Saturday, February 28, 2015

Opportunity: Get Books!

You probably want this Humble Bundle from Subterranean Press, which I know because I do.  Did.  I bought it. 

If you don't know the deal with the Humble Bundle, it's basically a deal where you get a whole batch of stuff on a pay-what-you-want basis.  If you pay more than the average, you get a whole bunch more books. 

The reason I wanted it was because two books that I had already decided to purchase were on there: a collection of the short works of KJ Parker, Academic Exercises, and a collection called The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, by Barry Hughart.  I haven't read either one, but I've just fallen for KJ Parker after Jenny's recommendation, and Aarti highly recommends Barry Hughart.

There's also a bunch of other fantasy and sci fi material--novellas, collections, books, and even a collection of John Scalzi's blog posts.  I'm interested in about three-quarters of the contents, but just the two I linked to here were worth what I paid, by far.

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Halfway Post: Ancillary Justice

There is so much going on here, I can't wait till the end to write about it.

I mean, I always hate waiting till the end, and I think in some ways that's a failure on my part because it demonstrates a reluctance to engage my critical facilities in deconstructing the work I've just completed.  But let's be honest: when I write a review after I've finished the book, I end up writing about the book; if I write it while I'm reading, I write about my reaction to the book, which I fully admit is what I want to write about, so I guess that works out okay.

Anyway, reading this one for my NEWEST book club, which is at work, and it's so much fun to read something everyone around me is reading and talk about it.  Although it's also crazymaking when you're both talking about how shocked you are, and you have to hedge, like, I'm at the part on the bridge.  Are you there yet?  Oh, I'm way past there!

On the subject of work book club, I will have more to say, but on the subject of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, let's dive in.

First (and this will be interesting in a book club setting, especially a new one), this is the kind of science fiction that non-scifi readers are talking about when they say they don't know how to read scifi.  This is a book that starts out deep in complicated world-building and lets you sort out what's going on, and you will be a good 20% of the way through the book (sorry, I don't do page numbers anymore) before you get your feet under you.  It's okay, it's still a fun ride, but if you don't trust the author to carry you through, it can cause serious floundering.  People who don't know how to read for clues about things like technology, social order, and alien life forms are going to get lost fairly easily; this is not for beginners.

Second, because it's obvious and very talked-about: the gender thing.  I feel like there are so many layers to my reaction to this.  First, from a strictly theoretical point of view, I love it. It takes all these cultural assumption--a lot of which you don't even know you have--and turns them on their heads.  You see, the Radch (the race of the ruling empire) has no gender.  It's not perfectly clear (yet), but it's implied that they have sexes, but their language lacks gender.  The narrator, being a native speaker, uses "she" for everyone, except in conversation, where she struggles to identify genders correctly.

Beneath the cool level of challenging the reader's assumption and adding to the flavor of this alien world (and mind), you get the layer on which it affects the narrative, which is also fascinating.  Because not all the characters we encounter are from genderless cultures, and so there are sometimes things going on below the surface that our first person narrator might not be fully grasping, and that we get to sort out.

Besides which, there's the level on which it challenges you within the narrative, which is tied up with the ways it challenges your notions of how you think about gender yourself.  At first, I found myself parsing every scene carefully to see if I was able to tell the gender of the people Breq was encountering.  This character has a beard: male.  This other person referred to that kid as a girl.  But the very act of doing this makes you examine why you're doing it--does it matter whether Seivarden is male or female?  She's an officer in the Radch, kind of obnoxious, completely helpless, whatever, but does maleness matter, especially if her own culture says it doesn't?

Well, but then you get an interaction where she's advising a cousin who's new to the military about social standing and romantic relationships, and it just feels very different if you cast her as male vs. female.  And when Lt. Awn has a romantic interlude, it crosses your mind to wonder what gender means to these two people.  And when Awn--young, thoughtful, and liberal-minded--is having an interaction with an older, I-think-male religious leader in an occupied city, I can't help but feel that the complicated power plays that are going on in that scene get more complicated when you add the religious leader's read of Awn's gender, whether it's male or female.  Watching myself watch these interactions was fascinating.

