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The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 96 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen, is a novella and a dark fairy tale that brings a young teen into the depths of the library’s labyrinth.  The teenage boy loves to read and abides his mother, but the library seems to be his home on many levels until he enters room 107.  From there stranger things happen and the boy meets a sheep man and a mysterious and pretty girl.  Murakami has a wild imagination and it comes to life in these pages.  He’s created a world that is fantastical and odd, but the threats and tensions are real, leaving the reader sweating and despairing alongside his protagonist.

The text is accompanied by odd little drawings and magazine-like images, which add more of a creep factor to the story.  The copy from the library had an odd cover that had one flap flipping up and one flipping down, which could be used as a bookmark, but while reading, they tended to get in the way.  However, that wasn’t enough to detract from the creepy story that unfolded in these pages.  Murakami clearly has a vivid imagination in which animals and men can crossover into different planes of existence.  While many of us enjoy books, reading, and our libraries, The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen, sure will give readers a reason to pause before entering their libraries again.

About the Author:

Haruki Murakami (Japanese: 村上 春樹) is a popular contemporary Japanese writer and translator. His work has been described as ‘easily accessible, yet profoundly complex’.  Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.  Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko.

Blackout by Mira Grant

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 659 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Blackout by Mira Grant (beware there could be spoilers for Feed or Deadline in this review) is the final installment in the Newsflesh series, and it is a stunning ride that will leave readers breathless to the final page.  It has been a long time since a zombie series has been this well developed and thought out.  Grant has created a masterful new world after the Rising of zombies in which bloggers have taken over as the trusted form of communication and information, and while the American populace continues to trust the CDC, the government is still considered sketchy at best.  Shaun Mason and his group of bloggers at After the End Times continue to dig into the death of one of their own, looking for someone to blame.  At the same time, Shaun is hardly coping, speaking with voices in his head, and his team is enabling his craziness.

“‘Shaun … ‘ There was a wary note in Alaric’s voice.  I could practically see him sitting at his console, knotting his hands in his hair and trying not to let his irritation come through the microphone.  I was his boss, after all, which meant he had to at least pretend to be respectful.  Once in a while.  ‘That’s your fourth catch of the night.  I think that’s enough, don’t you?’

‘I’m going for the record.’

There was a click as Becks plugged her own channel into the connection and snapped peevishly, ‘You’ve already got the record.  Four catches in a night is twice what anyone else has managed, ever.  Now please, please, come back to the lab.'”  (page 20)

As a tropical storm wreaks havoc on Florida and other southern states ad the dead begin to rise at a faster rate, Shaun and his team not only have to uncover what has happened, but have to find a way to get the word out when the government has effectively caused a media blackout.  While the team is still gathering information and poking zombies, the focus on higher ratings has fallen off the radar for the team.  Conspiracy theorists and zombie fiction lovers will love the ride Grant takes them on, and the series touches upon a number of issues, particularly medical ethics.

Blackout by Mira Grant wrapped up the series nicely, though there is an e-novella that follows this, and Grant has created characters who struggle with the truth — finding it and keeping it real for everyone else.  From experimenting on live subjects to creating clones, the Newsflesh series runs the gamut of medical ethics issues, but it also highlights the idea of journalistic ethics and objectivity.

About the Author:

Born and raised in Northern California, Mira Grant has made a lifelong study of horror movies, horrible viruses, and the inevitable threat of the living dead. In college, she was voted Most Likely to Summon Something Horrible in the Cornfield, and was a founding member of the Horror Movie Sleep-Away Survival Camp, where her record for time survived in the Swamp Cannibals scenario remains unchallenged.

Mira lives in a crumbling farmhouse with an assortment of cats, horror movies, comics, and books about horrible diseases. When not writing, she splits her time between travel, auditing college virology courses, and watching more horror movies than is strictly good for you. Favorite vacation spots include Seattle, London, and a large haunted corn maze just outside of Huntsville, Alabama.

