Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

I had heard about THE CIRCLE. I mean, I work in IT, I know people who read books, and some of those people tend to go for the bestseller-kind-of-book, and this book got a lot of traction. So I knew it was about privacy and something google-like, and that people found the ideas scary and fascinating. Then my book club proposed us reading it, and I fully supported this idea. We tend to read non-fiction, so doing fiction is a nice change of pace for a change, and it’s a topic I have opinions on, so all seemed swell.

And oh boy, did I have Opinions! (And those Opinions will contain spoilers, so don’t read on if you mind those).  For me it was a quick and fast-paced read, some fastfood inbetween more nourishing reading. I ended up being so annoyed that I had to tweet about it (sorry tweeps!).

I really disliked the main character however, but how she was as a person and how she must have been “set up” by Eggers. I suppose he wanted a protagonist through which he could explain all of the Circle, the fictional google-esk company that gives the book it’s title and is overtaking the whole internet with the unification of all it’s services from facebook to banking to collecting all of the data. However, that did create a protagonist who is so much like a blank slate, that she has no personality of her own. She seems constantly only being imprinted by the people – men – she meets (even her body is described by how it got more attractive to men when she gained some curves after puberty; male gaze much?).

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She completely internalizes the philosophy of the Circle, becomes a spokesperson because she starts to wear a webcam-camera 24/7 (well… except bathroom visits and sleeping).The people that disagree with this, with her being so-called Transparent and the Circle’s way in general, are being portrayed as ungrateful and horrible. Mostly so her ex-boyfriend Mercer; he is being called fat and ugly multiple times throughout the book. Because being fat is the worst thing a person can be of course.

There is also casual poly-shaming. There is a comparison of people who rule companies that go for less privacy to nazi’s. And yes, of course those are just the opinions of the characters in the book, and fictional characters can say what they want, but it makes the whole book unlikable for me, since it’s seems unnecesary. If you think companies that want global surveillance for everyone are horrible, than say they are horrible. If you need an example of news that might come out that would horrify people, than don’t take the situation that one’s parents probably have or had open relationship; there is much more horrible stuff out there that does not involve people who all gave consent (yeah, I know it’s just a starter for reveiling something *really* bad, but an open relationship being portrayed as something you should be shamed for, rubs me the wrong way).

In our real, actual world we have Google and Facebook. They know much about everyone, and we often don’t know or don’t want to know how much and how they got this knowledge.Everyone is different with how the care about this. Some people (try) not to use these sites and all the (virtual) products they own. Some embrace part. Some use all and share “everything”. Not to mention that even though the internet is widespread, it is not accesible to everyone (and there is censure going on, in China, Turkey, other countries). The fact this book made all the people in the world seem as it was one homogonous group, was too farfetched for me. It also made it very western-centric, which isn’t a problem it itself, but then please don’t make it sound like it’s the whole world you’re influencing.

The book also seemed to have the underlying idea that always being connected to others over the internet, makes people needy and sensitive to possible social rejection. Again there is a generalization that this’ll work for all people, while it is way more diverse. This seems much more a personality and anxiety thing than a general rule. People are different in how much they want to give up in privacy for products. Although I must admit that general awareness of sharing things online, and how it can backfire, should get better (she said, while writing a blogpost for all the world to see).

 

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Posthumanism in future Manchester

2015 in Manchester is not a place and time you want to be, if you read Matt Hill’s book GRAFT. The story about Sol and Y is sometimes hard to get into, and sometimes really accesible. Although that might also be a personal thing, which depended on my own state of mind; I read the book in a few readings, and wasn’t always the most awake. Which might have lead to me DREAMING about someone with three arms! But I digress.

What I liked, but what others might not enjoy as much, is that many things stay vague. How has the world collapsed into something post-apocalyptic in just 10 years? How does the changing of humans into something else work? Where do they come from? How is the rest of the UK faring? The rest of Europe? The world? I enjoy the slowly finding out what there is to find out, and still having questions at the end, because that is how life works; you don’t get anything in a clearcut package.

I loved how the story was structured. How you got to read about Sol and his work in one chapter, and seem to be in a completely different world in the next, following Y after she wakes up and has no memory of what has come before. Different characters are introduced, and their tales connect. That does work well, except in one case. On the whole, I feel like the role Mel plays seems a bit too fabricated, like she was added on later because some of her functions were needed. However, I did like her as a character/person and would like to know more about her. The same goes for many characters in the book: The Irish, Roy, the Reverend, The Manor Lord.

This book only scratches the surface of this possible future. Will there be more? I’d like it if there was.

Graft by Matt Hill will be published on the 2nd of February by Angry Robot Books.

The Brontë Plot: a review

Wednesday was book day.

First sentence in The brontë plot.

 

I fell in love with this book: THE BRONTE PLOT by Katherine Reay. I craved something comfortable, something happy, and contemporary. Usually I read fantasy/horror/sf between non-fiction or more demanding reads, but I needed something different. This book has all the references to the great British women in writing: Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Beatrix Potter, all wrapped in a story that could be called coming-of-age.

