David Mitchell has a gift for voice. I don’t understand how he does it, but it’s there from the first page: here is a person you’ve just met, and you absolutely, definitely want to know what they are going to do next.
This is a frustrating book. It is a story about women struggling against mostly sexism and also racism. Good does not triumph. Sexist assholes run the world. The protagonist “succeeds” in spite of them, but the world is still run by sexist assholes. This is a portrayal of America’s past, but let’s not kid ourselves, it is also our present, and for a while yet, our future. It is depressing and enraging.
This book reminded me why I like reading science fiction. Reading is an exercise in imagination. Picture Paris on the eve of the French Revolution, or New York City in the 1920s, a tall ship lost at sea, a boring suburb, an old shopping mall, a struggling law firm, a sweat shop, a merciless desert, a merciless dessert. Add some characters and off you go. Genres like science fiction and speculative fiction tend to take more liberties with their settings. As the setting becomes more unfamiliar, the exercise becomes more strenuous (I’m looking at you Greg Egan), and the imagination benefits from a little stretching now and then.
Sasha Sagan lives in that uncomfortable place occupied by the families of the famous. She is icon-adjacent. This gives her unusual access and opportunities, but it also means that the public can reliably be expected to have unreasonable expectations of her. Fame is a funny thing, but I think it is important to remember why Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan became famous. In that context, a book written by their daughter about her upbringing and world view is irresistible.
I find Neal Stephenson to be a bit condescending, perhaps even patronizing. Reading Seveneves (and Stephenson in general) is a little like being cornered by a socially awkward geek who just has to tell you about this amazing cool new technology thing that they’ve been researching or working on or whatever. This is not a serious problem since he really does have some amazing things to tell you about. Continue reading →
This book is special. There’s nothing particularly novel about the story. It is a very old story (or perhaps several old stories if you prefer). There’s a wizard in a tower in a valley with a dark, scary forest. The wizard takes young girls from the village to serve in his tower, and blah blah blah, it’s practically a cliche, or several cliches, really. But it is the telling that counts, and Novik tells with remarkable care and detail. She takes classic fairy-tale material and makes it real for a modern reader. Continue reading →
I am ambivalent about The Magus by John Fowles. I am also convinced it is a Good Book. However, it has convinced me of this through a series of arguments that I am not especially susceptible to. I will explain. Continue reading →
The current trends in web design include several abominations. That is not to say that there have been no positive trends; quite the opposite. Today’s websites are tremendously better than their ancestors. However, with change comes mistakes, and there is one mistake that I wish to call attention to today, the infinite scroll. Continue reading →
David Mitchell writes excellent characters. They aren’t necessarily remarkable people; rather they simply have incredibly distinct voices. From teenage runaways to middle-aged writers to sociopaths, everyone stands out so clearly. This gives Mitchell’s stories a very personal feeling. The compulsion to know what happens next becomes the compulsion to know what the characters do next. Continue reading →
In case you hadn’t heard (it’s been quite popular of late), Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty is a book on economics. Why would a book on economics be popular? That is a good question. The simple reason is because, unlike most books that are assigned to an academic subject rather than to a genre, it is written for everyone. The other reason is that this book is thorough in an unusual way. Continue reading →