Mira sleeps with a machete under her bed, and highly suggests that you do the same.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 244 pages
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, first published in 1968, was our June book club selection, and is the basis on which the classic movie Blade Runner is based.  (Previous to reading the novel, I’ve seen the movie, and recent memories of the watching the movie kept me alert for similarities in the book)  Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, who works for little money in San Fransisco’s Police Department, and what money he does make is from bounties on the heads of escaped androids that escape Mars often by killing humans.  Society has evolved to the point at which androids are so human-like that they cannot be sniffed out except through a couple of tests administered by bounty hunters, which will puzzle the reader as to why the android would sit for such a test knowing that to fail means immediate retirement — a.k.a death.

Animals are no different, with many of the animals made extinct by the war and fallout, and residents of this desolate Earth are desperate to own an animal, even if it is an electric sheep.  As David Sedaris says in his essay “Loggerheads” in Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, “As with the sea turtle, part of the thrill was the feeling of being accepted … allowed you to think that you and this creature had a special relationship …”  These humans are looking for connections in any way that they can get them, either through animal ownership — such as ownership of electric animals — or through the empathy machine that connects them with other members of society through Mercerism.

“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet.  Because, ultimately, the emphatic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.”  (page 51)

In Roger Zelazny’s introduction, he says, “His management of a story takes you from here to there in a God-knows-how, seemingly haphazard fashion, which, upon reflection, follows a logical line of development — but only on reflection.”  He’s correct in that the story shifts from Deckard’s story to that of J.R. Isidore, a so-called special or chickenhead who has been declared genetically unfit to emigrate to the Mars colony.  Isidore lives alone in a dilapidated apartment building filled with kipple, the detritus and radioactive dust, etc.  His condition requires readers to have a lot of patience for his ramblings, which in some cases seem like LSD trips or a schizophrenic break, but in some ways, Dick is attempting to demonstrate another aspect of loneliness and disconnect than what he’s showcased in the human-android relationship.  In addition, Dick seems to want readers to think long and hard about their faith in religion as the subject of Mercerism pervades the story as a way for humanity to connect on a deeper level through technological means.

“Here there existed no one to record his or anyone else’s degradation, and any courage or pride which might manifest itself here at the end would go unmarked: the dead stones, the dust-stricken weeds dry and dying, perceived nothing, recollected nothing, about him or themselves.”  (page 231)

Deckard is a man conflicted about his job, but only after he meets an android he finds attractive, and as with most men living on the edge and crossing over moral lines, he struggles to regain his footing and return to his real life and think little about what he’s done.  While he’s cocky about his abilities to take down androids, that bravado soon gives way to concern, doubt, and even fear.  Dick’s surreal narrative will leave readers guessing about the direction of the chase for the androids and whether Deckard will have the strength to complete his task or whether in completing that task he’ll have a complete breakdown or experience no repercussions what so ever.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick is an exploration not of the future, but of ourselves and our never-ending search for connection with others — whether that is with an android, a spouse, a co-worker, a lover, or an animal.  In his convoluted and disconcerting narrative, the author seeks to upend the beliefs of his readers and challenge their moral boundaries.  Unfortunately, there are big gaps in the narrative and the background about the war that caused the destruction of Earth, the origins of Mercerism, and what exactly is going on Mars — are androids in control of Mars, turning humans into androids, or something else.  These are just some of the issues that are not explored fully in this cerebral exercise.

What the Book Club Thought:

Most of the book club liked the book a great deal, with two members liking it more than they expected to when they began reading it.  Dick is one of the member’s favorite authors.  In the discussion, we touched upon the jabs at capitalism throughout the text in that animals are bought and sold at high prices and the addiction of characters to the mood organ (on which they can preset their mood for the day) and the empathy machine, which allows humans to commune with one another and Mercer.  These machines seemed to leave humans dependent and in a fog, but there is also the surreal portions of the story that left many of us guessing as to whether a spider found by Isidore was real or imaginary and Rick’s sudden transformation into Mercer without the empathy machine after completing his job.

The ownership of androids (which are advertised as an incentive to move to Mars) was compared to that of owning slaves, as well as why bounty hunters were necessary to retire the androids — are they dangerous or just different?  I theorized that perhaps the incentive of owning an android was a ploy to get humans to Mars so they could be replaced with androids.  None of the other members seemed to agree.  One member also questioned from the beginning whether Rick was human or an android, though most of the members assumed he was human.  Other topics touched upon were that the androids were child-like and not as evolved as humans and hence why they sometimes acted with malice, and that perhaps given more time to live, they could develop empathy, thus making them harder to distinguish from humans.

