Date: January 4, 2017

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted ChiangStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Published by Small Beer Press on October 26th 2010
Genres: Sci Fi
Pages: 281
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov's SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer's stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.

What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven's other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.

So I got this book via the library and boy was there a long wait. I think the movie “Arrival” is the main reason why this one took so long to get via Overdrive. I saw Arrival right after the elections and seriously, that was the movie I needed to see at that point. In a big theater with several hundred people getting to watch this amazing story that really showcases why words and language are so important. The visuals were great, so was the music, and the ending left me with so many questions. Once I saw the words based on in the end credits, I made a note of the title and author and promptly went home and put in a hold request. The story based on Arrival is in this collection of works by Chiang. But so are some other stories. Some that definitely made me think and wonder. Some that also made me scratch my head. And there was one that left me feeling somewhat odd and needing to go to church soon. I do love that the overall theme though is how important words and language ultimately are to the people in these stories.

For those who are not used to my reviews based on anthologies/collections, I always give each story it’s own rating, and then the overall collection a rating.

“Tower of Babylon” (5 stars)- Who does not know about the Tower of Babylon? I really enjoyed Chiang’s look at the workers who built the tower, and what these men really wanted. They wanted to be in the presence of the Creator and wanted to reach the vault of heaven. You actually feel a little sorry for the characters you meet, because you as the reader know how this story is going to end. However, the ending to this one does not follow the Biblical story. It ends up leaving you with a reminder about those who go in search of the divine.  I absolutely loved the description of this epic tower. The people who lived within it, and what the sun, moon, and stars looked like from the top of the tower.

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“Understand” (5 stars)-This was more science fiction that most of the other stories. Reading about how a man is given an injection that ends up boosting his intelligence is a trope in many movies/books (Flowers for Algernon anyone?) but Chiang goes a step further showing how this man ultimately starts to believe he is above other humans and goes about seeing hat he can do to ultimately be rid of them. There’s just a small flaw in his plan. He may not be the only one out there just like him. The ending was pretty smart I thought.

“Division by Zero” (3.5 stars)- I really didn’t get this one at all. Probably because I have loathed math most of my life and I still have bad flashbacks to Algebra II and Calculus I courses. I didn’t get what was going on with the mathematical theorem in this one, or why the one character was slowly becoming undone by it. It didn’t help that we were going back and forth between two characters this whole story who I was flabbergasted to see were more close than I thought until the end. I don’t know, the ending was odd and I maybe went huh a few times.  Okay a lot.

“Story of Your Life” (5 stars)-This is the story that Arrival was based on. I really enjoyed more in depth information that we got in the book. And I finally understood a few things that had me wondering from the movie. This set-up makes better sense than the movie version. Only because there’s a minor issue with us seeing Amy Adams character teaching others the new alien language, though the book shows that maybe only two characters can read and understand the language. And the story leaves you with a question about divine will and what you would do if you knew you could alter something, and what if you did alter something but things stayed the same, because if something is supposed to happen, won’t it still happen? This is definitely a story that will have you thinking about fate, the meaning of life, and just a ton of other thoughts meant for 3 a.m. when you can’t sleep.

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“Seventy-Two Letters” (2 stars)-The X-Files did it better. Yeah I said it. Reading about a golem, some weird science fiction explanation that had me scratching my head, and this taking place I think in Victorian times (or another Victorian timeline from our understanding of it) just had me confused.

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“The Evolution of Human Science” (2 stars)- I really don’t get what this was supposed to be. It was so short compared to the other stories and pretty much walks you through how there are metahumans and humans and humans should not be worried about being wiped out because of metahumans. I started humming the X-Men cartoon series theme song while reading this.

“Hell is the Absence of God” (5 stars)-This one was fairly long and I loved the idea about it. I take it based on the author notes at the end that Chiang meant this to be a more modern look at Job. And I definitely loved it from beginning to end. I also kind of love a world where angels just randomly appear and people believe in blessings, or some don’t, and the question of salvation and devotion comes up a lot. I was discussing this story with one of my friends who is very devout and he loved the whole story-line. I think I may have caused him to go find this collection because he thought all of the stories sounded interesting.

