Aug 30 2012

The Outsiders

S. E. HintonLast night, I finished reading S. E. Hinton’s (pictured left) 1967 novel “The Outsiders”. I’d read online that it was an old favorite for lots of people and I remember people reading it in high school (not my class), so I decided to give it a go. I have plenty of other unfinished books lying around but wanted something easy to fill those few quiet moments left to me. We got it from the library a couple weeks ago. My wife read it quickly. I walked by the end-table where she’d left it for more than a week before picking it up. A few short evenings later and the book was done. It’s not very long and an easy read, even for someone that reads at a pre-21st century glacial pace. The Outsiders is young adult fiction written in the 60s by an Oklahoman teenager. It was an instant hit when published and has seen a couple of film adaptations. The following review contains spoilers aplenty. Read on at your spoilery peril.

The book is narrated by a 14 year old greaser named Ponyboy, who lives with his brothers Darry and Sodapop. Their parents died in a car crash before the story begins and the eldest brother Darry provides for the family. The boys are part of a small gang of Greasers, juvenile delinquents identifiable by greased hair and denim jeans. The greasers in the book are in a constant state of conflict with the Socs (socials), which are privileged kids from the west side of town. That backdrop offers the stage for a coming-of-age story, where Ponyboy learns about friendship, family, responsibility, loss, death, bravery, and perhaps most importantly that there’s often more to other people than meets the eye. Though the book can be rather brutal, I must admit that I thought the ending was heading in a different direction than it did. When it didn’t pan out the way I was expecting, I was a bit disappointed. As the end of the book drew nearer however, I knew that the author wouldn’t be able to deliver. It had all the hallmarks of an unfolding tragedy, more than what was already delivered, and I was ready for the final grim revelation, but it didn’t come. Instead the character comes to his senses and you’re left to believe that he rises above his predicament. Lame? Well, maybe. Perhaps it’s not fair to criticize the path that the author chose for her story; it’s her story, but I was expecting Ponyboy to be permanently damaged by the head-trauma he’d suffered. After the rumble, his cognitive skills seemed to be declining faster than Charlie Gordon’s in Flowers for Algernon (published a year earlier). I was expecting a story about a boy that finally figures things out, then loses everything. That’s not what happens here.

To be fair, the book did handle other events very well. The deaths of Ponyboy’s friends and his dealings with Randy (a Soc) were poignant.  Ponyboy’s ongoing revelations and those of his friends were also handled well. Perhaps his biggest and most important discovery was coming to understand his oldest brother, Darry. Throughout the book, I felt like Hinton was borrowing from Catcher in the Rye, but writing her story with a more likable protagonist. Both stories are told in retrospect, both deal with a teenage boy with mistaken preconceptions, and both include a poem that the narrator likes but doesn’t understand (i.e., Burns:  “Comin’ Through the Rye” vs. Frost: “Nothing Gold Can Stay”). The similarities taper from there, as Catcher is a much deeper and more challenging read. Perhaps I just prefer characters with more flaws (not that the Curtis family isn’t plenty dysfunctional)? While both Catcher and Outsiders were  introspective, Outsiders also tried to tackle the clash between sub-cultures, a story that each generation retells with different titles and uniforms. In summary, The Outsiders is a simple but good read. A story that was controversial in 1967 is now rather tame, though many of the coming-of-age elements still ring true 40+ years later.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…”

3.5 out of 5


Apr 14 2010

Flowers for Algernon

Tonight, I finished Daniel Keyes‘ 1966 novel “Flowers for Algernon“. And… I’m not feeling particularly snarky at the moment. I wonder why? This is one of the few epistolary styled stories that I’ve read that hasn’t annoyed me. It’s crucial to the storytelling. The book consists of seventeen Progress Reports, written by the main character Charlie Gordon, over the course of a science experiment to make him smarter. This is no small feat since Charlie begins the book with an IQ of 68. On the surface, this is a borderline science-fiction story about modifying the human brain. Beneath the surface (snorkel depth at most) the book explores mental retardation (or whatever they call it these days) and how we treat and deal with these people. The book is sobering to say the least.

