I’m not going to make any reading/blogging resolutions for 2014, but I will inaugurate the new year with some short reviews of books read in the past couple of months.
My bookgroup obviously can’t get enough of Ursula Le Guin. The Lathe of Heaven is the third Le Guin we’ve read in the past couple of years. I confess, I am not the greatest fan of Le Guin. I couldn’t get through the Earthsea books. The only book that appealed to me was Left Hand of Darkness. I could appreciate her contribution and importance to the genre, her lovely writing style, but the books themselves just didn’t do it for me. Well, The Lathe might be the book that breaks the streak. I was so excited and engrossed I busted out sticky notes and pencil to write down quotes: ‘What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?’ (page 44) or ‘…a man who saw a miracle would reject his eyes’ witness, if those with him saw nothing’ (page 65). In The Lathe, a man named George Orr discovers he can change reality with his dreams. He attempts to suppress dreaming with drugs taken illegally using his friends’ Pharm Cards, and is assigned to undergo ‘voluntary therapy’. His therapist, however, after witnessing Orr’s ability firsthand, proceeds to augment reality by controlling Orr’s dreams via hypnosis and the invention called the Augmentor. The Lathe is one of the most deeply philosophical sci-fi books, raising questions about destiny, free will, and shared reality.
The new Jeff Smith was the first book I read in 2014, and it was a great choice. Here I am, recuperating from December retail madness, half brain-dead, when this giant tome falls off the reading pile and lands in my lap. Coincidence? I think not. There’s noir, and there’s science, and Nikola Tesla, and dimension-jumping thief who used to be a physicist. Plus it’s Jeff Smith, so the fast-paced story is combined with sharp cartooning skills.
The last blurb is for a book that is, strictly speaking, not speculative fiction, but bear with me. A couple of months ago I read the new Jesse Ball book, entitled Silence Once Begun. This one is due out in late January. The plot is pretty much revealed in the first few pages, so there isn’t much I can spoil for you. A man Oda Sotatsu brings to the police a signed confession that states that he is responsible for disappearance of eight people. Oda is jailed and convicted. But is his confession true? The story is told entirely through interviews with family members, prison staff, and other people involved in this trial. The book is partially based on true events. It’s unsettling and rather creepy (which is a good thing). Ball also captures the tone of Japanese literature perfectly. Silence Once Begun reads as if it is translated from Japanese. I love Japanese lit, and part of what I love about it is the style and tone, so this book hit all the right notes for me. (Another book about Japan that hit all the right notes was A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which is now shortlisted for Booker. Go read both.)