes a bit of a star in and out of NYC, and the fame, the exhaustion, and the original struggles overburdens him and he tries his hand living in upstate NY. He finds upstate is also a mixed bag.
The novel feels like a writer circling the end of his career (and as it turns out life) by re-exploring a writing career at a young age. O’Hara was also a huge success out of the gate like Lucas, but it was a different time, and this novel perhaps re-inscribes that life onto a new decade. It’s middling at times, and only good in spurts.
The Shockwave Rider – 3/5 stars
This is an early cyberpunk novel from 1975 by the writer John Brunner. In it, an escaped hacker in a prison world uses his skills with computers (and some kind of extrasensory skills) to attack the very system that oppresses society. It’s a book that’s like a lot of science fiction novels (and it reminds me plenty of Philip K Dick and Robert Heinlein), in that it’s an interesting idea and conceit informing a not super interesting story.
The blackest mark against this book, aside from being a lot hectic and confusing, is that it’s written as a kind of fictional companion or exploration of the ideas in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a book out of date almost the moment it was published, and the bane of secondhand bookstores for decades. There’s a funny moment in Jo Walton’s great novel Among Others where the author feels bad for John Brunner having written this one after already writing his best novel years before. I don’t know if that’s true yet, but I suppose I will find out soon enough when I read the other two of his novels I own.
The Snow Child – 4/5 Stars
Sometimes I feel like Alaska is an entirely fictional place. And this book doesn’t help that. At times Alaska is the wild frontier we find in Jack London stories, or it’s quirky north in Northern Exposure, or it’s the site merely of a gold rush, or worst of all, it’s the home of Sarah Palin. But the various competing ideas for my schema of what exactly Alaska is limited to these different sources.
But placing a maybe fairytale in an Alaskan past that is foreign to modern readers is not going to clear things up, even if the book is good, which it is. This book is from 2012 and we meet an older married couple who never ended up having kids, a crime against society across the US but certainly in small towns and definitely in the past. So they’re a little weird. In a flight of fancy on a snowy day, on a walk, the wife decides to make a snow angel, and at the same moment, they see what comes across as an impossible sight, a small girl running through the snowy woods after a fox.
So it’s at this point in the novel, that I found myself wondering whether this novel would be a fable or magical realist book, and the book plays with you for awhile before you do finally find out. It’s sad and sweet and tender book about aging, about doing what’s right, and about love. It’s beautifully and carefully written. It reminds me most of Annie Proulx and Louise Erdrich in some ways, but also with a lot of Tove Jansson in there as well.
Meaty – 3/5 Stars
I haven’t read any Samantha Irby before, and while in some ways I am impossibly different from her, it also seems like a lot of cultural touchstones in our lives are very similar. Her essays here, her first collection, range in scope, in tone, and in seriousness of content in some wild ways. The depth of analysis do as well. What remains consistent throughout is her level of honesty about her subject, especially herself. So the collection, like a lot of collections of these types, often boil down to the content alone. It’s hard to put a recipe essay next to one about the death of two parents and quite know what to do about the tone shifts. So while individual essays stand out, many also don’t. I think what I’ve learned here is that I should read her essays, avoid reading “books” and schedule individual essays less frequently. It’s the curse of many an essay writer before her.
The Innocence of Father Brown – 3/5 Stars
I am not sure I love this book as much as others, and maybe that’s because I am not a Father Brown, nor a Flambeau, nor cosomopolitan or anything else. I think the stories are interesting, and the writing, like plenty of good mystery writers is better than the mysteries themselves. I think my issue might be that GK Chesterton is more in one vein for me than another. I love the Man Who was Thursday, and there’s elements of that novel here, but I almost don’t want him to be grounded by this form, compared to the flights of fancy he gained there. This book of stories also has the CS Lewis disease of being a more interesting exploration of metaphysics than a book about a story (space trilogy much?).