Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

What was so cool about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Other than the fact that it was amazingly hilarious)? Was the medium of the radio show, at least in my opinion. It was so interesting to listen to. Unlike an audio book where the book was read aloud as it was written, the radio show was like an entirely different medium where the story was told by the conversations of the characters. Characters that were given great personality at that. With the voices, the characters were truly allowed to come to life. Reactions could be more subtle in the voices rather than explained. Although for the most part there was nothing subtle about the story as it is a series of simply absurd things happening. First, having to leave your planet because it was being turned into an intergalactic gas station/highway and most people were going to be killed. Then, learning that your planet was all an experiment and the answer to life is 42 yet not knowing what the question is that answers. After all, it was a machine built to find the answer not the question, the question would be a much more difficult task.

The Handmaid's Tale

It is very rare I read a book that makes me angry. Sad, happy, suspenseful, surprised, sure. But not angry. The book takes place in the future, in what used to be the United States. But it resembles its old self in no other way than appearance of the streets. Women are reduced to nothing but baby making machines. It was even worse than in the past when women were homemakers and married men they didn’t know or love. Similarly, women are expected to be meek. But the handmaidens, they were simply assigned to wealthy men to try to have children and stripped of their identities. The only way she gets seen as somewhat of a person is when she begins meet up with the Commander in secret for small things such as playing Scrabble and they talk. 

Perhaps why it was so unnerving to me is because I or any other young woman could easily be in that situation in this book. Torn from school, work, families in order to be forced into some powerful household. Offred after all was a woman with a family, a child who she was torn from. We learn her story, but her story is the story of many women in the book. Perhaps that’s why we never learn her name because her story represents them all. She isn’t as complacent as Janine but not as much of a bad-ass as Moira. she’s in the middle of the spectrum. 

Parable of the Sower

So, the Parable of the Sower was a nice change from all the spaceship sci-fi in my mind even though the entire Destiny idea was all about going to space, it wasn’t actively happening. It read like a post apocalyptic novel. One where you’re screaming at the character’s not to do the stupid thing. Except Lauren is also screaming at them yet no one is listening. At least at the beginning until she gets out on her own. At which point her message is God is Change. I connect with the theme of change. Without change I would not be who I am. As a military child I moved every three years or so. All of my surroundings changed other than the people I was with. I can not stand being in the same place for very long or doing the same things. Without change there is no progress. Even bad change only provides a reason to change things for the better afterwards. 

In the case of the Parable of the Sower, the United States has gone through some pretty bad changes and the government has collapsed. Mixed race relationships are stigmatized amid attacks against religious and ethnic minorities. Now, religion. I mentioned this in a blog post a couple weeks ago, the idea of terror management theory. The idea that the knowledge of our own immortality scares us but we can live on by investing in a cultural belief system that imbues life with meaning. The idea that God is Change would give reasoning to the chaotic state of the country. It’s just in the process of change. Lauren tells the followers of Earthseed to believe in the destiny that they are going to go settle in space. Where space is a real-life heaven where they can start a new life. This is all change, and referring back to terror management theory it gives the people a reason to continue on. 

Snow Crash

There are two things that interested me the most about Snow Crash - the importance of language and the world it portrays. 

The World - In our reality, by the time a child is three years old they know about 100 brand logos. In Snow Crash, this has gone to such an extent that after the collapse of the government, "franchulates”, or franchised city-states rose in its place. Everything is privatized from the police to prisons. This is another scary mirror to modern society where we already have privatized prisons that actually make money off of incarcerating as many individuals as they can. Most people spend most of their time in the metaverse, an alternate virtual reality. This is particularly troublesome for Hiro who is susceptible to the illness optically thanks to being a hacker. Since language is not only spoken, but written such as in coding. 

Language, it shapes our mind from birth. It has the power to let people communicate, but can also be destructive. This is the premise of Snow Crash, the idea that the metavirus is able to program humans with a primitive base language that we all share. Once infected, they spout incoherent syllables. It got me thinking and reminded me of an article I read on the deaf. What do they think in? Sign Language. If they aren’t taught sign language the mind has no real way to process thoughts or information. In the past, being deaf was also associated with being mentally handicap for this reason. 

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream can only be described one way - as nightmare fuel. This is beyond the concept of artificial intelligence taking over as robots become sentient. This is a machine built to manage the world becoming sentient. Throw in the horrors of immortality and being trapped and tortured by said artificial intelligence for its only entertainment and you have yourself a terrifying and hopeless scenario with no happy ending. At least, not for the protagonist. 

While there is no happy ending, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a story of heroism and a warning of the capability of human nature. I don’t want to read too much into it, but the history of AM is that the Cold War broke out into WWIII, and it got so complex that nations built supercomputers to manage the world for them until one gained sentience, took over the others, and killed every human on earth except for five. This story was published in 1968, when the Cold War was still going on. It was perhaps a warning. A warning about how the greed and violence of man can easily escalate into war. 

The antagonist itself, AM, is not necessarily evil by default. I still can’t entirely find a reason for his hatred of humans, but perhaps his creation was enough. In social psychology, terror management theory suggests that when people feel unimportant they equate those feelings with dying—and they will do everything they can, including becoming extreme and destructive themselves to avoid that feeling. Without humans, AM has no purpose. 

Shards of Honor

So, for starters I am not one to really read much sci-fi with space fights, aliens, and futuristic technology. So I was hesitant, but thrilled when it eased me into the idea with the concept of researching an alien planet. There’s something majestic about the thought of a planet with an ecosystem I can only imagine as similar as the wilderness of Yellowstone, with jellyfish hovering above the water and giant crabs scuttling about. Majestic as long as you leave out the part they can kill you. What I was not expecting was a romance novel. 

I’m not a fan of romance novels, nor am I a fan when they toss random romances into plots that don’t need them (that’s another story). But the romance that built gave me something I was familiar with to grasp onto while exploring an otherwise entirely new genre with spaceships, war, and strange politics. That being said, while I was confused at many points, that is all I was. There was nothing spectacular about the writing, the story was rather straightforward, and I found the characters rather shallow. One moment Cornelia would be mad at Aral, the next seemingly falling for him. Then of course they were torn apart due to their loyalty to their own people. 

Overall, the world building was great and my favorite part of the book. But the entire cliched romance bits made me hesitant to continue with the series. I think I may continue for the sake that upon looking at the rest of the books in the series, this is more of a prequel and not reflective of the rest of the series. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

After reading I was confused as to why this was marketed as a novel for adults. It could very well be a young adult novel. The protagonists are children, and it’s their journey. There is a suggestion of the father being unfaithful to the wife, but nothing graphic, and something young adults should be able to understand. 

After watching the interview with Neil Gaiman in class, I think I have figured out why. It’s because he wants to bring the memory of childhood back to adults. Throughout the book there are many references of childhood versus adulthood. Time in general is a major theme. In the beginning we get to know the adult narrator, how his childhood home is no longer there, and in the end we learn that the belief that Lettie went to Australia isn’t exactly true. Lettie herself is of an unknown age, and Ursula who claims to have been around before the Earth was even created.