I feel like this is what I've heard most about regarding this book, and it's complicated and fascinating--but it's such a small part of things.  It's just there, perfectly crafted and running right through the narrative with a thousand other complicated things.

Good lord, like slavery and bodily autonomy.  You see, once there was a ship called the Justice of Toren, which had its own artificial intelligence, and which was embodied not only in the physical ship itself, but in its ancillaries--individual bodies that had once been people, but whom, for one reason or another, had been killed or taken or destroyed, and whose bodies are now--let's call it reanimated, though that's not quite right--for the use of the ship.

Justice of Toren is a troop ship, and most of the troops she carries are human (well, Radch).  But each deck of the ship--each century of troops--has a set of servant bodies.  So the first portion we meet is One Esk, whose mind is part of Justice of Toren's mind, but is also its own.  And this character--One Esk, or Justice of Toren, or whatever you call it--is this amazing character who is artificially intelligent, obedient, and only exists to serve, but has her own sense of morality, of humor, of self.  It's so complicated, and so beautiful.

I think what I love most about Breq--the identity our narrator has taken and the easiest name to use--is that she's so kind and generous with everyone, even when they're kind of awful, even when she's angry or frustrated or horrified.  She's got this pragmatism coupled with what seems like a deeply settled optimism, and an unflagging sense of herself that lets her be patient with those around her, whether they deserve it or not.

Are you confused yet?  Would it turn you upside down if I say that the narrative jumps between times--primarily two, but with little bits of other memories thrown in for fun?  Should I start talking about colonialism, or slavery, or how the lieutenants treat her?  Should I talk about body ownership, or loyalty based on affection vs. duty?

And I'd like to point out, NONE of this is the plot.  I mean, I'm talking JUST about the world building here; I haven't even started in on the ideas of power and status and imperialism and...and...and...

This book is dense.  And amazing.  And I'm only halfway through.  I am having an absolute blast here--all the amazing reviews I've read have been totally right.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

These Walls

I thought I had never heard of Nova Ren Suma before I got The Walls Around Us from Netgalley.  Turns out I actually acquired her Imaginary Girls ages ago, but (as with so, so, SO many other books) hadn't actually read it yet.  Bump another one to the top of the list, I guess; I very much feel like I need to read more.

This is not a book that hits you over the head with its elaborate complexities or fancy gimmicks.  After you settle into the two alternating stories, you might think it was straightforward.  It's the kind of craftsmanship that sneaks up on you, under your radar.  My thoughts on the book have been stewing in the days since I finished it, and they feel richer for it. 

On the topmost layer, we have two stories, two point of view characters.  One is a wealthy high school senior who is a successful ballet dancer, headed for Julliard.  She's preparing for her final show at her old school, thinking about absent friends.  The other is an inmate at a correctional facility for violent teenage girls. We meet her on the night that the locks malfunction and the doors open and the girls find themselves suddenly, mysteriously loose.  Two very different situations, different characters.  Both--competitive ballerina, teenaged inmate--fascinating worlds to enter in their own right.

Soon, we find the connection; the ballerina is Vee, whose best friend, Ori, has been sent to prison.  We learn bits about how this happen over the course of the book, mostly from Vee, almost in spite of herself.  She is a master compartmentalizer.

In the prison, much of the story seems to be told in the first person plural, although we do have only one narrator--Amber, who has been inside for ages and watches everything with a kind of detachment.  But she speaks sometimes of herself--her crime, her separation from the other girls--and sometimes for all the girls--"us," the forty two inmates as a chorus of what it is like to be powerless, to be hopeless, to be without freedom. 

What unfolds in both stories is not only what happened, but the characters that made this possible--mean girls, selfishness disguised as friendship, the danger of both hoping and failing to hope.  Vee visits the prison grounds for the first time since Ori was sent away; Amber meets Ori when she comes to the prison.  It's the delicate construction of these characters, who are complicated and vulnerable and very flawed, that really lifts this novel.

I've put in some effort not to spoil things here; there are several reveals, some of which were very clear to me from early on, some of which I found surprising.  None of them, though, was a big page-turner moment.  In fact, this book contained two of my favorite things you can put into a book: an understandable and believable look inside the head of someone who treats other people badly, and twists that reveal themselves to the reader gradually, by directing your suspicions and controlling your understanding until you realize you've known for a while what the author has finally told you.

