Andrea Blythe (blythe025) wrote,
Andrea Blythe

Books Read in March

1. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
2. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
3. Anthem, by Ayn Rand
4. Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood
5. Rasl, Vol. 1: The Drift, by Jeff Smith
6. Z: Zombie Stories, edited by J.M. Lassen
7. Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson


1. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
I, Robot is the classic science fiction novel that sets down the Three Laws of Robotics: "1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws."

The novel is an episodic historical account, as told by robopsyschologist Dr. Susan Calvin, of the development of robotics and how it affected the development of the human world. Each chapter is story told by Calvin about robots interacting with humans, most of which have a problem with robots, which is either caused by some conflict within the three laws or solved by enacting one of the laws. As such, while each story was interesting on its own, there was a bit of redundancy in structure that began to get old after a while. My favorite stories was the first in which a young girl loves her robot playmate and the final two in which the Stephen Byerley character appears.

I was less attached to the humans in this book, who came off as rather one dimensional and cold. Rather it was the robots I liked and cared about, many of whom showed more emotional depth than the people. This also creates an interesting quandary for me. While the people in the book insist the robots are just machines and therefore believe it's okay to treat them as slaves, I can't help but feel that the moral compass is more confused due to the fact that robots feel. If a robot is sentient and has emotions, then it could be considered alive even though it's been constructed, in which case it could demand rights. There is certainly an interesting discussion point there, which I'm sure someone has brought up before (I may have to do a search for essays on the topic).

On top of that, there's the fact that the book is a bit old fashioned in terms of how it depicts women. Sure, Dr. Calvin is a genius and considered at the top of her game throughout the book, but Asimov also felt the need to write a story proving she's a woman because she falls for a man, dresses womanly, and acts vindictive. I'm not against love stories or women falling in love or whatever, but this one annoyed me because her actions seem out of character.

At any rate, despite some flaws, this is an entertaining set of robot stories and definitely worth a read.

2. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
The lunar colony has been treated like a dumping ground for criminals and delinquents by the people of Earth for decades, overlooked by a "Warden" who mostly sticks to his home. There are no laws on Luna, and yet the conflux of prisoners, miners, and free borns from many nationalities and backgrounds has created a sort of ordered anarchy in which all "rules" are simple, unspoken and enforced by the populace who must take responsibility for their own actions.

Manny is an apolitical type and a mechanic, who works to repair the main computer that runs the entire systems of the lunar colony. Only, Manny has discovered that the computer, known as Mike, has developed a personality and fond of good practical jokes.

When Manny witnesses a riot during a revolutionist political rally, he quickly gets wrapped up in helping Wyoh, a political activist, and the Professor, an anarchist with a desire for revolution. The three of them, together with Mike the computer, end up setting out on a complex plot to enact revolution and earn Luna her freedom.

The novel unfolds over the entire course of the revolution, which includes thousands of people making up the plot and spans several years. Thus at times, the narration becomes distanced from the personal as Manny relates events as he remembers them, kind of like a historical account.

The characters are great, though sometimes they do get lost in the epic sweep of the revolutionary narrative. I also loved how Heinlein developed a slang unique to Luna, a kind of mishmash of abbreviations and words from many languages. The lingo is easy enough to follow and fun to read, while being entirely plausible sounding. Great book.

3. Anthem, by Ayn Rand
Told from the point of view of Equality{insert string of numbers}, the novel looks at a future society in which everyone is equal because all personal identity has been erased. The only purpose of a person's life is to serve the group and society is terrified and hateful of anything new or original.

It was easy enough to read, but I wasn't stoked on this one. While I like the use of "we" to replace the first person narrative in order to show the group mentality, I didn't understand the {-point-} {+point+} of other aspects of the weird writing style, for example. I assume Rand intended it to serve a purpose, but I have no freaking idea what it is. There isn't much scene description either, no painting this world and making it a whole.

Because what would be the point of that. The world presented here isn't meant to be complex beyond the simple moralizing fable Rand tells. The entire purpose of the unfolding story is clearly meant to teach that group-based societies and mentality are evil (reference to communism much?) and should never ever be put above the drive of the individual and of the ego.

It's too black and white, too clear cut for me. The world is full of gray and multitudinous color. There is good and bad in everything. It's layered and complex. Anthem doesn't even sport the dumbed down simplistic fun and spectacle of an action story. It's just simplistic and readable, but ultimately dull.

4. Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood
This is an ARC. Set in an alternative history, one in which witches were the leaders of the Americas until a religious group, called the Brotherhood took power and persecuted all witches, this novel follows the lives of Cahill sisters. All three sisters are forced to hide the fact that they are witches or risk being sent to an asylum, a prison ship, or death.

