Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

For some odd reason I just love post apocalyptic books. This is a classic that was originally published in 1960 and won the Hugo Award in 1961. The first part takes place after the world has engaged in nuclear war. After the war called the Flame Deluge, the survivors undertook a Simplification in which they destroyed anyone of learning, any written materials and even anyone who could read because they believed that learning had brought this disaster upon them. Leibowitz attempted to save some of the pre-Flame Deluge knowledge by starting an order to hide, memorize and copy books. That is all I really knew about the book when I read it. I cannot however talk about my reaction to this book without spoilers so if you don't want any spoilers stop reading here.


The first part of the novel is set in the 26th century in which the United States is broken up into various Kingdoms. One of the monks at the Leibowitz monastery doing a fast out in the dessert comes upon an old fallout shelter and finds documents that may have belonged to Leibowitz. The second part of the book takes place in 3174 where the city-states are engaging in political intrigue to enhance their power. The age of reason is returning and the monastery and its riches of preserved knowledge attracts the attention of secular scholars who are fascinated by one of the monks invention of a treadmill powered electrical generator that powers an arc lamp based upon his studies of some of the documents in the memorabilia. The last part of the story is set in 3781 and the world has nuclear power and spaceships again. The Asian Coalition and the Atlantic Confederacy appear to be on the brink of nuclear war as the monastery tries to activate their plan to once again preserve mankind's knowledge.

There are many things that I loved about this book - the cyclical nature of history, the allure yet danger of knowledge. But then at the end it turned into this bizarre rant about the church's position against euthanasia or suicide (no mater the circumstances) versus the state's attitude toward euthanasia. To me it just didn't fit with the rest of the book. At the very end we have the Abbot trying to convince a women to not euthanize her child that clearly has more than a fatal dose of radiation poisoning. He tries to reason with her, pleads with her and eventually resorts to commanding her to not spare her child unspeakable suffering before her unquestionable death because the Church does not permit it. I have no issue with the author taking a position that I don't agree with but it ruined the book for me because I thought it was totally out of character from the rest of the book.

This book wasn't about euthanasia or obedience to the church. It was about the idea that knowledge, though dangerous, was valuable and the hope that mankind could learn from its mistakes. I could have understood if in the end the Order lost hope and rejected its centuries mission to preserve knowledge in light of mankind's second destruction of the world but that is not what happened. The Order continued to cling to hope and went ahead with its plan to preserve knowledge in the colonies in space. This book is a classic and I am glad that I read it but the ending just didn't work for me.

I read this for SciFi Experience, Mind Voyages and Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer

This is one of those books that gets so much hype that I don’t really want to read it. But then I was looking for something short and light to put on my ipod for a trip to my brothers. Cute is the word that comes to mind when I think of this book and I am usually more of a Franz Kafka - H.P. Lovecraft kind of girl. But you know how sometimes you happen to read the right book at the right time in the right place? I was staying in my niece’s very cute bedroom at my brother’s house (my niece being all grown up and in her own house with her own daughter) and each night I would crawl in bed early and/or wake up early in the morning and listen to some of Juliet’s adventures in Guernsey. I enjoyed the epistolary format. I had never even heard of Guernsey and found the information about the Channel Islands fascinating. The characters were fun and diverse (and the narrators in my audio version did an amazing job with the different characters). All in all it was a delightful short diversion.

Friday, February 26, 2010


by Ian McDonald

I cannot say that I totally understood Brasyl but I definitely enjoyed it. It was a Hugo Nominee in 2008. One can assume that the novel is set in what we know as Brazil and weaves among three different time periods, 1732, 2006 and 2032. In the present day Marcelina strives for the next super sensational reality tv show . In 1732 a Catholic admonitory sent from Rome travels up the Amazon in search of a renegade Jesuit priest who is attempting to establish his own City of God. And in 2032 a street wise entrepreneur becomes obsessed with a beautiful rogue quantum physicist. I don't want to give too much away but the story was action packed and compelling. I was fascinated by the various threads of soccer, quantum computers, capoeira (a Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance), religion, the nature of reality and the idea of multiple universes. It certainly merits another read as it was a little bit confusing especially with the use of many Portuguese words (although there is a glossary in the back).

I felt fully immersed in this amazing world and was surprised to realize that it was written by a guy in Ireland. It made me want to go visit Brazil and learn capaeira. Oddly for a book labeled as cyberpunk, I found the 18th century Jesuit story line the most fascinating and the imagery so vivid that I still can see it in my mind's eye. This was my first encounter with this author who has also written River of Gods and more recently Cyberabad Days and I will certainly be reading more of his work.

I read this for the SciFi Experience, Speculative Fiction Challenge and 2008 Hugo Nominee for Mind Voyages.

Fall of Hyperion

by Dan Simmons

I read Dan Simmons first book in the Hyperion Cantos, Hyperion, and absolutely loved it. I highly recommend that everyone read Hyperion! This is the second in the series and picks up where the first one left off. If you haven't read Hyperion it is the story of six pilgrims who go to Hyperion to see the Shrike, Lord of Pain at the time tombs as the universe is on the brink of war. As they travel to the time tombs they each tell their stories. Hyperion ends just as the pilgrims get to the time tombs.

In the Fall of Hyperion, which was nominated for a Hugo in 1991, the pilgrims that we got to know in Hyperion have reached their destination and the story shifts between their encounters at the time tombs and with the Shrike, the Web government’s leader Meina Gladstone while she wages war on the Ousters and Joseph Severn, a cyber recreation of the poet John Keats. The structure of this book is more traditional and straight forward than Hyperion and is your typical adventure tale.

I must confess I really wanted to love it, but I ended up having to make myself finish it so I could start a new book. The characters that I so enjoyed in Hyperion seemed sidelined by the action. And we didn’t really learn anything new about the fascinating worlds that were introduced in Hyperion. It did tie up the story that was begun in Hyperion but by the time I got to the end I didn’t really care anymore. I was so excited by Hyperion that I immediately bought the next two books as well but haven’t decided whether to read them or not. I have read some reviews that say that the 3rd book is much better than this one so I most likely will try it at some point.

I read this for SciFi Experience, Mind Voyages and Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Speculative Fiction Challenge

I discovered this great challenge back in January but apparently neglected to sign up until now. I am trying to limit my challenges, but this one is perfect for me because it encompasses science fiction, fantasy and horror (plus a whole lot more) - all of which I know I will be reading this year. And it runs the entire year! I was going to be cautious and sign up for Inquisitive but I am going to be bold and go for Enthusiastic which requires 6 speculative fiction books in 2010. For more information about the challenge go here. The review posts will be here.