I don't know that this is a book for everyone--it's not fast or flashy, at all.  But if you go in for character studies and creepy, saddish, atmospheric stories, highly recommended.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Truth Bomb: Anne's House of Dreams

I read so much this week, but I also went to the Smithsonian and took care of a kindergartener with a stomach virus, so I didn't have much time to blog.  There will be SO MUCH catching up this week.

I'm going to start with the easy post, though, which is mostly a reblog: Anne's House of Dreams

I think I've come to the end of my recent Anne Shirley reread; I only just barely managed to read Anne of Ingleside one time (on my honeymoon, how gloomy is that), and it's all about being old, and how the Anne we loved and her whimsical past are things of childhood meant to be packed away.  We're supposed to warm to the new generation of imaginative adventures that her children are having, but since Anne spends the first chapter of the book chuckling condescendingly at her childhood self, I'd rather leave her alone with her matronly woes, thank you very much.

But here we have the culmination of Anne and Gilbert's relationship, which of course we've all been waiting for.  Unlike so many romantic payoffs, we get a whole book of our lovers being married and happy together!  Yay!  Except there's so little of it.  I think this is the book where I most noticed the tell-not-show thing that Montgomery does, because there are long walks and long talks that are hardly described; I am told the impression they leave but not of their substance. 

Anne and Gil are comradely, but she spends a weird amount of time fishing for compliments, and there's very little sense of partnership here.  I almost didn't realize what was missing until the end when they're discussing the need for a bigger house, and Anne is lamenting leaving their beloved but tiny starter home--she knows it's necessary, but makes Gilbert talk her into it.  I mean, I've done that, but there's no sense that they're making a decision together, and it just made me realize that they don't appear to be in anything together.

I went looking for opinions on this subject, and I came across this blogger's feelings of betrayal at how Anne's writing abilities are so thoroughly blown off in this book.  And she makes great points, both about how much I hated that, and about how Anne as a True Writer is not as present in the text as you might think.  (Of course, for that Montgomery has given us Emily, so we're all set with that.)

I want to respond to her post (which is a few years old so I'm doing it here instead of there) that there's a broader dismissal of Anne's intellectual life that upsets me here.  When Gilbert and Captain Jim have long discussions about philosophy and important matters, Anne sometimes listens and sometimes goes for a walk on the beach.  WHAT?!?  She lives outside of town, so she's not even really involved in the goings-on of the community--basically, as I said in my last post, she goes from running a large high school to running a small house and teasing Gilbert into telling her how pretty she is. 

What it comes down to, I think, is that Montgomery has much better insight into the internal lives of children than adults.  Maybe it's a constraint of the genre--she couldn't talk about the complexities of the things Anne really might be feeling.  She couldn't talk about the limitations of being a housewife, of how it was anything but rewarding; she had to dance around pregnancy, and only relate the parts of Anne's experience of miscarriage that would be appropriate for a young child almost 100 years ago to hear.  That doesn't leave you with much depth.  Whatever grown-up Anne is thinking, Montgomery didn't--or couldn't--put it in the book.

I'm going to believe that.  I'm going to choose to think that Anne became an adult the same way I did--by dribs and drabs, and half-faking it, and still confused and frustrated and inspired, though less impulsive and moody.  I like this imaginary Anne better. 

And I'll let you know if I end up diving too deep into the world of AoGG fan fic. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sweet Sugar

TL;DR - Cheryl Strayed is amazing.

I read Wild recently, and I loved it, and I can't wait to see the movie.  This brought me around to wanting to read Tiny Beautiful Things, which is a compilation of advice from her Dear Sugar column at the Rumpus.  I read the column when it was active, and I liked it but didn't love it.  Her advice is very internal, very much about encouraging people to be their best selves.  It felt vague and mushy to me; wasn't my favorite.

But after Wild blew me away, I decided I needed to go back to her advice. And it was well worth it; I don't know if I'm more mature emotionally or as a reader or if it's just having it all in one place, but this was such an amazing compilation. 