Our July book club selection is His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.

About the Author:

Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928 and lived most of his life in California. He briefly attended the University of California, but dropped out before completing any classes. In 1952, he began writing professionally and proceeded to write numerous novels and short-story collections. He won the Hugo Award for the best novel in 1962 for The Man in the High Castle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year in 1974 for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Philip K. Dick died on March 2, 1982, in Santa Ana, California, of heart failure following a stroke.

This is my 40th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The Host

Stephenie Meyer‘s The Host is a fantastic science fiction novel for even those who do not read science fiction. While Meyer creates another world to immerse her characters in, the storyline is believable and captivating. Melanie Stryder, her brother Jamie, and Jared Howe along with all of humanity are thrust into a fight for their way of life and their humanity in Meyer’s first attempt at an adult novel. I hope this too becomes a movie someday.

***Spoiler Alert***

Melanie Stryder is a tough go-getter who is caring for her brother while on the run from the Seekers. She meets up with Jared unexpectedly, and they both mistake one another for a soul–or a human possessed by an alien soul. Jared, Jamie, and Melanie end up on the run together, sort of like an instant family in these desperate times. She falls in love with Jared and vice versa. However, once they are separated when Melanie seeks out her cousin Sharon, all hell breaks loose. Melanie is captured and implanted with the Wanderer.

Wanderer struggles to gain full control over Mel, but it becomes a loosing battle for some time. When she finally gets into a routine at her Calling as a teacher at the San Diego university, Wanderer begins to grow uncomfortable with her host and her seeker. The seeker constantly follows her and harasses her about whether she has learned about any other humans that Mel may have been with or hiding. Wandered grows weary of these interrogations and makes an attempt to head east to Tuscon, Ariz., where she will see her Healer, who attached her to Melanie.

On her way through the desert, Wanderer decides its time to pull over, get something to eat, argue with Mel, and then decipher the lines on a map from Mel’s memories to find a possible hiding spot for Jared and Jamie. Mel wants to be assured they are alive and to keep her promise to Jamie that she would return. Wanderer is not entirely comfortable with the plan, but succumbs to the urge because she has grown fond of Jared and Jamie through Mel’s memories.

Once Wanderer and Melanie enter the cave dwelling of the rebels, they both face serious harm and torture. Jared is angry and frustrated and elated to see Melanie’s body, but he is distraught that Wanderer is inside. Ian and Kyle, the brothers, are ready to kill Mel to prevent Wanderer from telling the Seekers where they are. The believe they are the last human rebels on the planet and they want to survive at all costs.

***End Spoiler Alert***

The interplay of the characters at the end of the book in the last 250 pages is infectious. You get caught up in the intrigue and the action. While the action is great, the evolution of the characters is fantastic in this novel. Wanderer remains true to herself and is altruistic to the end, and her anger toward Melanie softens and transforms. Melanie’s anger toward her softens and transforms as well; there grows an understanding between the two who share one body. Their friendship grows as does their affection for one another, and this friendship helps turn around the reactions and actions of the other humans in the caves.

Many of the reviews I saw have talked about the love between Jared and Melanie and Wanda and Ian, but I think that this book is more about how many people judge books and people by their covers before they get to know and understand them.

Souls take over the planet because humans are too violent to truly enjoy their world, and by taking them over, the souls are doing humanity a favor. Humans view the takeover as an invasion as the souls take over bodies and push the personalities and human minds out of those bodies, essentially killing those humans. However, souls are not all bad and in many ways they do not realize the extent of the devastation they cause on Earth because previous hosts have been so different and less individualized–less human. Humans also are not all bad and prone to violence as Wanda learns with Ian and others in the book.

After reading Breaking Dawn, I sped through this book. I didn’t find any ruts in the narrative and the action was well worth the ride. The one drawback for me was the intractable characters of Sharon and Maggie, who do not evolve at all. They maintain their hatred of the Wanderer regardless of her altruistic behavior and her hardcore work ethic.

If you have reviewed The Host, please send me your link and I will add it.

Also Reviewed By:
Suey at It’s All About Books
Maw Books
Book Escape
Reading Adventures
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Booking Mama
Marta’s Meanderings
Wrighty’s Reads