From the beginning of the book, the eventual outcome is handed to the reader in an open box. The story doesn’t succeed or fail on the reader’s ability to predict the outcome. From the start, it is a foregone conclusion that this can’t end well. Charlie’s predecessor, a lab mouse named Algernon, has undergone the same surgery and improved remarkably. Encouraged by these preliminary results, the scientists rush to find a suitable human subject for a one man clinical trial. Charlie’s intellectual ascent is temporary. The only questions are how fast and how high will Charlie’s intelligence climb before his inevitable descent. Does that ruin the story? It didn’t for me. I knew that much before picking up the book. What I didn’t expect was a science fiction story that delved into the thoughts, emotions, and prejudices of people more than the technology. This is actually the best possible use of science fiction and fantasy stories. Too much concentration on technology (or magic) is usually a sign that the story is lacking. “Flowers for Algernon” doesn’t fall into that rut. I’m also pleased that Keyes didn’t submit to editors’ suggestions that he mainstream the ending. At one point the author even returned a publisher’s advance rather than debase his work, preferring instead to wait until a publisher would accept the story as-is.

It’s hard to believe there are still people out there who support the banning of this book in schools (well, Texas I can understand). In some respects, I feel the same way about Flowers that I did about “Catcher in the Rye” (1951) the first time I read it; I wished I’d read it sooner. There’s a lot of things to take from this book, things that you may find yourself thinking about long after you’ve transplanted the bookmark into the next item on the shelf. That’s a very good thing…

“Im out of the hospital but not back at werk yet. Nothing is happining. I had lots of tests and differint kinds of races with Algernon. I hate that mouse.”

4.5 out of 5


Apr 13 2010

Robinson Crusoe

Today I finished Daniel Defoe‘s 1719 classic “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe“. The original edition had a much longer title but I’m sticking with this one. Crusoe is considered by some to be the first English novel. Those people are smoking crack. Defoe himself wrote an earlier novel titled “The Consolidator” in 1705. For some earlier English works, check out: “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (1678), “Beware the Cat” (1553), and perhaps the most famous of all, “Le Morte d’Arthur” (1470). Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” stands out however as being the most popular English book of the time. Not only was it popular then but it continues to fascinate people today. There have been hundreds of spin-offs. My earliest memory of a Robinsonade story is sitting at a Cub Scout meeting in a country church, watching an old black and white movie reel of the “Swiss Family Robinson” (1940). Not sure what that had to do with scouting (other than the Pioneering merit badge), but there you have it. Today, echoes of Crusoe’s castaway adventures can be found in movies, television reality shows, and even the radio plays of Herbert “Daring” Dashwood and his stalwart ghoul manservant, Argyle!

So, what about the book? The book is tedious. While I have to give Defoe credit for being a pioneer of adventure fiction, “Props!” (can I haz street cred?), Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759) is much more enjoyable. Is it fair to compare the two? Why not, it’s my blog! “Candide”, at its heart, is satire. Crusoe is a series of ship manifests in the shape of a novel. To spice-up the story, Defoe has given us insight into Robinson’s moral and religious development over the course of twenty-eight years! More please! *Ugh* From a modern perspective, this is laughable because despite Crusoe’s many epiphanies, he still refers to his Carib slave Friday as a “poor honest creature”. For me, the most interesting part of their relationship was Friday’s questions regarding Crusoe’s god in “Chapter XV – Friday’s Education”. When asked questions about the Devil, Crusoe is unable to give a well-reasoned answer to Friday, but instead of finding fault with the source (i.e., Bible) he ascribes this failing to Friday’s savage and ignorant mind. Was this risqué dialogue in the early 18th century? Defoe was the son of Presbyterian dissenters after all… To Crusoe’s (and Defoe’s) credit, he treats Friday very well.

Spoiler alert! My only other problem with the book is that it just sort of meanders to an end. Crusoe gets off the island, returns to Europe, gets his affairs in order, and sets out for other adventures (almost as an after-thought, for Defoe). There’s a completely frivolous section at the end where they fight hundreds of wolves in the French Pyrenees. Some have claimed that this is a metaphor for entering the land of Canaan (after a long journey), but it smells an awful lot like the gratuitous car explosions in “CHiPs” (1977-1983). In summary, the book is too much a cornerstone of English literature to be considered a waste of time… Not everything that is important has to be enjoyed.