I love advice.  I love both the problems (drama!) and the solutions (tidy wrap-up!).  This is not advice that pays off in helping you to envision the end of each story by giving the asker a map of how to behave and others' likely responses.  This is more like what I'm looking for at this point in my life--advice on how to be a good person.  It's about how to take the messiness that is living and focus it, channel it toward something that is good and meaningful to you. 

Honestly, I don't know if I'm going to be a different person after this, but reading these essays, I believe I can.  Which is a really wonderful feeling. 

Cheryl Strayed, all the way. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On Not Reading

Lately I've been doing this thing where, instead of reading books, I spend time online fiddling with book sites.  I go to the library and put something on reserve; I add something to Goodreads and read a review and look at a few top ten lists for the year.  I'm thinking about reading a lot more than I'm actually reading. 

I think it's overstimulation; my list of things I absolutely want to be reading right now is so long that I can't even approach it; it's like the time I literally walked in circles around my dorm room, getting distracted by one task every time I reached for another.  I put my hand on my laundry bag and spotted my textbook out of the corner of my eye, realized that was more urgent and picked it up, only to notice that there were dirty dishes underneath it, which is way too gross and should be taken care of before I sit down to do anything as committed as studying, but taking the dishes to the sink I walked past the object I had borrowed from someone up the hall and promised to return right away, shoot, better grab that, and I'll get the laundry in the washer while I'm out, except the textbook....

I think that's why I've been rereading; it keeps me from having to commit.  Every book I want to read is one that I really need to read. I've been putting off reading Raven Boys for years for no reason; I have an advance copy of Shadow Scale, which I've been DYING for since I read Seraphina two years ago.  There is a new Jo Walton on my kindle!  I just claimed Fool as my favorite book but haven't read the sequel!  There are a dozen other books and situations on this list.  My head is swimming.

And so I'm not reading.  I'm looking at the pile and feeling overwhelmed.  But no more.  Right now--right now--I'm going to open something up and just go.  I'll let you know what it turns out to be.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Anne of All the Things

I've been rereading the later Anne of Green Gables books; after the Christmas movie marathon, I realized I wanted to go back to Anne's big romances in Anne of the Island. Then I got swept along into Anne of Windy Poplars, and now I've been caught up in Anne's House of Dreams. Haven't read any of these books in years, and it's very interesting to come back to them, especially after watching the movie, floating in on memories of favorite bits.

The Island I loved as much as I remembered and expected to, mostly because, to me, it's all about Gilbert's friendship/love.  I think Anne's five proposals are delightful.  Ruby Gillis's goodbye is heartbreaking.  Patty's place is loveable, especially Aunt Jamesina.

But there were definitely some things that I noticed this time around that were interesting.  Phil Gordon, the conceited chatterbox, is really kind of irritating.  I didn't mind her as a character so much, and she speaks some important words of truth at least once in the book, but I absolutely don't understand what Anne sees in her--she's so full of herself and judgmental of others.

Also, a lot of the details about college are glossed right over--there's a lot of telling instead of showing.  The "showing" is always in the conversations between the girls, and with non-school related people, especially older ladies.  But every scene with Roy is one of telling, as is the whirl of social functions and the intensity of classes.  We don't even get a glimpse, just a summary of clubs, football games, dances, and evenings with friends.  Only the homely moments are painted.  If I didn't know better, I'd say this is a book about the university experience by someone who never had one; perhaps Lucy Maud Montgomery just didn't have the gay, delightful experience she imagined for Anne.

Windy Poplars (I don't know why they've got 12-year-old Anne in front of Green Gables on that cover) was full of delightful anecdotes, but my favorite parts were all about people besides Anne.  At the beginning of the book, the whole town is set against her (because she got a job that the ruling family wanted to go to one of their own), but she mops that up very quickly and the rest of the book quickly becomes the Anne Is Amazing Show.  Everyone loves her, every school child considers her a mentor, every young person confides their woes in her, and she goes around making matches between every pair of people she can.  It's kind of exhausting, and the format--letters to Gilbert interspersed with third-person chapters--makes it even more noticeable, as Montgomery's love of Anne starts to get conflated with Anne's own thoughts.