Cate Cahill is almost to her 17th birthday, when she will be forced to make a choice, either declare her intent of marriage, join the Sisterhood (rather like nuns), or have the Brotherhood choose a husband for her. She thinks she has her decision figured out, but she discovers her mother's diary and the secret of a prophecy that could change everything and puts both her and her sisters in danger.

Cate is the narrator of the story, and is a typical older sister, feeling that she must protect her sisters. She's taken on the mother role, trying to maintain discipline and keep her sisters safe in a dangerous world. There's a strength in her, more than just her rather remarkable power, but strength in how she chooses to face the world and take on what burdens she must. Her choices each have positive and negative, giving them proper weight. It's right that she weighs them so carefully and I never felt she was being stupid for considering and reconsidering in each case. It was always appropriate.

I rather like her love interests, too, especially the slightly nerdy one. I'm smiling just thinking about how sweet he is. In general, I think Spotswood did a good job with all the characters in the book, offering up surprises here and there that seem logical as you look back on them.

The secrets and the intrigue that propels the plot is also fun. I'm very interested to see what happens in upcoming books, whether the sisters can face the prophecy and whether they can get our of the tangled web of a mess their in. I kind of hope that Spotswood shifts to another sister's point of view in the next novel, not because I didn't like Cate (her character was great), but because all three sister are interesting enough to carry their own story.

5. Rasl, Vol. 1: The Drift, by Jeff Smith
I was, and still am, madly in love with Jeff Smith's Bone series, so when I saw a new graphic novel volume sitting on the library shelf, I had to read it right away. Smith steps away from the mystical and into straight science fiction with Rasl.

Rasl is an outcast, a former scientist, not art thief, who accomplishes his crimes by jumping back and forth between alternate worlds. A strange ape/lizard-like man is tailing him through the worlds, however, a man who works for the Compound and wants something Rasl has taken.

Being book one, there is a lot of introduction and explanation to get out of the way, but Smith expertly weaves it into the action of the story. Already he's brought several characters into life that are interesting, ones that I can't wait to know more about, and I'm sure they will all grow to be more complex and interesting as the story continues. I kinda wish I had some to this with story complete, because now I've got to impatiently wait for the next compilation.

6. Z: Zombie Stories, edited by J.M. Lassen
This anthology is a compilation "young adult" stories of the undead. There are many kinds of stories here -- some apocalyptic, some not. There are several stories about survivors against the horde, and several about young people who either by choice or accident join the horde (there's an interesting theme of community in such stories, of loneliness and the need to be part of a group, even if the group is the dead). And many varieties of story in between. Here are a few that stuck with me:

This is the third (or fourth) time I've read "The Wrong Grave," by Kelly Link, in which a young man digs up his girlfriend's grave to get back his poetry, only to find he's dug up the wrong one. It's just as creepy and fun to read the third (or fourth) as it was the first.

Marie Atkins' "Seven Brains, Ten Minutes" has to be the most viscerally horrifying of the lot. In it a young man goes to desperate (and disturbing) extremes to rescue and impress a girl he likes, leading to an ending that is terribly and delightfully unsettling.

Like most of Catherine Valente's stories, "The Day's of Flaming Motorcycle," is hard to sum up, but it's certain intellectually fascinating in the way it approaches the zombie. The story of a girl living in a town full of zombies -- without much hassle -- is entertaining, but there's also an underlining sense that this story should be analyzed in more detail, because it means something.

Then there's "The Human Race," by Scott Edelman, which is so, so heart-wrenching. About a girl whose family dies in a terrorist explosion while traveling in London. While she's traveling there to identify and collect her family's remains, a worldwide zombie outbreak occurs. I won't say more than that, because it's really a beautiful story that deserves to be taken on its own merits.

and finally - SPOILER - Johnathan Mayberry's story, "Family Business," is interesting to me from a conceptual point of view. I like the idea of respect for the dead, even if the dead are trying to kill you. In it a boy learns the "hunting" business from his brother, who leads him beyond the fences of the community to hunt the undead. But it's shown to be more complicated than just killing zombs, as there is an emotional reality that lies behind the dead walking.

It reminds me of a scene in Walking Dead, where the survivors say, "We bury our own, and burn the rest," which is to say, we take a moment to respect those who meant something to us and give them proper burial. Mayberry's story makes it clear that every zombie belongs to someone (is someone's father, mother, brother, sister) and therefore deserves a respectful burial.

However, I'm not sure I'm in love with the execution of the story, as ever step of the hunting trip leads the character to this ultimate understanding. The problem is that I could feel the straight line of the argument that was being mounted (not just for the character, but for the reader, too), and so the effect came off preachy. So..., not my favorite of the stories, but still very, very interesting.

7. Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson
Discussed elsewhere.
Tags: books, reviews
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