Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

 


Review: Machine of Death

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die (Machine of Death #1)Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North

A machine that tells you how you die, in vague yet accurate terms. It is never wrong, and your fate cannot be avoided. This anthology collects individual stories of people who encounter this machine. Although all the tales have the machine's functionality in common, there is no one persistent world: sometimes the machine is dismissed as a novelty; other times, an entire society will remodel itself around the predictions. For one couple, the machine means doom; for another, it brings hope.

I loved the variety of these 33 stories, each starting with an illustration and a prediction that somehow relates to the story, serving as its title. My favorite was "Almond", followed by:

  • Torn Apart and Devoured by Lion
  • Despair
  • Suicide
  • Aneurysm
  • Nothing
  • Miscarriage

and, of course, "HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle".

There was honestly not a bad story in the lot, but my least favorites were "Not Waving but Drowning", "Improperly Prepared Blowfish", "Love Ad Nauseum", and "Drowning".

Each story left me a degree of chilled. What would I do if faced with such an opportunity? Would I learn of my fate, or leave it unknown? How would I react to knowing how I'd die? Would my actions to avoid the prophecy serve only to fulfill it? Would I take up arms in protest of the machine? I hope I never need to know. I've already picked up from the library the sequel, This Is How You Die, and look forward to absorbing more macabre tales.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Review: These Days by Jack Cheng

These DaysThese Days by Jack Cheng

I am seldom a reader of fiction that is not rooted in fantasy or science, so books set in our modern world are foreign to me. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how engaging These Days was. Author Jack Cheng has a fluid narrative that is colorful and evocative of New York City and the characters' physical sensations. Reading a book where the events are realistic — two twenty-somethings meet, one who's planning his future, the other who's escaping her past — was actually a refreshing change and gave me ideas for my own life.

The characters were also very relatable, at least on a personal level. I saw much of myself in the protagonist, Connor: makes his living online, connected to the social web, and perhaps a bit naive and needy in relationships. But I also related to his love interest, K, who never carries a cell phone and enjoys her time offline. It was in fact that technological divide between the love interests that led me to originally back Cheng's Kickstarter to self-publish this book.

But this is not "a story about technology", as the crowdfunding video suggested. Connor uses technology to distract himself from the present but capture and relive the past, through photos, videos, tweets, and status updates. K, by contrast, is all about living in the moment but wants desperately to forget her own history. The scene describing her motivation for doing so was so evocative, I cried — I can't remember the last book to have that effect on me. These are the true challenges the characters are facing.

The book takes us through several anecdotes that demonstrate these opposing philosophies, but the narrative never really builds. Connor hates his job, quits, and gets a new one. He doesn't like his new job, thinks about quitting, but decides to stick around. He and K go out to dinner and have a conversation. They ride on the subway and make observations about the other commuters. With the exception of some flashbacks that are occasionally hard to place in the tale's chronology, it's vignette after vignette, without any real momentum.

That's why the novel's ending came as such a shock. And again, it's one I relate to personally, as something nearly identical happened to me, which may color my reception of the book. I look to fiction to vicariously experience situations I've not yet encountered and to get into other people's heads and learn how they feel, that I might better empathize. But These Days offered neither alternative to, nor insight into, reality. I had hoped that the message would be either "Things don't have to be this way" as I find in the unreal fiction I normally gravitate to, or at the very least, "Things are this way, but here's why". I received neither source of closure from this book. It was an abrupt and heartless ending that left me unsure why anything had just happened, what the characters' motivations had been, or what either of them was supposed to learn from this experience or how they were expected to grow from it.

I normally dive right from book to book, but I was preoccupied with These Days for days afterward. Perhaps that's a sign of a good book, that it stays with you and makes you think. But, like Connor, I don't know what just happened, and I don't know that I ever will.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Continuing TV's tale in literature

It's a sad truth that television doesn't last. Whether it's seven seasons of your favorite Star Trek or a single season of Firefly, all shows get cancelled or go off the air eventually.

Fortunately, the imagination of the show's creators and writers often has a bigger budget than the television medium can afford, allowing them to continue the tales of their heroes in print format. Novels, comic books, and short stories can extend the lives of your favorite shows for many "seasons". Not all shows are fortunate enough to get that extra lease on life, but that doesn't mean your own imagination can't continue the journey.

In that vein, Charlie Jane Anders suggests some awesome books to replace your favorite cancelled TV shows. From Terminator and Angel to Journeyman and Jericho, many of your favorite (but cancelled) science fiction series of the last decade are represented by equally modern literature. Even if you were satisfied with your favorite show's run and are just looking to try some new authors or series, this list is a great place to start.

For my part, I think I'll go add Robopocalypse to my to-read list, making for a nice change from my usual Star Trek pulp.

However, I draw the line at adapting my favorite books into video games.


Unintended posthumous publications

The New York Times recently reviewed The Original of Laura, a book assembled by Dmitri Nabokov from index cards left by his late father, Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. Vladimir had left instructions for this unfinished novel to be burned after death, giving his literary work a literal deadline for publication. Now we see his wishes left unfulfilled — but how will it be received?

Thanks to an unprecedented transparency, interested readers can immediately see what parts of Laura are Vladimir's and which are his son's. The publisher chose to provide readers with the author's original notes, reproducing the index cards alongside the final edited work. This is an ingenious alternative to what Christopher Tolkien did with The Silmarillion. JRR Tolkien's unfinished work was published by his son in 1977, followed years later by a twelve-volume set of The History of Middle-Earth, which collected the various works from which Christopher chose the parts that would become The Silmarillion. "Th[e]se materials are now made available… and with them a criticism of the 'constructed' Silmarillion becomes possible," he wrote. With The Original of Laura, no delayed considerations are necessary, with the publisher instead choosing to provide readers with the immediacy of the unfinished work alongside the final work.

The review mentions that Vladimir's wife similarly saved Lolita from destruction, which is a compelling argument for letting the masses be the judges of a work the author may be too critical of. Since Vladimir is long beyond caring about his reputation, and most of his peers are similarly unable to provide judgment of their late friend, perhaps it is time for history to speak for itself.