The other notable thing about this book is that it's absolutely full of pairs of old ladies living together.  The widows at Windy Poplars, the two sisters of Maplehurst, the grandmother and the Woman who live with Elizabeth.  Pairs of widows and spinsters abound here. I don't suppose it means anything; it's just an observation.

Finally, the House of Dreams, which I'm smack in the middle of.  Once again, I love the town and the secondary characters best.  Captain Jim is delightful, but I feel like I hardly know Gilbert at all.  He and Anne are described as taking long rambling walks and talking for hours, but we get so little of this, I can't really picture the shape of their marriage, which is really disappointing. 

And I can't help but imagine that coming out of three years as principal of a large school and Most Popular Young Woman in Summerside must make keeping house in lonely (if beautiful) Four Points Harbor seem kind of slow.  Gilbert's at work all day and Anne's in the kitchen?  I don't know that she's doing any writing or anything, and it makes me kind of sad.

There's such a sweet nostalgia in reading these again, and I've been trying to fill in the gaps of the day to day life of Anne and Gilbert with my imagination, but I'm not quite getting there.  It's sad, really. 

And I can promise that I won't reread Anne of Ingleside.  It took me decades to get around to that one, and I never got over the fact that Anne had all those kids but never took in an orphan.  The settled, staid Anne bears so little resemblance to the young charmer she was that I hardly knew her.  I suppose that's what growing up used to mean; very glad I never tried it myself.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Favorite Book

If you ask what my favorite book is, I usually roll my eyes.  How can a person answer that?  How do you compare Pride and Prejudice with Going Postal?  Is it the book I want to reread most often (The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp), or the one I think is most technically mind-blowing (Asterios Polyp), or the one that makes me think the most (The Sparrow)?

At some point in the past 20 years, I would have listed any of these books as my favorite, along with Clan of the Cave Bear, Shining Through, The Nun's Story, Cloud Atlas, and The Color of Light. I still enjoy all of these books, and at one time or another have loved them for a wide range of reasons.  But I just finished rereading Christopher Moore's Fool, and I think that if you made me pick today, my drop-dead, desert-island choice would be Pocket, Drool, Kent, Cordelia, mad King Lear, and the ghost (there's always a bloody ghost).

My original review was short and didn't say much besides how worried I'd been that I wouldn't like it. It's a crazy book, a fast-moving romp, full of vivid, disgusting imagery (mostly involving the genitalia of animals), wild coincidence, and lots of dirty sex.  I could see an argument to be made about there not being enough female characters, though I disagree--given the source material the women get their parts, and each one--from Shanker Mary the laundress to Bubble the cook to Rosemary the witch--is a separate character with an internal life, and if men spend a lot of time ogling them, they react differently and have their own feelings about it. 

Even Regan and Goneril are very different nasty pieces of work.  This read through, I was able to follow the action a little more carefully, and it was interesting to notice how much of the unpleasantness Pocket actually puts in motion himself, and how his motivations start and change.  There is a "sex scene" (the sex is offscreen) that could be problematic--probably is--but given the context, it didn't bother me at all.

Anyway, I'm trying to acknowledge the problems and holes (things like coincidences contrived by ghosts and witches, and motivations that change without changing the action) to acknowledge that it's probably not perfect, but I didn't notice that while I was reading it.  I loved Pocket's Vorkosigan-like ability to have a plan ready and to talk anyone into anything.  I loved his affection and protection of Drool, and Cordelia, and the Anchoress.  I loved that a lot of people have a lot of sex and that it's treated so lightly.  I loved Kent's loyalty.

And I think the part of this book that had me thinking, that gave it a real core that got at something interesting, was Lear himself.  Because not enough stories face up to ugly contradictions in a way that I find emotionally satisfying, and I feel like this one does.  I don't honestly remember how much of the detail of Lear's character--the backstory from his reign--come from the original Shakespeare and how much Moore looked up and how much he fabricated.  But Lear is simultaneously a great king who led his country well; a traitorous jerk who killed people for his political ends; a jealous, power-hungry despot who destroyed lives on out of pique or on a whim; a loving father who would wants his daughters' happiness above anything at all; a protective lord to Pocket himself. 

Pocket has to face all these Lears at once and to reconcile them.  He's lucky time and William Shakespeare made most of the decisions for him.