“Liking What You See: A Documentary” (5 stars) This should seriously be a Black Mirror episode. If I hadn’t binge watched the most reason season I probably would not have thought that, but seriously, this short story would be pretty cool to see on screen. The idea that people have the ability to have something called a calli turned on and off. Calli allows you through something called Spex to view people as if they had cosmetic surgery. In people’s minds, if everyone is equally beautiful this would lead to a utopia since no one would be discriminated against for not being beautiful or having perfect features. This whole thing is messed up and I adored every second of it. I think an article I read a few years ago talked about this about how people are more apt to think a beautiful person is telling the truth than those who are not deemed beautiful. I distrust most people until I know them better, and have had grown men and women look me in the eye and lie to me (and yeah I knew it, sometimes I love my job, other times I just sigh) so I think that depending on your job, beauty doesn’t factor into it much. I tend to look at body language a lot when talking to anyone in order to determine if someone is not being truthful. Anyway, this documentary style story was great. You get to follow several characters and follow a proposal that would enforce all kids who attend one college to always have calli due to many thinking lookism causing a lot of problems in the world.

four-half-stars

Scandal by Amanda Quick

Scandal by Amanda QuickScandal by Amanda Quick
Published by Bantam on February 28th 1991
Genres: Romance
Pages: 329
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
three-stars

With her reputation forever tarnished by a youthful indiscretion, lovely Emily Faringdon is resigned to a life of spinsterhood, until she embarks on an unusual correspondence and finds herself falling head over heels in love. Sensitive, intelligent, and high-minded, her noble pen pal seems to embody everything Emily has ever dreamed of in a man. But Simon Augustus Traherne, the mysterious Earl of Blade, is not all that he seems.

Driven by dark, smoldering passions and a tragic secret buried deep within his soul, Blade has all of London cowering at his feet, but not Emily...never Emily. For even as she surrenders to his seductive charms, she knows the real reason for his amorous suit. And she knows that she must reach the heart of this golden-eyed dragon before the avenging demons of their entwined pasts destroy the only love she has ever known...

I am laughing so hard as I think of this book and what to write. Look I used to devour Amanda Quick’s older books with the one word description and usually a random object on the cover. There were some that were really good. And there were some that may be wonder about the intelligence of the hero/heroine involved. “Scandal” is definitely the latter. You have a sort of reformed rake trope taking place here (though the hero is not really a rake, he’s just an out and out ass) with a naive heroine that believes that love transcends everything. Seriously, learn to love the phrases “higher plane” and “cast adrift on love’s transcendent golden, shore”. Also she calls or thinks of the hero as a “dragon” so learn to love that word as well as the word “elf” that the hero calls the heroine.

The heroine in “Scandal” is Emily Faringdon. Emily is an aspiring writer (her epic poem sounds awful by the way) and thinks she is going to forever lead a solitary life in the countryside due to a scandal (where the title comes from) in her past. When Emily was younger, she ran away to get married and then realized on the way what a bad idea it was. Emily was not found til the next day, so of course in Regency era times this means she is considered an indiscreet young woman which no man would offer for. This suits Emily’s father since he just uses Emily in order to have her keep him and her two twin brothers (Charles and Devlin) afloat due to her investment schemes. Emily starts up a correspondence with a man claiming to have her love of literature and then one days he announces he will be staying at a neighbor’s home and they can finally meet. Emily meets Simon Traherne, also known as the Earl of Blade. Simon has his own reasons for pursuing Emily, and it’s all about revenge.

So Emily…is kind of tedious and aggravating. When Emily finally meets Simon she decides that they are soul mates (I refuse to go back and look to see if that phrase is used) and even when she is told why Simon is pursuing her and wants to marry her (to avenge himself on her father) she still marries the guy. It was beyond ridiculous. Who marries someone who tells you that your father was responsible for his father committing suicide and you are part of his master plan to get revenge on all people who wronged him.

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It baffles me throughout this book how cruel Simon is again and again to Emily and she is all, but I know that he loves me, so this makes it okay. I kept half hoping Emily would brain him with something. And though I had a small smidgen of sympathy towards Simon because of what happened to him and his mother due to his father’s suicide, him going after in some cases the children of the men who wronged him gets you over that real quick.

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Simon sucks. Seriously. I don’t know what in the world made Emily even want to be with the guy besides the fact she kept saying they had a metaphysical connection. Simon the day after their wedding forbids her to see her father or her twin brothers again. I know back in Regency days you couldn’t divorce, but I hated the fact that Quick has Emily decide to not be physically with Simon again after his announcement, and then has her run off.  Simon thinks eventually Emily will be too curious about sex with him to not want to do it again and he will end up winning his way. Due to Simon spending time in the East (and no that is the way it is referred to in the book) he has strange notions about revenge, sins of the father, and apparently knows karate. Or Judo. Or Kung-Fu. I honestly did not get his movements at all, though at one time Quick references Simon chopping someone in the neck with his hand and I died laughing for five minutes. Iron Fist this guy is not.

We have other characters in “Scandal” and Emily’s father is terrible. How she ignores it also drives me up a wall. There’s a resolution about that guy at the end which made me smile. But I would have been happy with sharks being in play at some point. Emily’s brother get some more detail, but not much in this one, and it would have been nice to follow up with both of them in subsequent books.