“The tears would run plentifully down my face when I made these reflections; and sometimes I would expostulate with myself why Providence should thus completely ruin His creatures, and render them so absolutely miserable; so without help, abandoned, so entirely depressed, that it could hardly be rational to be thankful for such a life.”

3 out of 5


Apr 9 2010

The Hunger Games

Today, I finished a piece of juvenile dark science-fiction. There should be more of this stuff. One of my favorite books growing-up was John Christopher’s “The White Mountains” (1967). While there’s no “capping” going on in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” (2008), there is plenty to like. The story takes place in a dystopian North America where children are selected by annual lottery to represent their colonies in gladiatorial combat. When the book begins, the Hunger Games are in their seventy-fourth year and it is time to choose new tributes. Each of the twelve districts randomly choose two kids (male and female) to represent them in the Games. Of the twenty-four total tributes, only one can be victorious. The victor is rewarded with lifelong celebrity and a years worth of food for his/her home district. All the runner-ups… Well, there are no runner-ups. The only way to win is if all your opponents die.

While the Arena is the hub around which the entire story turns, it is also the one element with which I have the most problem. I’m trying to think of a historical precedent for a totalitarian government with such power and influence, that its citizens willingly offer-up their children (ages 12 to 18) to certain (95.8%) death. Collins has cited the legend of Theseus as a precedent, wherein the government of Athens sent young men and women to sate the Minotaur of Crete. The book however offers the lottery (created by the Treaty of Treason) as a means for the Panem government to annually reassert its power over the districts. Not only are 23 children killed every year to remind the citizens of the government’s power, but their deaths are must-see tv. If you can accept that explanation, the rest of the book is much more palatable.

I learned about this book in a Fark thread where readers were listing the saddest books they’d ever read. Having now read it, I’m not sure “The Hunger Games” qualifies to stand alongside some of the other titles mentioned. There is a very sad section in the middle of the book *sniff* where one child in particular dies (did I ruin it?!!!), but other than that it’s not especially heart-wrenching. I have been accused of being an “emotional cripple” in the past however, so your mileage may vary! What the book does do well is character development. I ended-up caring about the characters and what happened to them. There’s much more to the book than children killing each other. Which leads me to my only other criticism of the book. And I need to be careful here… The author weaves the story in such a way that the main characters never have to face the most horrible decisions that the Arena threatens. At almost every turn, the author’s providential hand removes those horrible outcomes one by one, until the end.

One last point. If you intend on reading this book, do not read too many reviews and stay away from the Wikipedia write-up. You will ruin the book for yourself if you do. I’ve tried to avoid revealing too much of the story because it is worth reading. I would have been sorely pissed if I’d read an Amazon review that revealed crucial parts of the story before I even picked-up the book. What has been seen cannot be unseen. I would also suggest reading it before the movie is made (Lionsgate Entertainment now has distribution rights) for many of the same reasons.

“It goes on and on and eventually consumes my mind, blocking out memories and hopes of tomorrow, erasing everything but the present, which I begin to believe will never change. There will never be anything but cold and fear and the agonized sounds of the boy dying…”

4.5 out of 5


Mar 23 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Last night, I finished Katherine Howe’s 2009 novel, “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane“. According to the book jacket, the author is a doctoral student of American and New England Studies at Boston University, much like the book’s protagonist Connie Goodwin. It’s hard to write anything about this book without exposing a great deal of its unfolding contents. If you don’t want spoilers, you might want to stop reading this review now. You’ve been warned.