And the end!  Let's just say that a traditional tragedy is perhaps over-tragic, and that what it really needs is a happy ending.  Best. Ending. Ever.

So: if you ask me this week what my favorite book is, I have an answer for you.  Huh; how about that?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Webcomic in Print

I read a few webcomics, not a ton.  Some of them lend themselves more to publication in print than others.  There are sets of strips that remind me of hours I spent flipping through Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County as a kid--for this, I go to Kate Beaton or xkcd.  There are ongoing stories, graphic-novel-style; I follow a few of these online--Gunnerkrigg Court, Blindsprings.  Some of them might lend themselves to book form--I actually find that the density of spreading the pages out over days can get a bit confusing; I can't follow half of Blindspring because so much is hinted at.

Anyway, I had never heard of Katie Cook's Gronk: A Monster's Story before I saw the ARC listed on Netgalley, but when I saw the cover I had to read it.  Gronk is an adorable monster who hates living in the deep, dark, monstery woods, so she comes out to live with geek girl Dale and her cat, Kitty, and her dog, Harli.  Gronk loves cupcakes and nerd culture.  She's adorable.

Her comics are adorable, too. I read them to my six-year-old, and although he required some explanations, and missed out on my delight over Dale's geeky T-shirt collection, he was quite fond of them.  I personally love the big, sweet dog, Harli.  These are charming little comic strips.

I'm not sure they make a book, though.  A lot of them are one-panel gags--not slapstick, but funny or aw-shucks cute.  That's the kind of thing that reads better in a one-shot, right?  Where you're coming to it, getting your moment of zen, and then moving on with your day, rather than going from one moment of zen to the next till you're glutted with zen.

I read these with my son, who's 6.  He liked it, made me keep reading even when he didn't get all the references (he doesn't know Harry Potter yet), and loved the kitties.  Maybe, if I'd read it on my own, I would have dipped in and out in a way that was more conducive to enjoying it as it is.  Then again, since it was an ebook, it's not like I would have treated it like a coffee table book to dip into and out of. 

I've bookmarked Gronk, and I'm going to read every one from now on, so whether the book was the best introduction or not, it got me hooked.  I suppose that speaks highly of it!  Katie Cook, I like your taste in books.  And monsters.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Station Eleven: Better Than The Stand

I put that up front, because the basic outline of the end of the world in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is very close to Stephen King's The Stand: a supercharged flu virus sweeps the world and kills 99.9% of the population in a few weeks.  There's almost nothing else in common between the books, except possibly a fascinating attention to the detail of what it's like to be a survivor; still, it was enough for me to think that Station Eleven reads very much like Mandel read The Stand and asked, "why would you mess up this lovely story about humanity with some trumped up notions of good and evil?"

In fact, the notion that there is a Greater Purpose is exactly the opposite of what this book is about.  It's about how connections, explanations, and causation is not the same as meaning, purpose, or reason.  "Everything happens for a reason," says one character, coming across as vaguely New Agey.  When another character says the same thing 20 years later in a different world, it's ominous, and the heavier implications of that statement are much more clear.

It's a hard story to summarize, because it follows several characters in several time periods.  The lynchpin is Arthur Leander, a famous movie star with a preteen son, three ex-wives, and the role of King Lear in a new production. He dies in the first scene, not a victim of the flu, but of a standard heart attack.  It's tempting to map out how all the characters are related to him, but the truth is that it's both complicatedly interconnected and not particularly neatly tied up: Jeevan, a member of the audience who tries to save Arthur's life, used to be a paparazzo in LA and once took a picture of Arthur's first wife, Miranda.  Miranda was an artist who wrote a series of comic books that Arthur gave to a little girl in the play, Kristen.  Kristen survives the plague and, many years later, is an actress with a traveling symphony.  Clark was one of Arthur's oldest friends, but they drifted apart when they became famous.  Their stories intertwine, and the threads cross between the world before and the world after. 

The two stories that thread through this are Arthur's life, in the past, and an encounter between the Symphony and a town controlled by a dangerous religious zealot.  They are very different stories--the life of a man from a small town who becomes a movie star and a tense post-apocalyptic piece.  They are tied by the characters, but also by the notion that all stories are tied together somehow, that the threads that hold the world together are not big, important cords, but rather fine, delicate weaving, so interconnected that the tiny threads make strong cloth.  At least, that's what I think.

