Review: Man in the High Castle

Man in the High Castle Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read several collections of PKD's work, and I consider myself a fan. Even so, this one was a miss for me. High Castle weaves together the stories of several characters living within an America that is divided between the Japanese occupying the West, the Reich occupying the east, and a slim are of independence in the Rockies. We presume that the Allies have lost the war. Much as Germany was divided between the Soviets and the West, the US is now divided between the primary Axis powers. There are some interesting character studies, such as how some subvert themselves to their new masters while others attempt to fight from within. There is an overriding theme of loss of identity. From that standpoint, it is a fantastic book, and eye opening.

The events of World War II are at a great distance from me. I didn't leave through the war, nor the after effects. I came into the world as Carter was winning an election, but I don't really have any memories of politics or even presidents until Reagan's era. Given that, I can still identify with PKD's stories of fear of nuclear annihilation. The cold war is something I saw the end to, and I understand the awful implications of how close and how capable we were of destroying ourselves and each other. Germany and the evil of the Nazis is something I cannot identify with, however. I think this is what puts much of High Tower off from me. As a mental exercise it is interesting, but otherwise did not move me.

View all my reviews

Review: Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm frustrated by this book. I like the core concept. Alien artifacts buried throughout the world for us to find once we reach a certain level of technical maturity. No indication of the intent of the machine. Is it a tool of peace, construction, wonder, science? What frustrates me is how the story is told. Each chapter is an interview between a nameless mystery agent and one of the characters directly involved in work on the giant. For me, it drains a lot of the potential color from the story. In many cases, the conversations feel forced or contrived instead of genuinely interactive. Interviewees go into long expositions on their experience in response to fairly mild prompts.

We're left with a major tease in the epilogue, and I enjoyed it enough that I'll pick up the next episode. Even so, I'll be bringing some reservations with me as I talk it up with fellow readers.

View all my reviews

Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Battle Royale is often referred to as the inspiration for The Hunger Games, and it is easy to see the similarities. A class of 42 high school freshman (apparently in Japan 9th graders are still considered Jr. High) are heading for a class trip when they are diverted to participate in the years Program. The Program is a contest held among many 9th grade classes each year where the class is deposited in a remote location and provided all of the materials and motivation they will need to kill one another. Last one standing gets to retire in comfort. Sound familiar?

The book is filled with non-stop action and a variety of characters. Some stick with us throughout while others are killed off in the same chapter they are introduced. This book is a translation, and in some cases that means the dialogue is a bit stilted. I had the most trouble with keeping the names straight of all 42 students and remembering which events went with each name. Even so, this is a story worth reading.

View all my reviews

Review: Sh*t My Dad Says

Sh*t My Dad Says Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you wasted time on the internet at all over the last decade, it's likely that you ran into a few of Justin Halpern's tweets, repeating his father's coarse, yet sage wisdom. I had my doubts about how this would translate into a long-form book. I'm happy to say that, while it does contain 140 character or less bursts of brassyness, it also delivers vignettes of Justin's life as he grew up with "the world's least passive-aggressive father." I listened to the audiobook version of this in my car during my commute, and I think that was the perfect way to enjoy it. The narrator does a great job of lending different voices to each of the Halpern family. By the end we learn that Justin's dad loves his family fiercely and shows it in his own, unique way.

View all my reviews

Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Few of us have truly confronted our mortality. For my friends and I that are reaching middle age the stretch of days, months, and years we expect to have in our future seems almost limitless. I'll be turning 40 this year, and that probably isn't even the midway point of my life if I happen to be blessed with the same longevity of much of my family. Those days are finite, however, and we all need to regularly review what measures we would take to extend our life and what we would consider a life worth living. What's more, many in my shoes will be taking care of their own parents, if not now then soon. We need to be able to discuss what makes for a meaningful life and our wishes. This book provides an excellent window into how modern medicine often substitutes quantity of life for quality of life, and how to approach the hard decisions we must face as we approach our end.

If you read nothing else, stop in a library or bookstore and browse the epilogue. There you will find the condensed version of the book. Doctors want to fix, heal, and provide hope. We all die, however, and there is no beating death. Given that, at what point should extreme measures be taken that provide little hope of improvement. In many cases a patient will choose to undergo painful, debilitating chemotherapy in the hope of one day fully springing back to their youthful selves. The reality is that the procedure will most likely not work, and even if it does, will leave the patient at a plateau within their disease.

In addition to the discussion of medical choices, there are also fantastic chapters on attitudes towards the elderly. As we grow old, we lose our independence. That can be frustrating and frightening. Hospitals and traditional nursing homes further remove that independence by demanding that patients live on the schedule most effective for the staff, not what is most comfortable for the patient. Patients begin to feel that they are simply being stored off until death takes them rather than continuing to live fruitful and worthwhile lives. Contrast this to the independent and assisted living centers which allow such simple but meaningful forms of autonomy as choosing the thermostat settings for your room, choosing when to eat, and when to bathe. What seem like trivial freedoms are huge for those who have already suffered diminished autonomy.

Being Mortal is an important book, and an important subject for everyone to confront and have frank conversations about. This book is a great way to start that process.

View all my reviews

Review: The Chrysalids

The Chrysalids The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Chrysalids drew me in the more I read. It's set in a time many centuries after nuclear war has reshaped humanity. There are pockets of civilization, small towns and not much more, that vigorously keep to the 'true image' of all things. They strictly judge not just their livestock and crops, but their offspring as well and cast out anything that is deviant. Beyond these pockets lie fringes areas where the genetically inferior are left to live among mutinous flora and fauna. Beyond that are the bad lands, where only mutations grow, and worse beyond, where anything that touches the land dies.

David is a young many growing to adulthood in these circumstances. His father is one of the community's most strict adherents to the rule of the true image. It is a difficult childhood for him.

There are a lot of themes that can be taken from this story. It would make for an excellent book club reading or classroom discussion. I can heartily recommend it to almost any reader.

View all my reviews

Review: The Water Knife

The Water Knife The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bacigalupi writes modern dystopias. By that I mean, he writes of potential dystopias based on modern issues. Twenty years ago and further back our dystopias were all based on the premise of some all out war between superpowers. Whether it was nukes or an EMP, it was definitely a war that brought about our end. Bacigalupi writes how our greed will be our end. The blind eye we turn to our environment so that we can make that sweet, sweet short term dollar. The Water Knife is the story of greed for water. Californians are already feeling the pinch of too little water. The end of days scenario Bacigalupi presents doesn't seem that far off.

More than a story of death by our hands, this is also a story of the lies we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves it is going to get better. We tell ourselves this little lie, when we know it won't. That lie prevents us from making the changes that would actually impact our lives in positive ways. Lucy, Angel, Toomie....they all believe the lie they tell themselves. Just get by today, and maybe tomorrow it will get better. Maria sees the lie for what it is, and is the rare creature who ignores the lie.

It's a fascinating, gripping, and depressing story of what our future could be like.

View all my reviews

Jade Mason