The story begins moving when Connie gets a phone call from her New Age hippie-dippy mother, asking her to visit the long abandoned home of Connie’s grandmother. Connie is asked to clean the old place and prepare it for sale to pay off back taxes on the property. Connie agrees to this, despite her adviser’s wishes that she devote the summer to finding a unique primary source for her upcoming dissertation. She soon discovers that her grandmother’s home is a 17th century house that has belonged to her family for generations. The mystery begins when she finds a small piece of rolled paper tucked into the end of a key, bearing the name “Deliverance Dane”. Thus commences the best part of the book. Connie uses the paper scrap to uncover a lost story omitted from the history of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. I enjoyed how the story followed her research from source to source, even when some of those sources and breakthroughs fell into her lap. I hoped that Howe would be able to tie up the story neatly without delving into magic, but that didn’t end up being the case…

Despite my wishes, the book soon involved alchemy and vernacular magic, meaning magic that is real rather than just rituals performed by cunning folk or the fears and superstitions of pre-Enlightenment society. I guess I shouldn’t hold it against the author for writing a fantasy book rather than a historical mystery, but still I was disappointed. To its credit, the book does give a great deal of insight into the history of the witch trials. While Connie is trying to unravel the Deliverance mystery, the reader is treated to modern theories on elements that may have contributed to the panic in the first place. These included things I’d never thought of (not that I’ve ever given the Salem Witch Trials much thought) like: tensions between religious communities, witness hallucinations due to moldy bread  (I’d heard that one before), an attempt to reassert slipping Calvinist influences, and changing roles and power of women in society. The historical underpinnings of this book redeem it in many ways. I want to both pummel the author for taking the easy way out and congratulate her for exposing me to an interesting (and frightening) time in our history. In the end, the story’s history lessons won out.

I watched today as Giles Corey was presst to death between the stones. He had lain so for two dayes mute. With each stone they tolde him he must plead, lest more rocks be added. But he only whisperd, More weight. Standing in the crowde I found Goodwyfe Dane, who, as the last stone lower’d, went white, grippt my hand, and wept.” – Letter fragment dated “Salem Towne, September 16, 1692” Division of Rare Manuscripts, Boston Athenaeum

3.5 out of 5


Mar 17 2010

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Today I finished another book, Mark Twain’s 1885 classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“. I’m pretty sure I’ve read an abridged version of the book before because some sections were very familiar, while others were completely new to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was handed an edited version in school as the 125 year old book continues to be controversial. A sequel to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876), Finn’s book humorously details the events of Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s rafting adventure down the Mississippi River. Twain’s original intent was to tell Huckleberry’s story through adulthood but he later abandoned the idea. Instead, the story ends with Huckleberry making plans to head west for “howling adventures amongst the Injuns”.

The book has been attacked by critics since its publication. Today, most criticisms of the book revolve around Twain’s treatment of Jim, the runaway slave. The language is harsh at times and the “black vernacular” sometimes made me cringe or shift uncomfortably. I guess that’s the desired result of years and years of Black History Month commercials and the cultural admonition that a certain N-word can only be used by blacks. That’s fine. More disturbing to me was the caricature of Jim as a simpleton. Although Jim’s compliance with every hare-brained scheme Finn (and others) submit him to, makes the story more manageable (for the author), it detracts from the character’s believability. In Chapter 15, it was child’s play for Huckleberry to convince Jim that he’d dreamed being lost in the fog just moments before (that’s just one of many examples). Coming out of the fog however, is the most symbolic and poignant part of the book (in my opinion… and that’s what blogs are all about, right?) because it is then that Huckleberry realizes that Jim is a person. This realization however, never seems to dislodge Huck’s notion that Jim is also property and that Huck himself is a bad person for facilitating Jim’s escape. More than once, Huck secretly laments helping Jim because, “What had poor Miss Watson [ever] done to him” to deserve this. It’s a conflict that follows Huck throughout the book and is never really resolved. I think that’s what I liked most about the book. Despite the fact that the ending is a bit over-the-top and wraps up rather neatly, the main conflict (Huck’s moral growth) is left incomplete. This is the most satisfying way for the story to end because although Huck, like the time that he “lived” may never change, they can forever remind us of what we’ve overcome.

“Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to.”

