Snow Crash

img_7621Book: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Date Read: January 10 to 28, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I chose this book to meet my first bonus challenge for the 2021 Unread Shelf Project: a book that has been on your to read shelf for more than a year. There were many options to choose from for this, so I decided to reach way back. This is the book that I suspect may have been on my to read list the longest. Although I do not remember the exact date that I added it to my shelf, a friend recommended it to me when I was in middle school. That was around 20 years ago. I cannot say for certain why it took my so long to get to this one. The same friend recommended several other books and authors to me as well, and I have loved all of them. For some reason, this one always got pushed off.

Well, I am glad that I finally read it, and a bit irritated with myself for putting it off for so long. I am not a huge reader of science fiction—it’s not so much that I do not like it, but that I often find it a bit dense and can become overwhelmed by the necessary details and descriptions. I do not avoid the genre, but tend to lean toward the lighter side. Without much of a range for comparison, I would say this was a little more toward traditional science fiction than I am used to reading. Despite the step outside my comfort zone, I really enjoyed so much of what was happening here.

The main plot had a really intriguing combination of ancient religions and modern ideas, with the perfect amount of absurdist humor. Also a unique situation when I refer to modern, as I truly do mean current despite the book being around 30 years old (more on that later). There were definitely some satirical elements that were current at the time of publication that still ring true today, but I found the connections to ancient mythology really fascinating, particularly as to related to the spread of information. Today, we talk about things going viral online, but this was long before that was in common usage or even that internet usage was widespread enough for it to reach so many. Stephenson really dug into the concept of virality, tying in the spread of culture while also pulling in the idea of a computer virus spreading to humans. While it obviously sounds a bit bizarre, the connections made felt really valid.

Coming back to the timeline, another interesting aspect to me was that this was a book set in the future, but not too far into the future. With this being a recommendation from so long ago, and the book released about 10 years earlier, I would put the time frame for the setting to be around now, possibly a few years ago. Given that, it was really interesting to me to see some accuracies (and inaccuracies) in the technology. While there are some things that might be attributed to the novel (like the popularization of the term avatar for someone’s online representation), there are many that are more likely to be either coincidence or some educated guesswork. Personally, I liked that there were some pretty spot on pieces with modern cell phone technology, but that pay phones were still in use.

Boris’s Thoughts: “This all seems unnecessarily complicated. You know what isn’t complicated? Naps. 2 paws.”

Annihilation

img_7041Book: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Date Read: December 1 to 8, 2020

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

For December, the Unread Shelf Project asks you to read the shortest book on your shelf. It’s really the perfect fit for this time of year, when everyone seems to be going just a little crazy to fit in their holiday plans along with wrapping up their goals for the year. While I am often somewhat rigid when it comes to metrics and data, I interpret this one a little loosely: anything under 200 pages counts as my shortest books. There are quite a few of them—mostly Shakespeare, as I am that person who gets the complete works of Shakespeare and then individually lists all plays as things to read (making Shakespeare both the shortest and longest books on my list!). In the end, of course, I did not go with Shakespeare: I picked this one up at one of my local independent bookshops, when I went in for a gift and had to leave with something for myself too.

Annihilation is a little outside my normal reading spectrum, as a mystery and science fiction combo. While I do enjoy both, I do not read too heavily in either genre. The story is a slow build without much direct action, but much time put into building the world of Area X. This fits with the context of the novel—it is written as a journal belonging to a biologist, who is part of an expedition to an area reported to have had experienced an “environmental disaster.” Early on, her reports suggest that there is more going on than meets the eye, although this is never quite defined.

Each member of the expedition has a different area of expertise, which they are defined by rather than named: the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, the Surveyor, and the Biologist. While they have been given general orders as a group, each seems to have their own slightly varying agenda. The expedition quickly devolves, as each of the members is impacted by their surroundings and begin to follow their own paths. The biologist’s journal paints an eerie picture of the landscape, as she tries to make sense of her surroundings and describe things that she does not seem to understand herself.

While the concept here is definitely interesting, this book left me wanting more than it was willing to give. It was an enjoyable read, although a little unsettling in places. The style allows for the reader to start piecing some things together, and there’s definitely a ton of room for speculation. However, the ending is left too open for my liking. Of course, this is the first book in a series, so there may be some of what I was looking for in the other books; though I am not sure that I am invested enough in the story to continue.

Boris’s Thoughts: “All that strange wildlife, and not cats? Ridiculous. 1 paw.”

Unread Shelf Progress for December

  • Books Read: 5
  • Books Acquired: 8
  • Total Unread Books: 271

Lovecraft Country

img_1914Date Read: July 24 to August 8, 2019

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

This was definitely an interesting read, although I wanted to enjoy this book so much more than I did. I suspect that part of the problem may be my lack of background knowledge—I have never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft, and my reading of classic science fiction is admittedly lacking. However, I am not fully convinced this would have made a drastic difference in my feelings on the book, although it may have at least increased my appreciation of what Ruff was doing here.

Lovecraft Country falls somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories, chronicling the lives of an extended African American family living in 1950s Chicago. Each chapter is written as a story centered on a different member of the family, each of them connecting to the main narrative. It includes horrors of two primary varieties: elements of classic horror fiction inspired by Lovecraft and others; the perhaps even more terrifying daily horrors of racism in America. The stories of the struggles encountered in their everyday lives, as well as their research for the “Safe Negro Travel Guide,” paints a picture of that period in American history that many may not realize existed—a bit scary considering that time is not so far back in our history. I am a generally well-read and well-informed person, and this is a perspective of America that I have never had to face myself. Although I know that side of our past exists, I have not previously encountered it in the perspective taken here. Perhaps that is my own fault.

I wish I could find more to say about this book, especially considering my unusually low (for me) rating. (You’re right, three stars is not a bad rating; however, if you have read any of my previous reviews, you know that I tend to give 4-5 stars to most of what I read. I really cannot help myself; I love books too much). With the style of the book I mentioned—the chapters that feel more like individual stories—I felt like there was something missing somewhere. There is some resolution to the overall narrative, but it feels like there is something lacking, although I cannot quite put my finger on what that is. Perhaps there could be more to the story from here? Perhaps something more is needed to fill in the gaps between each of these tales? I am not sure, but it left me feeling a bit unenthused.

Boris’s thoughts: “Curious. You lost me after that scary dog in the second story though. No thank you. 1 paw.”