Lucy, the protagonist, works in an antique and design shop, for a lovely boss, who trusts and mentors her. She takes especially good care of the books, since those are her first love. Then she meets a man and for a moment I was afraid this would turn into a sappy romance story, which is something I am somewhat allergic to, but luckily it didn’t. You hear about Lucy’s father, who was a conman, and disappeared when she was 7, but still sends her a  book every year. I won’t tell you how, but Lucy goes to the UK on an eventful trip, and learns about herself  and the readers gets pulled into London and the English countryside.

As coincidence wills it, I watched Miss Potter while Lucy was just mentioning Bowness-On-Windermere (where they have a Beatrix Potter museum and everything!), which gave me more texture to the book (and probably vice versa too). I think I’ll persuade my partner (who watched the movie as well, me at my home, he at his, while we communicated over text messages) to go on a visit in that area next spring or summer…

This book is perfect for any lover of Victorian literature, books about books, decorating (so much great detail and colour in this book), and strong women. And who doesn’t love at least one of those things?

 

 

 

 

Flexing my brain with THE FLUX [review]

Just so you know, that is the risk you run when you read THE FLUX by Ferrett Steinmetz. This book will be published October 6th of this year (only a month and a day away, guys!) by Angry Robot Books. This is the second book in the ‘Mancer series; the first book, FLEX, I reviewed as well.

This is how Goodreads summarizes it:

Love something enough, and your obsession will punch holes through the laws of physics. That devotion creates unique magics: videogamemancers. Origamimancers. Culinomancers.

But when ‘mancers battle, cities tremble…

ALIYAH TSABO-DAWSON: The world’s most dangerous eight-year-old girl. Burned by a terrorist’s magic, gifted strange powers beyond measure. She’s furious that she has to hide her abilities from her friends, her teachers, even her mother – and her temper tantrums can kill.

PAUL TSABO: Bureaucromancer. Magical drug-dealer. Desperate father. He’s gone toe-to-toe with the government’s conscription squads of brain-burned Unimancers, and he’ll lie to anyone to keep Aliyah out of their hands – whether Aliyah likes it or not.

THE KING OF NEW YORK: The mysterious power player hell-bent on capturing the two of them. A man packing a private army of illegal ‘mancers.

Paul’s family is the key to keep the King’s crumbling empire afloat. But offering them paradise is the catalyst that inflames Aliyah’s deadly rebellious streak…

I’ll try to give my opnion relatively spoiler free, but the fact it’s the second in a series, gives some spoilers of the first book in itself (but after my review of book one, I do expect you to have bought and read it. Right?). It took me a bit to get warmed up to THE FLUX. You get dumped right into the story from the first page, but I found it hard to get the feel back. Maybe because it seems to want to and get you back in the atmosphere and give clues to the past, and be action packed. My brain couldn’t do that.
After a bit, I did did find the right feel again and loved the descriptions of all the different kinds of ‘mancy, and could relate to most of the characters, who have to deal with their life not being as it once was, and change is always hard even for people in books. And the geekery. How I love the referencing in this book. To completely get all of it, you have to read FIGHT CLUB (or watch the movie, I suppose). There are even Pokémon-references! (and you’ll finally learn how life if inside of a pokéball). However, there was this sense of things being too easy for everyone, especially with some plottwist that felt like deus ex machina’s at times.

And then… there is another plottwist, but this one makes it all right again. It made me yell at the book (see the tweet at the beginning of this post), because shit got real, and real is often horrible. There is genuine chaos, destruction and emotion, and it made the first two thirds of the book much better in retrospect, because it made this changing view in the mind of the main character much more intense.

So. Again. Get this book. Read it. Be entertained.

[Review] Magic, drugs and geekyness: Flex.

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Title: Flex
Author: Ferrett Steinmetz
Source: Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Release date: 3 March 2015
Tl;dr: The power of papers vs. the power of old.

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This book made me miss almost my tube-stop several times. This is high praise from a public transport veteran like me (even when I fall asleep, I wake a bit before reaching my destination). The story is about Paul, an insurance agent/former cop, who finds people who have a certain magic ability that changes the fabric of the universe: they can do ‘mancy. Mancers (the people the can do ‘mancy) are capable of making a certain drug (flex), but using flex (or ‘mancy itself) always leads to the universe wanting to put things into balance again, which leads to disaster (flux). And that disaster, that is of course something the insurance company might have to pay for, hence the need for someone like Paul. Then disaster (or well, flux) strikes, Paul discovers this new side of himself, and needs to rescue the world (or at least his daughter). This sounds way too much like a standard superhero movie, which this isn’t.