5 out of 5


Mar 12 2010

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Today, I finished reading “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin“. My present classics crusade continues to open books that I never intended to read. This is a good thing. Franklin‘s unfinished “Memoirs” (as he referred to them) were published in several incomplete versions after his death in 1790. The reprinted edition I read, printed by John Bigelow in 1868, included a number of Franklin’s correspondences. These were included to help fill gaps but mostly distract from the narrative. Bigelow’s version also remedied changes made to the original manuscript by Franklin’s grandson William Temple Franklin in 1818. I have belatedly discovered that a more complete and accurate version was published in 1981 entitled “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: A Genetic Text”. I mention this for the benefit of others; I have no intention of re-reading the book at this time.

The book is divided into three main sections (plus addenda), each written by Franklin at a different time and place in his life. The detailed account ends abruptly in 1757, shortly following a visit to Stonehenge. This is unfortunate since Franklin’ s story had only begun to unfold when the narrative ends. It seems strange to include a list of things omitted (because of his death) while reviewing the book, except to give some idea of what his full autobiography could have included, e.g., opposition of the Stamp Act (1765); meetings with Thomas Paine (1774); delegation to the Second Continental Congress (1775); signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776), Treaty of Paris (1783), Treaty of Alliance (1778), and the Constitution (1787); Ambassador to France (1776-1785); President of Pennsylvania (1785); opinions on the State of Franklin (1784-1790); his essays calling for the abolition of slavery (1789), &c. While the details of these historical connections can be found in most American History books, Franklin’s autobiography is most worthwhile for his observations and insights.

I was most taken by two elements of the story. The first element that intrigued me, was Franklin’s enumeration of his life’s errata. I may have to explore this concept on my own at some point. Moving on… The second element was his list of Thirteen Virtues, which he famously strove to live by and credited with his life’s great successes. He took great care to define these in such a way that their meanings would not be misinterpreted. He even developed a method for monitoring how well he lived by this plan, developed when he was 20 years old. This endeavor was particularly interesting to me as I have long considered developing my own “commandments”, being dissatisfied (for obvious reasons) with the Mosaic laws. I realize there’s a wide difference between virtues and laws, but the idea germinating in my skull could go either way, or eventually incorporate both. I now have more to think about, which (to me) is the desired result of reading.

“Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”

4 out of 5


Mar 5 2010

Moby-Dick

Yesterday, I finished Herman Melville’s 1851 masterpiece, “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale“. I have been meaning to read (or finish) this book for several years. A month ago I decided to pick it up again, start from the beginning, and read it all the way through. The underlying story is a good one (duh, it’s considered by many to be the “great american novel“) but is interrupted throughout by long discourses of whales, whaling, the anatomy of whales, the history of whales, whales in art, whale legends, whale-men (loosely defined) , sailing ships, ship minutiae, &c. While some of these digressions were interesting (I spent a great deal of time researching all the names and places mentioned), for chapters at a time I was hoping that the next few pages would kindly deposit me back into the story itself. When the story did spout again, it was interesting, but it would soon veer off to describe some other tangentially-relevant details. It was like listening to a storyteller with Attention Deficit Disorder. In fact, Melville used the narrator, an educated sailor/teacher named Ishmael, to expound on all aspects of whaling, because he felt the subject was largely unknown to the public. He was determined to write a good story that was also educational. It’s also interesting to note that many of the story’s elements were based on real events.

The book follows the whaling ship Pequod around the world as the revenge-driven Captain Ahab searches the sea for the white whale Moby Dick. During the course of this ocean-spanning hunt, the reader is introduced to a number of characters including: Ishmael (narrator for most of the story), Queequeg (a south Pacific cannibal and harpooner), Ahab (ship’s captain who has forsaken all other earthly concerns for this one, soul-destroying pursuit), Pip (young black man who curiously loses his identity when abandoned to the waves), Starbuck (first mate who wrestles with thoughts of murdering Ahab so that he and ship may escape their doom), and many others. While the ending, of course, is one of the most memorable literary scenes in all American literature, the most touching scene (for me) was the abandonment of The Rachel in Chapter 128.

Much has been written about the allegory and symbolism of the story and its characters. I feel neither obligated nor capable of adding insight that hasn’t been already been elaborated upon ad infinitum. I would only suggest that having finished, readers should explore the book a little further, even if they only peruse the Wikipedia section on themes. There are a great many layers to the story and it would be a mistake not to examine those elements further.