The plot in this one is really thin though. Due to Emily’s past, no one is to refer to her scandal, and Simon is so powerful he believes he can squelch any commentary about it with threats or favors. Frankly, I don’t really get why this would matter in Regency days, marriage fixes everything, or so most of the romance books I read had me believe. And there’s a secondary plot that involves Emily’s secret being discovered that is only a couple dozen pages. Honestly, most of the book is just Emily and Simon having sex, Simon being nasty, Emily being obtuse about his terribleness, and Emily deciding that love will see them through.

The writing at times was super hilarious though. Maybe because I cannot believe anyone back then spoke like this. It felt like very bad stage directions were being given to actors a few times.

Simon gently refolded the letter and sat gazing into the fire. After a moment’s contemplation, he reached out to pick up the beautifully enameled Chinese teapot that sat on a nearby table. He poured the Lap Seng into a gossamer thin cup decorated with a green and gold dragon. As he started to lift the cup, he paused, studying the figure of the mythical beast.

The remainder of the comment was lost as Simon pivoted swiftly in the graceful movements of the ancient fighting art he had learned in the East. He knew his unorthodox, potentially lethal method would have astounded the young bloods who practiced boxing at Gentleman Jackson’s academy. They would have been even more perplexed by the elaborate techniques for establishing mental discipline and control that the monks had taught along with the physical skills.

I can’t help it, this whole book just makes me shake my head. We hear about references to China, monks, the “East” and whatnot.

The flow was up and down throughout. Like I said, there was very little plot with this one unlike with other Quick books so you are just really waiting for the hero to stop being a jerk and just fall in love with the heroine already. Or at least I was.

I do love Regency era books though. I think I get a kick out of them just because I cannot imagine a society like that nowadays. Of course you realize this was what Polite Society in England did back then, but still, these books always give you a good peek at them.

This is a romance novel so of course realize there is a HEA.

I read this for Romance Bingo 2017, and this book fits the regency romance square.

 

 

three-stars

The Poirot Project: Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, & Death on the Nile

The Poirot Project: Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense, Mystery

I read these over a year ago, and rather than do full blown reviews of each of them, I am just going to jot down my thoughts, impressions and memories. When I began the Christie Project, I considered reviewing each book as I read it, but decided against it because it is sometimes difficult to review books in a vacuum. Before I could review them, I felt like I needed, in my own mind, to have an understanding of where I would personally put the book in the overall series in terms of quality. Christie was prolific, and her work is definitely of varying quality even within her various series. Plus, it is difficult for me to come up with sufficient material for a review of a piece of detective fiction since being spoiler-free is critical.

Most of these posts have "reviewed" four of the Poirot mysteries. However, I am planning on doing a full treatment of Appointment with Death, Poirot #18, which would be the fourth book in the post.

Three Act Tragedy (Poirot #15)
Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: London
Narration: third person
Investigator(s): Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver

This is a solid entry in the Poirot canon, and is the only book that brings together Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. It is also the first book in which Ariadne Oliver – a rather bumbling mystery writer who functions as a self-insert by Christie – appears with Poirot. The murder itself is ingenious. The strange Mr. Shaitana invites the four sleuths and four individuals whom he suspects of previously getting away with murder (similar to And Then There Were None) to play a game of bridge, tosses out bait, and gets himself murdered. There are four suspects, and each of the sleuths is assigned to investigate one of the four and get to the bottom of the murder, psychologically speaking. I don’t play bridge, and enjoyed this one in spite of the fact that the rule of bridge actually do play a significant part in determining the solution.

Dumb Witness (Poirot #16)
Year of publication: 1937
Setting/Locations: English country house
Narration: third person by Arthur Hastings
Investigators: Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings

In my opinion, this is a rare clunker from Agatha’s best period. There are actually brief bits that are narrated from the perspective of Bob, the dog, who functions as the “dumb witness.” It’s just overwhelmingly stupid. The murder itself is classic Christie, with family members knocking off the family matriarch who doesn’t have the good manners to die soon enough for them to inherit all of the family money. Those Brits and their matricide!

Death on the Nile (Poirot #17)

Year of Publication: 1937
Settings/Locations: Egypt
Narration:
Investigators: Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race

This is one of my all time favorite Agatha Christie mysteries. It is brilliantly conceived, and daringly executed. There are actually three concurrent mysteries – who killed the gorgeous Linnet Ridgeway, who is the jewel thief, and what is the deal with the raging communist on board the ship. I want to give nothing away because the entire book is simply delightful. Christie’s writing is tight and her plotting is impeccable. The characterization of the fierce Jackie is fantastic. I also always enjoy the addition of Colonel Race to the plot!

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