Paul is a likeable protagonist. He is divorced, has a lovely kid (who is portrayed quite realistically; and showing realistic 6-year-olds is hard), a less likeable ex-wife, and an awesome kick-ass female friend, who loves videogames, is promiscuous and geeky. He’s the best at what he does, but also has flaws. Yay for realism. The world is presented as in the here and now, except that Europe is… well… gone. Due to this new magic. I don’t want to spoil stuff (because you all should read this book when it comes out!), but this book gave me a whole new respect for bureaucracy and rules. The concept of the magic was quite refreshing and interesting, especially because it came in so many forms. The same for the antagonist: they are an interesting piece of work. I felt influences of Neil Stephenson and William Gibson in the book every once in a while.

The main critique I have of this book, is mostly one of editing, and less of the story or the writing in itself. I am a firm proponent of “show, don’t tell” in books, and I don’t need someone to tell me things twice. This happens every once in a while; there are sentences that could be scrapped completely and it would not change a thing (except make the reader feel less guided by the hand, which would be a good thing). Also, some characters (like Kit, Paul’s boss) get a sudden introduction that seems too fabricated (which made seem like a weird comment, since the whole story is fabricated, but since most of the things seem quite realistic, stuff like that jumps out more). Goodreads suggested to me that a sequel might be out in October this year, and I hope it’s not too late to “fix” that for part 2.

But, because of the awesomeness of the story, the lovability and realism of the characters, and the geeky references, this can all be forgiven. Also, the author is quite a cool guy. This doesn’t influence my opinion of his book, but it needed saying anyway. So, wait for March 3, and then go out and get yourself this new read!

[Review] Unfunny fakirs and racism

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Title: The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe
Author: Romain Puertolas
Source: Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Tl;dr: Either not very funny and racist, or giving an often forgotton view and inspirational.

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One day a fakir leaves his small village in India and lands in Paris. A professional con artist, the fakir is on a pilgrimage to IKEA, where he intends to obtain an object he covets above all others: a brand new bed of nails. Without adequate Euros in the pockets of his silk trousers, the fakir is all the same confident that his counterfeit 100-Euro note (printed on one side only) and his usual bag of tricks will suffice. But when a swindled cab driver seeks his murderous revenge, the fakir accidentally embarks on a European tour, fatefully beginning in the wardrobe of the iconic Swedish retailer. – From the Publisher

I’d love this book for it’s story. The man who finds himself in a strange country, finding love, himself, and some perspective on the world on his trip to get what he came for, which might not be what he set out to get. There are societal observations here: how are we dealing with immigrants, with people who are just trying to find a better life in Europe? How are countries doing after the Arab Spring?

But the book is also attempting to be humerous, and completely failing in this, in my opinion. It might be a cultural thing (I’m Dutch, the author is French), but I do not happen to find endless variations of the same joke on the Indian name of the protagonist and his Indian family members very funny. Or the fact he is written as an ignorant backwards person. Or the negative stereotype painted of the Roma taxi-driver and his family. Or the trans-joke somehwere in the beginning. This, together with a writing style that was just slightly inconsistent, bugged me, and made me not enjoy the story as much as I could.

I think I should just give up on “funny” books (except Pratchett). Or does anyone have any recommendations of humerous books that might not bother me?

[Review] Fitz and Fool

A small child. Title: Fool’s Assassin
Author: Robin Hobb
Source: Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Tl;dr: Fitz is still whiny; book is still a nice read. 

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As I mentioned before I love returned to beloved characters. This is the main reason I really enjoyed this new Robin Hobb book: it brings us back to the well known world of Fitz, Molly, Chade, Kettricken, and all the other people we came to know and love in the Seven Duchies. However, it is years after Fitz’ adventures. He lives a quiet life with Molly as Tom Badgerlock, with their and Burrich’s children. It speaks about their life, how little it has to do with his old life, and how the old is still intertwined with the new.

Fitz is still the same old whiny complaining person. I always read the Farseer-books with great pleasure despite him, and not because of him. However, a new character is introduced, and we read chapters from their point of view, and those chapters are excellent. Hobb seems to be way better at describing the world of children than of grown-ups. While reading Fitz’s chapters, I longed for the new person’s chapters.

There is sadness in the book. Some well loved characters leave us, and this left me remembering my own recent grieving, which can be quite a comfort, especially if the grieving of the persons in the book is decribed well. I did not recognize much in Fitz, but then again, I never could. It takes some time for the plot to get going, although some events in the beginning of the book do reach out to events that happen much closer to the end. This seemed to have been done in almost a schematic way – “here we enter a sign of things to come and here we’ll continue to build on these signs” – and did not come across as natural. What also annoyed me, was the plottwist that I saw coming from the beginning, but what our dear brooding Fitz failed to see almost all through the book.

Like I mentioned before, I still greatly enjoyed this book. It is like a warm bath, of reconnection with loved-ones I’ve missed and thought of every once in a while over the years. And it introduced a new character I think I’ll love at least as much as the ones from the former series. I’m also looking forward to the next book, but with the hope of a bit more speed and a bit more cluefulness of Fitz (but I think that is an idle hope).