So, what is left? I usually finish these reviews with a quote. I wanted to pick one from Queequeg, my favorite character, but there’s just too many others to choose from. I could use Ahab’s final “…to the last I grapple with thee…” but who doesn’t use that? Since I can’t make up my mind, I guess my only option is to end with a number of quotes.

“I try all things; I achieve what I can.”

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

“…there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

4.5 out of 5


Feb 11 2010

Bog Child

The last few days I’ve been holed up at home, watching the snow fall and drift. Other than pulling on some jeans and a top layer or two to go shoveling, I’ve stayed inside lounging about in my pajamas, working through a store of microwaveable dinners, talking on the phone about the “snow”, and reading. Last night, I started reading Siobhan Dowd’s 2008 novel “Bog Child“. Today, I finished it.

The book was published posthumously, following the author’s death in 2007. The book is intended for teenagers and is not a difficult read. I’m not even sure who turned me on to this book; something tells me it was an old friend who is both a rapacious reader and school teacher but I can’t be sure–it’s been sitting on my “to read” shelf for far too long.

The story takes place in Ireland during the summer of 1981. It begins when Fergus, the 18 year old main character, discovers an Iron Age bog body outside his hometown. While the discovery and unfolding secrets of the bog child are interesting, Dowd is not content with a single brushstroke. The book also deals with family dynamics, friendships, loyalties, hopes and sacrifices, young romance, and religion, all painted on the tattered canvas of the “Long War” between the IRA and the British Army. Honestly, I had completely forgotten about Bobby Sands until last night and there I was learning about him all over again in a book aimed for teenagers. I think that’s great.

Again, the book isn’t particularly challenging but it is assembled very well. It gives readers (especially teenagers who may not be familiar with the Troubles) important insight into what life may have been like (I wasn’t there) and how asymmetric (or fourth generation) warfare affects everyone, at all levels. This was a good and compelling read.

“We sin, Fergus, more by the sin of omission than of commission.”

4 out of 5


Feb 10 2010

The Windup Girl

Today, I finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 sci-fi novel, “The Windup Girl“. Bacigalupi (who I’d never heard of before I picked-up this book) is an up and coming sci-fi author with a penchant for environmental issues. He’s been nominated four times for a Hugo award (not for this one… yet) and receives rave reviews on Amazon, LibraryThing, etc. I decided to give him a try and now that I have, I’m not really sure what all the buzz is about.

The book plods along for the first 300 pages, following half-a-dozen characters as they struggle with cultural, economical, and political intrigues in post-Expansion Thailand. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that the world has been ravaged by rising sea levels, climate change, exhaustion of fossil fuels, and a number of pandemics stemming from agricultural genetic engineering. Most world governments have collapsed leaving power in the hands of the agri-corps, which hold the remaining population in thrall with the controlled supply of sterile gene-ripped crop strains. None of this is explained in the book; it’s up to the reader to infer these things from the conversations and thoughts of the book’s characters. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the book, the writing…

OMG is it dry! Everything is written in short clips of present tense. Maybe the book was supposed to be emotionless? I really don’t know. Maybe I’ve been reading too much 19th century writing to appreciate this style. It was hard to tap into the emotions of the characters, the unfolding conflict… The story itself is interesting enough, maybe even compelling to some degree (for the last 60 pages or so). I would have preferred that more be explained from the outset, so I could understand what was being said, characters’ motivations, &c. Instead, I was obliged to push through a number of story lines with I wasn’t particularly interested in, in order to figure out what was going on. I wasn’t even sure why the windup girl (see title) was anything but a secondary character until the story’s end. Maybe I should have read an earlier novelette of Bacigalupi’s (i.e., “The Calorie Man”) but there was no indication that this was a sequel. *sigh* Would it be so hard to have a short glossary (for all the Thai terms and phrases), perhaps a time line or prologue explaining some of the history leading to the present state of things? I guess so. Is that considered trite in serious science fiction? *shrug*

In the end, after pushing myself to finish it, I just didn’t care. I’m left with a story with some good ideas mired in a writing style that was simply frustrating.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.”

3 out of 5