The other thing that I think this book is about is the question of whether to go forward or backward.  I'm going to get to this in my last discussion question below (really just a bulleted list of points; so much easier than having to segue between them!) but I think it's one of the core themes of the story and I want to bring it up.  This book is very much about the past versus the future, in some very complicated ways.

Okay, let's get to this.

1) Let's get this out of the way: the epidemiology here is sketchy, right?  If you look at the speed of infection and the speed of death, even with a 100% infection rate and a 100% mortality rate, it kills too fast to spread like this, right?  I mean, maybe that first plane could take out all of Toronto, but nobody sick makes it to the little backwater towns where no one's even passed through this month who's been on a plane.  So that's a little sketchy.  Which brings us to:

2) The loss of the infrastructure is what really brings us down.  How off-the-grid can you REALLY live?  Especially unexpectedly in the winter?  It definitely seems like things would stabilize eventually, but it makes you think about the supply chain for every single little thing around us.

3) There is a difference between a scarce-resource apocalypse and a resource-rich apocalypse.  Essentially, in some stories, most people die but the world remains--survivors have the leftovers and the same natural resources that were available 1,000 years ago.  In the other, the world has been ravaged, or civilization breaks down without killing most of the population, and suddenly supply and demand are off.  Very different end of the world books.

4) This makes for a fairly peaceful end of the world here, which I find kind of beautiful.  Life is not easy--there's little medicine, people die very easily--but starvation isn't the big killer.  By the time the canned food runs out, most people have figured out that they need a garden and to hunt.  People can be cautious instead of afraid.  I love this opportunity to glimpse this best side of humanity.

5) There is some discussion in the book of the right way to raise children in such a world; do you teach them about the past, and all the wonders they can't even comprehend?  Or do you let that die, teaching them only about the world around them?  The answer to this one seems obvious to me, but I think the emotional baggage of the past would play a bigger role when facing the question in reality.

6) Moments in the book that broke my heart or moved me or that I want to talk about: the house Kristen and August go into, where the parents are dead in their bed and the child dead in its own; the moment when Kristen realizes that she's about to die and everything becomes okay; Clark and Arthur going out to dinner; the museum.  No spoilers; just discuss.

7) What do you make of Miranda?  Kris didn't like her at all; I found her intriguing.  She was not someone I related to, but someone I recognized; wholly turned inward, with only the most tenuous connections outside herself.  Because it's what the world dictates, she follows those, and so she ends up in her relationship, in her job, married.  But her art, her story, is the only thing that's real to her.  She's unlike all the other viewpoint characters, though, and she breaks the pattern of who's included.  What do you think is the reason?  Does it have to do with her comics?

8) Don't you want to read her comics?  It sounds amazing, and beautiful, and complicated.  Maybe too heavyhanded a metaphor, but this ties back to the question of weather connection implies meaning: it's a similar story, but not a similar ending.

9) The big question in the story-within-the-story is about whether to go forward, into a dangerous and precarious unknown, or to try to go back to something that is ruined, and to make a life in those ruins.  I think this ties directly into all the different tensions in the story--the zealots, the question of how to raise the children.  Do you want to move forward, or do you want to move back?  Moving back isn't literally possible, of course, but clinging to the memories, living on them or against them, allows them to dictate your future. 

This post is ridiculously long, and I want to go on and on about that point--about how I think that concealing the past from the children is, counterintuitively, about clinging to he past.  Holding the past as history lets you move forward with hope and intent; hiding it as a secret makes it present and dangerous, keeps you living with it.  About how Arthur's life is all about moving forward--from his small hometown, out of college into acting, through three marriages.  About Miranda's forward motion in life, and how she brings what matters with her.  Clark and the Museum; the symphony and Shakespeare.  The zealots and the belief that the old world had to die for the new one to be born. 

It's silly to apologize; this post is no more a jumble than most of my posts.  But this book was amazing--I would never have believed it would work, and here it is, lovely and perfect, full of people doing the best they can--even the villains.  The more I think about it, the more I love it.  You should absolutely read it.